New Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill has named his team to face Cardiff Blues in tonight’s Guinness Pro14 opener in the Welsh capital.
The 46-year-old former Leicester boss has handed a start to Dougie Fife, the Scotland international wing who was released to the Sevens squad last season. Scotland’s most-capped player Ross Ford is on the bench, along with Test back-rower Cornell du Preez as new captain Magnus Bradbury leads the team out for the first time in a competitive match.
Cockerill has gone with a second-row pairing of Anton Bresler and Grant Gilchrist, with Ben Toolis on the bench. Stand-off Duncan Weir and scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne form the half-back pairing.
WP Nel starts at tighthead, with league debutant Darryl Marfo on the other side of hooker Stuart McInally as new short-term signing from Leicester, Michele Rizzo, takes his place among the replacements. Another new signing, wing Jason Harries, who has impressed in the pre-season games, is also given a starting slot. Skipper Bradbury is at No.8 and joined by Scotland openside John Hardie and former Scotland Under-20 team-mate Jamie Ritchie in the back row.
Cockerill said: “I’m optimistic. The boys have had a good pre-season, but I’m sure everyone is saying the same in that regard. We’ve had a couple of good weeks, we just need to make sure we go and we put our best game out on the field.
“Cardiff are a dangerous side, both from their drive in the forward pack and the fact they like to play an unstructured game. They’ve got players that can punish you if you’re inaccurate. We’ve prepared well, but we just don’t know what to expect until we get into the live scenario. We’re going there to win, that’s our mentality and so it should be. We’re looking forward to it.
“It’s my first experience [of Cardiff Arms Park]. There’s a synthetic field, which will make the game quick, and we’ve not won there for the last four years so it’s going to be a challenge.
“The playing group are in a good place, but we need to make sure that we go there and do the job. We’ve got to have a tough mind-set and physically we’ve got to be very good. It’s important that we get off to a good start and bring some points back.
“We’ve got internationals that are coming back in and available and we’ve got guys that have done 11 or 12 weeks of pre-season.
“We’ve picked a team which we feel is the right squad, because of the dynamics of bringing international guys back in – some will feature, some won’t. It’s a long season so in the here and now we’ve picked what I think is the best side to go to Cardiff and win.”
Rey Lee-Lo returns to action for Cardiff after missing the Welsh side’s pre-season games as he was given an extended break following his summer exploits with Samoa. He goes straight into a starting XV, which includes ten internationalists and Nick Williams, who also returns.
Blues head coach Danny Wilson said: “Rey was our player of the year last season and will be an important player for us again.
“It’s hard to keep him out of my office because he wants to play every week and is desperate to play. Trying to hold him off this long has been a challenge but it’s great to have him back.
“He has been training the last couple of weeks and we’ll manage him over the first month because he had a huge summer of rugby.”
Cardiff did the double over Edinburgh last season but Wilson is expecting a tough challenge from a team looking to impress their new boss.
“Edinburgh have always had a big pack of forwards who set-piece well, a good defence and I don’t see that changing from Richard Cockerill taking over,” said Wilson.
“Now is their first chance under their new coach to make a mark, and I’m sure they’ll be coming over extremely motivated.”