THERE has long been a question mark over the ability of either of Scotland’s teams to fight on two fronts, but so far at least this season, Edinburgh have been doing so with remarkable success.

Granted, to date they have only played once in the Challenge Cup, but that Pool C match produced one of their most memorable wins of recent years as they claimed the scalp of Saracens last month. And, having taken over at the top of the URC last week with a commanding home win over Cardiff, Mike Blair’s team go into this afternoon’s second cup game against London Irish in a very confident frame of mind.

There is little or no risk of their getting carried away: Blair has insisted that these are early days both in terms of this season and of his steady transformation of the team’s playing style. Yet that style is one to which the players have taken with remarkable alacrity, not only because it is entertaining and attack-minded, but also because it allows them to take a lot of responsibility.

Matt Currie, who takes over at centre from Mark Bennett in one of four changes from the side that beat Cardiff, is a case in point. This will be only his sixth appearance for Edinburgh, but he has already distinguished himself for his mature leadership as well as his incisive attacking instincts.  

“I think there’s the obvious stuff on the pitch, but what I also love about him is he’s a 20 year-old who’s leading in meetings,” Blair said yesterday after naming his team for the match in Brentford. “He’s putting his hand up, questioning the coaches and the other players. He’s asking if we’re doing things right and saying we need to do this here. From the outside he seems quite a quiet guy, but that ability to step up to try to drive what we want to do for a young man is really impressive.”

While Currie has so far made only a handful of appearances for Edinburgh, that is also the case with the majority of the back division, Ben Vellacott, Ramiro Moyano, Emiliano Boffelli, James Lang and Henry Immelman all having signed last summer. The number of newcomers has made Currie’s leadership qualities all the more important according to Blair.

“You look at the back line we’ve got and there are six players with under ten games for the club,” the coach continued. “Matt was at the club last year and played a couple of games and has been involved in the academy. So he’s someone who knows Edinburgh Rugby better than most of the guys in the back line. It’s great that he’s stepped up and is driving what we’re all about.”

Currie is the sole newcomer behind the scrum, and comes in for his third start of the season. Boan Venter gets a start at loosehead instead of Pierre Schoeman, Adam McBurney starts at hooker as both Stuart McInally and Dave Cherry are on the injured list, and Nick Haining is at blindside in a reshuffled back row from which Hamish Watson drops out. 

Patrick Harrison is back-up hooker and Connor Boyle is also among the forwards replacements. The three backs on the bench are the same as last week: scrum-half Charlie Shiel, stand-off Jaco van der Walt and centre Chris Dean.

In addition to McInally and Cherry, six others are unavailable because of injury or Covid concerns: Luan de Bruin, Darcy Graham, Damien Hoyland, James Johnstone, Bill Mata and Ben Toolis.

London Irish, meanwhile, include two former Edinburgh players in their squad  - Kyle Rowe, who starts on the right wing, and Scotland international prop Allan Dell, who is on the bench. “I love the way London Irish play,” Blair added. “They move the ball around a lot, are really innovative with what they’re trying to do, with their set plays and scrum plays - I think it’ll be an excellent game.”

With three teams from each pool going through automatically to the last 16, another victory in London today would take Edinburgh within touching distance of the knock-out stages.

Edinburgh (v London Irish at Brentford Community Stadium, Saturday 3.15pm): H Immelman; E Boffelli, M Currie, J Lang, R Moyano; B Kinghorn, B Vellacott; B Venter, A McBurney, W Nel, J Hodgson, G Gilchrist (captain), N Haining, J Ritchie, M Bradbury. Substitutes: P Harrison, P Schoeman, L Atalifo, M Sykes, C Boyle, C Shiel, J van der Walt, C Dean.

London Irish: L Cinti; K Rowe, C Rona, B Janse van Rensburg, O Hassell-Collins; P Jackson, N Phipps; W Goodrick-Clarke, A Creevy, O Hoskins, G Nott, R Simmons, M Rogerson (captain), T Pearson, A Tuisue. Substitutes: M Cornish, A Dell, L Chawatama, A Coleman, O Cracknell, B White, M Williams, J Stokes.

Referee: G Gnecchi (Italy).