Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has named six members of Scotland’s Six Nations squad in his 23 for tonight’s final European Challenge Cup Pool 4 match against Stade Francais in Paris.
There are eight changes from the side that ensured a home quarter-final in the competition with a dramatic 34-33 win over the French at BT Murrayfield last Friday but, given the circumstances, Cockerill has still opted for a relatively strong line-up despite there being nothing left to gain from a campaign in which Edinburgh have won all five of their games.
Five Scotland squad members start the match – centre Mark Bennett, scrum-half Nathan Fowles, tighthead Murray McCallum and back-rowers Magnus Bradbury and Cornell du Preez. Lock Grant Gilchrist is on the bench. There is a start at hooker for 22-year-old Cameron Fenton, a product of Strathallan School, and Howe of Fife, who signed a one-year deal at the start of the season after previously being in the Glasgow Warriors set-up.
Cockerill said: “Obviously, we have qualified and there is no guarantee we will get a home semi-final. We just decided to look after a few guys who have played a fair bit and give opportunities to others.
“Lewis Carmichael and Fraser McKenzie need to play so we can see where they are at and we also wanted to give an opportunity to Cammy Fenton in a big game to see where he is in his development.
“We are pleased with the team. Looking at the Stade team they have picked a strong side as well so it will be a really good test for us.”
The selection of Fenton allows Cockerill to look ahead to next season and the coach added: “Stuart McInally has done very well but Fenton is only 22 and has played at age-group for Scotland. I wanted to see how he goes. [Ross] Ford is injured but he is also 34, [Neil] Cochrane is also 34, so I have to have one eye on the future around those young hookers coming through and he is one of them.
“It is an opportunity in a game that is not critical for us and he can play and we can see where he is at.
“Look, he is a good player, he has played well when he has come off the bench and he gets a great opportunity this weekend.”
Cockerill wants to see a competitive performance from his players but accepts that Stade, who could still make the last eight, have a monopoly on motivation. The coach doesn’t fear that a loss in the French capital would derail the momentum which has been achieved in recent months.
“Not at all. We have to make sure we develop the squad,” said Cockerill. “The only way to do that is to give guys opportunities. This is a real opportunity in a big game that is important to us. We are still going there to win. We have the luxury that we are already qualified.”
Cockerill revealed that full-back Blair Kinghorn is carrying an injury but not one serious to put him in any doubt for the Six Nations after the 21-year-old received his first senior Scotland call-up last week.
“He has a slight foot issue, not a problem, just a bit sore from being stood on last weekend,” said Cockerill. “It was sensible to give him a weekend off because we can, and also he will be heavily involved with Scotland – if he his not playing he will be training with them and that is a heavy workload so we decided to look after him.”
Luke Crosbie, the 20-year-old flanker who is one of the youngsters who have been invited to train with the Scotland squad, is not involved this weekend.
“Luke has played well when he had the opportunity. He is a little bit unlucky not to be in the 23 but we have a strong back row contingent. Luke is more than likely to get an opportunity during the Six Nations,” said Cockerill.
“John Hardie is playing for Hawick this weekend. We have a strong back-row group and there is a good balance of experience. It will be another step up physically for [lock] Lewis Carmichael. I’m looking forward to seeing how they go.
“Like I said, it is a game we want to win, but it is also a rare opportunity to rest and rotate against a very good European team. It will be a test for us and I will learn a lot about some of those younger players. They will learn something about themselves. It will be a tough game against a very good team.”
Edinburgh: 15 Darcy Graham; 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Junior Rasolea, 11 Duhan van der Merwe; 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Nathan Fowles; 1 Rory Sutherland, 2 Cameron Fenton, 3 Murray McCallum, 4 Fraser McKenzie (c), 5 Lewis Carmichael, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 8 Cornell Du Preez. Subs: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Kevin Bryce, 18 Matt Shields, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Viliame Mata, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 James Johnstone, 23 Dougie Fife