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Edinburgh coach Mike Blair insists 17 injury & Covid call-offs offers opportunity rather than excuse

MIKE Blair has insisted that the unavailability due to injury or Covid of 17 Edinburgh squad members for tonight’s 1872 Cup first leg clash against Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun should be viewed as an opportunity rather than an excuse for his team failing to deliver. 

The capital side come into this match in a rich vein of form, having won five games on the bounce since their home draw against the Bulls at the start of October. Their away win against English giants Saracens in their last outing was particularly impressive, but head coach Blair has been forced to make seven changes to the starting XV for that match, with experienced Scotland players WP Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Nick Haining and James Lang among those who are now unavailable. 

Jamie Ritchie, Blair Kinghorn and Viliame Mata are other high-profile absentees, with Blair conceding that he has been forced to rejig his plans during the last few days in response to call-offs. However, the former scrum-half was hell-bent on keeping things positive when he named his match-day 23 yesterday lunchtime. 

The one big plus is the return of Darcy Graham on the left wing after missing the Saracens game with a minor shoulder injury. 

“The picture has changed throughout the week in terms of the team we initially selected and what the team ended up looking like by 12noon on Boxing Day, so we’ve had some challenges in and around injuries and what have you, and we just need to adapt,” he said.  

“The reason I am still confident about what we’re going to be able to put on the pitch is that we have had challenges already this year,” he continued. “Darcy and Jamie pulled out at the last minute before we played against Saracens but we still managed to put in a performance. 

“And we’ve had other situations like when we rested our whole international contingent for that Dragons game and that was our best performance of the season so far. 

“Some [of the absentees] are injury and some are Covid, but we’re expecting the vast majority of that list – taking out Viliame [Mata] and Damien [Hoyland], who are longer term – to be around in the next couple of weeks.”  

“It’s the way the game is at the moment. Some teams get lucky with things and some teams get unlucky. This scenario creates an opportunity to be resilient and to deal with the cards we have been dealt.  

“It is very easy to say we are missing him, him and him, but I want to back our guys coming in. We have a quality team that we are able to put out on the pitch. Yes, it is disappointing that we are missing these players, but I believe the players coming in are going to make a real impact and stick their hands up to play the following week as well.” 

While Blair has managed to name 14 full internationalists in his starting 15, there is a real dearth of experience on the bench. Six of those eight players have managed less than 10 appearances for the club so far. That includes Glen Young, who is set to debut having been side-lined with a pectoral injury since his arrival from Harlequins during the summer. 

Young is one of two second-rows on the bench, while there are no back-row replacements, with Mata, Ritchie, Ben Muncaster, Conor Boyle and Mesulame Kunavula all unavailable. 

“It doesn’t look great in terms of number of appearances but something I am trying to instil in this squad is that the vast majority of guys will get opportunities and is up to those players to take them,” said Blair. “So, I’m really looking forward to seeing Harrison Courtney, Gus Williams and Glen Young coming on and making an impact to grasp that opportunity. 

“I’ve got really high expectations and high standards for this team,” he added. “We’ve got a quality squad, so we want to keep pushing our performances. 

“There’s been games when, even though we’ve got a bonus-point win, we know we shouldn’t just be happy with that because we want to keep pushing our standards and getting better week-in and week-out to challenge at the top of this league, because that’s what I believe we can do.  

“So, the vibe is good but we’re also aware that we have to be right at the top of our game playing against this Glasgow side who have had a couple of good performances the last couple of weeks.”  

Edinburgh (v Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium, Monday 7pm): E Boffelli; D Graham, M Bennett (VC), C Hutchison, R Moyano; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos (C); P Schoeman, S McInally (VC) L-R Atalifo, M Sykes J Hodgson, L Crosbie, H Watson, M Bradbury. Substitutes: D Cherry, H Courtney, A Williams, J P Phillips, G Young, B Vellacott, C Savala, C Dean. 

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