Hot off the plane from climes sunny and warm – but then who isn’t these days – Darcy Graham has been given his first full start for Edinburgh by Richard Cockerill after an impressive weekend with the Sevens squad in Dubai.
Also featuring for the first time is Rotherham prop Matt Shields who is named on the bench. Born in Carlisle, the 26-year-old tighthead progressed through the Newcastle Falcons Academy like recent Scotland cap Chris Harris. He will be cover for WP Nel who it has been reported has indeed broken his arm and could be out beyond the Six Nations in February and March. Michele Rizzo has returned to Leicester Tigers.
The opposition in question are London Irish, and with the Challenge Cup one of the areas Edinburgh haven’t ballsed up on a massive scale in recent seasons they will be looking to kick on now their league fortunes seem to be steadying. The schedule also helps, as the Pool 4 isn’t running the back to back system in the middle used in the Champions Cup and all the other pools. This means that following two away wins, Edinburgh now have two home games against teams they’ve already beaten. By the time the Pool 4 back to back fixtures against an uninterested Stade Francais roll around in the new year, Edinburgh could already be out of sight.
The task at hand could be trickier than last time around though, as for starters the redoubtable Gordy Reid packs down alongside Wallaby hooker Saia Fainga’a and Fijian international Manasa Saulo in an all capped front row. Also featuring will be former Edinburgh fullback Greig Tonks and Scottish-qualified scrum-half Scott Steele. Former Edinburgh captain Mike Coman adds further familiarity from their bench.
Unlike Glasgow’s backline, Edinburgh’s is light on internationals but still has a fairly familiar look to it. It may take until the 1872 Cup before we can really see what Cockerill’s full first-choice team looks like but aside from Graham, Phil Burleigh, Chris Dean and Dougie Fife have all featured regularly. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne also appears to be finally cementing his place in the side with a run of games under his belt and a key role in the win over the Southern Kings last weekend.
The pack is a different story with Darryl Marfo, Stuart McInally and Ben Toolis all back from over-achieving in the autumn and it has a real solid look to it, both in the starters and the replacements. There is perhaps a question over tighthead but I’m sure Murray McCallum will fancy a crack at big Gordy, who will in turn want to show that he shouldn’t be forgotten about behind new kid on the block Marfo.
With the snow falling, their African adventure will seem like a world away but it is vital that Edinburgh continue the upward trend.
15. Blair Kinghorn, 14. Damien Hoyland, 13. Chris Dean, 12. Phil Burleigh, 11. Darcy Graham, 10. Jaco van der Walt, 9. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; 1. Darryl Marfo, 2. Stuart McInally (captain), 3. Murray McCallum, 4. Ben Toolis, 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Magnus Bradbury, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Viliame Mata.
Replacements: Neil Cochrane, Rory Sutherland, Matt Shields *, Lewis Carmichael, Jamie Ritchie, Sean Kennedy, Dougie Fife, Junior Rasolea.
London Irish: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Ben Ransom, 13 Tom Fowlie, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Ben Loader, 10 Tommy Bell, 9 Scott Steele, 1 Gordon Reid, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 3 Manasa Saulo, 4 Will Lloyd, 5 Sebastian De Chaves (c), 6 Jack Cooke, 7 Max Northcote-Green, 8 Lasha Lomidze.
Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Lovejoy Chawatama, 19 Josh Basham, 20 Mike Coman, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Theo Brophy Clews, 23 Matt Williams
No word on TV coverage.