Time for Edinburgh to front up as Mike Blair picks 15 caps for Leicester Tigers clash

Mike Blair has called on his Edinburgh players to front up after naming his strongest possible team for what could be a season-defining match against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
Pierre Schoeman is back in the Edinburgh team. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)Pierre Schoeman is back in the Edinburgh team. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)
Pierre Schoeman is back in the Edinburgh team. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)

The visitors’ starting XV comprises 13 Scotland internationals and one each from Argentina and Fiji as they look to knock the English champions out of the Heineken Champions Cup. Defeat would signal the end of the road for Edinburgh for this campaign in terms of meaningful fixtures, leaving them with two dead rubbers in the URC, against Ospreys and Ulster. Victory would propel them into the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club competition and breathe new life into a season that has gone frustratingly awry.

Blair has already announced his intention to step down as head coach, and Steve Diamond has been brought in to assist him for the next few weeks, but both men know the side they have selected gives them the strongest chance possible of ending a losing run which has stretched to four matches. Scotland quartet Pierre Schoeman, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson and Duhan van der Merwe return after missing last week’s defeat at Connacht, rested following the Six Nations.

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“It’s a really strong team,” said Blair. “The way we have packaged it up is that the team should give us belief. It is a really experienced team, lots of internationals there. It is about fronting up in the Edinburgh jersey now and showing how important playing for Edinburgh is, for our supporters and putting a performance on the pitch. We want to go out and enjoy ourselves and show what it means to play for Edinburgh. You can’t change the past. We take what we can from that and move on. I am just really excited to see this game and how up for the game we are and the energy we are going to create.”

Leicester have won their last five league games and have also picked a side peppered with internationals, including the return of England pair Freddie Steward and Jack van Poortvliet, at full-back and scrum-half. “Leicester are a class team,” added Blair. “They won the Prem last year and have an international Barbarian mix to their team as well. They will be really strong and will be playing at home in front of 24,000 and will have expectations on them as well but we just have to think what our game is and putting our best version of ourselves out there and everything should fall into place after that.”

Diamond is in his second week working with Edinburgh and feels they are low on confidence but believes they should be doing better than they are given the quality of player available to them. Nevertheless, he is also acutely aware of just how hard it is to get a result at Welford Road and has called on Edinburgh to stand up physically, particularly in the opening exchanges. “I’ve been going to Leicester for 30 years and only won three times, I think,” said Diamond. “It’s a difficult place to go, and getting that changing room buzzing on Friday is going to be exciting. We don’t want to see any yellow cards but we want to see a good old-fashioned game of rugby up front in the first 20 minutes.”

Leicester Tigers v Edinburgh Rugby: Heineken Champions Cup last 16, Friday, 8pm, Mattioli Woods Welford Road. TV: live on BT Sport.

Leicester: 15. Freddie Steward; 14. Anthony Watson, 13. Guy Porter, 12. Jimmy Gopperth, 11. Harry Potter; 10. Handré Pollard, 9. Jack van Poortvliet; 1. James Cronin, 2. Julian Montoya (c), 3. Dan Cole, 4. George Martin, 5. Cameron Henderson, 6. Hanro Liebenberg, 7. Tommy Reffell, 8. Olly Cracknell.

Duhan van der Merwe has been picked on the wing to face Leicester. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)Duhan van der Merwe has been picked on the wing to face Leicester. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)
Duhan van der Merwe has been picked on the wing to face Leicester. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)

Replacements: 16. Charlie Clare, 17. Tom West, 18. Joe Heyes, 19. Eli Snyman, 20. Jasper Wiese, 21. Sam Wolstenholme, 22. Charlie Atkinson, 23. Dan Kelly.

Edinburgh: 15. Emiliano Boffelli; 14. Darcy Graham, 13. Mark Bennett, 12. James Lang, 11. Duhan van der Merwe; 10. Blair Kinghorn, 9. Henry Pyrgos; 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. Stuart McInally, 3. WP Nel, 4. Sam Skinner, 5. Grant Gilchrist (c), 6. Jamie Ritchie, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Viliame Mata.

Replacements: 16. David Cherry, 17. Boan Venter, 18. Luan de Bruin, 19. Marshall Sykes, 20. Luke Crosbie, 21. Ben Vellacott, 22. Cameron Hutchison, 23. Damien Hoyland.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).



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