Edinburgh rotate starting team for Agen ahead of final Challenge Cup pool match

Saturday marks the final pool stage match of Edinburgh’s 2019/20 Challenge Cup campaign as they face Agen at BT Murrayfield, with a win putting them through to the competition’s quarter final stage.

Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill has named a side full of changes to face Agen at BT Murrayfield in the final pool stage of the Challenge Cup this Saturday.

The side, in total, includes seven forward changes – with only Hamish Watson reclaiming the position he fielded against Bordeaux last weekend – and just one back change as George Taylor comes in for the internationally selected Matt Scott.

Charlie Shiel and James Johnstone fall out of the squad as Henry Pyrgos and Chris Dean take their places respectively – with the latter making his first appearance of the regular season having torn his pectoral in a pre-season friendly against Ospreys.

The all change scrum line-up sees Pierre Schoeman return to the starting line-up to pair WP Nel as the props, with Dave Cherry holding the hooker position between them.

An all Scotland second row of Ben Toolis and Grant Gilchrist is preferred to Sam Thomson and Lewis Carmichael, who started against Bordeaux, but both drop out of the squad this week.

Hamish Watson remains on the openside flank, with Luke Crosbie coming in to the blindside and Nick Haining – one of six uncapped players selected by Scotland’s Gregor Townsend – takes the number eight jersey from Bill Mata.

It’s a relatively unchanged back-line as Darcy Graham and Duhan Van Der Merwe once more occupy the wings, Mark Bennett gets a change in centre partner as George Taylor comes in at 12, Damien Hoyland replaces Blair Kinghorn at fullback and Jaco Van Der Walt once more rules the half-back spot with Nic Groom.

Rory Sutherland and Mike Willemse drop to the bench to join Pietro Ceccarelli. Fraser McKenzie returns from a slightly troublesome neck injury picked up earlier in the season whilst John Barclay once more boosts the bench. And Pyrgos, Hickey and Dean round out the replacements as the backline cover.

Edinburgh must beat Agen to qualify for the next round of the European Challenge Cup (Credit: EN4 News)

Despite a losing performance to Bordeaux Begles away in France last weekend, which left Richard Cockerill’s squad with marginal errors to correct, Edinburgh are this weekend looking to put themselves through to the quarter finals of the Challenge Cup with a win at home.

“We’re going for the bonus point, to qualify and see where that takes us,” Cockerill explained to the media earlier this week. “A win will get us through, and we’ll just see. We’re going to be away from home [in the quarter finals], which is fine. We’ll see where that takes us – wherever we go, we’ll give it our best shot.”

Edinburgh were bested by French Top 14 league leaders in France last weekend, as Bordeaux’s Semi Radradra, Santiago Cordero and Yann Lesgourgues all ran in tries for the frightfully dominant French outfit.

Duhan Van Der Merwe and Mark Bennett aided Edinburgh’s chances on the scoreboard, but Cockerill knows that his side will need to be more clinical in their fixture against Agen – a side which hasn’t taken a single point in the third pool of the European competition.

“We’re starting to mature as a team, and I think we’re mature enough to be able to say that it’s a game that we should win, and it’s a game we should win with four tries and five points. And we’ve got to go out there and lay it on the field and just do it, rather than make it a struggle.”

“So, that’s the challenge for us,” Cockerill elaborated. “It’s a different sort of challenge, and almost in some ways a harder challenge than people thinking you’re going to lose and you surprise people. Well, we should win, I expect us to win, and I expect us to put a proper professional performance out on the field and get the job done.”

The side Cockerill named to travel to Bordeaux saw eight changes from the squad which ran out against Southern Kings in the first match of the new year at BT Murrayfield a week previously.

And the head coach expects to ring some more personnel changes this weekend, “Yeah, there’ll be changes to the team. There’ll be the odd test player we’ll look after, but we’ll be 90% full go.”

Edinburgh will have to become accustomed to having less test players in their ranks as Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend named his Guinness Six Nations wider squad on Wednesday this week, and of the 38 men included, a total 16 – 12 forwards and four backs – were from Cockerill’s Edinburgh ranks.

A further 13 were taken from Glasgow Warriors, meaning only nine of the players called up to international duty play their rugby outside of Scotland with eight based in England and only one – Finn Russell – overseas in France.

Despite international call-ups, Edinburgh boosted their ranks once again this week when they announced that scintillating South African winger Duhan Van Der Merwe had re-signed with the club.

Van Der Merwe, who is still only 24, already has 53 caps and 28 tries on his Edinburgh record – making him the club’s fifth all time try scorer. Thus it was a re-signing that Cockerill is delighted to have completed.

“There are the games where his footwork and his power, plus his pace, have scored tries from nothing. So, having that type of player in your squad is important because sometimes in a game, that’s the difference, you know? Someone that’ll get something from nothing, and suddenly the game sparks into life, or it turns the game in your favour.”

Edinburgh will certainly be hoping Van Der Merwe adds to his try tally to seal the win, and preferably the bonus point, for them against Agen this weekend as they kick off at 3pm on Saturday at BT Murrayfield.

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