Edinburgh must play ‘smart’ to deal with Huw Jones

Richard Cockerill wary as Glasgow’s decision to play their centre at full-back dominates build-up to long-awaited derby clash
Huw Jones runs in a try for Glasgow during the Guinness Pro14 match against Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield in December. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS GroupHuw Jones runs in a try for Glasgow during the Guinness Pro14 match against Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield in December. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS Group
Huw Jones runs in a try for Glasgow during the Guinness Pro14 match against Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield in December. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS Group

Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill says time will tell if Glasgow’s wildcard decision to start Huw Jones at full-back in this evening’s 1872 Cup clash behind closed doors at BT Murrayfield provides an opportunity or a threat.

New Warriors coach Danny Wilson has handed the 25-times capped Scotland centre the No 15 jersey as professional rugby resumes in the country following the coronavirus shutdown.

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With star man Stuart Hogg not replaced since his move to Exeter Chiefs and Glenn Bryce only recently returned to training, Jones will start in what is an unfamiliar but not unprecedented role.

“He’s a world-class 13. We’ll have to see how his positioning is in the back field, but certainly going forward, counter-attacking, if you kick loosely to a player of his quality then he’s going to cause problems,” said Cockerill, who is aiming for a third straight win in the inter-city series in this evening’s decider.

“He likes attacking ball in hand, he’s very, very quick, and he’s got a very good eye for the gap. We’re going to have to be smart in how we play.

“I’m not sure it’s a particular weakness. He’s a very talented footballer and we’ve got to make sure we give him as little opportunity as possible.”

Friday’s fourth match between the sides this season is not part of the 1872 Cup but will carry points for the Guinness Pro14, which was suspended in March due to the pandemic. Conference B pacesetters Edinburgh know a losing bonus point would loosen their grip on the trophy but secure a historic first ever semi-final appearance in the Championship. Glasgow need two bonus-point wins and results elsewhere to have any remote chance of progressing.

The Jones switch leaked out earlier in the week but was confirmed yesterday. “Needs must,” explained Wilson, the former Scotland forwards coach who has replaced Dave Rennie.

“There was a hole to fill at 15 and we felt that Huw has played 15 before at the Stormers and he is an outstanding attacking presence. He has the ability to kick well also so we just felt that it was worth experimenting with. So far it has been quite positive but the ultimate test will be the game.

“Glenn [Bryce] joined us quite late so he needed to get the bulk of conditioning training under his belt before we could bring him back in. By then we had done an amount of work with Huw. Glenn is on the bench because he has done that work now and is fit and ready to play but it made sense to continue with Huw at 15.”

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Tommy Seymour, who retired from Test rugby after last year’s World Cup, has covered full-back on a number of occasions but Wilson felt he would be better utilised in his familiar wing berth. “It made more sense for Tommy to be an out and out winger rather than move two or three people around,” said the Warriors coach.

The Jones move looks like being a temporary stopgap as the financial implications in terms of recruitment continues to impose restrictions. He has had limited experience in the position for the Stormers in South Africa but it seems unlikely he would view it as a long-term option in terms of his career, with Hogg the clear first-choice for Scotland for a while to come and Edinburgh’s Blair Kinghorn also in the mix.

“We will find out tomorrow,” was Wilson’s response to that. “Like a lot of modern players, he can play more than one position. He has played a lot at centre but he has played at full-back as well. It is an experiment for us, no doubt about that, but we will see how it goes. This is the type of game where we get the opportunity to do that. Huw is really excited about it. That’s what pushed us in that direction.”

Despite the long break both sides are carrying a few injuries, with Wilson bemoaning a number of “soft tissue” problems in his squad. Edinburgh are missing Magnus Bradbury with a calf problem and Darcy
Graham has just failed to be fit with an abdominal issue which Cockerill said should be fine for next weekend, with flanker Jamie Ritchie out due to a dislocated finger.

Edinburgh’s good record in this fixture pre-dates the Cockerill revolution but the Englishman is unfazed by the fact his side are now viewed as firm favourites against the 2015 champions. “There’s no talk about favourites and having the Indian sign over them in the last couple of years,” said Cockerill. “They’re a good team but so are we. We’ll back ourselves over 80 minutes to take Glasgow on physically up front and look forward to seeing where we get to.”

This evening is technically a “home” game for Glasgow and Wilson added: “We are in the national team changing room. I’m happy with that. It’s a brilliant changing room which was newly kitted out last year.

“The main thing is space, in the current climate being in a tiny changing room with lots of staff and lots of players on top of each other, isn’t very sage. So, having the bigger changing space is key.”

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