Hamish Watson gets the nod for Edinburgh against Harlequins
The fact that Tim Visser will not be making his anticipated BT Murrayfield comeback today robs the European Challenge Cup clash between Edinburgh and Harlequins of one of its potential storylines but it is still shaping up as an intriguing encounter.
There may be a suspicion that Stade Francais are not taking the second-tier competition that seriously, given that on Thursday they could only muster 27 points at home to a Romanian side against whom Edinburgh scored 59 away last weekend. However, Harlequins have insisted they are highly motivated to go one better than their runners-up finish in Lyon last season.
They opened with a 43-21 home hammering of the French and, although there is no Visser or Ruaridh Jackson in their squad today, most of their big names will be on show.
The likes of Mike Brown, Jamie Roberts, Joe Marler, James Horwill and Chris Robshaw all start, with Danny Care on the bench.
The London side lie eighth in the Aviva Premiership following three wins and three losses and will be the toughest test yet for interim head coach Duncan Hodge, whose time in charge has seen back-to-back wins over Treviso and Timisoara following an away loss to Connacht immediately after Alan Solomons’ departure.
After giving a number of squad players a run in the past couple of weeks, the side Hodge has named this week has more of a first-choice feel, although Hamish Watson is again preferred at openside to John Hardie, who is not even on the bench.
“Both of them have been playing very well,” said Hodge yesterday. “Hards put in a lot of work last week, had a big tackle count in a physical game. Hamish gets his shot this week.
“Both of them are physical players and playing 80 minutes takes a lot out of them. There’s very little between them. It’s not as simplistic as playing them a week about. You look at combinations as well.
“However, it is great to have two people going well in the same position. It allows you that little bit of flexibility to pick tactically and give people good rest between games.”
There is a boost in the front row as WP Nel returns from a neck injury alongside Ross Ford and Rory Sutherland, with new short-term Argentine signing Felipe Arregui on the bench.
The 22-year-old tighthead, pictured, who can also play loosehead, has joined from the Super Rugby outfit Jaguares and made his breakthrough into the Pumas Test team earlier this year.
The signing beefs up Edinburgh’s stretched resources in the key position and Hodge said: “At only 22 years old, he has an impressive CV for a prop and we’re excited to see what he can offer in an Edinburgh Rugby shirt.
“He’s fitted in really well. If he gets game time we’ll look forward to seeing how gets on. He’s an exciting prospect and has looked good in training. It will be interesting to see how he gets on against a good side in a big game.”
Hodge admitted it was a shame that Harlequins Scottish duo were not involved and added: “Personally, I would have enjoyed seeing those two guys play.
“We had a bit of intel that Jackson wouldn’t be involved and yeah it’s a shame that Visser is missing, too. I think he maybe has a knee injury. Some of our guys were looking forward to playing them but that’s how it goes.”
The coach accepted this weekend represents a step up from the previous fortnight and said: “The last two weeks have been great in hindsight as we’ve seen most of the squad play. Everyone has had lots of rugby and there has been some positive stuff in there. It has made selection this week hard. We have a strong team out and it’s been a good week.”
Hodge was as impressed as anyone by Glasgow’s fine win over Leicester Tigers but said that domination of English opposition had not formed any formal part of Edinburgh’s preparations.
“We’re just focused on Quins, who are a quality outfit but not a like-for-like comparison,” he said.
“We’ve watched a lot of them and know how they play, so there will be a lot of pressure and a lot of emphasis on defence tomorrow. They like to play a lot of rugby and play with a bit of width, so our defence will have to match up to that. We’ve been trying to make a few changes in the last couple of weeks and this game will be a test of that.
“They have some great attacking players and like to attack from everywhere.”