Edinburgh Rugby in South Africa: Big beasts return and ball will fly as Blair bids to tame Lions

Edinburgh enter the Lions’ den in Johannesburg on Saturday and have drafted in a few big beasts of their own as they seek to end their South African mini-tour with a second victory.

An all-new front row comprising Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally and WP Nel has been picked for the match at Ellis Park while another Scotland international forward, Grant Gilchrist, comes in at lock.

The backs are strengthened by inclusion of Darcy Graham and Henry Immelman, with the latter’s selection at full-back meaning Emiliano Boffelli switches to the wing.

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Two of the front three are South African born and bred as Mike Blair looks to fight fire with fire at the scrum, and the head coach expects them to rise to the occasion.

“There is definitely extra motivation from the South Africa players,” said Blair. “Not just Schoemy. Jaco [van der Walt] being on the bench against his old team, we have WP in there, we have Henry Immelman as well. I think there is always an extra bit of motivation because they want to show their country of birth what they have been doing and what they have been achieving.

“Some of them will be playing in front of their families, some of them, who haven't seen their families in a wee while. [Luan] de Bruin's family has also come up to see him, so extra motivation.”

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Edinburgh were hugely impressive in beating the Sharks in Durban, becoming the first Northern Hemisphere side to win in South Africa in the United Rugby Championship.

WP Nel (left) and Pierre Schoeman will add some heft to the Edinburgh pack.

The degree of difficulty increases this weekend because the match takes place at altitude and the squad visited the stadium on Friday to get a feel of how the conditions might affect them.

Ellis Park - or Emirates Airlines Park as it’s now known - is one of rugby’s iconic venues and its rarefied atmosphere tends to make the ball fly a bit further. Blair joked that 18-stone prop Nel had dropped a goal from halfway during training but the coach is alert to the opportunities available to the kickers.

“The furthest kick at goal I saw was from 61 metres,” he said, “and Henry Immelman was kicking the ball a long way. But it is about creating time for these guys to kick the ball a long way out of hand, so that they can execute those kicks. And likewise, we’ve got to not give Lions time to get their long kickers into the game.”

Asked by a local journalist if he was concerned about the strength of the Lions pack, Blair pointed to his own muscle men, with McInally, Nel and Gilchrist all flying in this week, and Schoeman fresh after sitting out the Sharks game.

Darcy Graham is back in Edinburgh colours after impressing for Scotland during the Six Nations.

“We’re fortunate that we’ve got four of internationals back in the front five, so we believe it is an area we will be able to put some pressure on the Lions, because we’ve got some experience and talent and size there as well,” said Blair who is acutely aware that the opponents also boast a useful backline.

“They’ve got a strong scrum similar to Sharks but they’ve got a real ability to strike and transition ball, their back three players in particular. If anything goes loose they’re strong in that counterattack and turnover ball.”

Emirates Lions v Edinburgh Rugby: URC, Saturday, 3.05pm BST, Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg. TV: live on Premier Sports

Emirates Lions: Quan Horn; Rabz Maxwane, Wandisile Simelane, Manuel Rass, Edwill van der Merwe; Jordan Hendrikse, Morne van den Berg; JP Smith, PJ Botha, Carlu Sadie, Ruben Schoeman, Reinhard Nothnagel (c), Francke Horn, Vincent Tshituka, Emmanuel Tshituka.

Replacements: Morne Brandon, Ruan Dreyer, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Ruan Venter, Sibusiso Sangweni, Andre Warner, Henco van Wyk, Tiaan van Wyk.

Edinburgh Rugby: Henry Immelman; Darcy Graham, Mark Bennett, James Lang, Emiliano Boffelli; Blair Kinghorn, Ben Vellacott; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInaly, WP Nel, Pierce Phillips, Grant Gilchrist (c), Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Ben Muncaster.

Replacements: Dave Cherry, Boan Venter, Luan de Bruin, Glen Young, Connor Boyle, Charlie Shiel, Jaco van der Walt, Matt Currie.

Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR).

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