Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has expressed satisfaction with his squad as they look to build on last season’s great leap forward.
The capital pro team start their pre-season campaign against Bath at Meggetland tonight and the coach, who led the side to a record-breaking number of wins and Heineken Champions Cup qualification last term, is looking forward to seeing a mix of youth and experience get a run out this evening.
Academy prospect Jack Blain starts on the wing, but the Englishman is also excited to add some experience to his playing pool, with international scrum-half Henry Pyrgos set to make his Edinburgh debut off the bench, as Sean Kennedy is named in the starting XV.
Cockerill had been vocal about his desire to have one of Glasgow’s trio of Test nines, which also included Ali Price and George Horne, transferred across the M8 and got his wish. “We were looking for a nine who would add strength to our squad. If that was Henry, brilliant, if that wasn’t I was always going to push to go outside and go into the market place,” said Cockerill.
“Henry is a Scotsman, he has a lot of experience and needed the opportunity to get back to where he would like to get to and compete for a first-choice spot for Scotland. He is very committed to us and I am delighted to have his experience in the squad.
“He is a perfect fit for us and will suit what we are trying to do very, very well.”
Asked if it had been a tough negotiation after a less than warm response from Glasgow counterpart Dave Rennie at the time, Cockerill said: “Not at all, I am working with the union the whole time – I am quite persuasive when I need to be!
“I put my argument forward about having another nine. We knew it was a position we needed to strengthen and to be fair to [director of elite rugby] Scotty Johnson and [SRU chief executive] Mark Dodson, they wanted to make it work.
“My job is to fight the corner for Edinburgh and make sure we can be as good as we need to be. Nothing has changed so I am delighted to get Henry and delighted to get the support from the union. If you don’t ask, you don’t get so if I think I can do something that will make this team better, I will be talking to my bosses and trying to get this team as good as it can be. That is my job and that is what I intend to keep doing.
“I assume [Rennie is happy] because he let it happen!”
So would Cockerill now be on the look-out for more captures from Scotstoun? Stuart Hogg maybe?
“Hogg wouldn’t get in front of Blair [Kinghorn] so there is no point,” said Cockerill with a chuckle.
Kinghorn is rested following his international commitments on the summer tour. Magnus Bradbury is another notable omission from the 35-man squad for tonight’s friendly, while Scotland centre Matt Scott will make a return for his home city club after re-signing from Gloucester, with Mark Bennett on the bench. Prop WP Nel should be ready to feature in next week’s warm-up against Newcastle.
“Magnus has got a slight calf issue, which we’re looking after,” said the coach. “Obviously there’s a few of those international players that were on tour who we’re looking after as well in arrangement with the Scottish national team. Damien Hoyland had surgery on his toe in the summer, so he’s still recovering from that.
“And Jaco van der Walt has got a slight hamstring issue which we’re looking after, but he’ll be fit for next week. We’re pretty much just getting everybody out on the field and knocking a bit of the rough stuff off.”
Stuart McInally skippers the side and looks favourite to return to the role of club captain after a stellar 2017-18 season.
“We’ll announce our captaincy next week,” said Cockerill. “But obviously Stuart’s a strong candidate, along with Fraser McKenzie, John Barclay – there’s a few good leaders in there. We’ll let you know next week.”
On the selection of Stewart’s Melville’s 18-year-old Blain, Cockerill said: “I think it’s great. I’m trying to forge strong links with the Edinburgh academy, and bringing players through like we saw with Luke Crosbie last year.
“Jack’s come in, and there’s an opportunity with a little bit of injury, but also just to see young lads play and develop. He’s 18, he’s a big strong kid, he’s worked really hard in pre-season, so it’s good to get him out there and test him and give him that bit of experience.
“It’s really good for Jack, and it will be a great opportunity for him against a good side.”