Scotland loosehead Al Dickinson is poised for a timely return to action tomorrow as Edinburgh field their strongest available team in a bid to reach the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup.
Alan Solomons’ squad travel to the skiing country of the French Alps today ahead of their clash with Grenoble and will be hoping to secure some apres pool stage action.
Edinburgh sit second in Pool 5 on 17 points, one behind tomorrow’s opponents, and know a win would guarantee them passage to the knockout stages of a tournament they reached the final of last season.
Solomons is set to field a strong team, which will be named at noon today, with his international stars returning after a less experienced side dealt with basement boys Agen at BT Murrayfield last Friday.
It is expected that Dickinson, who has missed the last six games with a calf injury, will be back in good time to get some match practice ahead of the Six Nations, which start in a fortnight.
“I could have played last week if I wanted to push it but it’s good I could give it another week,” said the 33-year-old prop. “Getting old is not good. You have to look after your body but when you are off for a few weeks you are champing at the bit to get back.”
It will be the first time Dickinson has featured for Edinburgh since his new three-year contract was confirmed before Christmas. If he sees that through it will take him to six seasons in his second spell for the club, in addition to the previous three he had before departing for a four-year stint at Gloucester in 2007.
Dickinson, who made his 100th appearance for Edinburgh in the home match against Grenoble in November, said: “I could have stayed down south but I wanted to come back to what I see is my home club and it has been a good thing. Things are going well not just for me personally but for Scottish rugby in general, both at Edinburgh and with Scotland.”
The 52-times capped Dundonian loosehead will link up with the Scotland squad at St Andrews when he returns from France on Sunday, but for now all he is focused on is getting the win Edinburgh most likely need to guarantee another extended run in Europe.
“It’s pretty much a winner-takes-all,” he said. “I know there is some chat we could come second and qualify [as one of the three best runners-up] but to be honest we are just looking at this as the winners goes through.
“It will be tough as Grenoble are going well, especially at home. I’ve not looked at the weather forecast but it’s winter and it will be cold, maybe wet windy. And it is the Alps so it could even be snowing.”
All matches against French opposition entail a ferocious forward battle and Dickinson is relishing that tomorrow.
“Every French team pride themselves on the scrum and will come at us pretty hard so there is nothing new there. We have to get on with the job in hand.
“In the previous game they sent a real mixed bag here. It will be a different story this time. You saw what they did at London Irish on Saturday and they will come at us all guns blazing.
“For us to qualify would be huge. Last year was a great run and we came up just short [losing the final 19-13 to Dickinson’s former club Gloucester].
“To back up getting to the final then back into the quarter-finals the next season is tough to do. But it would add to the momentum. Doing well in the league and winning the 1872 Cup adds to the confidence. But we still have to win the game and it will be a massive test.”
Solomons has been thrilled with the form of Dickinson’s stand-in, young Rory Sutherland whose performances have earned him a call-up to the Six Nations squad, but the South African coach is delighted to welcome the senior man back for such a crunch match.
“Rory needs a break and got a couple of stingers at the weekend and Dicko is ready to go,” explained Solomons. “He is an outstanding scrummager and brings a lot of leadership into the team because of his seniority. It is great to have him back and for him personally it is important because with the Six Nations coming up he needs game time.”