Playing Montpellier in their own backyard is a daunting prospect.
Even for champions Leinster, it was no easy away day in the pool stages when they had to do it. Looking at their squad, it makes sense why some teams’ knees tremble. Players like Picamoles, Serfontein, Dumoulin, the du Plessis brothers and Ruan Pienaar are a daunting prospect. That is even with all the high profile absentees like Nadolo, Cruden and Goosen. This squad is loaded with international class and pedigree.
Edinburgh Rugby is making their long-awaited return to Europe’s elite competition, and this fixture is a perfect baptism of fire.
Although Edinburgh have had a mixed start to their domestic campaign, it is beginning to pick up in the right direction in terms of points and performance. Continuing that momentum at Montpellier will be difficult, but any sort of points and a performance will be a good result for coach Richard Cockerill. The competitive nature of the once-again-Heineken Cup means an away win is extremely difficult. Winning the home games is vital to having a chance to get out of the group. but getting some points away from home is essential. With some of the Montpellier stars missing – including the giant winger Nadolo – this could represent the perfect opportunity to fight for unexpected points away in Montpellier.
However, despite this slight let off, the plethora of stars still in the home team provide the second, though contrary, reason why this fixture is a great opportunity for Edinburgh. They will still be playing a top quality side and this will stand them in good stead as a marker for the standard for this pool stage, with any points being a great bonus. It will serve the young players like Bradbury, Ritchie and Kinghorn well to face the creme de la creme of Europe consistently. Especially with a world cup on the horizon, where some of them may be involved. Cockerill has picked a strong team up front and brought the top backline out after a rest, so if Edinburgh are seeking a test to figure out exactly how good a team they are currently, this is it.
Edinburgh has been mixed so far this season: lost a couple of games they could have won, at least one fortunate win, and a tendency to let teams back into the contest.
In the Champions Cup, Edinburgh cannot afford to do this. Although this young team is still developing, and this fixture provides another learning experience for the players, points are crucial in this competition in any way they come.
Getting involved in an arm wrestle, in Cockerill’s words, is not the way to go because that will spell trouble and, most likely, a convincing loss.
Being smart, tactical and points savvy is something that Edinburgh will need to bring to the fore in this competition, especially away from home. Hickey’s kicking has been good so far this season and will be needed this weekend, furthermore, players such as Mata will need to stand up to their goliath-like opposite numbers.
If Edinburgh can get even a point from this fixture, either through attacking flair or tactical savvy by staying in the contest and taking their kicks, it would be a fantastic opening round.
Montpellier: 15. Henry Immelman, 14. Benjamin Fall, 13. Vincent Martin, 12. Jan Serfontein, 11. Gabriel N’gandebe, 10. Ruan Pienaar, 9. Enzo Sanga, 1. Mikheil Nariashvili, 2. Bismarck Du Plessis, 3. Jannie Du Plessis, 4. Nico Janse van Rensburg, 5. Paul Willemse, 6. Fulgence Ouedraogo, 7. Wiaan Liebenberg, 8. Louis Picamoles (c).
Replacements: 16. Vincent Giudicelli, 17. Grégory Fichten, 18. Antoine Guillamon, 19. Kevin Kornath, 20. Kelian Galletier, 21. Julien Tomas, 22. Yvan Reilhac, 23. Alexandre Dumoulin.
Edinburgh Rugby: 15. Blair Kinghorn, 14. Darcy Graham, 13. James Johnstone, 12. Matt Scott, 11. Dougie Fife, 10. Simon Hickey, 9. Henry Pyrgos, 1. Allan Dell, 2. Stuart McInally (c), 3. WP Nel, 4. Ben Toolis, 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Magnus Bradbury, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Viliame Mata.
Replacements: 16. Ross Ford, 17. Rory Sutherland, 18. Simon Berghan, 19. Luke Hamilton, 20. Jamie Ritchie, 21. Sean Kennedy, 22. Jaco van der Walt, 23. Chris Dean.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)