Edinburgh interim head coach Duncan Hodge admits his front-row resources are becoming increasingly stretched but is hopeful that his team can bounce back from last weekend’s pre-Halloween horror show against Zebre with improvement against Ulster tonight.
Young South Africa-born tighthead Kyle Whyte, who was only signed on a partnership agreement with Watsonians yesterday, goes straight on to the bench for tonight’s visit of the Irish province, with Murray McCallum starting in the No 3 jersey.
Whyte, 21, who is eligible to play for Scotland through his father Steve, who was born and brought up in Inverness, played for Western Province at U19 and U21 level before breaking into the senior side and helping the Cape Town side reach the Currie Cup semi-finals. He has also been named on the Watsonians bench for their match against Hawick at Myreside tomorrow.
With tightheads WP Nel and Kevin Bryce injured and shortages at loosehead too, Hodge accepts that the front-row problem has become acute.
“It will be a big challenge,” said the coach. “Injuries and Scotland stuff have taken their toll. But on the flipside Murray has come in and done really well and Jack [Cosgrove] gets his chance [at loosehead]. We will learn more about these guys. There are pros and cons, but yes, it will be a big challenge in the front row.”
Hodge has been able to name the same backline as last week but forwards Alasdair Dickinson, Allan Dell, Ross Ford, Grant Gilchrist, John Hardie and Hamish Watson have all been retained by Scotland ahead of the autumn Tests.
Stuart McInally, who went off injured during the shock 19-14 loss to the Italians, is fit but starts on the bench as Neil Cosgrove skippers the side.
Whyte, who is joined by Argentine tighthead/loosehead Felipe Arregui on the bench, said: “It’s a very exciting time and prospect for me.
“With my dad being born here, I’ve always been interested in coming over to Scotland, so I’m looking forward to getting started and proving myself.”
There is a rare bit of good news on the medical front for Hodge with the earlier-than-expected return of Scotland stand-off Duncan Weir, who has recovered from his broken jaw and is on the bench.
“That has all been medically driven,” said Hodge. “Duncan has done all his tests and he is fine. It’s great to have him back involved in terms of his experience and character. Jason [Tovey] has been playing well, but it’s great to have someone of Duncan’s calibre back.”
Ulster’s home defeat against Munster last week saw them slip to fifth in the Guinness Pro12 table, three places above Edinburgh, but they are 13 points ahead of the Scots and have been one of the stand-out sides at the start of the season, with a record of five wins and two defeats which is the mirror opposite of tonight’s opponents.
There is no Paddy Jackson, the stand-off who was pulled from the Irish Test squad due to off-field issues, but Ulster have still named a strong team, featuring the likes of Tommy Bowe, Ruan Pienaar and star man Charles Piutau, who will start at full-back.
“Paddy’s a very good player so it’s a bonus to us that he’s not playing,” said Hodge.
“But they’ve got a strong maul and a strong scrum so we expect a very tough battle. Every opposition you give respect and there are guys you pick out. Piutau would be one of those.”