Racing 92 v Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn gamble is a risk worth taking says Richard Cockerill
Richard Cockerill admits his bold decision to pick Blair Kinghorn at stand-off is a gamble as his Edinburgh side look to cause a Champions Cup upset against Racing 92 in Paris on Sunday.
Kinghorn is preferred to Jaco van der Walt at 10 because the Edinburgh coach thinks the former offers more of a creative threat.
Last season’s finalists boast a formidable array of talent and Cockerill’s plan is to take them on at their own game.
Kinghorn played at stand-off in his formative years but the vast majority of his professional career has been spent at full-back and on the wing.
Cockerill’s strategy is not without risk, as he acknowledges, but he is backing Kinghorn to deliver.
“Ball in hand he’s a threat, he’s very off-the-cuff and creates opportunities because he’s naturally instinctive and very quick,” said the coach.
“Obviously the game control side is lacking a bit because it’s not his natural position. But I thought it was the right decision for this week all things considered.
“It’s a bold selection but one that’s very much worth the risk.
“If we can get front-foot ball he's very dangerous. He talks well, he understands the game and sees the picture in front of him well.
“If there are opportunities to attack he will see them and hopefully we’ll exploit them.”
Cockerill’s hand was forced partly by van der Walt’s lack of rugby in recent weeks. He was part of Scotland’s Six Nations squad but only saw action as a second-half replacement against Italy. He then suffered a dead leg in Edinburgh’s narrow loss to Dragons last weekend, causing him to miss most of the match and much of this week’s training.
Kinghorn moved to stand-off against the Welsh side and did enough to convince Cockerill that he can make a go of it in the last-16 tie at La Defense Arena.
“I just thought it was an opportunity to put him there and take the gamble and go with a slightly more attacking mindset,” said the coach.
“That could be very, very good or….we’ll see. It could cost us as they are a very dangerous team if you turn the ball over. But we’re going there to go as hard as we can at them.
“We’re going to play as much as we can and see where it takes us. I don’t think it’s a game for containing them and kicking points. We’ll go there with a positive mindset and play at them.”
Racing are without the suspended Finn Russell, and Juan Imhoff is also missing, but the Parisians are still able to field a backline which includes Virimi Vakatawa, Teddy Thomas and Kurtley Beale. Antoine Gibert deputises for Russell at stand-off, with Maxime Machenaud at scrum-half.
Edinburgh have brought back most of the big guns who helped Scotland beat France last Friday and the inclusion of Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Grant Gilchrist, David Cherry, Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe gives them a look of durability.
Rory Sutherland and Nick Haining miss out through injury but there are recalls for Damien Hoyland, Pierre Schoeman, Viliame Mata and WP Nel.
It’s a strong team and Edinburgh have an impressive record against French clubs but it will require something very special to produce another Scottish upset win in Paris.