Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill welcomed the release of three members of Scotland’s Six Nations squad for this afternoon’s Guinness Pro14 clash with Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth.
For all the momentum the Englishman has built with the team it remains an undeniable truth that the wider squad is not as deep as Glasgow’s, particularly when improvement leads to yet more players earning their national call-up spurs.
Edinburgh struggled during the autumn Test window so Cockerill was delighted to see the uncapped trio of centre Chris Dean, flanker Luke Crosbie and hooker David Cherry arrive in South Africa midweek.
“I’m obviously happy to have them,” he said. “We were a little bit short in that backline so Chris Dean arriving has been very helpful. We were also short in the back row so Luke Crosbie has been a welcome addition to the team. Dave Cherry wants to impress to get himself into the squad for the Italy game.”
In many respects, this would be a match tailor made for the impressive South Africa-born wing Duhan van der Merwe back in the land of his birth but, as with Glasgow coach Dave Rennie this weekend, southern hemisphere family plans have intervened.
“He is best man at his brother’s wedding,” explained Cockerill. “He is in South Africa, but not with us. It’s the height of summer in South Africa and the Super Rugby season has not started so his brother [Sharks hooker Akker van der Merwe] organised the wedding for now.
“When you’re the best man you probably need to be there.”
Cockerill is well aware of the limitations he is dealing with at this time of year.
“We’ve got the best part of 20 players missing, nine with the national team and 11 guys injured. There are a lot of guys missing,” he said.
“James Johnstone is out of position on the wing and George Taylor is starting again [at centre]. It’s a new back three with Darcy [Graham] and Blair [Kinghorn] being kept back, but that’s part and parcel of it.
“We’ve just got no more wingers. George is an out and out centre, while James has played on the sevens circuit and on the wing at times. We are against a team that has a lot of pace, so we thought that was the best combination. But literally in that backline we have no one else left. Beyond Sean Kennedy at scrum-half we have no one else fit and available to play.”
The Conference B basement boys have achieved only one victory all season but Cockerill is wary of the vulnerability of his squad and has taken plenty of warning from that shock win for the South Africans, which came against Glasgow earlier in the season.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” said Cockerill. “The Kings have made teams work really hard for results here. As we saw against Glasgow, if you get it wrong you can certainly come unstuck. It’s an important game for us in the context of the Conference and we are expecting a very tough game.
“We’ve got to meet the physical challenges and obviously it’s a little bit warmer than we’re used to, but we back our conditioning and fitness. We’ve just got to play our game and make sure that when they have the ball we control them as much as we can.
“The Kings are picking from strength. If you take nine internationals out of your squad that is going to leave a few holes.
“But although we are slightly understrength we would expect ourselves to perform. It is an important game and we need as many points out of it as we can get.”
The capped loosehead prop Darryl Marfo continues his slow march back from the wilderness on the bench, alongside back-rower Mungo Mason, who has been drafted in from the Scotland Sevens squad, who are in New Zealand for the Hamilton leg of the world series.
“Mungo has played in New Zealand and America. His parents studied in Glasgow and that’s where he was born. It’s all a little bit strange,” said Cockerill. “He is a player who is developing. The sevens are there to develop players. He is still pretty raw but he has a bit to show, and that’s why Ally Miller gets the nod ahead of him [in the starting XV].
“We have a lot of back rower out injured but we hope to get a lot of back soon. Mungo is just helping us out but he will go back to the sevens.”
Edinburgh: 15. Dougie Fife; 14. Tom Brown, 13. George Taylor, 12. Chris Dean, 11. James Johnstone; 10. Jaco van der Walt, 9. Henry Pyrgos; 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. David Cherry, 3. Pietro Ceccarelli, 4. Fraser McKenzie (c), 5. Callum Hunter-Hill, 6. Luke Crosbie, 7. Ally Miller, 8. Viliame Mata. Substitutes: 16. Ross Ford, 17. Darryl Marfo, 18. Murray McCallum, 19. Jamie Hodgson, 20. Mungo Mason, 21. Nathan Fowles, 22. Simon Hickey, 23. Juan Pablo Socino.