James Lang and Ben Vellacott provide energy injections for Mike Blair’s new Edinburgh
Ben Vellacott ensured Edinburgh were full of zest in their United Rugby Championship opener against Scarlets and they hope to up the energy levels further against Benetton on Saturday by drafting James Lang into their starting line-up.
The Scotland centre made an instant impact as a substitute last weekend and is rewarded with a place in the XV in Treviso.
His inclusion is one of six changes made by new coach Mike Blair as he seeks to build on the 26-22 win in week one.
Scrum-half Vellacott was outstanding on his competitive debut for the club, and was ably supported by Darcy Graham, Henry Immelman, Blair Kinghorn and Mark Bennett as Edinburgh’s backs swarmed all over their Welsh opponents. Unfortunately for the capital side, Kinghorn has been ruled out of the Italy trip with a quad injury and his place at stand-off is taken by Jaco van der Walt.
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Steve Lawrie, the assistant coach, said that Kinghorn would be out for at least a fortnight. “He’s looking at a couple of weeks, potentially a bit longer,” he said.
The loss of one Edinburgh creative is partially offset by the introduction of another in Lang, with the former Harlequins man replacing Cammy Hutchison.
“I thought he was excellent off the bench last week,” Lawrie said of Lang. “He cut that line. He brings real energy, a bit like Benny [Vellacott], and he brings that bit of experience as well.
“I thought Cammy Hutchison was excellent too, but again, just with the young blokes coming in, it’s great that we can turn to experienced players to advance it as well. I think that’s really important.”
The other changes are in the pack. Props Boan Venter and WP Nel come into the team, with last week’s starters, Pierre Schoeman and Lee-Roy Atalifo, among the substitutes. Jamie Hodgson takes the place of Marshall Sykes in the second-row, and flanker Connor Boyle makes his second start for his hometown club, replacing Luke Crosbie who moves to the bench.
The speed with which Edinburgh want to play under Blair was encapsulated last weekend in a moment midway through the first half when Vellacott caught Scarlets on the hop by taking a tap penalty on his own goalline and scorching up to halfway before Kinghorn took the ball deep into the opposition’s 22. Edinburgh had been under attack for almost the entire opening quarter and the scrum-half’s moment of improvisation changed the game’s narrative.
Lawrie said Vellacott was as effervescent off the pitch as on it. “We have a Covid fist-pump in the morning, and generally my energy levels post-Ben Vellacott fist pump go through the roof,” said the coach. “Everybody wants to wake up like that guy, honestly. A ball of energy, top pro, and I was really pleased with how he performed last week. He was switched on.”
Benetton’s transformation at the end of last season from Pro14 also-rans to Rainbow Cup winners ensures Edinburgh will face a tough test in Treviso and Lawrie identified three players in particular that he described as “outstanding”, hookers Gianmarco Lucchesi and Gianmarco Nicotera and openside flanker Michele Lamaro.
“They’re very dangerous now,” said Lawrie. “It’s not just the Italian hard edge, they also play really good rugby.”