European rugby authorities have turned down a request from Edinburgh to add to their squad after being left with just four fit, registered props for the last two games of their Challenge Cup pool campaign.
Edinburgh host Stade Francais at BT Murrayfield this evening knowing that a win would secure a home quarter-final in the competition. However, with Al Dickinson, Allan Dell, WP Nel and Darryl Marfo all currently injured and Simon Berghan suspended, coach Richard Cockerill has been left with no wriggle room in his propping options.
A request to have recent Samoan signing Jordan Lay registered for Europe was rejected.
“We would have one less prop in the squad and we would have to go uncontested if there was a problem,” said Cockerill after naming four props in his 23 for tonight’s match.
“We asked to bring Jordan Lay in as an extra player because of extreme circumstances, but that’s not part of the regulations. We just have to get on with it.”
Loosehead Rory Sutherland returns after popping his shoulder in the first 1872 Cup game and Murray McCallum continues at tighthead, with Matt Shields and Kevin Bryce on the bench.
Bryce was a late call-up as hooker to Scotland’s 2015 World Cup squad, replacing the injured Stuart McInally, but has since converted to tighthead. That transition is taking time to bed in and the 29-year-old has only a handful of Edinburgh bench appearances this season and has been playing for Hawick.
Cockerill revealed earlier in the week that Marfo, who played for Scotland in all three autumn Tests, was to see a specialist about his back problem and the feedback has been that no surgery is required but no return date has been offered as he continues to rehab.
Newcastle’s Jon Welsh is favourite to start at tighthead for Scotland in the Six Nations, but 21-year-old McCallum could find himself in Gregor Townsend’s squad for the tournament when it is named on Tuesday. Cockerill sought to play down expectations, however.
“He is a young player who has to find consistency in his game,” said the coach. “Is he ready to go to Cardiff to play tighthead for Scotland? You are asking a lot of him.
“Would he do it? He would certainly give it a good crack and is a good lad who works really hard. But if I am being honest is he really ready? Probably not. As Darryl Marfo showed in the autumn, if you get the opportunity he may surprise a few people.
“It will be a good test for him [tonight] against a big French pack. If he does well there he at least will give the selectors a think about it might be worth having him in the training weeks, and if they need him he could do a job, but it is a bit too soon for him to be an international tighthead.”
Fijian Viliame Mata returns to the back row tonight, while Scotland centre Mark Bennett, who made his long-awaited debut for the club last week, keeps his place at outside centre and is partnered by Chris Dean. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne regains the No 9 jersey, with Nathan Fowles on the bench.
Stade Francais are the tournament champions but seem more concerned with their precarious fourth-bottom league placing in the Top 14 this season, with a loss to Russian minnows Krasny Yar in Siberia and a 44-7 home defeat by a modest London Irish side early in the pool campaign.
However, a win at Irish has moved the French side into second place, eight points behind Edinburgh, and they know that two wins should take them into the last eight.
“We are looking to win so we get a home quarter-final,” said Cockerill. “It’s as simple as that. It’s not about me, it’s about getting this team the opportunity to play at home and progress in the tournament.
“Historically, this side has done well in this tournament and this is an opportunity for us to build on what has been an okay season for us so far.
“I know their team reasonably well. I coached against them last year [while with Toulon] and obviously played a lot against them historically in Europe.
“They are one of the powerhouses of European rugby and have been for a long time. They are a good side.
“Domestically, they have not performed as well as they would have liked this year, but they can still qualify for the quarter-finals with two wins.
“We have the opportunity this weekend to qualify and we want to try to take it. But we won’t be taking them lightly.
“They have picked a good squad and maybe they are looking at this as a chance to kickstart their season.”