Coach Michael Bradley has left the door open for two stars of Edinburgh Rugby’s successful Heineken European Cup campaign to use tomorrow’s RaboDirect Pro 12 League clash at Cardiff as a springboard back into the Northern Hemisphere’s premier club competition.
Centre James King and second row Steven Turnbull both return after undergoing surgery on groin and ankle problems which have kept them out since around the turn of the year.
And while stressing the importance of a strong collective display to improve the team’s league position after posting just five wins and a draw so far, Bradley admitted he is still open to persuasion as to his line-up for the Euro semi against Ulster in Dublin six days later.
Says Bradley: “James and Steven are in good shape having done a lot of work behind scenes. The timing of their return is good. I’m looking forward to seeing James play because he is buzzing in training. Steve has gone very well also. Both are in contention for involvement next week.”
King must have especially strong claims for promotion having been on a run of six starts from seven games before pulling up in the home clash with Ulster in early January and even when Matt Scott was available he was a preferred option alongside Nick De Luca.
What followed after withdrawing from the Ulster clash was a trip to Leicester-based surgeon David Lloyd whose patients include Welsh wing wizard Shane Williams, Irish scrum half Eoin Reddan and a string of English footballers.
Says King: “Mr Lloyd has a good pedigree and for the last three weeks I’ve been getting more and more up to scratch.
“My injury was a long-term thing based on a ligament problem and had been bothering me for a while. There is only so much fitness work you can do and the aim now is to make the squad for the big one.
“It’s a relief to no longer be consigned to watching from the sidelines but first things first and I have to get out there and come through injury free while hopefully making a good impact. Do that and everything will take care of itself.”
Turnbull was, like King, part of the squad who defeated Racing Metro at Murrayfield before suffering a recurrence of a broken ankle sustained some time ago. “It has been four months since I suffered damage starting in the away game with Glasgow,” said Turnbull. “So, I’m excited to get back.
“Opportunities are there but I’m not going to focus on anything except the game in hand. If you are thinking about anything else that can detract from performance. There is an obligation on all of us selected for this game to get momentum going. Our job is to get the club back on to a winning trend.”
Making his first start for Edinburgh alongside Turnbull after a bench shift against Ulster is Stirling County’s Rob McAlpine. “Rob is a good ball player with plenty of potential,” said Turnbull.
Meanwhile, Bradley admits he has had to be pragmatic in utilising his resources and, after comparing the situation to when Glasgow were encountered twice in a week this season and two distinct teams were sent out, he admitted: “I told the boys eight-ten days ago the proximity of the Ulster semi to the Cardiff game would be colouring our opinion. That is what has happened. Playing in a semi-final is in itself a pretty motivating event in players’ lives. I think they will be fine in terms of motivation at Cardiff.”
Other factors likely to influence the outcome will include the desire of individuals not yet signed up for next season to bolster contract hopes and Cardiff’s determination to put on a show for a string of stalwarts, notably Welsh Test legend Martyn Williams, who are making a final home appearance before retiring.
Bradley added: “Cardiff are already priming this as a farewell to Martyn Williams. He deserves the recognition in terms of the quality player he has been, but, if we get our attitude right this side will go well.”
Certainly, Edinburgh can take encouragement from beating Cardiff in the last meeting with Euro points at stake in January.