Saracens v Edinburgh: Magnus Bradbury in ‘best shape of his career’ as Mike Blair weighs up back-row options

Although still awaiting medical reports, Mike Blair’s demeanour yesterday suggested the injury suffered by Viliame Mata is unlikely to be of the short-term variety.

Magnus Bradbury made his 100th appearance for Edinburgh in the win over Benetton. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
Magnus Bradbury made his 100th appearance for Edinburgh in the win over Benetton. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

The Edinburgh coach seemed almost rueful as he reflected on the knee issue that forced that No 8 off after 29 minutes of the match against Benetton on Friday night.

“With his Fijian blood line hopefully it is an injury that will heal up nice and quickly,” said Blair, more in hope than expectation, you suspect.

Edinburgh will have more clarity today on how long the player will be out for but the coaching team have already turned their attention to filling the void for this weekend’s match against Saracens.

Magnus Bradbury has impressed this season and was named man of the match against Benetton. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

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The Challenge Cup tie in Barnet is as tough as they come in Europe’s supposedly second-tier competition but it shouldn’t be one which daunts the Scottish travellers whose win over Benetton was their fourth in a row in the United Rugby Championship and lifted them to second place in the table.

Magnus Bradbury, on his 100th appearance for Edinburgh, was man of the match against the Italians and would seem a natural fit to replace Mata, moving from six to eight, with Jamie Ritchie coming in at blindside flanker.

Alternatively, Blair might opt for Nick Haining, although he also name-checked Luke Crosbie, Ben Muncaster and Connor Boyle as he reflected on his options.

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Nick Haining is a back-row option for Edinburgh against Saracens this weekend. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

“You will have seen from some of my selections I am keen to pass the game time around as best I can,” said the Edinburgh coach.

“It is difficult because the games are not on during internationals now but I believe it is important to keep competition up by doing that.

“The back row that started against the Dragons - Luke, Maggie [Bradbury] and Nick - did well and Ben and Connor did well off the bench.

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“Maggie has been excellent the last couple of weeks as well but we will make a decision on that in the next 24 hours but I think we have some good choices and want to keep everybody engaged.”

Edinburgh expect to find out the severity of Bill Mata's knee injury on Wednesday. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

Bradbury has had a new lease of life this season, with Edinburgh’s quicker game under Blair seeming to suit him. The coach thinks the 14-times capped Scotland international is in his best physical condition and has more confidence.

“He is enjoying playing the game with tempo, getting the opportunity to get his hands on the ball,” said Blair.

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“We have spoken about a few things in terms of his ball carrying, the evasion, not just that power. He has that bit of confidence in his game and, from a conditioning point of view, this is the best shape he has been in his career and getting better.”

Saracens lost at the weekend to Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership but, like Edinburgh, sit second in the standings and Blair expects a South African-style challenge on Saturday.

“They have a very large physical team and backs with the X factor,” he said. “They have a Bulls/Stormers type of game, maybe a Bulls pack and a Stormers backline.

“It is a good gauge for us. They are one of the top teams in Europe.”

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Stand-off Jaco van der Walt is available for Edinburgh again which could be timely if Blair Kinghorn fails to recover in time form a head knock.

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