Duncan Hodge is hoping that returning a tranche of Scotland internationalists to his team can be the catalyst to breaking a five-match losing streak when they face Scarlets in Llanelli tonight.
Nine players from the Six Nations squad are in this evening’s 23 as Edinburgh desperately seek to inject some positivity into a championship campaign which is floundering badly and ensure they go into next weekend’s big European quarter-final at home to French league leaders La Rochelle with some confidence.
Duncan Weir returns at stand-off, while an all-international front row of Allan Dell, captain Ross Ford and Simon Berghan will pack down. Cornell du Preez, who won his first two caps off the bench in the final two games against England and Italy, starts at No 8, while lock Grant Gilchrist joins Stuart McInally on the bench.
The only Scotland man not to feature is Hamish Watson and coach Hodge said: “Hamish is injured. He’s not fit to play. He has two or three little issues though nothing major, but he’s not fit for selection.
“But most of our guys didn’t play week on week so in that regard we’ve been quite lucky, so it’s great to have those guys back involved.
“It should definitely help the quality of our team and it brings more experience. They have also learned more lessons in the time they’ve been away when you look at their performances and what Scotland have done so it’s a great thing.
“We definitely hope that they transfer that on. And with that comes a responsibility. Take Delly and Simon Berghan, we hope that they show they are Scotland players on Friday night. With playing international rugby comes an expectation whenever you play.”
Lock Anton Bresler makes his first start after a long injury lay-off and Hodge is hoping the next week can provide a fresh start after suffering a series of agonising losses this year that have left Edinburgh languishing in ninth place.
“We’re all gutted in that that was a tough period for us over those last five games where we had kicks to win it in the last few minutes,” said the acting head coach, pictured below. “You go to Ulster and get to within four; against Ospreys we concede one try and have all the possession and territory and just don’t get over the line… there are games there we should have won and where we feel we haven’t done ourselves justice, so that’s the motivation now. The group never stop working and are keen to learn, so it’s just winning games of rugby. That’s easier said than done, we’re going down to a good side, but we have nothing to fear. We have a good side with guys back and have to be positive about Friday night and winning the game.”
Scarlets lie fifth, with top-four aspirations, and have named a strong team themselves, with the familiar faces of Scotland stand-in skipper John Barclay and former Glasgow wing DTH van der Merwe on the bench.
One of Edinburgh’s four Pro12 wins this season came at home to the Welsh side back in September and Hodge insisted his team would approach the game believing they can win.
“This season and last [against Scarlets] have all been pretty close affairs and obviously they have a lot of talent in the backs,” said Hodge. “But we marked well in that game, albeit the weather helped, and that’s been a key theme. We’ve been strong up front against them and we’ll look to take them on there again.
“There are definite parallels. They’re fairly consistent in what they’re trying to do and how they want to play, and we’re well aware of that.
“In the last three games against them have been close and we’ve played well in patches so we can take confidence from those games.”
Hodge expressed delight at the three-year contract extension for tighthead WP Nel, confirmed on Wednesday, but admitted the prop – who has had surgery on a neck injury – was not expected to be back in an Edinburgh jersey until next season, with the Scotland and Lions tours unlikely.
“That would be a question for the medics and is not something I could answer,” said Hodge. “I’ve only got an Edinburgh hat on, and I don’t know the exact date [of return to fitness], but I’d imagine that would be cutting it too fine.”