Duncan Hodge rings the changes as Edinburgh face Connacht
Tonight’s match against Connacht was more or less ignored by journalists who instead peppered the acting coach with questions that only Cockerill could answer.
Would there be money made available for signings? Would the club extend Nasi Manu’s contract? Would Edinburgh be playing at Myreside next season? Will the new coach buy into Edinburgh’s attacking philosophy?
Hodge offered the only honest answer; I haven’t a clue.
The team itself is somewhat changed from the side that was shoved unceremoniously out of the Challenge Cup by La Rochelle last Friday. Ben Toolis and Fraser MacKenzie form a useful looking second row partnership, Ross Ford leads the side from hooker and Stuart McInally is scheduled to make his 100th appearance for the club off the bench if and when he is thrown into the action.
Myreside is home from home for McInally who attended George Watson’s College before turning out for Watsonians. Another former favourite, Hodge, offered this assessment of his hooker.
“Congratulations to Stuart on reaching the cap milestone. He’s a great player, a real club man and a brilliant guy to have around the squad.”
It’s all change at half-back with Nathan Fowles taking over from Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Duncan Weir, desperately short of confidence and form, gets the nod over Jason Tovey at ten. Weir, pictured, is known as a kicking specialist but Edinburgh need to be wary of giving up possession cheaply against Connacht because they might not see the ball again.
Incidentally the reigning champions lost to Zebre last week, albeit without a couple of Irish internationals, but the visitors will want to put a marker down this evening if only to erase the memory of that setback.
There are any number of nuts and bolts that Edinburgh must tighten up if they are to fulfil their potential but the first and easiest fix is surely the leaky defence which has already conceded 52 tries this season, with four rounds still to play, compared to just 36 throughout the whole of last season’s league campaign.
“It is one big melting point,” replied Hodge when invited to criticise his club’s efforts without the ball. “The more you concede the more you have to score to be competitive. That is an issue. That is something you keep working on and it is hard to put your finger on why that is. Definitely it is a concern. Everybody is clear on the system. Little things don’t help in terms of injuries we have had and [lack of] experience we have and all that has an effect.”
Elsewhere Glen Bryce gets a rare start at full-back with Blair Kinghorn popping up on the other side of the world at the Hong King Sevens. Damien Hoyland keeps his place on the right flank but Irishman Rory Scholes replaces Tom Brown on the left, the Scot drops down to the bench.
Hodge is desperately short of options in the back line and Edinburgh’s plight has not been helped much by the news that Mark Bennett, who is following Weir from Glasgow to Edinburgh this summer, will miss most of next season following knee surgery. He was Edinburgh’s highest profile signing and he is out of the equation before he has even unpacked his bags.
“I saw it happen at the time and feared the worst,” says Hodge of Bennett’s knee injury in the Calcutta Cup match. “He got his op on Thursday there. He is gutted, I know he is gutted because I spoke to him and it is not ideal for us. It is not good news for us, him or Scotland.”
Eventually someone had the good grace to ask Hodge a question about this evening’s match. How does he go about motivating his team for what is effectively a dead rubber?
“We’re playing at home and are gutted about the last few narrow loses and not performing as we could have, and there’s no more motivation needed than that,” Hodge offered the right response.
“People are coming to watch and we’ve got our own pride, there’s a massive amount at stake tonight, so motivation is not an issue.”
If it is, then Edinburgh’s players have picked the wrong profession.