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.

Jonny Gray set to make 50th cap for Scotland

Jonny Gray

Gray excited for Wales clash (Credit: David Ronney)

Glasgow Warriors lock, Jonny Gray will start against Wales on Saturday and will join an illustrious club of players who have racked up a half century of caps for Scotland rugby team.

The 24-year-old made his first full debut for the national side back in November 2013 and since then has impressed spectators with a number of solid performances. He is quickly catching up with older brother, Richie Gray, who has 62 national caps and one for the British and Irish Lions.

So far this tournament Jonny Gray has played 134 minutes making 15 carries and 37 tackles as part of the first line of defence against Ireland and France.

Jonny Gray is proud of his achievments but was quick to emphasise the weekends match will be a team effort. Wales are currently the only unbeaten team in this years Six Nations tournamnet.

“It’s not about me. This week is huge, last week was very tough to take.

“To be here is such a special feeling. It’s something I never thought that I would do when I was younger. To be here I’m very lucky.”

Even though Scotland can no longer challenge for the championship title, Gray insisted that playing for the country was an honour.

“When you are playing for Scotland there is always something to play for.”

 

Edinburgh Rugby look ahead to European clash with Newcastle Falcons

Murrayfield_Stadium_edit credit to vclaw

Edinburgh host Newcastle Falcons at BT Murrayfield this week. (Photo Credit: Vclaw via Wikipedia)

Edinburgh Rugby will face off Newcastle Falcons in a double header in the Heineken Champions Cup, with the first match coming on Friday night at BT Murrayfield.

The European expedition is a welcome break from the Pro14 where they have lost their last two matches against Munster and the Dragons respectively.

The Scottish side will be looking for back to back wins in the competition after their emphatic 40-14 win against Toulouse earlier this season.

Scrum-half, Henry Pyrgos was optimistic ahead of the clash and spoke of Edinburgh’s formidable home form.

He said: “The group is wide open at the moment so this double header coming up will be big, if we can go out and play well and get a win it’ll put us in a good position.

“They have a lot of quality, we’re going to have to play really well and expect Newcastle to bring their best game.

“We want to make it as uncomfortable as possible for away teams.

“We’ll get the chance to play in front of our home fans, it’s really exciting. I’ve always thought it’s an awesome place to play.”

Head coach, Richard Cockerill spoke of the impact that returning International players have had on the squad.

Richard Cockerill all smiles ahead of Falcons clash. Photo by David Ronney

Richard Cockerill all smiles ahead of Falcons clash. (Photo Credit: David Ronney)

He said: “It’s been good to get them back and get them integrated back into the team.

“They will be involved at the weekend and will all play a big part.

“It’s great that we have so many guys playing for Scotland and obviously Viliame Mata with Fiji but with the injuries that we’ve had its hurt us a little bit. But that’s life. The season is very much alive for us.

“If we can get two wins it puts us in a great position to qualify. There’s no reason if we get it right that we can’t do it.”

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