Richard Cockerill may turn to youth after Scotland call-ups decimate squad
Up-and-coming young second-rows Jamie Hodgson and Callum Atkinson are in the mix to make their competitive Edinburgh Rugby debuts this Friday away to Zebre in the Guinness PRO14.
First choice pairing Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis are among 17 Edinburgh players currently training with Scotland in St Andrews and likely to be rested this weekend ahead of the national team’s trip to Wales on November 3.
And with fellow second-rows Fraser McKenzie and Lewis Carmichael recovering from injuries it means that Edinburgh are pretty light in that area of the team.
If Jamie Ritchie returns from Scotland training in midweek he may be moved forward from the back-row to play there but, if not, it will be Callum Hunter-Hill, the 21-year-old full-time pro who has two top team appearances to his name, and either Hodgson and Atkinson wearing four and five.
Hodgson and Atkinson play for Watsonians and Boroughmuir in the Capital respectively while they are both Fosroc Academy-supported players.
Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill has says that former Stewart’s Melville College pupil Hodgson will definitely be in the squad that travels to Italy tomorrow.
“Hodgson will certainly be in the 23, we’ve only got three second rows,” Cockerill said. “Atkinson, Hunter-Hill and Hodgson – those are the three second rows that are left standing.
“Bill Mata will play at eight because there’s no point moving him from there because you would lose a lot in terms of his ball carrying. We should get the likes of Luke Crosbie and Luke Hamilton back from Scotland training so that would not be a bad back-row along with Bill and they can help the young second-rows out.
“You’d like to build on the momentum from Toulon, but our squad is going to have a different look to it. Circumstance to an extent has gone against us, but lads will step up and get their opportunity.
“Look, there’s lots of guys that have conversations with me saying ‘when am I going to get my chance’. “Well, guys will now get a big chance and that’s what the guys train for.
“Guys like Hunter-Hill, he’s been desperate for an opportunity and he’ll get that opportunity this weekend.”
This time two years ago, before Cockerill was in post, seven Edinburgh players were part of the original Scotland squad for the Autumn Tests.
The improvements the club has made under the Englishman – culminating in Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup thumping of former champions Toulon – prompted Scotland coach Gregor Townsend to call-up the 17.
It has left Cockerill with a bit of a headache this week and although a number of players could return in time for the flight to Italy it is far from ideal preparation for a tough away game.
The head coach said: “We’ve started to build a solid foundation at the club where players can get better. Clearly, that’s made us victims of our own success to a degree, but look, there’s two pro teams in Scotland so you know the situation.
“It’s always going to be difficult. And there is a balance to be struck between internationals and trying to be competitive in the league – which is going to be difficult if it continues like it is – but that’s just the way it is.
“So, there’s a real trick in trying to get enough players in your squad that stay with you. But the better we play, and the better the environment we create, clearly the Scottish lads are going to get picked.
“The reality is that there are 100 professional players in Scotland, and 45 per cent of them are training with the national team at the moment. So, it’s always going to be a tough one, isn’t it?”
Edinburgh back-row Magnus Bradbury has not joined up with the Scotland squad with Cockerill stating “I don’t think it will be good news” regarding the scan he is to have on a shoulder issue.