Edinburgh interim head coach Duncan Hodge insisted yesterday that any possibility of Scotland centre Huw Jones potentially coming to the club was “not on my radar”.
Scotland coach Vern Cotter has suggested that attempts are being made to bring the Stormers midfielder, who earned his first cap on the recent Japan tour, to either Edinburgh or Glasgow.
The 22-year-old was born in Edinburgh but mainly raised in England and made his breakthrough into professional rugby in South Africa, where he attended university.
Edinburgh might be viewed as more in need of a top-class centre than the Warriors at present, but Hodge said: “It’s the first I’ve heard. I’ve no idea. All we are really doing is preparing for Friday night’s game. It’s news to me.
“That has not been on my radar. Those conversations are happening within the SRU in collaboration with Edinburgh and Glasgow. I’ve not had any involvement.
“I watched him in the summer. I’ve watched a fair bit of him in super rugby as well. To play for Scotland he’s obviously a good player. He’s not someone I’ve seen a huge amount of, but is obviously a talented player.”
Jones still has a year to run on his contract with Western Province, who run the Cape Town-based Stormers, and his agent, who also represents South Africa-born Scotland caps WP Nel and Josh Strauss, told The Scotsman that he is “expected to be playing Super Rugby next season”.
Western Province have been suffering financial woes of late, however, with a reported £650,000 annual loss and a legal dispute over commercial rights which has led to them being sued for £4.3 million by a sports marketing firm. So they may be willing to let Jones go for a fee.
However, Hodge is completely focused on maintaining Edinburgh’s current good run of form, which culminated in last Saturday’s thrilling 36-35 European Challenge Cup win over Harlequins.
The aim now is to make it four wins in a row when winless Italian basement boys Zebre visit BT Murrayfield tonight.
“In terms of how we are playing, we will go into the game with some confidence,” said the coach. “But this week has been about maintaining those standards. We don’t want to drop at all, we want to keep improving.
“It’s Saturday to Friday [turnaround] so it’s been a bit different having a shorter week. There were some big pluses last week, especially in terms of defence and some of our attack, but we were a bit behind with our kick-offs and some of our forward play.
“We have certainly not put together the full package by any means. That is an aim. It’s lucky we’re at home and hopefully we will get another big crowd. We want to keep winning at home.”
Hodge has made four changes to the team that edged ’Quins, all in the pack, as new Argentine tighthead prop Felipe Arregui, who made his debut off the bench at the weekend, will make his first Edinburgh start as he replaces Nel, whose neck injury has ruled him out of the autumn Tests, while hooker Stuart McInally makes a direct swap from the bench with Ross Ford.
In the back-row, Magnus Bradbury switches from blindside flanker to No 8 with the incoming Viliame Mata at blindside in what will also be his first home start.
John Hardie gets his chance at openside, with Hamish Watson rested.
Hodge said it was a great position to be in with two such quality and in-form flankers available for that key openside linking role.
“If you look at their involvement in the games they have been playing, it’s a big shift for an openside,” said the coach.
“We’ve got two guys who can play extremely well, so from an Edinburgh point of view it makes sense to share that workload, plus you try to balance it with your team and what you’re trying to do tactically.
“They’re both playing exceptionally well for Edinburgh, and last week’s selection came on the back of Hards making 24 tackles and playing the full 80 minutes in Romania, then doing all the travelling. It’s an incredible position to be in, and hopefully we’ll be like Glasgow over the past couple of years where they’ve had the amazing competition for places – we’re certainly getting that now.
“Which is good for the team, good for training, good for creating that competitive environment.
“There are a lot of good players who are not getting a game just now.”
It’s already looking like it will be another long, hard season for the Italian clubs but Hodge insisted: “Zebre have a lot of good qualities about them. They will come to play rugby. They are strong up front and they are pretty aggressive in defence.
“We know when we go to Italy that it’s not easy in terms of travel so there are some tough factors for them to face.”