Edinburgh Rugby beef up for Benetton visit as Duhan van der Merwe makes second debut
The adverse run of results is an unfamiliar experience for Blair, who only once lost two league games back to back last season, his first in charge. Yet while his selection of a beefed-up squad for this match is an indication of the pressure on him to end that run of defeats, the coach is adamant that he is not about to change the team’s attacking style of play. Although Edinburgh have earned no more than losing bonus points from their last three outings – away to the Bulls and Stormers then at home to a third South African side, the Lions – Blair believes that the fundamentals of their game plan remain sound, and that the elimination of avoidable errors will be the key to defeating the in-form Italians.
“Against the Lions, when we scored a try to go 19-12 up with seven or eight minutes to go, I believed we had done everything right,” he said of his team’s most recent outing, which ended in a 19-22 loss. “There were some errors in there but it’s just how you cover them up, and we had put ourselves in a position to go on and win that game with a bonus point. That didn’t work out. We created opportunities but didn’t quite take them, but it’s not something I’m too hung up on. We’ve been free-flowing in our attack and scored a decent amount of tries and points. So that doesn’t concern me too much.”
Van der Merwe, who re-signed from Worcester last week, should certainly help ensure that the offence remains free-flowing. He will wear his familiar No 11 jersey while Emiliano Boffelli, who was on the left wing last week, moves to full-back. Henry Immelman drops out and Darcy Graham retains his place on the right as part of a formidable back three.
“There’s a good balance to it,” Blair said of that section of his team. “There’s obviously size and power, there’s some guile, and there’s Darcy, who’s just a pocket dynamo. We’re delighted to name Duhan in the starting line-up and he’ll no doubt get an excellent reception from our supporters. There was a nervous wait about Duhan getting his work permit, but it came through on Wednesday afternoon, so all good to go now. He’s had a couple of days’ training, he’s bedded in well, and he’s just looking forward to getting out and experiencing Edinburgh Rugby at the DAM Health.”
Blair has made seven personnel changes in all to his line-up from the one that began last week’s loss to the Lions, with the return of Mark Bennett being the only other alteration to the back division in addition to Van der Merwe. Pierre Schoeman, Dave Cherry and WP Nel form an all-new front row, Sam Skinner returns at lock, and Nick Haining is in the back row. Stuart McInally and Hamish Watson drop out of the squad as a result of the injuries they sustained last week. But those two, their fellow-forward Jamie Ritchie and scrum-half Ben Vellacott should all be available for selection again in the next few weeks, according to Blair.