Edinburgh Rugby acting head coach Duncan Hodge admits that the recent break from Guinness PRO12 action may have been a mixed blessing for his resurgent side.
Hodge’s men will bid to continue their ascent of the league table away to Newport Gwent Dragons tomorrow, having bounced back from a disappointing home defeat against Zebre to see off Ulster at BT Murrayfield in some style before action paused for the autumn internationals.
“You could argue it both ways,” conceded Hodge. “In terms of pre-season plus eight to ten weeks of the season, there are some tired bodies around so a break is good but you could argue the other way as well. It would have been nice to play the week after Ulster but hopefully we can carry some of that momentum through. That’s not been lost. We did some work post-Ulster at the end of last week and the beginning of this week so hopefully we’ve not forgotten what was learned there.”
One player not cooling his heels over the past fortnight is Magnus Bradbury, who returns to the team after earning what promises to be the first of many Scotland caps. Hodge was impressed by the 21-year-old’s international debut against Argentina last week, saying: “Magnus played really well. For such a young guy, I thought he carried really well. He was really composed for 50 minutes. It’s great for us to have him back. He has added a lot to the team this season on the pitch and off the pitch.”
With Scotland coach Vern Cotter drawing heavily on Glasgow Warriors for his backs, Hodge has the luxury of continuity behind the scrum with only one change as Mike Allen comes in to replace the injured Tom Brown.
There is also stability up front with the only change to the forward pack being the inclusion of Nasi Manu in place of Viliame Mata, who drops to the bench. Among the outstanding contributors in the win over Ulster were young props Murray McCallum and Jack Cosgrove who are handed another opportunity to showcase their talents.
“This is one of the things about this time of the year – it has spawned opportunities for young Scottish guys. Those two played exceptionally well against Ulster. The big thing for those two and others like them, and for the team, is just to back that up and give that same level of performance,” added Hodge. “Of the injuries we have around the front five, some are long term and we’ve known that for a while so it’s been pretty settled week to week.”
Hodge has encouraged his men to play a more expansive game than was the plan of his predecessor Alan Solomons and he will be looking for more flowing rugby at Rodney Parade in a match the visitors must win to step up their bid for a top-six finish.
Dragons sit just below Edinburgh in the table but have won their last three home matches in all competitions, including a victory over league champions Connacht. One familiar face in the Welsh line is that of centre Sam Baird who moved south from the Capital last summer.
Hodge expects a tough afternoon but knows that a win is essential. “It’s a tough place to go and play. It’s never easy down there but we need to focus positively on winning these sorts of games.”
This weekend’s trip to the principality is the first of two for Edinburgh – they are on the road to face Ospreys next Friday – before the focus switches to the European Challenge Cup.
While Hodge is concentrating on tomorrow’s encounter, he is also planning ahead, with the return of his international contingent already featuring in his thoughts.
“There is a plan and it is on an individual basis. There’s some guys who are going to have had a lot of rugby in the autumn and some guys not so much,” he said of his intention to reintroduce the returning Scotland players. “You just kind of factor that in, with your opposition, with tactics, with the state of their bodies, so there’s a whole kind of mesh of things there.”
Edinburgh Rugby: B Kinghorn; D Hoyland, C Dean, P Burleigh, M Allen; J Tovey, S Kennedy; M McCallum, N Cochrane, J Cosgrove, F McKenzie, B Toolis, M Bradbury, J Ritchie, N Manu. Subs: S McInally, K White, F Aregui, L Carmichael, W Mata, S Hidalgo-Clyne, D Weir, G Bryce
Newport Gwent Dragons: C Meyer; P Howard, S Beard, J Dixon, A Hewitt; A O’Brien, T Knoyle; S Hobbs, T Rhys Thomas, B Harris, N Crosswell, R Landman, L Evans, O Griffiths, E Jackson. Subs: R Buckley, P Price, L Fairbrother, M Screech, N Cudd, S Pretorius, G Rhys Jones, T Morgan.