SEVEN personnel and one positional change to the Edinburgh starting XV after last weekend’s narrow loss away to Benetton may give the impression that Mike Blair was looking to shake things up after an unsatisfactory performance – but the head coach insists that his motivation for tinkering ahead of the arrival of the Stormers at the DAM Health Stadium this evening is more nuanced than that.
“There’s lots of different reasons,” he explained. “Some are the result of injuries or boys not being able to train at the start of the week, and some is giving opportunities.
“We could have picked a very similar 15 bar injuries, but this gives guys the chance to play for the jersey, to show what they can do, and to increase competition in the squad.”
Blair has handed a debut to South African tight-head prop Luan de Bruin as part of an all-new front-row, which also features Pierre Schoeman at loose-head and Dave Cherry at hooker. Marshall Sykes replaces Jamie Hodgson in the second-row, while Luke Crosbie takes over from Connor Boyle at openside flanker.
With former Ulster hooker Adam McBurney set to make his capital bow off the bench, club co-captain Stuart McInally drops out of the match-day squad altogether.
“We’ve got to look after Stuart,” explained Blair. “He hasn’t played a huge amount of rugby since January. He’s played a couple of games [this season for Edinburgh] and he’s a guy who’s likely to go with Scotland in the autumn, so we thought it was a good time to give him a few days off.”
In the backline, Cameron Hutchison starts at inside-centre, James Lang shifts to outside-centre, and Mark Bennett drops out of the squad.
“Mark wasn’t going to train until Thursday because of his knee,” said Blair. “It’s nothing serious but we decided to take the chance to give him a little bit of time. He’s played a lot of the games so far and he’ll come back into selection for the next two games.”
Argentinean wing Romiro Moyano gets his chance to stake a claim for the No11 jersey vacated by Duhan van der Merwe when he moved to Worcester Warriors this summer.
“He’s trained really well, he’s got really good energy, his English is excellent and he’s very coachable, so we’re really looking forward to seeing what he can do,” said Blair.
“He played a fair bit for Argentina a couple of seasons ago and scored a cracking try against New Zealand in 2018, but he’s had some injury issues and didn’t get a huge amount of rugby at Toulon.
“We saw a bit of him in the pre-season game, but it was a difficult one for him because he’d literally only arrived in Edinburgh on the Monday and we had him playing on the Saturday.
“Duhan will obviously be a big a miss but it does open up the door for other guys to take that opportunity as well,” Blair added.
“We’ve got Emiliano [Boffelli], who should be with us after the Argentinean November internationals, we’ve got Damien Hoyland coming back from injury onto the bench this week, we’ve got Ramiro and we’ve got Jack Blain, so there are options there.
A name not mentioned here by the coach but who fits into this category is Blair Kinghorn, who is currently out of action with a quad injury.
“He started doing some running last Saturday and he’s moving pretty well, but it is one of these things where we have to do a little bit and see how he reacts, then a little bit more and see how he reacts, and he’s getting through everything at the moment,” said Blair.
“It is definitely not long-term and we’re hopeful he’s not going to be far off. A week, a couple of weeks, rather than a month.”
Meanwhile, Lions flanker Hamish Watson is also listed as injured. “He’s had a long-term groin issue, probably over the last couple of seasons, and it is something we are looking to manage,” said Blair.
“He’s played with it for a fair amount of time and it is just about trying to get it right, so it is not something he is going to be constantly concerned about, and constantly having to monitor in his training.
“We believe that he is only a couple of weeks off as well.”
Edinburgh (v DHL Stormers at the DAM Health Stadium, Saturday 5.15pm British time): H Immelman; D Graham, J Lang, C Hutchison, R Moyano; J van der Walt, B Vellacott; P Schoeman, D Cherry, L De Bruin, M Sykes, G Gilchrist (captain), J Ritchie, L Crosbie, V Mata. Subs: A McBurney, B Venter, W Nel, J Hodgson, M Bradbury, C Shiel, J Johnstone, D Hoyland.
Stormers: W Gelant; S Peterson, J de Jongh, R Pretorius, E van der Merwe; T Swiel, P de Wet; B Harris, S Ntubeni, N Fouche, E van Rhyn, S Moerat, N Xaba, E Roos. Substitutes: J Kotze, K Blose, S Sandi, J Basson, M Theunissen, G Masimla, M Libbock, D du Plessis.
Listed as injured by Edinburgh: N Haining, B Kinghorn, G Taylor, B Toolis, H Watson, G Young.