With pre-season out of the way, the hunt for the true identity of our pro teams, both under new management, can begin in earnest.
Edinburgh Rugby are first up tomorrow night with youthful captain Magnus Bradbury taking his team south to Cardiff, home of one of the most experienced captains going in the shape of Grand Slam and Lions tour winner Sam Warburton. Interestingly though, Gethin Jenkins is club captain at Cardiff.
It’s a good challenge for Edinburgh as, despite the presence of those two Welsh stalwarts, Cardiff were one of the poorer Welsh regions last season and will be looking for a similar upturn in their fortunes to our capital side. Struggles with the union over control, identity and a lack of big name signings; sounds familiar.
His primary mission to restore pride in Edinburgh as a club, Richard Cockerill has named his new captain and another of last year’s impressive youngsters in Jamie Ritchie to pack down alongside John Hardie in the back row and get it underway.
Up front there is the welcome grizzle of WP Nel, absent for much of last season but hopefully fighting fit and ready to dominate. You imagine Cockerill must be delighted to have him in harness and he also has his top 3 second rows fit, with Ben Toolis on the bench this time around and the newly Scottish Anton Bresler starting.
Loosehead props Darryl Marfo (Scots qualified) and recently imported Italian Michele Rizzo (not) will make their Edinburgh debuts, suggesting clubless Ryan Grant has indeed sadly been deemed surplus to requirements by Cockerill after his brief cameo in Melrose at the weekend. Given that Sutherland and Dickinson are still long-term injured and Allan Dell is being gradually returned to action along with the other internationals, it’s a tricky spot to be in for Edinburgh. They have the players, just not right now; but if they did, they’d all struggle for game time. A good chance for the Black and Red Army to get a look at Marfo though, who has spent time at Bath, Quins and London Welsh.
Speaking of the Welsh, in the backs, former Wales Sevens player Jason Harries will face his countrymen as the third player making his full debut for Edinburgh.
Cockerill will be pleased to again call on the services of Dougie Fife on the other wing, although how long he will be able to keep him once the Sevens season kicks off is anyone’s guess. Fife was one of Alan Solomons’s odder choices to let go and may well fancy another crack at XVs.
The midfield still looks a little “last season” but the fitness of Robbie Freuan and Mark Bennett will hopefully have an impact in this area before the season is out. Glenn Bryce provided a few sparks last year from the bench and will also be looking to improve having settled in Edinburgh. Kinghorn is no longer guaranteed his fullback shirt but if he can kick on again having lapsed a bit last season he could be challenging for a spot in the Scotland squad quite soon.
Duncan Weir and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne provide the “give us a chance” half-back pairing. If they can find form and instill some sort of direction into the team, it could get both their careers back on track. If they can’t, Cockerill might start thumbing his rolodex…
Cardiff: Matthew Morgan; Alex Cuthbert, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Aled Summerhill; Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees (capt), Taufa’ao Filise, Seb Davies, Damian Welch, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Kirby Myhil, Corey Domachowski, Keiron Assiratti, Macauley Cook, Sion Bennett, Tomos Williams, Steve Shingler, Tom James.
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn, Dougie Fife, Chris Dean, Junior Rasolea, Jason Harries, Duncan Weir, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Darryl Marfo, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Anton Bresler, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, John Hardie, Magnus Bradbury (capt).
Replacements: Ross Ford, Michele Rizzo, Simon Beghan, Ben Toolis, Cornell du Preez, Nathan Fowles, Jason Tovey, Glenn Bryce.
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)
Friday 1st September, Cardiff Arms Park. Coverage live on BBC Alba