Edinburgh have made six changes to the side which lost out agonisingly to La Rochelle last week, as they head down to Greater Manchester to face Sale in what is already a must-win game if they have notions of continuing in this season’s abridged Champions Cup.
Stuart McInally returns to the starting line-up and will once again be designated as captain as he makes his 150th appearance in the Edinburgh jersey. He’ll pack down alongside Rory Sutherland and Simon Berghan, who swap their seats on last week’s bench with Pierre Schoeman and WP Nel respectively for this week’s tussle.
With Andrew Davidson joining the list of locks unavailable to injury, Ben Toolis will be partnered in the second-row by Jamie Hodgson, and rest protocols dictate that Jamie Ritchie is due a rest so his place in the back-row is taken over by Magnus Bradbury.
Charlie Shiel gets an opportunity to see how he can fare against World Cup-winning Faf de Klerk with Henry Pyrgos also rested, but Shiel will at least have the steadying hand of Jaco van der Walt to see him through the game.
“It’s massive for him, what a great opportunity. Faf’s an excellent player, but we recognise that Charlie has a lot of the same characteristics that Faf has.” said Edinburgh coach Steve Lawrie of Shiel’s selection.
“In terms of his ability to speed up a game and his running threat. If you look at Faf, that’s probably one of his biggest strengths, along with his toughness. ‘So it’s a massive opportunity for Charlie. He’s a stage now where he’s played a good bit of rugby for us, whether that be off the bench or the couple of starts that he’s got.”
Another hot-prospect benefiting from the resting of a more senior player is Jack Blain, who wears the number 14 jersey in place of Darcy Graham, with Blair Kinghorn and Duhan van der Merwe completing the outside back trio.
Chris Dean starts at inside centre to ring up his 100th cap for Edinburgh, and the local lad was understandably delighted at the prospect of joining some illustrious names in the Centurions Club.
“It’s extremely exciting. It was always a goal. When you see the names up on the board in the team room when you first join, it was something I felt was unrealistic at the time , or a long way away, but it’s crept up. To be able to be a centurion for the club I grew up supporting and the only one I have ever played for is something pretty special and not an achievement I’m taking for granted.
“The likes of Simon Taylor, Simon Webster and Mike Blair are the kind of guys I remember absolutely adoring growing up. And then also the guys I’m playing alongside now, like Stuart McInally, Grant Gilchrist, Cornell du Preez, Hamish Watson – you’re certainly on a board with a lot of fantastic names, so to be up there alongside them is pretty cool. It’s a massive privilege because when I set my career goals out one of them was to be a club centurion.”
Even accounting for Steve Diamond’s departure, Sale’s game-plan could be assumed by looking at their player roster, and Lawrie sees no reason to expect much change.
“Paul Deacon was obviously coaching there before, so it’s not like they’ve changed their coaching group massively.
“I would expect them to be doing more of the same. They’ve got a combative style with the personnel they’ve got.
“With the South Africans in their team, they want to play that physical, on-the-gain-line type of game.
“We know their style and we’ve previewed them well. They will look to play in the appropriate areas and they’ve got a pretty set structure as well. We’re ready for the challenge.
“They’re fairly pragmatic in terms of how they exit from their own half. They’ll look at quick taps through Faf to try and get the game going. You’ve got to be aware of that.
“They are very much a big abrasive team when they get into the right areas. They’re quite happy to play a little bit of chess first to get into those areas.”
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn, Jack Blain, Mark Bennett, Chris Dean,
Duhan van der Merwe, Jaco van der Walt, Charlie Shiel;
Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally, Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis,
Jamie Hodgson, Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Viliame Mata
Replacements: David Cherry, Pierre Schoeman, WP Nel,
Andries Ferreira, Luke Crosbie, Nic Groom, Nathan Chamberlain,