Edinburgh’s bid to kick-start their season and challenge for a place in the Magners League play-offs under interim head coach Nick Scrivener begins with a trip to Newport Gwent Dragons on Saturday (kick-off 2pm), a match that sees the Australian take charge of the side for the first time.
The visit to Rodney Parade is the first of three straight away fixtures (the others being against Munster and Scarlets) that represent a challenging start to life in the hot seat for Scrivener, who has been an assistant coach at the capital club since August 2009.
The former Australia A, ACT Brumbies and Canberra Vikings coach, who has led Scotland A to victories over Ireland Wolfhounds and Italy A in the past fortnight, wants Edinburgh to hit the ground running in southern Wales tomorrow, and has challenged his players to show they have what it takes to win on the road.
Scrivener confirmed: “It’s a crucial time in the season for us, and the players need to remember that our destiny is very much in our own hands. Our away form this season has not been good, but we now have a fantastic opportunity to confront that head on and put down a marker against the Dragons.
“The big focus this week has been tightening up all areas of our game, and letting it be known that we’re looking to the players, and especially our leaders, to take charge at crucial times on the field and make sure everyone knows what we’re doing, why and when.”
Scrivener’s first selection as interim head coach sees 11 changes from the team that went down 21-14 to Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup on 22 January.
John Houston and Tim Visser, who missed that game through injury, return to the three-quarter line, while David Blair and Greig Laidlaw resume their half-back pairing.
There is an all-new front row, formed of Kyle Traynor, Andrew Kelly and Geoff Cross, and Fraser McKenzie comes in at lock. Stuart McInally starts at blindside flanker, with Netani Talei taking the No.8 role.
Five players (Nick De Luca, Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Mike Blair and Ross Rennie) are in the Scotland 22 for the game against Wales at Murrayfield on Saturday. Another, Scott MacLeod, was this morning summoned as precautionary cover for Richie Gray, who has been suffering from a stomach bug.
Craig Hamilton therefore takes the No.4 jersey for Edinburgh, with Esteban Lozada coming onto the bench.
Three other players (Chris Paterson, Laidlaw and Cross) who are part of the wider national squad for the RBS 6 Nations Championship have been selected for the Dragons game.
Laidlaw will skipper the side, Scrivener having decided to nominate his captain on a match-by-match basis for the rest of the season.
The Canberra man explained: “I’ll be picking our team for each game, then selecting the skipper after that.
“I want to bring more accountability onto the players, and one way to do that is to broaden the leadership group. That might mean the same captain two or more weeks in a row, but it will primarily depend on selection.
“I’ll expect whoever is match captain for a particular game to understand what his role is, be clear about what the team is trying to do, and appreciate that the best form of leadership is consistent personal performance.
“Greig is one of a number of guys who has the attributes we’re looking for. He performed very well as captain of Scotland A, he’s respected in the group, has a good appreciation of how we want to play, and is someone who other players respond to. The most important thing is that he’s performed outstandingly well as a player.”
Scrivener has also paid tribute to Roddy Grant, identifying the back-row forward as a “key member of the leadership group who is very much in my thoughts as a potential captain.”
Grant is among the replacements for Saturday’s game, and Scrivener confirmed: “Roddy is a quality player, has very good leadership skills, is well respected and leads from the front in terms of performance. He’s certainly one of the guys that I’ll be tapping into.
“If Roddy is named in the team for a particular match, it could be him that’s captain. In a broader sense, he’ll retain a club captaincy role and I’ll be looking to him to act as a conduit between myself and the players. He’s a player and a guy who I respect enormously: he’s done a good job for us and will continue to do so.
“He’s just the sort of man you want in the trenches with you for the sort of big tests that are coming up in the next few weeks and months.”
Alun Walker, the former Currie and Scotland under-20 hooker who joined Edinburgh as an Elite Development Player at the start of the season, could make his first appearance for the club off the bench, having recovered from a shoulder injury.
15 Chris Paterson
14 Lee Jones
13 Ben Cairns
12 John Houston
11 Tim Visser
10 David Blair
9 Greig Laidlaw (captain)
1 Kyle Traynor
2 Andrew Kelly
3 Geoff Cross
4 Craig Hamilton
5 Fraser McKenzie
6 Stuart McInally
8 Netani Talei
7 Alan MacDonald
16 Alun Walker
17 Lewis Niven
18 David Young
19 Esteban Lozada
20 Roddy Grant
21 James King
22 Simon Webster
23 Jim Thompson
Not considered due to injury: Alex Blair (back), Chris Bloomfield (ACL), Fraser Brown (neck, in post-surgery rehabilitation), Grant Gilchrist (ankle), Phil Godman (knee), Gregor Hunter (groin), Mark Robertson (groin/abdomen).