Edinburgh Rugby centre Chris Dean will aim to take a further step towards cementing his spot in the side for next week’s Guinness PRO12 opener when he starts in tonight’s pre-season encounter with Ulster at Goldenacre (kick-off 6.30pm).
The 21-year-old had a successful outing in the win over Romania at Melrose last week, weighing in with a performance that justified the words of coach Alan Solomons who has tipped the Scotland sevens internationalist to make significant progress this season.
“I do feel more mature, and I feel more ready than I probably was last year. I’m just looking to build on games and hopefully get more opportunities this season,” he said.
With Matt Scott in the Scotland squad and close-season signing Michael Allen recovering from injury, Dean has an opportunity to become an automatic selection in the opening weeks of league action. And he is determined to grasp that chance.
“It’s unfortunate for Mikey, but opportunities do arise from that. I have to grab that with both hands and stake a claim for that jersey,” he said, although he insists that he does not feel any added pressure to perform well, stating: “I am just trying to build up confidence and keep playing my own game and not worry what happens outwith that.”
Having spent seven months with the Edinburgh squad last season before joining up with the Scotland sevens set up, Dean has had no difficulty settling into the daily routine. However, he is delighted that the gruelling conditioning work is now complete and the focus has switched to action on the pitch.
“It was great to get a win, and a pretty comfortable one. It was nice after a tough pre-season to go out and play,” he said of last Friday’s encounter in the Borders. And looking towards tonight’s match, he added: “The focus for a pre-season game is the output that we’ve been working on so we haven’t really thought much about them. We are really going out there to promote what we’ve been doing in practice.
“It’s going to be a totally different ask this week. Romania were a big physical team and are renowned for that. Ulster are a more well-drilled outfit as they have shown for years and years, so it’s going to be a really tough ask and a tough test.”
Tonight’s opponents went down 24-21 against Leinster last weekend. Their coach Neil Doak has named a strong side, with the inclusion of a back three comprising international trio Craig Gilroy, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble underlining the ambition to play a wide game.
Solomons has listed 33 players, among them the five men who were cut from the Scotland squad earlier this week. In addition, summer signing Nasi Manu, who captained Highlanders to the Super Rugby title in July, will make his debut from the bench in the back row as will teenage stand-off Blair Kinghorn, while Sean Kennedy returns from long-term injury.
Edinburgh team: Nick McLennan, Tom Brown, Chris Dean, Andries Strauss, Otulea Katoa, Phil Burleigh, Nathan Fowles, Grant Shiells, Neil Cochrane, John Andress, Anton Bresler, Fraser McKenzie, Jamie Ritchie, Roddy Grant (c), Cornell du Preez. Subs: James Hilterbrand, Alan Dell, Craig Bachurzeski, Alex Toolis, Mike Coman, Sean Kennedy, Blair Kinghorn, Sam Beard, Ben Toolis, Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Nasi Manu, James Johnstone, Dougie Fife, Damien Hoyland, Jack Cuthbert