Viliame Mata and Sam Skinner bolster Edinburgh for final dress rehearsal for new URC season

There is a sturdier look about the Edinburgh side picked to play Benetton in Italy on Friday – if it goes ahead – and it is made more impressive by the inclusion on the bench of Viliame Mata and Sam Skinner.

Scotland forward Sam Skinner joined Edinburgh from Exeter. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)
Scotland forward Sam Skinner joined Edinburgh from Exeter. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

Mata, the talismanic Fijian back row, has not played since suffering a serious knee injury in the win over the same opponents on December 3 last year. Skinner, the versatile back-five forward recruited from Exeter Chiefs, is likely to make his Edinburgh debut at some point in Treviso.

With Jamie Ritchie’s comeback continuing Edinburgh are starting to resemble more the team of last season.

Mike Blair’s side were a pallid imitation of that last week when they went down 34-26 at home to London Scottish and the game against Benetton – which may yet be called off following the death of Her Majesty The Queen with Scottish Rugby set to make a decision based on Government guidance – is their final dress rehearsal before they kick off their United Rugby Championship campaign next weekend at home to Dragons.

Edinburgh's Bill Mata has not played since injuring his knee against Benetton last December. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

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The Edinburgh coach is enthused by Mata’s return and underlined how his absence affected the team.

“It’s brilliant to have him back,” said Blair. “First of all he’s done a brilliant job with the amount of work he’s put in to get to where he is now. It’s been a really tough period for him – as it is for all players out for this length of time – but he’s been so diligent and professional and got on with things.

“He’s been training with us for the last four or five weeks pretty much fully so he’s ready to go. We’re really looking forward to him being out there again.

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“The injuries we had to Jamie and Bill [Mata] in particular probably affected the way we could play a little bit just because they’re such natural ball players. The guys who played last season were excellent but there’s a slightly different dynamic having these guys available again.

“You can choose a different type of wanting to play a game with them in the picture as well. It’s great to have Bill back with that X-factor and what he’s able to do.”

Skinner is one of four Scotland players from the Argentina tour who will feature against Benetton, the others being Dave Cherry (hooker), Glen Young (lock) and Luke Crosbie (flanker).

Blair believes Skinner will be a huge asset over the course of the season.

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“We’ve been really impressed with the impact that he’s made already,” said the coach. “Part of the reason for signing him was about his rugby IQ and leadership. We’ve seen that already around the lineout and in the questions he’s asked and his involvement in the environment. So that’s been brilliant.

“He’s really keen to get going and show what he can do. As a new player it’s probably not until you play that first game that you’re properly integrated into the group. We’ll look to get him a little bit of time that will put him in a good position for selection the following week.

“Versatility is always an advantage. We’ve got six second rows and Glen [Young] and Sam can both play in the back row as well. That means we could potentially have better cover on the bench as well which is an added bonus.”

Hooker Stuart McInally won’t be involved against Benetton due to a “slight twinge in his neck”.

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Edinburgh v (Benetton, Stadio Monigo, Friday, 6.30pm BST)

15. Henry Immelman; 14. Jack Blain, 13. Matt Currie, 12. Chris Dean, 11. Damien Hoyland; 10. Jaco van der Walt, 9. Ben Vellacott; 1. Nick Auterac, 2. Dave Cherry, 3. Angus Williams, 4. Marshall Sykes, 5. Glen Young, 6. Jamie Ritchie (c), 7. Luke Crosbie, 8. Ben Muncaster.

Replacements: Boan Venter, Jamie Jack, Adam McBurney, Patrick Harrison, Lee-Roy Atalifo, Dan Gamble, Pierce Phillips, Sam Skinner, Jamie Hodgson, Nick Haining, Connor Boyle, Bill Mata, Henry Pyrgos, Charlie Shiel, Charlie Savala, Jake Henry, Cammy Hutchison, Cammy Scott, Harry Paterson.

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