EDINBURGH welcome back a host of key players for today’s difficult trip to Munster, with the return of leading try-scorer Duhan van der Merwe being especially significant as the team seek to end a run of four straight losses. The winger, whose firepower was sorely missed in last week’s 25-10 defeat by Ospreys, is one of seven changes in all to the team that began that game.

The other alterations to the back division for the PRO14 match in Limerick see scrum-half Nic Groom return to provide some much-needed experience and George Taylor slot in at inside centre. In the forwards, Rory Sutherland and WP Nel pack down at loosehead and tighthead respectively, Jamie Ritchie returns at blindside, and Hamish Watson is back in the No 7 jersey after being on the bench last week. Back-row forward Mesu Kunavula and centre James Johnstone are the two newcomers to the bench.

Edinburgh beat Munster 18-16 in the only game between the sides last season, a result that went a long way to ensuring they finished ahead of the Irish province at the top of Conference B. But that game was in Cork, whereas Thomond Park, today’s venue, is traditionally a far more formidable venue. Assistant coach Duncan Hodge expects the team will need to be at the top of their game to get their season up and running, but is confident that Van der Merwe’s return from injury will be a significant boost to the visitors.

“He has progressed so much from the raw, fast kid we saw three years ago,” Hodge said of the 25-year-old. “He has really developed his game and it is a big boost for him to come back. I can picture a game a couple of years ago over there when we were missing a lot of guys and he scored a couple of tries out of nothing that gave us a bit of shape to the game and that’s what he can bring. He can score something from nothing.”

Edinburgh will probably have to do without Van der Merwe for much of this season as he is now qualified to play for Scotland and is expected to be named by Gregor Townsend on Monday in the squad for the half-dozen autumn internationals. Hodge is confident that the winger’s powerful physique will help him adapt to Test level, but warned that the tactical complexity of the international game is a factor that every rookie has to come to terms with.

“International rugby is a different beast. Physically he won’t have any issues - we’re fairly clear on that - but it’s a quicker game. Tactically it’s different, and you’re playing against some of the best players in the world.

“To give an example, you have a Jonny Sexton playing against Duhan. He’s going to know him inside out in terms of his positioning and his defence, and the level of detail comes up a bit as well. I think he’ll be absolutely fine, and I’m sure he’ll do well if he is picked, but it is a jump up in standard for anybody in any position.”

The pivotal issue today for Edinburgh will be winning enough ball to enable Van der Merwe, and Darcy Graham on the other wing, to start doing damage. Ospreys got the better of them up front last weekend, and Hodge expects Munster to probe for similar vulnerabilities.

“When you see a chink you’ve got to expect the same thing to happen - you’re going to get that treatment the next week. We were not up to it in most aspects last week and Munster is a tough place to go. It will be a really tough battle up front against them, always is.”

Munster have not had their troubles to seek this week, having been forced to suspend training between Tuesday and Thursday after one player tested positive for Covid and another six self-isolated. Even so, they will go into the game as favourites against an Edinburgh side who, despite the return of some key players, still have significant injury problems. Blair Kinghorn is still out along with longer-term absentees Bill Mata, Henry Pyrgos, Fraser McKenzie and Matt Gordon, while Magnus Bradbury, Luke Crosbie, Charlie Shiel and Chris Dean join the list after being injured against Ospreys.

Edinburgh (v Munster at Thomond Park, today [Sat 10], 7.35pm): D Hoyland; D Graham, M Bennett, G Taylor, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Groom; R Sutherland, S McInally (co-captain), WP Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist (co-captain), J Ritchie, H Watson, N Haining. Substitutes: M Willemse, P Schoeman, S Berghan, A Davidson, M Kunavula, D Nutton, N Chamberlain, J Johnstone.

Munster: M Haley; A Conway, A McHenry, R Scannell, M Gallagher; B Healy, C Casey; J Loughman, R Marshall, J Ryan, F Wycherley, T Beirne, J O’Donoghue, T O’Donnell, CJ Stander (captain). Substitutes: K O’Byrne, J Cronin, R Salanoa, G Coombes, J Hodnett, C Murray, J Crowley, D Goggin.

Referee: N Owens (Wales).