Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has named six members of Scotland’s Six Nations squad in his 23 for tonight’s final European Challenge Cup Pool 4 match against Stade Francais in Paris.
There are eight changes from the side that ensured a home quarter-final in the competition with a dramatic 34-33 win over the French side at BT Murrayfield last Friday but, given the circumstances, Cockerill has still opted for a relatively strong line-up despite there being nothing left to gain from a pool campaign which has seen Edinburgh win all five of their games.
Five Scotland squad members start the match – centre Mark Bennett, scrum-half Nathan Fowles, tighthead Murray McCallum and back-rowers Magnus Bradbury and Cornell du Preez. Lock Grant Gilchrist is on the bench.
There is a start at hooker for 22-year-old Cameron Fenton, a product of Strathallan School and Howe of Fife who signed a one-year deal at the start of the season after previously being in the Glasgow Warriors set-up.
Cockerill said: “Obviously, we have qualified and there is no guarantee we will get a home semi-final. We just decided to look after a few guys who have played a fair bit and given opportunities to others.
“Lewis Carmichael and Fraser McKenzie need to play so we can see where they are at and we also wanted to give an opportunity to Cammy Fenton in a big game to see where he is in his development.
“We are pleased with the team. Looking at the Stade team they have picked a strong side as well so it will be a really good test for us.”
The selection of Fenton sees Cockerill looking ahead to next season and the coach added: “Stuart McInally has done very well but Fenton is only 22 and has played at age-group for Scotland. I wanted to see how he goes, [Ross] Ford is injured but he is also 34, [Neil] Cochrane is also 34, so I have to have one eye on the future around those young hookers coming through and he is one of them.
“It is an opportunity in a game that is not critical for us and he can play and we can see where he is at. Look, he is a good player, he has played well when he has come off the bench and he gets a great opportunity this weekend.”
Cockerill wants to see a competitive performance from his players but accepts that Stade, who could still make the last eight, have a monopoly on motivation. The coach doesn’t fear that a loss in the French capital would derail the momentum which has been achieved in recent months.
“Not at all. We have to make sure we developed the squad,” said Cockerill. “The only way to do that is to give guys opportunities. This is a real opportunity in a big game. We are still going there to win.”
Cockerill revealed full-back Blair Kinghorn is carrying an injury but not one serious enough to put him in any doubt for the Six Nations after the 21-year-old received his first senior Scotland call-up last week.
“He has a slight foot issue, not a problem, just a bit sore from being stood on last weekend,” said Cockerill. “It was sensible to give him a weekend off because we can and also he will be heavily involved with Scotland – if he is not playing he will be training with them and that is a heavy workload so we decided to look after him.”