Mark Bennett will finally make his Edinburgh debut, appearing at Myreside against the Southern Kings at tomorrow night.
It has been a long old comeback for Bennett, who last featured on these pages during the catastrophic Calcutta Cup last year. In that game he was a replacement for Stuart Hogg, but injured himself almost as soon as he was on the pitch. He will however go down on record as one of the few players to pick up any points in Cammy Black’s “night of the long knives” player ratings.
Since he last played, coaches everywhere have swapped about. Edinburgh is no longer the step down that his transfer from Glasgow was seen as at the time, and Huw Jones who replaced him is not as invincible as we all thought. Bennett still has to impress Gregor Townsend, although now in his capacity as Scotland coach.
Some things change, but some things stay the same. Other Scotland players on the injury comeback trail in recent weeks include Richie Gray (80mins for Toulouse), Duncan Taylor (off the bench for Sarries) and Greig Laidlaw (seen back in training this week).
With Robbie Fruean sadly forced into retirement, Bennett remains the star attraction in Edinburgh’s midfield but James Johnstone and Chris Dean have performed admirably in the first half of the season. It will be interesting to see how Richard Cockerill pairs him up with the others going forward, but he has the steady hands of Phil Burleigh for this weekend’s game.
Dougie Fife joins Duhan van der Merwe in a powerful back three with Blair Kinghorn while at scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne is rested and Nathan Fowles starts.
In the area of ongoing interest due to the injury (and disciplinary) problems that have dogged Edinburgh all season, Samoa prop Jordan Lay starts at loosehead with the versatile Murray McCallum now at tighthead and Stuart McInally at hooker, who once again captains the side and looks all set to claim that Scotland 2 shirt against Wales. He should be a worthy addition to the national side’s leadership group as well.
Now nicely settled, the second-row pair of Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis will aim to continue their parallel charge to partner Jonny Gray in February. A back row of Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson and Cornell du Preez gives the team a nicely balanced look.
If there is a worry it is perhaps the depth from bench, but Viliame Mata is likely to make an impact.
The Southern Kings won’t be used to Edinburgh in January, but they’ve had time off while we all monkeyed about with Europe and festive derbies – so they have had plenty of time to prepare.
Edinburgh: 15. Blair Kinghorn, 14. Dougie Fife, 13. Mark Bennett, 12. Phil Burleigh, 11. Duhan van der Merwe, 10. Jaco van der Walt, 9. Nathan Fowles; 1. Jordan Lay, 2. Stuart McInally (Capt), 3. Murray McCallum, 4. Ben Toolis, 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Magnus Bradbury, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Cornell du Preez.
Replacements: 16. Cameron Fenton, 17. Elliot Millar-Mills, 18. Matt Shields, 19. Fraser McKenzie, 20. Viliame Mata, 21. Sean Kennedy, 22. Chris Dean, 23. Damien Hoyland.
Southern Kings: Ntabeni Dukisa; Yaw Penxe, Berton Klaasen, Martin du Toit, Alshaun Bock; Kurt Coleman, Rudi van Rooyen; Schalk Ferreira (capt), Stephan Coetzee, Rossouw de Klerk; Jurie van Vuuren, Dries van Schalkwyk; Bredenkamp Eitel, Martinus Burger, Ruaan Lerm.
Replacements: Tango Balekile, Njabulo Gumede, Pieter Scholtz, Lindokuhle Welemu, Freddy Ngoza, Gouws Rowan/Godlen Masimla, Harlon Klaasen, Masixole Banda.
Referee: Lloyd Linton (SRU)
Myreside, Friday 5 January (kick-off 7.35pm) – live on BBC Alba