Edinburgh rest Hamish Watson and Mark Bennett as they seek seventh win in a row
The run of form which has seen Edinburgh climb to the top of the United Rugby Championship and secure an eye-catching result at Saracens now stretches to six successive wins.
Their bid to make it seven, against London Irish on Saturday in the Challenge Cup, will take place with a starting XV missing four of the Scotland internationals who helped defeat Cardiff in such impressive fashion last weekend.
Of the experienced quartet, Pierre Schoeman is named among the substitutes but there is no place in the 23 for Stuart McInally, Hamish Watson and Mark Bennett. The former misses out with a neck injury while the latter two are rested.
In McInally’s absence, hooker Adam McBurney comes in for only his second competitive appearance. Dave Cherry is also unavailable due to a groin problem and Patrick Harrison is on the bench.
Schoeman is replaced by Boan Venter at loosehead and the third change in the pack sees a reshuffle in the back row, with Jamie Ritchie moving from blindside to openside to replace Watson and Nick Haining coming in at six.
“Part of my job is to rotate them, keep them fresh and driven,” said Blair. “Nick came off the bench last week and did well. We have switched things around a bit to put Jamie at seven. Jamie is a bigger seven and has the physical attributes to play all across the back row so it is a big back row we have got. That allows us to give Hamish a bit of time and freshen himself up again.”
“Matt played the Dragons and Benetton games and we were really pleased with how he played,” said Blair. “So we’re fortunate to have two guys who are playing well. Mark was exceptional last week. And like I was saying about the back row, you want to give guys opportunities to keep them on their toes and pushing for selection. So I thought the right thing to do was to bring Matt in for this game.”
Both sides go into the game having recorded impressive wins in their opening Challenge Cup ties. While Edinburgh were beating Saracens 21-18, London Irish were getting the better of Pau 33-17 in France.
Blair’s side then had a free week but London Irish had been due to play Brive only for the game to be postponed - along with other Anglo-French matches - following the introduction of new travel measures. The board of EPCR, the body that runs the European club competitions, took the decision this week to cancel the postponed fixtures and record the results as 0-0 draws, with two match points awarded to each club.
“It is a funny kind of league with the cancellations and split of points where we are at the moment but we are really pleased with the win over Saracens,” said Blair who has been impressed by London Irish.
“I have really enjoyed watching them play,” he said. “They move the ball well and have a strong back three. It will be an excellent game of rugby as they are a positive team. We are looking forward to it.”