Darcy Graham return energises Edinburgh as trip to Connacht labelled a "knockout" game

When you are in a tight spot, there is no-one better than Darcy Graham to help you wriggle your way out of it - and that is precisely what Edinburgh hope the winger will do today on his return from injury.

After a desperately poor run of results which has seen them win only once in their last eight URC games, the capital club need a victory at Connacht to keep their already slim play-off hopes alive. To win at the Sportsground in Galway, visiting teams invariably need a whole lot of self-belief and inspiration - qualities which have been conspicuously absent from many of Edinburgh’s recent performances. But assistant coach Stevie Lawrie believes that Graham - who is playing for the first time since injuring a knee in early December - could be just the man to bring those qualities back to the team.

“It’s brilliant to have Darcy back,” Lawrie said yesterday. “He’s a ball of energy. He’s an X factor player, he can really pull a rabbit out of the hat, so it’s good to have him in amongst all the other guys. It’s exciting for the group.”

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Graham had taken his try tally to nine for the season before being sidelined, and had hoped to get back playing - and scoring - before the end of the Six Nations. It was therefore all the more frustrating for him to miss out on Scotland selection by a matter of weeks. Now, however, he is more than ready to return to a back three that also features Emiliano Boffelli, a player who is equally capable of turning games with a moment of magic.

Darcy Graham trains with Edinburgh ahead of his first appearance since injuring his knee in early December. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)Darcy Graham trains with Edinburgh ahead of his first appearance since injuring his knee in early December. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
Darcy Graham trains with Edinburgh ahead of his first appearance since injuring his knee in early December. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

“Having [Graham] in and Boff in that back three is fantastic,” Lawrie continued. “Of course he’s been frustrated, but he’s a top lad. He’s an excellent pro.

"You speak to physios every time, ‘How’s Darcy getting on?’ ‘He’s getting on with his rehab, he’s working hard, he’s upbeat’. He’s good around the group - he’s exactly the sort of guy you want to work with.”

Four senior Scotland players - Duhan van der Merwe, Pierre Schoeman, Hamish Watson and national captain Jamie Ritchie - have all been rested in accordance with the national team’s protocol following their exertions in the Six Nations. However, Grant Gilchrist returns to captain the team after serving a two-match suspension for his sending-off against France. Sam Skinner and Blair Kinghorn also come straight back into the starting line-up following Scotland squad duty, and WP Nel is on the bench.

Edinburgh lie 12th in the URC table with just three games to go in the regular season, Ospreys at home and Ulster away being the remaining two after today. They are seven points behind Connacht, who are currently in the eighth and last play-off position, so even a bonus-point win would leave them reliant on subsequent results going their way.

“I make no bones about it, we’re in knockout games every game now,” Lawrie added. “We said this before Scarlets” - a 42-14 defeat last month in Llanelli - “and we didn’t get it right in any way, shape or form.

“So it’s really important that we go out to Connacht and deliver a performance that just edges us a little bit closer. We’ll still be relying on other people, but if we win this game . . . Connacht are the team we’re trying to catch.”

Edinburgh (v Connacht at the Sportsground, today[Sat] 3.05pm): E Boffelli; D Graham, M Bennett, J Lang, D Hoyland; B Kinghorn, H Pyrgos; B Venter, S McInally, L Atalifo, S Skinner, G Gilchrist (captain), B Muncaster, C Boyle, V Mata. Substitutes: D Cherry, L de Bruin, W Nel, M Sykes, G Young, B Vellacott, C Dean, N Sweeney.

Connacht: O McNulty; D Kilgallen, T Farrell, C Forde, J Porch; D Hawkshaw, C Blade; P Dooley, D Tierney-Martin, J Aungier, O Dowling, N Murray, C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler. Substitutes: D Heffernan, J Duggan, D Robertson-McCoy, D Murray, S Hurley-Langton, K Marmion, T Daly, S Jennings.

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