Edinburgh and Glasgow opt for youth in their Pro14 openers

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·4 min read
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Charlie Shiel (second right) after scoring the final try during the Guinness PRO14 match at BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh.  - PA
Charlie Shiel (second right) after scoring the final try during the Guinness PRO14 match at BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh. - PA

Announcing their teams for the much delayed opening day of the Pro14 season, both Glasgow and Edinburgh have been forced to leave out key players as a precaution against Covid-19. Edinburgh, who play Ospreys at Murrayfield on Saturday evening are without back rower Jamie Ritchie, while Glasgow Warriors, who play in Connacht on Saturday afternoon, are without openside Tom Gordon and tighthead prop Zander Fagerson.

Although an Edinburgh Academy player has tested positive for Coronavirus, none of the three players are understood to have tested positive, but are being rested as a precaution after coming into contact with family members who may have been exposed to the virus.

Both coaches have also gone out of their way to give fringe and younger players a chance in the backs, both by choice and through circumstance, with both sides already having to cope with a lengthy injury list. With Blair Kinghorn, Duhan van der Merwe, Henry Pyrgos and Nic Groom injured, Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill has drafted in Damien Hoyland at fullback after impressing on the wing against Bordeaux in Edinburgh’s losing Challenge Cup quarter-final, while former Scotland sevens flier Jamie Farndale starts on the wing. Charlie Shiel, who also impressed in Bordeaux, starts at scrum-half opposite Ospreys and Wales No.9 Rhys Webb.

Glasgow coach Danny Wilson has been similarly bold in his back line selections, although thanks to injuries they too have limited room for manoeuvre as they start their Pro14 season at Connnact for the fourth time in the past five seasons. The Warriors coach has wisely opted to persist with the experiment of Huw Jones at fullback, but has also opted for youth at inside centre and on the wing, where 22-year-old Stafford McDowall is selected ahead of Peter Horne in the absence of the injured Sam Johnson, while 23-year-old Robbie Nairn gets the nod on the wing ahead of Ratu Tagive.

But it is not just behind the scrum where both Edinburgh and Glasgow have mixed up their selections. Up front, in the absence of both Ritchie and influential No.8 Bill Mata, Cockerill has chosen an experimental but hard-working and confrontational back row of Magnus Bradbury, Luke Crosby and Nick Haining. The selection of the highly-rated Crosby is particularly interesting, although the decision to start Hamish Watson on the bench is largely about pacing their openside’s season after four brutal pre-season games against Glasgow (twice), Ulster and Bordeaux.

Equally fascinating is Danny Wilson’s decision to retain Rob Harley in the second row after he and Scott Cummings combined so effectively in Glasgow’s final match of the season, the 15-3 win over Edinburgh at Murrayfield. However, the loss of Tom Gordon also means that in an hugely experienced pack the Warriors turn to veteran Chris Fusaro on the openside, while their new signing, Tongan international flanker Fotu Lokotui, could make his Glasgow debut off the bench just days after signing for the Scotstoun club.

Edinburgh, in particular, face a daunting start to their season. The Ospreys may have endured a dismal last season, but new coach Toby Booth is a shrewd operator who has a phenomenal roster of Test talent at his disposal at a time when players are desperate to force their way into the national side. As well as Webb at scrum-half, they also have second rows Adam Beard and Alun Wyn Jones, as well as skipper Justin Tipuric, although it could have been worse with Gareth Anscombe, George North and Scott Williams all missing from the visitors’ line-up.

Connacht, by contrast, are far more of a known quantity, although how Stafford McDowall does against the punishingly physical runs of centre Bundee Aki will be of huge interest for those who believe he young centre has what it takes to make the step up to become a regular Glasgow starter.

Match details

Edinburgh (v Ospreys, Murrayfield, Pro14, 7.35pm): D Hoyland; D Graham, M Bennett, C Dean, J Farndale; J van der Walt, C Shiel; P Schoeman, S McInally (capt), S Berghan, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, L Crosbie, N Haining. Replacements: D Cherry, J Bhatti, WP Nel, A Davidson, H Watson, D Nutton, N Chamberlain, G Taylor.

Ospreys: D Evans; M Protheroe, O Watkin, K Williams, L Morgan; S Myler, R Webb; N Smith, S Parry, T Botha; A Beard, A Wyn Jones; O Cracknell, J Tipuric (capt), M Morris. Replacements: D Lake, R Jones, M Fia, B Davies, D Lydiate, R Morgan-Williams, J Thomas, T Thomas-Wheeler.

Glasgow Warriors (v Connacht, Pro14, Galway Sportsground, 5.15pm): H Jones; T Seymour, N Grigg, S McDowall, R Nairn; A Hastings, A Price; O Kebble, F Brown (capt), D Rae, R Harley, S Cummings, R Wilson, C Fusaro, M Fagerson. Replacements: G Turner, A Seiuli, E Pieretto, R Gray, F Lokotui, G Horne, P Horne, R Tagive.

Connacht: J Porch; P Sullivan, T Farrell, B Aki, A Wootton; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham, G Thornbury, Q Roux, J Butler (capt),  C Oliver, P Boyle. Replacements: J Murphy, J Duggan, J Aungier, N Murray, S Masterson, C Blade, C Fitzgerald, S Arnold.