Edinburgh v Zebre: Mike Blair explains bold call at full-back and calls for flexibility

Mike Blair is looking for his Edinburgh squad to display a degree of flexibility after naming Jaco van der Walt at full-back for Friday night’s URC clash with Zebre Parma at the DAM Health Stadium.

Van der Walt has found his chances at stand-off limited this season due to injury and Blair Kinghorn’s successful conversion to fly-half but spoke earlier in the week about his willingness to play in other positions.

He came on at centre against Bath last weekend and gets the chance at 15 for the visit of the Italians.

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Van der Walt was capped by Scotland at 10 last season but played a fair bit at full-back in his formative years in South Africa.

Blair expects his players to be able to adapt, particularly when injuries force his hand. Henry Immelman, his first choice full-back, suffered a bang to the knee against Bath. Emiliano Boffelli can also play at 15 but has a slight back strain and is being rested after a long and fruitful run on the wing. Darcy Graham, another option at full-back, is still a few weeks away from returning from a quad issue and Damien Hoyland has a long-term injury.

“We want guys to be rugby players and fit in where required,” said the Edinburgh coach who has no doubts about van der Walt’s capabilities.

“A lot of time in South Africa he played 15. He is an impressive all round player. He can play at 10 as well and has played most of his career in Scotland at 10. He came on at full back against the Lions and has been covering full back for the last few weeks as well.

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Freddie Owsley will make his third Edinburgh start when he faces Zebre. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

“We are confident he will fit in well with what we are trying to do. He gives us a goalkicking option and is a solid defender. He is a decision maker as well, a second receiver who can play on the blindside as well.”

Zebre are bottom of the URC, winless after 13 games, and anything other than a victory would be a major setback for Edinburgh’s play-off aspirations. Nevertheless, Blair has resisted the temptation to make too many changes and is respectful of opponents who ran Newcastle close in the Challenge Cup recently.

Stuart McInally, Grant Gilchrist and Magnus Bradbury will sit this one out, with Dave Cherry, Glen Young and Mesu Kunavula replacing the experienced forward trio. Freddie Owsley comes in on the wing for Boffelli to make his third appearance for Edinburgh. The former UK sprinter was sent off at the Melrose Sevens recently but Blair said the red card had been rescinded.

There are two other changes in the back line, with Cammy Hutchison coming in at inside centre for James Lang and Henry Pyrgos starting at scrum-half in place of Ben Vellacott. Pyrgos will captain Edinburgh, with Lang and Vellacott named among the replacements.

Jaco van der Walt has been selected at full-back by Edinburgh to face Zebre. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

Edinburgh have slipped to seventh in the URC but are at the DAM Health for their final three regular season fixtures as they target a top four finish that would guarantee them a home play-off quarter-final.

“This is a really important game,” added Blair. “There is no point resting guys and them being fresh for a game in two or three weeks time. We have picked a strong team here.”

Edinburgh Rugby v Zebre Parma (URC, DAM Health Stadium, Friday, 7.45pm. TV: live on Premier Sports)

Edinburgh Rugby: Jaco van der Walt; Ramiro Moyano, Mark Bennett, Cammy Hutchison, Freddie Owsley; Blair Kinghorn, Henry Pyrgos (c); Pierre Schoeman, Dave Cherry, Lee-Roy Atalifo, Marshall Sykes, Glen Yong, Ben Muncaster, Hamish Watson, Mesulame Kunavula.

Replacements: Adam McBurney, Harrison Courtney, Angus Williams, Jamie Hodgson, Connor Boyle, Ben Vellacott, James Lang, Matt Currie.

Zebre Parma: Junior Laloifi; Jacopo Trulla, Erich Cronjé, Enrico Lucchin, Simone Gesi; Antonio Rizzi, Alessandro Fusco; Danilo Fischetti, Luca Bigi (c), Ion Neculai, Gabriele Venditti, Andrea Zambonin, Liam Mitchell, Maxime Mbandà, Taina Fox-Matamua.

Replacements: Giampietro Ribaldi, Paolo Buonfiglio, Eduardo Bello, David Sisi, Luca Andreani, Chris Cook, Timothy O’Malley, Lorenzo Pani.

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU).

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