Friday presents a busy day for Scottish rugby, with both Edinburgh and Glasgow in Guinness Pro12 action. While most eyes will be firmly fixed on the Warriors as they travel to Dublin to take on table topping Leinster, it’s my job to drag you, kicking and screaming, to the other end of the table as we set our sights on Myreside.
The Pro12 are really spoiling Edinburgh fans, as they get to welcome fellow strugglers Newport Gwent Dragons to the capital for their final home game of the 2016/17 season.
All jokes aside, while the Glasgow clash is undoubtedly the far more glamorous of the two games, both Edinburgh and Dragons will put everything on the line and be desperate to turn around their fortunes before the season ends.
The Dragons season has been mired in uncertainty, with the Newport-based side spending much of 2016/17 searching for substantial investment with the club teetering on the edge of collapse. The struggles off the pitch have undoubtedly had an impact on the field, with the Dragons arriving in Edinburgh in search of their first win in 10 games, their last victory coming back in January against Russian side Enisei.
While results have arguably improved slightly under acting head coach Duncan Hodge, with victories over Ulster, Stade Francais and a double over Harlequins since he replaced Alan Solomons last September, Edinburgh have been wildly inconsistent this season. A disappointing series of performances has seen them lose their last 8 games (their poorest run in the Pro12), including the recent 21-6 loss to Benetton Treviso, and leaves them just two points above the visiting side.
Edinburgh will want to end their first season experiment at Myreside on a high, and a home victory will not only prevent the Dragons leapfrogging them in the league, but it will also go some way to repaying their supporters for sticking with them through yet another disappointing season. A win will also help to give the team some positives to take into their final game of the season against Glasgow.
Dragons coach Kingsley Jones has made no secret of his desire to finish above Edinburgh this season and has named a good side, including the club’s leading try scorer Pat Howard and top points scorer Angus O’Brien, who punished Edinburgh last time they met, scoring 17 points in the Dragons 27-19 victory back in November.
Hodge has named four changes to the side that lost to Benetton a fortnight ago. Allan Dell returns to front row and is joined by George Turner, who makes his first start of the season at hooker. This is reportedly at the instigation of Richard Cockerill who wanted to see more of the rarely-picked Turner ahead of taking charge next season.
Ben Toolis starts at lock after his late withdrawal against Treviso. Junior Rasolea is the only change to the backline, starting at inside centre. Edinburgh will be captained by Grant Gilchrist, who recently signed a two year extension with the club, while Newport-born Jason Tovey starts against his former club at fly-half.
John Hardie makes his first appearance since injuring his MCL in the Six Nations victory over Wales, and is joined on a strong bench by fellow internationals Ross Ford, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and leading points scorer Duncan Weir.
Edinburgh: 15 G Bryce; 14 D Hoyland, 13 C Dean, 12 J Rasolea, 11 R Scholes; 10 J Tovey, 9 N Fowles; 1 A Dell, 1 G Turner, 3 S Berghan; 4 G Gilchrist (capt), 5 B Toolis; 6 V Mata, 7 H Watson, 8 C du Preez.
Replacements: R Ford, MMcCallum, K Bryce, F McKenzie, J Hardie, S Hidalgo-Clyne, D Weir, B Kinghorn.
Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Adam Hughes, 13 Sam Beard, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Pat Howard, 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Charlie Davies; 1 Thomas Davies, 2 Thomas Rhys Thomas, 3 Brok Harris, 4 Matthew Screech, 5 Cory Hill, 6 Lewis Evans (c), 7 Nic Cudd, 8 Ollie Griffiths.
Replacements: Rhys Buckley, Phil Price, Craig Mitchell, Rynard Landman, Harrison Keddie, Owain Leonard, Geraint Rhys Jones, Tom Prydie.