With two crucial games remaining of the Guinness PRO12 regular season Edinburgh travel to take on Irish side Munster in what has been described as a do-or-die clash.
Both clubs are sitting on 53 points and 11 wins in the season and only points difference can currently separate the two teams with Edinburgh sitting one place above the Irish giants in sixth place and in a qualification place for next season’s Champion’s Cup.
If the Capital club are to have any chance of maintaining their strong league position it is imperative that their more experienced players step up for the remaining fixtures; one of those players in question being the formidable flanker John Hardie who tends to thrive on the big game atmosphere.
“I’m looking forward to it. We are up for the test and from now on it’s finals mindset,” said Hardie. “We need to win both games, starting with this one.”
Edinburgh travel to Cork off the back of a defeat to another Irish side, Leinster, who overcame Alan Solomons’ side 30-23 in Dublin a fortnight ago.
Hardie is well aware of threat the Munster pose, especially in front of a raucous home crowd at the Irish Independent Stadium, formerly known as Musgrave Park.
“I always knew Munster were a powerhouse with a lot of history and they won’t be wanting to drop out of that top six. I haven’t been before so don’t know much about it but there will be a big home crowd, close to an 8000 packed house but that drives us too,” stated Hardie.
With only a home game against fellow top-six hopefuls Cardiff Blues remaining, Hardie is mindful of the gravity of tonight’s contest if Edinburgh are to qualify for Europe’s premier club competition. “Yes I think it is do or die. You look at the table and how close it is and it’s make or break. To make that top six would be awesome.
“We’re not going there just to play the game, we know there is a lot at stake, but they do too so it’s going to be a great showdown.”
Solomons has no qualms about fielding Matt Scott in the less familiar outside centre berth on his injury comeback in tonight’s crunch clash.
The 34-times capped Scott returns from the elbow injury he picked up against Connacht recently and, although he is usually deployed at inside centre, Solomons believes he can be equally effective in the No.13 jersey.
With the campaigns of Phil Burleigh and Mike Allen both ended by surgery to ankle and shoulder respectively, the inclusion of Andries Strauss means Scott moves to the outside channel and a head-to-head battle with All Black cap Francis Saili.
“Matt has usually played inside centre but I think he is pretty comfortable there [at 13],” said Solomons. “He’s got the pace and experience to handle it. Andries is an out and out inside centre.”
Sean Kennedy returns to the starting scrum-half slot, with Sam Hidalgo-Clyne dropping back on to the bench and Solomons explained: “There is strong competition there and I think Sean has played pretty well over the last period.”
On-loan Welshman Jason Tovey continues at stand-off, while the pack is unchanged with lock Anton Bresler, who is on track to be eligible for Scotland next year, making his 50th appearance for the club.
Munster: Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls, Johnny Holland, Conor Murray, Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer, Dave Foley, Billy Holland, Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander. Subs: Mike Sherry, James Cronin, John Ryan, Robin Copeland, Jack O’Donoghue, Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley, Ronan O’Mahony.
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn, Damien Hoyland, Matt Scott, Andries Strauss, Tom Brown, Jason Tovey, Sean Kennedy, Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford (c), WP Nel, Anton Bresler, Ben Toolis, Jamie Ritchie, John Hardie, Cornell Du Preez. Subs: Stuart McInally, Rory Sutherland, John Andress, Alex Toolis, Magnus Bradbury, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Chris Dean, Dougie Fife