John Andress goes into Edinburgh Rugby’s final pre-season friendly with Newcastle Falcons at Hawick tonight aiming to put one over on the coach who gave him his big English Premiership break.
The 30-year-old Belfast-born prop was turning out for Exeter Chiefs when he caught the eye of Dean Richards, who snapped him up for Harlequins.
Before Andress could pull on the jersey Richards had been banned for his part in the notorious “bloodgate” episode, which saw ‘Quins try to re-introduce a key player who had been substituted by faking a cut.
As Richards began rehabilitation that would eventually lead him to Tyneside, Andress’ career developed to the extent he made 44 appearances, including 36 starts, for the London club before returning to Exeter then on to Worcester.
So, plenty of experience has been amassed that he is particularly keen to put at the disposal of Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons.
“I might have a baby face but I have been around the Premiership and avoided too many bumps and bruises. Hopefully, I can be around for a while thanks to Alan,” says Andress, adding: “It’s fortunate for me that Alan has a memory like an elephant.
“Alan was able to recall that I was a young lad coming through in the academy set-up when he was in overall charge at Ulster. When he showed some keenness it was a no brainer for me to sign.
“I was dying to get to Edinburgh, because Alan did an awesome job at Ulster and I liked his coaching style.
“Also, some pals of mine who are a bit older and played for Ulster, for example Neil Best and Roger Wilson, say Alan is the best coach they have worked with.”
Andress may be remarkable unscarred for a denizen of the front row, but his strong scrummaging display for much of last week’s opening pre-season friendly with Leicester was all the more notable for the fact it was his first outing since February. That was due to a neck problem that required surgery.
“Basically I had a bone growth that was pushing on discs which in themselves were fine” he said, adding: “That meant a bit of frustration but now I’m back playing I obviously want to contribute as much as possible to a side that is winning.”
Edinburgh went down 10-11 in the last minute last week after a disciplined and intensely physical display, a situation that left many not knowing whether to laugh or cry given Leicester’s pedigree.
“Things were pretty decent last weekend but there was lots to work on as well. Sometimes, though, defeats like the one we suffered can be a blessing in disguise.
“If we had got a win against a side like Leicester we might have rested on laurels. Now we realise we can compete against top sides like Leicester and should have got a win.
“That can inspire us even more and also give us a realisation of what we have to do.”
Andress is certainly used to keeping top company having emerged through the ranks in an Ireland under-21 side that included Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Chris Henry and Ryan Caldwell.
“There was a time at Ulster under-20s when I thought I might break through to the senior side but the captain was in my position and my career path led me to England, including coming up against Newcastle.
“They’ve always been a very well-drilled pack with a great scrum, line-out and maul. It’s going to be very combative. Hopefully, we can match up well against a team who did well to stay up in their first season back in the English Premiership after relegation.”
Edinburgh make four changes with full-back Jack Cuthbert starting in place of Nick McLennan, having recovered from the knee injury sustained playing for Scotland sevens in the London leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series in May.
Scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who came off the bench against Leicester, replaces Sean Kennedy, while centre Sam Beard and back-row Tomas Leonardi are injury replacements for Chris Dean (ankle) and Roddy Grant, whose shoulder injury could sideline him for a month.
Edinburgh team: Cuthbert, Fife, Beard, Strauss, Visser, Tonks, Hidalgo-Clyne, Sutherland, Ford (captain), Andress, McKenzie, Atikins, Leonardi, Du Preez, Watson. Subs. - Hilterbrand, Dickinson, Berghan, B Toolis, A Toolis, Ritchie, Kennedy, Hart, Heathcote, Burleigh, Dominguez, McLennan.