Richard Cockerill selects an unrecognisable Edinburgh but denies chucking Munster game
It passed me by but someone, somewhere must have rescinded the ban on blood sports, because Munster's match against Edinburgh goes ahead as planned this evening.
As coach Richard Cockerill was quick to point out, his team pushed Munster close at Thomond Park last season but this evening’s contest is the sort that Edinburgh fans might have to watch from behind the sitting-room sofa.
Reluctant to pick international players coming off the back of an autumn slog and hampered by a long injury list, Cockerill has reached into Santa’s sack of players and plucked out – George Taylor, who makes his league debut for Edinburgh.
If you haven’t clocked the 22-year-old centre, who turned out for Melrose for much of last season, then you are not alone.
Edinburgh Rugby have yet to grant him a pen picture on their own website, despite Taylor having graduated from the club’s academy six months ago. Remember, it’s the little things...
Cockerill said: “He’s a very good young player. He trains very well, he’s played very well for Melrose, he’s been waiting for an opportunity and he gets it this weekend.
“He’s got a bit of everything. He’s got good feet, he’s got good pace, but he’s quite a big fella as well, he’s physical. For a young guy he’s got a lot of potential. Hopefully he can show some of that.”
Taylor will be up against two Irish international centres in Rory Scannell and Chris Farrell, who are both fighting for World Cup inclusion.
While eight of Edinburgh’s starting XV have fewer than ten appearances to their name, Munster have picked a seasoned side. Peter O’Mahony, Ireland’s man of the match against New Zealand recently, features in a pack including veterans John Ryan, David Kilcoyne, Tadhg Beirne and Billy Holland while scrum-half Conor Murray makes his first start of the season after a long injury layoff.
“They’ve picked a very strong side,” added Cockerill. “They obviously have a strong squad. We’ve had nine international forwards on duty and they need to rest. O’Mahony didn’t play last week, so he plays this week.
“We’ve got to look at the bigger picture of our season, and you can’t keep asking the same players to front up every week, especially those Test players. It’s very unhelpful that we’ve got significant injuries to very good players in that forward pack, especially in that back five. [Grant] Gilchrist and [Ben] Toolis are our two front-line locks, they can’t just keep playing every week for the next 30 weeks.
“I’m just managing the squad as best as I see fit and players will get their opportunity. We’ve got to step up, clearly. It’s nowhere near what is perceived as our strongest side.
“I’m not sure what else I can do, because if I don’t pick Ally Miller or Lewis Wynne, who do I pick? I’ve no choice. If I don’t pick Hunter-Hill or Hodgson, who do I pick? I haven’t got anybody else. That’s where we’re at. I’m not sure what part of that you guys wouldn’t understand.”
That barb was aimed at the journalists asking the questions. Certainly Edinburgh look a much weaker side than the one that will face Newcastle Falcons next weekend in a crucial Champions Cup tie but Cockerill played down any suggestion he had effectively conceded today’s game. “We are going there to win. We are going there to put our best foot forward and have a big performance and see where we get to. There are no predictions. We are trying to win and get as many points as we can.
“How realistic that is, we will see. I am not trying to kid anyone. It is going to be a huge test for us for obvious reasons. We are not pretending we are favourites but we are going to work as hard as we can.”
No-one is pretending Edinburgh are favourites.
Glasgow’s shock 38-28 loss to Southern Kings is still fresh in the memory but tonight’s game is the nearest you get to a slam dunk in rugby.
In a two-horse race, Edinburgh are as much as 16-1 against and no-one has been injured in the rush to place money on the visitors.
Edinburgh: 15. Dougie Fife; 14. Tom Brown, 13. George Taylor, 12. Juan Pablo Socino, 11. Duhan van der Merwe; 10. Jaco van der Walt, 9. Nathan Fowles; 1. Rory Sutherland, 2. David Cherry, 3. Murray McCallum, 4. James Hodgson, 5. Callum Hunter-Hill, 6. Ally Miller, 7. Lewis Wynne, 8. Luke Hamilton (c). Replacements: 16. Ross Ford, 17. Darryl Marfo, 18. Pietro Ceccarelli, 19. Callum Atkinson, 20. Senitiki Nayalo, 21. Sean Kennedy, 22.Jason Baggott, 23. Chris Dean.