Edinburgh coach targets Zebre with power and pace

Jason Tovey has impressed Richard Cockerill in training
Jason Tovey has impressed Richard Cockerill in training
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Edinburgh Rugby head coach Richard Cockerill is looking for stand-off Jason Tovey and centres Phil Burleigh and James Johnstone to take tonight’s crucial Guinness PRO14 clash with Zebre (7.35pm) by the scruff of the neck.

Edinburgh go into the match at Myreside on the back of three straight defeats and with last month’s loss to Benetton Rugby still at the forefront of the players’ and supporters’ minds.

Phil Burleigh

Phil Burleigh

With the likes of Duncan Weir, Robbie Fruean and Chris Dean waiting in the wings to get their chance in the 10, 12 and 13 jerseys, some thought that Cockerill may make changes to that part of the team.

However, after impressing in the defeat by Leinster seven days ago he has stuck by Tovey – who scored all of Edinburgh’s points, Burleigh and Johnstone and believes they have a big role to play in this one.

“Jason is a good playmaker while Phil has been very good for us when he has played in that role at 12 and his experience along with Jason is good,” Cockerill said. “I thought James Johnstone added a different threat at 13 with his pace and footwork against Leinster.

“James has mainly played sevens, but he has impressed in training, he’s got a lot of pace and he’s a threat with the ball as we saw at Leinster.

James Johnstone

James Johnstone

“For me he’s just got to back that up and be consistent around the physical parts of the game, his defence in particular, and still give us that point of difference in attack.

“The three of them combine well.”

As the head coach mentioned, former Watsonians and Currie player Johnstone is more regularly seen on the Sevens World Series circuit, but the 27-year-old did well in Dublin and will be excited about running out in front of a home crowd for the first time.

In the backs, Nathan Fowles and Blair Kinghorn have replaced Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Glenn Bryce at scrum-half and full-back respectively.

Kinghorn, 20, has had a flying start to the season and it has led many to ponder whether he will receive a call-up to the full Scotland squad in November.

Cockerill believes he still has to find more consistency before that becomes a realisation, stating: “Blair shows some very, very good things in attack and he’s got a huge amount of potential, but I think the errors in his game aren’t acceptable at the moment and would be magnified at Test level.

“I think for him to step to the next level he needs to be more consistent at club level which is not making that blunder once a game which unfortunately 
he does tend to do at times.

“It’s obviously frustrating, but you have to understand that young players will make errors and you have to back them and put them back in the team and they have to improve week by week and slowly those errors will become less and less.

“In six, eight, 10, 12 months you’d like to think that you will have a more rounded players – as simple as that.”

WP Nel, Ben Toolis and skipper Magnus Bradbury come into the pack while Jamie Ritchie moves to No.7 with both Hamish Watson and John Hardie injured. Watson has a shoulder problem while 
Hardie sustained a head knock last week.

Loosehead pro Allan Dell returns to the matchday squad as a replacement for the first time since he was called-up to the summer’s British & Irish Lions squad after a back injury. And Currie Chieftain’s product Luke Crosbie, a member of the BT Sport Academy, could make a first competitive appearance off the bench.

On Dell’s return the head coach said: “It is good to have Dell back with his experience, but Darryl Marfo has done a good job at loosehead and the nuts and bolts of his game are very good. He deserves the start.”

Zebre, who are lead by former Edinburgh head coach Michael Bradley, have former Fettes College pupil George Biagi in the second-row as they bid for a third win on the trot 
having won at Southern Kings and Ulster.

Edinburgh Rugby: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 James Johnstone, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Nathan Fowles, 1 Darryl Marfo, 2 Stuart McInally, 3 WP Nel, 4 Ben Toolis, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 6 Magnus Bradbury (C), 7 Jamie Ritchie, 8 Cornell du Preez. Subs: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Anton Bresler, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Robbie Fruean.