EDINBURGH’s build-up to this evening’s historic European Challenge Cup semi-final against Newport Gwent Dragons at BT Murrayfield hit further trouble yesterday with yet more injury setbacks.
Things had not been looking hopeful for David Denton after the Scotland No 8 took a head knock in a clash with Paul O’Connell during Saturday’s 34-3 home drubbing by Munster, so there was no surprise when he was confirmed absent yesterday when coach Alan Solomons named a team containing seven changes from last weekend.
However, the loss of both full-back Greig Tonks and flanker Hamish Watson with hamstring injuries deprives Edinburgh of two more international performers and adds to a growing list.
In contrast, the Dragons, who are coming off the back of a morale-boosting win over champions Leinster in the Guinness Pro12, have made only one change to their starting XV.
Jack Cuthbert replaces Tonks at full-back, while Sam Beard comes in at outside centre. There’s a change in the halfback pairing as Phil Burleigh moves from outside centre to stand-off, with Sam Hidalgo-Clyne returning from injury at No 9.
Roddy Grant moves to openside in place of Watson and Stuart McInally comes in at blindside. Captain Mike Coman returns from injury to take the No 8 jersey and fill the void left by Denton.
There is a welcome return to the bench for back-rower – and star performer in the early part of the season – Cornell du Preez, who returns from a serious ankle injury sustained in the Guinness Pro12 win over tonight’s opponents at BT Murrayfield back in October.
Injuries are not new to Solomons this season and the South African was not for taking a “woe is me” approach to the latest disappointments. “It’s just one of those things,” he shrugged. “Gilchrist has been a long-term injury all season. Matt Scott’s shoulder was not right and it had to be sorted out in both his interest and that of the national team. Dents took his head knock and it is difficult to complete the protocol on a six-day turnaround. Hamish’s hamstring has not been right and he could not run at full tilt today. Tonksy has the same problem with his hamstring. We give it until Wednesday but it was really worrying him.
“So we have five guys who are all national players, three of whom would probably be in the starting 15 for Scotland. But at the beginning of the season we averaged seven front-line players out per game, so it gave opportunities to others and increased our strength in depth. It’s important to be able to cope with this kind of thing. We have not had a game this season when we have been at full strength.
“I have confidence in the team, in the players who have been selected to play.”
Solomons is confident that Burleigh can handle the key stand-off role after being preferred to Tom Heathcote, who wore the No 10 jersey last Saturday. “Phil played at 10 in the first Bordeaux game,” said the coach. “He is a very experienced player and he has played a hell of a lot of super Rugby. He has played all over the show. He is your classic New Zealand first/2nd five eighth [stand-off/inside-centre].”
The Dragons’ recent form has not gone unnoticed and Solomons knows Edinburgh will have to be at their best to secure a place in the Twickenham Stoop final against Exeter or Gloucester, who play tomorrow night. “They [Dragons] have done very well,” he said. “Last season, they beat Glasgow home and away. They are a very gritty side and they have a good team. They are going into the game with a lot of confidence on the back of beating Leinster. We are going to have a tough game and we know that.”
v Dragons at BT Murrayfield tonight, kick-off 7:45pm
15 - Jack Cuthbert
14 - Dougie Fife
13 - Sam Beard
12 - Andries Strauss
11 - Tim Visser
10 - Phil Burleigh
9 - Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
1 - Alasdair Dickinson
2 - Ross Ford
3 - WP Nel
4 - Anton Bresler
5 - Ben Toolis
6 - Stuart McInally
7 - Roddy Grant
8 - Mike Coman (captain)
Neil Cochrane, Rory Sutherland, John Andress, Fraser McKenzie, Cornell du Preez, Nathan Fowles, Tom Heathcote, Tom Brown
Dragons: Jason Tovey; Tom Prydie, Tyler Morgan, Jack Dixon, Hallam Amos; Dorian Jones, Jonathan Evans; Brok Harris, T. Rhys Thomas (capt), Dan Way, James Thomas, Cory Hill, Nick Crosswell, Nic Cudd, Taulupe Faletau. Subs: Rhys Buckley, Phil Price, Lloyd Fairbrother, Matthew Screech, James Benjamin, Luc Jones, Ashton Hewitt, Geraint Rhys Jones.
Referee: JP Doyle (England).
TV: Live on BT Sport 1
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