Alan Solomons says that he had little choice but to make 11 changes in personnel, plus one positional alteration, to the team which lost in Ulster last weekend, ahead of this afternoon’s European Challenge Cup clash against London Irish at the Madejski Stadium.
Second-rowers Alex Toolis and Anton Bresler, along with No 8 Cornell du Preez, have all retained their positions in the Edinburgh pack, with Solomons admitting that his hands were tied with those selections through a lack of credible alternatives.
Behind the scrum, Dougie Fife switches from right wing to full-back. He is the only familiar face from last week in the starting line-up.
With no new injury problems to report, it could be argued that Solomons is risking an early exit from the Challenge Cup in order to keep as many key men as possible fit and fresh for Edinburgh’s Guinness Pro12 campaign. It is the club’s stated aim to push to finish in the top six this season and thereby qualify to play in the Champions Cup next year.
However, the South African coach said that the likes of Matt Scott, John Hardie and highly-rated international front-row unit of Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford and WP Nel are now running on fumes after an arduous start to the season. He added that, while the players coming in do not possess the same sort of profile as those they have replaced, they will bring a freshness which could galvanise the whole squad.
“These guys have played five games on the trot after a heavy World Cup campaign, so resting them is the right thing for us to do. We also have to look after Phil [Burleigh] as he has played a lot and, with Jade Te Rure out, we are a little bit light at fly-half,” said Solomons. “You could see last weekend, the fatigue of our front-row in particular. But the advantage of that is that it gives a number of players an opportunity, and allows us to test our strength in depth.
“London Irish have been struggling in the Premiership and their coach has said that they are going to use this game to build confidence and they have named a strong team so it is going to be a big challenge,” he continued.
“But you have to think about our programme. We’ve got London Irish twice, Glasgow twice, Treviso, Agen and Grenoble. And remember we are in a 16-game run. We want to play well week-in and week-out, and that is why we need a big squad and the best young Scotland players coming through the system.”
One of the youngsters desperate to vindicate Solomons’ faith in him is last year’s Scotland under-20 captain Jamie Ritchie, who had double cause for celebration yesterday after it was announced that he was being given his first competitive start for the club on the same day as he signed a three-year contract extension.
“I’ve really enjoyed my first year and a half of professional rugby. It has been a great experience and I really like where Edinburgh are going, so it was a pretty easy decision to make,” said the 19-year-old, who signed his first pro contract straight from school, but played regularly for Heriots’ last season during their march to BT Premiership title.
“Being around this bunch of guys has been hugely beneficial to my personal development. A lot of them are quite a bit older than me so I’ve had to learn to communicate with them. You look at guys like Ross Ford, who I have watched playing since I was about eight years old, and it is great that I am now able to consider these guys my friends.
He added: “This match is a huge opportunity. One of my goals at the start of the season was to get a start and I’m really happy that Solly [Solomons] has given me the opportunity to show what I can do with more than a bit of time at the end of the game. Hopefully I can do the unskilful things well and then put my own spin on things.”
“With their new coaching set-up, London Irish are playing quite an expansive, southern-hemisphere style game, so we are expecting them to spread the ball wide, with lots of little tip-ons and things like that. But I think if we stick to our systems and play the way we can play then we shouldn’t have an issue.”
Solomons was tight-lipped about the prospect of any more current players putting pen to paper on contract extensions in the weeks ahead. However, now that the coach has committed to the club for at least one more season, there should be some movement on the front soon.
“I am positive about this process. We are building something good at Edinburgh and I would like to see that continue,” he said.
Scotland flanker Blair Cowan has been relegated to the bench by London Irish coach Tom Coventry for this match.