BETWEEN international call-ups, injuries and isolation, Edinburgh have 23 players - a full matchday squad - unavailable to them for tonight’s home game against Cardiff. Thirteen - 12 Scots and the Fijian Mesulame Kunavula - are on Nations Cup duty, nine are injured, and stand-off Jaco van der Walt is quarantining after returning from his wedding in South Africa.

There is some good news in the team that has been selected for the PRO14 encounter: Luke Crosbie returns to the back row following injury, for example, and there is a debut for Fijian international tighthead Lee Roy Atalifo. But the squad has clearly been stretched to the limit, and experience is at a premium in some departments. On the bench, for example, four of the five forwards replacements have a total of two appearances between them, with props Dan Gamble and Sam Grahamslaw both in line to make their debuts.

Given how many relatively inexperienced players will be involved, the onus will be on the senior members of the squad to guide them through the game, with captain Henry Pyrgos having an especially important role to play at half-back alongside rookie playmaker Nathan Chamberlain. “He’s a  massive component in our squad,” assistant coach Stevie Lawrie said of the former Glasgow scrum-half yesterday. “You can see how his control is disseminated across the team on matchday, during the games. That’s experience you just can’t replicate unless you’ve actually been in the shirt. 

“He’s been at another club and been involved in winning something, so that rubs off on the guys. Henry’s experience as a pro, the way he communicates, the belief and confidence he gives other players because of the way he speaks and the way he executes his skills, is really important.

“Henry is one of those guys that’s going to be massive for us alongside: Mark Bennett, 41 games for us and a lot along the M8 as well; Chris Dean, 95 games; Magnus Bradbury, 81; Pierre Schoeman, 48. These guys need to drive the standards and drive our edge, particularly on match day but also at training. Henry’s really important for us.”

Still only 20, Chamberlain, who has made three previous appearances but will partner Pyrgos for the first time, could in time develop into an equally important player for Edinburgh. Lawrie is in no doubt about the stand-off’s promise, and thinks that pairing him with Pyrgos could accelerate his learning.

“I think that dynamic is important when you are looking at half-backs, to have that experience alongside a young gun who has no fear and is looking to take the opportunity,” he added. “There are going to be some hairy moments, of course there are, but it is for the guys to work out on the field. 

“We feel we’re well prepared with the half-back combination of the experience of Henry and the youth and exuberance of Nathan. It should hopefully serve us well.”

There are seven changes in all to the team that began last week’s spirited 6-3 win over Scarlets, a result that brought a run of six consecutive defeats to an end. Chamberlain takes over at 10 from Van der Walt, and in the other change to the back division Eroni Sau returns to the wing after dropping out at the last minute eight days ago as his wife had just given birth.

Up front, hooker David Cherry is alongside newcomer Atalifo. In the second row Andries Ferreira makes his first start and is partnered by Jamie Hodgson. And Crosbie returns at openside.

Of the recent additions to the injury list, locks Lewis Carmichael and Andrew Davdson have minor back issues and should return soon. However, tighthead Murray McCallum, who damaged an ankle in the opening minutes last weekend, will be sidelined for somewhere between six and 12 weeks, according to Lawrie.


Edinburgh: J Blain; E Sau, M Bennett, C Dean, J Farndale; N Chamberlain, H Pyrgos (captain); P Schoeman, D Cherry, L Atalifo, A Ferreira, J Hodgson, M Bradbury, L Crosbie, A Miller. Substitutes: M Willemse, S Grahamslaw, D Gamble, M Sykes, C Boyle, N Groom, C Shiel, J Johnstone.


Cardiff Blues: H Amos; A Summerhill, G Smith, M Llewellyn, O Lane; J Tovey, L Jones; B Thyer, K Dacey (captain), D Arhip, J Ratti, R Thornton, J Turnbull, O Robinson, W Boyde. Substitutes: E Lewis, C Domachowski, S Andrews, B Murphy, S Moore, J Hill, B Thomas, M Morgan.