IT MAY only be the first weekend in November but Edinburgh’s home clash with Munster at BT Murrayfield this evening has the feeling of a potentially season-shaping encounter.
With the World Cup lending the Guinness Pro12 a slightly unreal air, Alan Solomons’ side initially made hay by winning their first four games before stalling with back-to-back away losses to Zebre and Connacht.
Now, with the teams beginning to look more familiar with the return of international players, and a two-week break for European competition looming, Edinburgh are desperate to get one over last season’s Pro12 runners-up and avoid slipping to a demoralising third consecutive defeat.
Solomons has brought back Scotland’s first-choice front row in Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford and WP Nel, as well as centre Matt Scott and makes no bones about the significance of the game.
The South African said: “It is an important game for us. We’ve said we need to do well at home. They’ve only lost one game this season and, apart from Peter O’Mahony, they will be at full pitch and we’re not. We know we have to be right on our game. It’s going to be very tough.”
The coach has decided that new signing John Hardie needs more time to adapt to the systems and structures after only starting training at the club earlier in the week, while No 8 David Denton is being given more rest after a physically demanding World Cup.
Will Helu moves from wing to outside centre to partner Scott, while 18-year-old Blair Kinghorn retains his place at full-back and Greig Tonks replaces Phil Burleigh at stand-off.
Alex Toolis is promoted from the bench to fill in for the suspended Fraser McKenzie and Cornell du Preez starts at No 8 flanked by skipper Mike Coman and Hamish Watson.
“It’s just too early for John,” said Solomons. “He has literally just got in this week and has never worked with us. To put him straight in wouldn’t be fair on him.
“John will play, there’s no question about that. He performed very well in the World Cup but it’s got to be at a time that’s right for him. I’ll take it on a week-to-week basis. He’s fitting in well, did well at practice and has slotted in well to the squad. He obviously knows some of the boys from the World Cup and he knows Burls [Phil Burleigh] and Nasi [Manu] from the Highlanders. He’s slotted in seamlessly and he’s a really nice boy.”
World Cup returnees Conor Murray and Keith Earls will make their first Munster appearances of the season after being named in Anthony Foley’s starting line-up. The last time Munster were at BT Murrayfield they overpowered Edinburgh 34-3, but Solomons is confident it will be a different story this evening.
The coach said: “It was a heavy defeat but, if you go back to that game, 75 per cent of their tries came from mauls so we are aware of that and [assistant/forwards coach] Stevie [Scott] has worked hard at that aspect of the game.”
Scott, meanwhile, is feeling refreshed and ready to throw himself back into club duty.
The 25-year-old said: “I had a back injury that kept me out of the [World Cup] quarter-final against Australia, so I was coming in and getting physio for that as well and I have just stayed in Edinburgh. Until the quarter-final, I had played in every warm-up game and every World Cup game, so I had played about eight games on the bounce.
“I needed a week or two. It was also about getting a mental break from rugby. You are in quite a bubble and it is good to clear the head. I felt really energised coming back into Edinburgh, wanting to make a mark and play as soon as possible. It’s good to start this week.
“I watched a bit of TV. Being injured, I couldn’t play any golf, so a lot of it was sofa time. I saw the family again and just spent time at home, which was nice. Nothing too energetic.”
Scott is looking forward to teaming up with Helu and added: “This will be the first time I’ve played with Will, who has done really well for us. It will be interesting.
“We’ll be hoping to get on top. Will is a great communicator on the pitch and in training. He is a physical guy, 100 kilos with good feet and he has an eye for the try line. I’m looking forward to playing with him.”