Matt Scott and Mark Bennett will form a starting centre pairing for the first time since the 2016 Calcutta Cup match when Edinburgh complete their pre-season preparations away to Newcastle Falcons this evening.
The Scotland internationals are at the heart of a strong XV named by coach Richard Cockerill ahead of next Friday’s Guinness Pro14 opener at Ospreys.
Scott and Bennett were briefly the No 1 centre pairing for Scotland during the 2015-16 Rugby World Cup season but both have since been hampered by injuries. Scott, who has 39 caps to Bennett’s 22, left Edinburgh for Gloucester and has struggled to force his way back into the Scotland set-up under both Vern Cotter and Gregor Townsend, with instructions to work on some aspects of his game, notably defence.
Now back at his home city club, Scott will be looking to reinvigorate his career and lines up this evening alongside Bennett, whose move from Glasgow was stymied by a knee ligament injury which kept him out for a year and he only pulled on an Edinburgh jersey in the second half of last season.
“It’s good to get the combination,” said Cockerill after naming his team for the friendly against a Falcons side Edinburgh will face again in the Heineken Champions Cup later in the season.
“They’re two Test midfielders, they’ve both played for Scotland together and you’d like to think that if we can get that combination working well it’ll be of some benefit for us.
“ But there’s going to be some competition. Chris Dean played very well for us last year, [Juan Pablo] Socino’s a very good player, Jimmy Johnstone has performed well and young George Taylor’s been very good in pre-season too, so there’s going to be rotation, there’s going to be injuries and form, so it will be good to see them play together and see how they get on.”
It will be a tartan-heavy midfield at Kingston Park tonight as Scott and Bennett will be up against Chris Harris, who had cameos for Scotland in last season’s autumn Tests, Six Nations and summer tour.
Following a 12-10 loss to Bath at Meggetland last Friday, Cockerill feels tonight’s starting side is closer to a dress rehearsal for when the real business starts in seven days’ time.
“Yes I think so,” he said. “We want to get everyone good game time and there are some guys who can’t play through the international agreement so we are pretty much, not far away from what will play the Ospreys, but we will see what comes at the weekend and there will still be some guys who become available for week one.”
Scotland tighthead WP Nel will make his comeback off the bench and the coach added: “He has been working hard, he had a slight knee issue in the summer that has been sorted and he is good to go, same with [loosehead] Allan Dell from the tour and [hooker Ross] Ford, so that is a good experienced front row.”
Asked what he wants to see from his troops in this final hit out before the season starts, Cockerill said: “Just getting the physical parts right, the combinations, the guys playing together.
“You always want to win, I wanted to win last week, but that is just how it is.
“For us we need to get our best team out on the field to be as good as we can be and I am still trying to bed in the new signings.
“I went to watch the Glasgow game [last Saturday] and I thought Harlequins were disappointing [losing 50-17 in Perth], Bath were twice as good as Quins were so these are good hit outs for us.
“The only important thing is to win at Ospreys. Of course we want to play well and win [this week], but it is not the be all and end all because there are a lot of competitive games to come and you can’t bang the drum and play your cup final every week.”
Cockerill has made six changes to the side that started against Bath, including ten Scotland internationalists. Henry Pyrgos is at scrum-half alongside South African stand-off Jaco van der Walt.