Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill says they will only discover this afternoon how seriously London Irish are taking the European Challenge Cup after they rested a number of first-choice players for the Pool 4 opener at the Madejski Stadium.
Cockerill has rung the changes too, making nine switches to the starting XV from last weekend’s 16-15 win over Zebre, including bringing Scotland prop Allan Dell in for his first start of the season.
Scotland flanker Blair Cowan is one of the key men not to feature for the side currently lying second bottom of the Aviva Premiership. “It’s certainly a mixed selection from them,” said Cockerill. “The Premiership has relegation and there is a lot of money at stake and they’ve obviously had a tough six weeks.
“They are using their squad as we are. In the Premiership a lot of money is spent on those first 20 players and it becomes difficult. But they have good youngsters in their squad and there is experience in the team there as well.
“It’s hard to say if they’re prioritising the Premiership. We will wait and see when we play them tomorrow.”
Glenn Bryce replaces the injured Blair Kinghorn at full-back whilst wing Damien Hoyland comes in for Tom Brown who drops to the bench. Dougie Fife keeps his spot on the other flank.
Chris Dean is back at centre and links-up with Junior Rasolea who makes his first start since the season opener. Jason Tovey continues at stand-off and is partnered by scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.
In the back-row, John Hardie replaces club captain Magnus Bradbury, who has a shoulder niggle.
Cockerill is delighted to bring Dell back in after the prop, who had an injury call-up cameo for the Lions in the summer, made an impact off the bench against Zebre.
“It’s been good. Obviously Michele Rizzo is suspended and not registered,” said Cockerill. “I think Darryl Marfo has done a very good job. Dell, in the absence of [Alasdair] Dickinson, you’d like to think will be pushing on for Test duty in the autumn, and he’s got a lot to play for. So yeah, it’s good to get Dell back in there.
“I think [Stuart] McInally has done very well, Berghan and WP Nel are options at tighthead, so we’re starting to get some strength in depth and create some competition – keeping everybody on their toes by not guaranteeing their place.”
Cockerill said that Kinghorn has stitches in the lacerated knee he picked up last week but should be available for next week’s trip to Russia to face Krasny Yar, as should centre James Johnstone, who is undergoing concussion protocols.
Despite the multiple changes, Cockerill insisted that he isn’t taking the second-tier European competition lightly.
“No I want us to try and be competitive every week and try and win every week,” he said.
“That’s the challenge for this team. They have proven to be a team that can perform well in cup competitions, when they reached the semi-finals of [the Heineken Cup in 2012] they finished 11th in the league that year. It’s clearly a team that can raise itself on occasion and we need to be a team that raises itself every week. We’re going to go to Irish and try and win the game. Same when we go to Russia and then obviously two very big games in the league, then a break before we go to South Africa. We’ve had a lot of away trips and we need to keep everybody’s minds and bodies as fresh as we can.”
The changes follow a pattern which has seen Cockerill regularly mix things up as he seeks to learn as much as possible about the players and combinations available to him.
“We’ve got some players with a few niggles and we want to clear those up with an eye to the PRO14, but also Junior Rasolea did a good job [in the centre] with Chris Dean earlier in the season, certainly in the first two games.
“So they get an opportunity to come back in and show what they can do.
“And just making sure that everybody’s getting good game time, we’re keeping everybody fresh and creating competition within the squad.”
Edinburgh: 15 Glenn Bryce; 14 Dougie Fife; 13 Chris Dean; 12 Junior Rasoleasa; 11 Damien Hoyland; 10 Jason Tovey; 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; 1 Allan Dell; 2 Stuart McInally; 3 Simon Berghan; 4 Fraser McKenzie (c); 5 Ben Toolis; 6 Jamie Ritchie; 7 John Hardie; 8 Cornell du Preez. Subs: 16 Neil Cochrane; 17 Daryl Marfo; WP Nel; 19 Grant Gilchrist; 20 Luke Crosbie; 21 Nathan Fowles; 22 Tom Brown; 23 Jason Harries.