Charlie Shiel, the son of former Scotland centre Graham Shiel, makes his first professional start for Edinburgh in the European Challenge Cup against Agen in France tonight.
Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill was asked if he’d ever played against the 21-year-old scrum-half’s dad and replied: “I reckon he’s older than me!”
It’s true, Shiel senior is a year older than the 48-year-old ex-England hooker. The 49-year-old now head coach of Super 6 franchise Boroughmuir Bears won 18 Scotland caps but none more famous than his first when he scored a try as, what was then a rare injury replacement, in the 1991 World Cup against Ireland.
Shiel junior, who also counts Scottish rugby grandee Dougie Morgan as a grandfather, has made 11 appearances off the bench since signing pro terms with Edinburgh but has been handed the No 9 jersey for tonight’s Pool 3 opener at Stade Armandie.
“He’s got to prove he can run a game for us,” said Cockerill. “In his cameos off the bench he’s looked sharp and has a spark. He’s got to be able to be calm and lead the team around the field and drive the team. It will be interesting to see if he can do that from the start of a game.
“He’s got a good instinct, eye for the gap, very tenacious. I think the thing with Charlie is he needs his detail to be on point and he needs to deliver what the team needs and not just what he sees in the game.
“There’s a lot to like about him but with pressure he’s going to have to deliver those things as accurately as possible. It’s a little bit easy to come on for 15-20 minutes when your team’s winning. Agen are a good side playing at home where they rarely lose so it will be a good test for Charlie.”
Scotland internationalists Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist and Jamie Ritchie are all named in the capital side’s starting XV for the first time this season, while lock Sam Thomson also makes his first start for the club.
Cockerill, who revealed he hopes to have openside Hamish Watson back “mid-December” following his World Cup knee injury, refuted suggestions that his interesting team selection betrayed a lack of motivation for Europe’s second-tier competition after reaching the last eight of the Champions Cup last term.
“Not particularly, it’s just that we’ve got a tough run of 13 games on the trot,” he said.
“Damian Hoyland is an international winger playing at full-back for us, Jimmy Johnstone is a very good player, Eroni Sau [Fiji] is an international winger, Jamie Farndale and George Taylor have played very well for us, Simon Hickey is a very good player. That forward pack is good. [Prop] Jamie Bhatti would class himself as an established international, so would Berghan, Barclay, Richie and Gilchrist.
“There’s a good mixture across the group, and if we’re going to build strength across our squad guys have got to get more opportunities. We’ve had two good years of building a team with character, a good work ethic and a solid base to work from, so guys have got to have opportunity, and take it. Could we have picked a different team? Certainly. But the mixture of that team and the guys who have actually performed is very good.”
A new name in the mix is Dan Nutton on the bench and Cockerill explained: “He was a Merchiston schoolboy and was at Newcastle University, and he’s played a lot of rugby down there. We have an issue with Nic Groom’s hamstring, which means he’s not available, so we’ve chosen to start Charlie and get Dan on the bench to give him a full week’s training and potentially a bit of game time.
“He’s a good young Scottish nine who has come through a different path. He’s one we’re trying to develop through the system.
“We’re hoping Nic will be available for Bordeaux [Friday 22 November], but certainly for Wasps [Friday 6 December].”
On tonight’s opposition, Cockerill added: “They’ve been promoted and up until last weekend were sitting mid-table in the Top 14, before some big teams got their France players back, so at the weekend they were sitting second bottom. I think they’ll pick a strong side because they are at home and won’t want to lose.
“It’ll be a good test for guys like Charlie and Sam, and for reintegrating the international guys and giving them some continuity and game time.”