New Scotland coach Vern Cotter is confident the good times will roll again for Edinburgh Rugby despite minimal representation in the side which launches a new era against Argentina at BT Murrayfield tomorrow in the viagogo Autumn Test.
Only front rowers Ross Ford and Ally Dickinson fly the Capital flag in Cotter’s initial home selection. Also, for the first time since Samoa visited four years ago – 41 matches – there is no Edinburgh back chosen [Nick De Luca was picked during the summer tour but was in the process of signing for Bayonne when called up).
However, in naming a starting line-up containing ten Glasgow Warriors, Cotter makes it clear the lightweight Edinburgh involvement was a blip.
“What I do see is very good young players coming through both (Edinburgh and Glasgow) squads,” says Cotter. “That is important and a positive. I have full confidence in the fact that Edinburgh will improve and perform. I hope we keep identifying – and we will because we are working at it – young talent and putting them in the best situations in which they can express themselves.
“There are positive vibes around. If I was a young rugby player in Scotland I’d be getting myself noticed pretty quickly.”
No Edinburgh player has even made the eight on the bench in another worrying sign that a long-standing policy to create centrally run teams partially to feed a national set-up regarded as paramount has seen better days. But that isn’t the fault of Dickinson or Ford, both of whom are up for the challenge against Argentina who are unbeaten in four Murrayfield meetings over 25 years including a clash in the wake of Scotland’s 1999 Five Nations Championship triumph.
It is a milestone occasion, too, for Ford who will join an elite group who has extended his international career into a second decade having made the first of 77 appearances back in 2004 and he is still only 30.
“As a sportsman, representing your country is a massive honour and so far as what keeps me going is concerned that is the way it is,” says Ford, adding: “You come to pre-season knowing you have to get in the best shape to play for your club then, when Autumn Tests get a bit closer, you have a thought in your head that you want to get picked again and try and push your case forward.”
As for Argentina, if anybody knows what makes them tick it is Ford who will be facing the Pumas for a ninth time boasting a record of four wins and four losses.
Ford says: “Argentina have always been dangerous. They are a very hard team to play against – the way they attack the breakdown. They are very dogged and make a mess of things there.
“You have to play accurately and show intensity at the breakdown and stamp your authority on the game before they get a chance to slow it down. They have played well in the Rugby Championship and come on leaps and bounds.
“We will have to be switched on and play to a high standard.
“We have watched them play in the Rugby Championship and they’ve got great footballers in the back line and their pack is a very solid set-piece, something they have built their team around for a long time. Now they have added more talented footballers and definitely have a few world class players.
“As for us, Vern has added a few tweaks to the general shape which if we get it right will allow us to stretch their defence.
“Hopefully it is not just in training we do it well but out there under Test match pressure that we can nail it.”
Having beaten the Pumas in Tucuman, Cordoba, Mar del Plata and Buenos Aires, Ford would love to finally achieve the feet on home soil. If that is to happen then so much will depend on a platform being laid by the front five especially as the Scottish breakaway trio of Rob Harley, Adam Ashe and Blair Cowan has a mere 11 caps between them.
At the heart of the set-piece will be Edinburgh’s Dickinson whose aim is a third World Cup despite having had four shoulder operations which would have discouraged many.
“When I went through bad injury times I had some dark days. I was taught never to give up so I just rise and grind to keep going,” he says. “I count myself very lucky to play rugby at professional level and I don’t want to disrespect the game by not giving it everything I have.
“Goal setting is something I do although it is quite hard because there are always peaks and troughs.
“I just get up and try and improve every day knowing all the young guys coming in are miles ahead of where I was at the same age.
“There is a great feeling of belief, though, from our summer tour.
“There was that great win in Argentina and we learned a lot of lessons including from when we lost in South Africa.
“Hopefully we can build on those.”
One third of the latest Scotland team are aged 23 or under and that is no coincidence as coach Cotter looks to the future and tries to cultivate a more expansive approach.
“I’m looking to see them have a go. They are really good players and we will be focusing on creating line breaks and scoring points from them,” says Cotter.
“The focus will also be on not letting them create line breaks and shutting them down, putting them back in their end of the paddock.
“I really want to see our team enjoy their rugby. It’s not really about me but, on a personal level, I’m absolutely excited about seeing the team run out tomorrow.”
Key could be debutant centre Mark Bennett who has been in scintillating form which sums up the approach Cotter is looking for.
“Mark gives us the qualities he has as a line breaker. He gives us a couple of options in attack with an ability to beat defenders.
“He is also playing with guys he plays with at club level and combinations are important.
“We have spoken quite a bit about his patience and build up and he gets his first chance at BT Murrayfield in front of a home crowd.”
That was a reference to how, a year ago, Bennett was on stand-by to face Australia to the extent that his photograph appeared in the match programme.
In the event Tommy Seymour passed a late fitness test and the chance was gone for Bennett ... until tomorrow. “Yes, my mum got the match programme and kept it.
“I’m just glad to get the chance to update things at last,” grinned Bennett who has battled harder than most for a chance that he is determined not to let pass by.
Meanwhile, Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade has made five changes from the team which defeated Australia last time out.
Juan Cruz Guillemaín will make hid debut in the second row instead of Mariano Galarza while Juan Martín Hernández will win his 50th cap at inside centre. First choice tighthead prop Ramiro Herrera returns ahead of Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro and, in the back row, Ortega Desio will start in the place of the injured Benjamin Macome.
Saracens centre Marcelo Bosch is back for Horacio Agulla, while on the left wing, Montero replaces Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.