With a little of season 19-20 to go and season 20-21 following quickly on its heels, Edinburgh have refreshed their roster. Here is a breakdown of who is available in each position and a very personal assessment on who is likely to be in the first choice and International Window match day squads.
It’s worth noting that currently there are 47 players in the squad and only 10 of those are not Scots qualified, with that number probably shrinking to 8 before the end of the 2020.
Loosehead prop: Despite Rory Sutherland’s stand out performances for Scotland in the 6 Nations I expect Pierre Schoeman to still be first choice in this position albeit Sutherland should get more than just the last 10 minutes off the bench. Jamie Bhatti may have to be content with being a reserve during the international windows and new recruit Sam Grahamslaw is one for the future.
Hooker: Stuart McInally continues to be first choice here but in his absence Mike Willemse is an able deputy with an eye for a try. Dave Cherry is back up those top two and Sam Kitchen, signed from Super 6 side Ayrshire Bulls will be pushing to try and make the most of his chance.
Tighthead prop: I expect WP Nel and Simon Berghan to be splitting duties here. It’s possible with the strength that Scotland now have in this position we may see more of Nel in an Edinburgh shirt in the coming months. The Scottish affinity with Fiji continues with Lee Roy Atalifo joining from Jersey Reds to replace the now sadly departed Pietro Ceccarelli. The Italian international has a better pedigree than Atalifo so hopefully, that means we will see more of Murray McCallum.
Second Row: International stalwarts Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis are at the top of this (very tall) tree. They have strong support from the impressive Lewis Carmichael, and veteran Fraser McKenzie. Three young pretenders, Jamie Hodgson, Andrew Davidson and Marshall Sykes will at minimum get some time off the sidelines.
Blindside flanker: Jamie Ritchie and Magnus Bradbury have had this position pretty much tied down between them but in their absence Edinburgh have deployed Nick Haining here. Former Scotland U20’s captain Rory Darge has stepped up from the academy to the full squad so will definitely play a part over the coming season.
Openside Flanker: Over the last year this position has mostly been the preserve of Hamish Watson and Luke Crosbie. Both of these players are likely to be included in any Scotland squad going forward so Connor Boyle is likely to get a run out.
No. 8: Until very recently there was only one person you would have associated with this position and that would have been Bill Mata. Nick Haining however arrived from the wilderness and staked an impressive claim to the title during Bill’s World Cup journey. It is noticeable however that just before the lockdown commenced that Mata was back in the saddle and Haining had been shifted across to cover the blindside. That might be about who is more flexible but this is a close call. One or both of those may be absent on international duty as required. Edinburgh have on occasion fielded Bradbury at 8 but he may also fall into the same category. Mesulame Kunavula is also available and can, apparently, cover across the back row. He has yet to start a match for Edinburgh and was mainly deployed at Blindside for Watsonians Super Six side in the last year.
Scrum half: This is very much horses for courses for Edinburgh. Henry Pyrgos and Nic Groom effectively have split the duties over the course of the season. Henry is still clinging to the edges of the Scotland squad and is to my mind more reliable than Groom whilst the South African is marginally more dangerous. Charlie Shiel is pushing to displace one or other of them in the match day 23. New recruit Dan Nutton will be looking on for the most part if Shiel’s recent experience is anything to go by.
Stand-off: There’s Jaco van Der Walt and that’s it. The widely reported aborted transfer of Jono Lance and the departure of Simon Hickey to The Hurricanes (yes, those Hurricanes) has left this as Edinburgh’s lightest position, with little prospect of an experienced arrival any time soon. Nathan Chamberlain has joined the Academy from Bristol Bears with a growing reputation and it looks likely he’ll be making a first-team appearance earlier than expected. This is an area of concern. Should either of these get injured or Van Der Walt gets a Scotland call up with qualification imminent, then Academy recruit Cameron Scott or James Dalgleish, yet to play for Watsonians Super Six side, could find themselves on the big stage.
Inside Centre: With Matt Scott off to Leicester, George Taylor who has done so well in the last year gets a chance to cement his position here. That said Chris Dean is back fit and will be raring to go. Scott’s replacement Matt Gordon who arrives from London Scottish will also come into the equation. Taylor’s time will come in the blue of Scotland but as it stands the Edinburgh centres are now unlikely to feature in Gregor Townsend’s deliberations. In December 2020 South African teenager Jordan Venter will join the club. It remains to be seen what kind of on-field impact he can have.
Outside Centre: Mark Bennett is arguably the incumbent here but James Johnstone offers a different kind of weapon and will be pushing him hard. The aforementioned Chris Dean will also come into contention as I feel he is better placed at outside centre.
Winger: Easy. First choices are Duhan van Der Merwe and Darcy Graham. The fact that one is, and the other will likely become, a first choice for Scotland means that able deputy Eroni Sau will continue to get significant game time along with Jamie Farndale who has joined the club permanently from the Scotland Sevens set up. Jack Blain has made the step up from the Academy and will surely add to his one Edinburgh cap.
Full Back: Like Stand-off, Edinburgh have only one recognised no. 15 in their squad in the form of Blair Kinghorn. It’s likely that his brief flirtation with the Scotland wing berth may come to an end with Van Der Merwe’s imminent SQ status. I’d still expect him to be in the wider Scotland squad though at the very least but it may now be harder for him to get caps behind Stuart Hogg. If absent with Scotland then the only real choice open to Edinburgh is Damien Hoyland who is ostensibly a winger. At other times Darcy Graham may be an option here.
Likely first choice starting 23 Likely 23 during Internationals
- Pierre Schoeman 1. Pierre Schoeman
- Stuart McInally 2. Mike Willemse
- WP Nel 3. Murray McCallum
- Grant Gilchrist 4. Lewis Carmichael
- Ben Toolis 5. Andrew Davidson
- Jamie Ritchie 6. Rory Darge
- Hamish Watson 7. Luke Crosbie
- Bill Mata 8. Nick Haining
- Henry Pyrgos 9. Nic Groom
- Jaco Van Der Walt 10. Chamberlain
- Duhan Van der Merwe 11. Jamie Farndale
- George Taylor 12. George Taylor
- Mark Bennett 13. Mark Bennett
- Darcy Graham 14. Eroni Sau
- Blair Kinghorn 15. Damien Hoyland
- Rory Sutherland 16. Jamie Bhatti
- Mike Willemse 17. Dave Cherry
- Murray McCallum 18. Lee Roy Atalifo
- Lewis Carmichael 19. Jamie Hodgson
- Nick Haining 20. Connor Boyle
- Nic Groom 21. Charlie Shiel
- Nathan Chamberlain 22. Cameron Scott
- Eroni Sau 23. Chris Dean
Matt Scott was a valuable member of the team and even if there is an up and coming player in the form of George Taylor to replace him it still feels like the squad is weaker for his departure. If you add the loss of Simon Hickey to that and the fact that our second choice, and perhaps more importantly third choice standoff will be Academy players, that also feels like a blow. To counter that however last season’s third choice there was Jason Baggott and he wasn’t used once.
There is also a suspicion that the club are light at fullback. That’s not a new situation but Hickey was occasionally deployed there when the back division was shuffled in game and that option has gone.
John Barclay I don’t think will be missed as he had been pretty much surpassed by Edinburgh’s other back row options even before lockdown and with Darge and Boyle stepping up that feels very much like a break even at worst.
Overall it’s hard to see that the club have come out of this period stronger but if the strength of the squad has taken a step backwards its only by the slightest of margins. Others may have been hit harder and we will only know for sure when the action starts.