Richard Cockerill has known for quite a while that 2020-21 is going to be an exceedingly tough season, but he must have hoped for a slightly less choppy start to the campaign.

Ahead of this evening’s PRO14 campaign opener against the Ospreys at Murrayfield, he has lost one of his most important players to the self-isolation protocols which have been designed to combat the threat of COVID-19 spreading through the whole squad, and is without seven more key men – Bill Mata, Blair Kinghorn, Rory Sutherland, Blair Kinghorn, Duhan van der Merwe, Henry Pyrgos and Nic Groom – due to various injuries.

So much for easing into the season. Edinburgh are going to be thrown in at the deep-end, and they are going to have to start as they mean to go on, paddling like crazy to keep on track.

“It’s certainly different, isn’t it?” the head coach surmised, with a wry smile. “With fixture difference in terms of the days we play, not really knowing what we are going to be doing post-Christmas, more internationals than there have ever been, a global pandemic … yeah, it is going to be a challenging one

“But we’ve got to just manage it the best we can, react as it is happening, and be flexible. There is going to be changes – good and bad – along the way. All we can do is get the best team on the field, prepare them as well as we can, and go out to win as many games as we can.”

The good news is that none of the missing men listed above are considered long term absentees – apart from Mata, who we learned earlier this week will be out for six to eight weeks with an ankle injury.

Ritchie is self-isolating because he has been exposed to a family member who has been exposed to COVID. He has not tested positive himself, and it is expected that he will be able to resume training in the middle of next week.

“It is like any of us, our kids are going to school and our wives are going to work, so there are some things that you can mitigate and avoid risk on, and there are some things where life will just go on,” said Cockerill.

“Jamie is a good professional. He has not put himself at any risk whatsoever. This is nothing to do with how he has conducted himself. It is purely bad luck. The likelihood is that he has nothing wrong with him and the chances of him contracting it are very slim but we don’t want to take that risk.

“Unfortunately, I think this is going to be a weekly occurrence across all sports, as we’re seeing in football and rugby. Thankfully for Scottish rugby we are managing to keep it in relative isolation, by managing it as sensibly and as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, Kinghorn injured his shoulder in training during the week but could have played this week at a push but Cockerill chose to wrap him in cotton-wool ahead of next Saturday’s trip to Munster, Van der Merwe’s calf injury sustained against Ulster three weeks ago hasn’t quite healed yet but he will also be in the mix next weekend, Sutherland is nursing a back spasm suffered in the gym earlier in the week, Groom hasn’t quite shaken off the calf strain that kept him out of the Bordeaux match, and Pyrgos is still getting over a concussion which means it is almost impossible to give a time-frame – it could be next week or it could be months.

Despite all the missing men, Cockerill will be quietly satisfied with the quality of side he has managed to get on the pitch.

Damian Hoyland, who impressed on the wing last time out, gets another start, this time at full-back, while Scotland 7s star Jamie Farndale has plenty of pace and power to offer in his first appearance since playing the full 80 against Wasps in the Challenge Cup last December.

Mark Bennett returns from injury to provide experience and a cutting edge in the 13 jersey alongside Chris Dean in midfield, while 22-year-old Charlie Shiel will get another chance to show his game-management skills at scrum-half on a foul night in the capital.

In the pack, the front five is unchanged, while the back-row is all new, but still has a pretty sturdy look about it, with Scotland internationals Magnus Bradbury and Nick Haining linking up with Luke Crosbie, an up-and-coming star who is as rugged as they come.

Edinburgh (v Ospreys at the Murrayfield, Saturday @ 7.35pm): D Hoyland; D Graham, M Bennett, C Dean, J Farndale; J van der Walt; C Shiel; P Schoeman, S McInally ©, S Berghan, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, L Crosibie, N Haining. Substitutes: D Cherry, J Bhatti, W Nel, A Davidson, H Watson, D 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 Tipuri, M Morris. Substitutes: D Lake, R Jones, M Fia, B Davies, D Lydiate, R Morgan-Williams, J Thomas, T Thomas-Wheeler.

Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)