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Edinburgh ready to pounce on weakened champions

In those seasons when the Swansea-based Ospreys were branded the Galacticos of Celtic rugby, they fielded so many non-Welsh players that there was no advantage whatsoever in playing them during the Six Nations window.

Hamish Watson earns a first start for Edinburgh at openside. Picture: SNS
Hamish Watson earns a first start for Edinburgh at openside. Picture: SNS

The side's transformation into something more easily recognisable as a Welsh rugby club has changed that scenario completely. With the RaboDirect PRO12 trophy safely tucked away in the trophy cabinet at the Liberty Stadium for the second time in three years, the Ospreys are clearly reaping the dividends of shopping local, but at this time of the year their fans may yearn for the days of Justin Marshall, Jerry Collins and Tommy Bowe.

Last weekend's 22-10 loss to Connacht in Galway was both a reminder of how thin the Ospreys' resources now are and a serious dent to their prospects of winning a play-off place at the end of this season's PRO12 competition. However, it also held out hope to Edinburgh, a side who have been desperately short of good news in any form over the past few months.

Of course, the Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley is missing a few players himself, but exactly the same situation prevailed in November when the capital side produced one of their more impressive performances of a thin season in beating Ospreys 23-13 at Murrayfield. Edinburgh supporters dared to dream that a corner had been turned that night, but the months since have brought just one competitive win, a record that has effectively ended Bradley's reign at the club.

Still, as he works out the last few weeks of his contract, and with Edinburgh languishing in 10th place in the PRO12 table after their narrow loss to Cardiff Blues last weekend, Bradley still sounds determined to salvage pride from a season in which his side has suffered too many embarrassments.

"We were bitterly disappointed to lose at home to Cardiff because we created enough opportunities to win the game," said the former Ireland scrum-half. "The fact we created those chances and have already beaten Ospreys this season are positives we can take into this game, but we must be more clinical with our territory and possession if we're to steal a march on the champions in their own back yard."

Fly-half Gregor Hunter has paid the price for his poor kicking display last weekend, dropping out of the matchday squad entirely. In his place, 20-year-old Harry Leonard has been promoted from the bench, a move that only adds to the youthful look of a side in which nine of the squad are 23 or under.

It is not all bad news for the Watson clan, however, as Hamish of that ilk gets his first start for Edinburgh, taking his place at openside in a back row in which Stuart McInally has moved over to the opposite flank to take the slot that was occupied by Scotland replacement Dave Denton a week ago.

But far from being despondent about having to plunder the youth section, Bradley expressed excitement about his side's callowness.

"A number of PRO12 clubs are tested to the limit at this time of the season, both with the attritional nature of the game in terms of injuries and with players selected to represent their country.

"Edinburgh has proven to be a fantastic breeding ground for talented young players, many of whom will represent Scotland this weekend. The team picked to play Ospreys will showcase another group of gifted young players coming through who, with time and experience, will grow into hardened, quality individuals capable of delivering winning performances for this club."

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