Pierre Schoeman and Hamish Watson absences explained as Edinburgh chase Euro semi-final
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Both Scotland men have been huge contributors in recent weeks, Schoeman in particular putting in massive shifts in Edinburgh’s progression to the last eight of the Challenge Cup and the United Rugby Championship.
Connor Boyle steps in for Watson at openside flanker against Wasps while Kiwi loosehead Harrison Courtney starts ahead of Schoeman as Edinburgh look to return to winning ways at the DAM Health Stadium after last week’s narrow home defeat by Ulster.
“Hamish has played three in a row, and last week he had a huge amount of output - a lot of carries, a lot of contacts,” said Blair. “But also Connor Boyle has been excellent for us whilst Hamish has been away with the Six Nations or rested, and we feel it’s a good opportunity to bring Connor in and show the progress that he’s made.
“So part of it is management of Mish, and part of it is the chance to bring someone in who’s really enthusiastic, given a lot to the jersey, and worthy of a chance to play in a game like this.
“Pierre has played a huge amount of rugby for us since coming back from the Six Nations. He played 80 minutes at the weekend there when he had 24 ball carries which is pretty unprecedented for a prop. He’s putting a huge amount of work in.
“We want to look after him. We are a little bit light in that area going through to the end of the season. When Harrison has had opportunities with us he’s done really well. He’s one of the most professional guys you’ll come across and that’s brilliant considering he’s a partnership player with Watsonians.”
Last week’s game against Ulster took a heavy toll on Edinburgh but the good news for Blair is that the injuries to hookers Stuart McInally (calf) and Dave Cherry (arm), and centre James Lang (knee), are not as bad as first feared and all three should play a part in the run-in.
Saturday’s match with Wasps comes too early for the trio and Adam McBurney will start at hooker, with teenager Patrick Harrison providing back-up on the bench. Chris Dean replaces Lang, as he did to good effect from the second minute of the Ulster game.
Blair said the squad had spoken a lot this week about the club’s previous European highlights, with captain Grant Gilchrist touching upon their celebrated win over Toulouse at Meadowbank way back in 2003. The lock forward attended the game as a young fan, and Blair was at scrum-half as Edinburgh sprang a huge upset with tries from Nathan Hines, Scott Murray and Brendan Laney.
“We just talked about the memories that can be created and it being part of creating history for the club,” said the coach.
A win on Saturday against Wasps would provide another chapter and leave Edinburgh on the brink of something very special indeed.