Edinburgh set to burst into European Challenge Cup's last eight
The acting Edinburgh head coach leads his side into this evening’s first outing at the revamped Watsonians stadium knowing that by full-time it could, or certainly should, be rocking with supporters celebrating qualification for a home quarter-final in the European Challenge Cup.
In a season of ups and downs which has included the departure of head coach Alan Solomons and a few dispiriting results, punctuated by tantalising displays of excellence, it is a prospect to savour.
Edinburgh’s target is clear – beat Pool 5 basement boys Timisoara Saracens of Romania with a bonus point and it will be job done. They beat the same team 59-17 away earlier in the campaign so will be expected to win comfortably.
The excellent win at Harlequins last weekend, which opened the door to the last eight, has injected a healthy dose of enthusiasm for the week building up to the Myreside return and Hodge is hoping the players and fans can combine to make it a memorable evening.
“Everyone is looking forward to it,” said the coach. “At this stage we just don’t know [what it’s going to be like]. Until we arrive, see the crowd and run out.
“Obviously I’ve played here in front of decent crowds. Hopefully it will be intimidating, and the crowd get right behind us. It’s a bit of an unknown but I’m sure it will be a big thing.
“The stands will be up close to the pitch and there’s no running track so I think it’ll be great. The fact that we might have something to celebrate if we win this game is an extra incentive. What we’re thinking about is our performance and maintaining our standards of the past couple of weeks – if we get that right we can take it from there. If the Edinburgh fans finish work at five, get a pint in town and then get one when they’re here so that they loosen up and make lots of noise, it does translate on to the players and give you a lift. The more noise the better.”
Hodge has made six changes to the side that won in London, with Neil Cochrane getting a start at hooker on his 50th appearance for the club.
Grant Gilchrist returns at lock, while Nathan Fowles gets a run-out at scrum-half.
Tighthead Simon Berghan also starts in the week he gained a surprise call-up to Vern Cotter’s Six Nations squad, while there will be contrasting emotions in the back-row where flanker Magnus Bradbury, who missed out on Scotland inclusion, joins No 8 Cornell Du Preez, who did get the call.
“It’s been a tough couple of days for Magnus,” said Hodge. “These things happen to us all – people have highs and lows. He’s got his head screwed on. He’s just got to work away and take the feedback on board. He’s a professional guy, he’s got high standards, and I’m sure he’ll react tomorrow night.
“There’s one guy who’s probably elated, and Magnus isn’t. You console with one and congratulate the other. Cornell may get some extra confidence, and Magnus, on the flip side, might get some extra motivation because he’s got a point to prove. It’s hard to predict these things, but I’m sure they’ll be fine.”
There was no news to report on WP Nel, who was named in the Six Nations squad amid concerns that he may have aggravated the neck injury which kept him out of the last couple of months of the year in that Harlequins game.
“Everyone knows what happened at the weekend,” said Hodge. “He’s being assessed and I don’t know anything more. Hopefully it’s nothing untoward.”
Fowles gets another shot at a No 9 jersey which has been regularly shared around by himself Sean Kennedy and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne this season.
“Nathan started earlier in the season, and Sean and Sam have had a fair bit of game time. He deserves his chance,” said the coach.
“There’s a few positions where we’ve got a lot of competition. For a coach it’s difficult to manage. It has its pros and cons.”
Hodge added: “There’s a couple of bumps and bruises and guys who’ve been doing well in training and need some game time. In essence we’ve picked a pretty strong squad. We’ve had a good two or three weeks and making a lot of changes can sometimes upset things.
“It’s a big game, our first one here. We could have altered more but have chosen not to and will look to keep that form going. We want to perform really well.”
Timisoara come into the match undercooked after having to scrap last weekend’s scheduled match with Stade Francais, which cost them the punishment of a 28-0 defeat awarded to the French side and a e30,000 fine.
“They’re a big solid Romanian pack, and then in the backs they’ve got a fair overseas influence,” explained Hodge.
“We expect a really tough, physical game. We did a lot of prep for them originally and have seen their games against Harlequins since. We’ve prepared fully.”