In the words of the head coach, Kinghorn remains the club’s “number one 10”.
Having this week announced the signing of the Munster stand-off Ben Healy for next season, there has inevitably been talk of Kinghorn reverting to the back three, where he won the majority of his 38 Scotland caps before his repositioning as a stand-off. But Blair explained that this weekend’s shift to the wing was born of necessity. Edinburgh are without half a dozen frontline wingers and full-backs for the visit of the Italian side, with Emiliano Boffelli and Duhan van der Merwe joining the already sidelined Darcy Graham, Wes Goosen, Damien Hoyland and Henry Immelman.
“We are missing a fair few in the back three,” said the Edinburgh coach. “Blair has obviously been capped many times by Scotland in that position and we feel that this is the best move for the balance of the team this week.
“I’m really confident that Blair has shown enough over the last 18 months or so to merit that status as our number one 10. We are very fortunate that he is an international-class back three as well and is happy to help us out in that position.”
Healy’s summer arrival will increase the competition at stand-off and Blair insisted Kinghorn was kept in the loop about the signing of the Tipperary-born fly-half who is Scottish-qualified. “We speak with our players all the time to give them feedback and they give feedback as well,” added the coach. “Blair was aware of the fact we were signing Ben Healy and he is up for the challenge of having some competition.”
Blair is confident that Kinghorn’s return to the back three will be short-term and doesn’t anticipate Boffelli and van der Merwe being out for too long. The Argentine is nursing a groin injury while van der Merwe is recovering from the ankle problem which forced him off early against Glasgow at Murrayfield last week. “We are hopeful they will train next week,” said Blair. “They both have niggling injuries, nothing new to what they have had before, but they're taking a longer time to heal than we would have hoped.”
Edinburgh, who have lost their last four league games, are also without Scotland forwards Grant Gilchrist, WP Nel, Jamie Ritchie and Pierre Schoeman who are going through a “rest protocol” with one eye on the Six Nations but are able to welcome back hooker Dave Cherry and No 8 Nick Haining after groin and calf injuries, respectively.
After Zebre, Edinburgh face back-to-back Champions Cup matches against Castres and Saracens and have utilised their squad accordingly. There is a youthful feel to the back division in particular, with Harry Paterson, Jack Blain, Cammy Hutchison, Charlie Savala and Charlie Shiel joining the experienced Kinghorn and Mark Bennett. It should be enough to see off a Zebre side who have lost 11 out of 11 and are rooted to the foot of the United Rugby Championship but Blair will be mindful of last season when the Parma team pushed Edinburgh all the way before the home side prevailed 29-26.