EDINBURGH have rested three key players for this evening’s Champions Cup pool clash away to Sale Sharks, but assistant coach Steve Lawrie insists that this is not a declaration of defeat in the campaign to make it into the last eight of European club rugby’s top-tier competition.

Current Scotland squad members Darcy Graham and Jamie Ritchie have been rested, as has vice-captain Henry Pyrgos, opening the door for youngsters Jack Blain and Charlie Shiel to get their first real taste of rugby at this level, while Magnus Bradbury has also been restored to the starting XV.

Last week’s narrow loss at home to La Rochelle means that even if the capital side manage bonus-point wins in their three remaining pool matches they will still be relying on results elsewhere going their way, but Lawrie vowed that as long as there is a chance of making the quarter-finals the team will fight tooth and nail to achieve that goal.

“We pick every team to win the game,” he insisted. “We want to win this game in the here and now. We’re going down there to put in a performance and to get the points.

“Even if you’re not in the top comp, you might end up in the middle comp [Challenge Cup] as one of the best runners-up at the end of the pool stage, and it’s really important to us to make sure we’re playing games on the biggest stage we can. But we’re also looking after the guys who have been through a few hard weeks with the Scotland squad so Jamie and Darcy have rest protocols which means a down-week this week.

“They’ve gone from the Nations Cup, back into club duty and then there is the Six Nations coming down the track as well, so we’ve got to make sure we’re clever in terms of how we use the squad.

“Henry is similar because he’s played a lot of rugby since his return from injury and there is a lot of quality in our squad, so this is an opportunity for other people to play.

“We don’t play what would be perceived externally as our best team all the time because guys need opportunities and we’ve got trust in the guys coming in – so people like Charlie Shiel and Jack Blain starting this weekend is really exciting.

For Shiel in particular it is going to be a baptism of fire. The 23-year-old has played at this level before but it was only four minutes off the bench in Edinburgh’s quarter-final defeat to Munster two seasons ago. This will be his first start and he is up against arguably the best scrum-half in world rugby at the moment in Faf de Klerk.

“It’s massive for him, what a great opportunity,” enthused Lawrie. “He’s at a stage now where he’s played a good bit of rugby for us in the PRO14 – whether that be off the bench or the couple of starts that he’s had – so this is the next step for him.

“Faf is an excellent player, but we recognise that Charlie has a lot of the same characteristics,” he added. “In terms of Charlie’s ability to speed up a game with his running threat, that’s probably one of Faf’s biggest strengths, too, along with his toughness. At nine, there is no hiding place.

“You’re one of the leaders within the group and Charlie is developing that side of his game nicely. I don’t think you ever turn round and say: ‘He’s all of sudden gone from a young prospect into an absolutely established member.’ So, it is a process and it’s our job as coaches to bleed him in appropriately.

“But if you’re good enough then you’re old enough, aren’t you? And if he puts in a good performance here, he will put himself in the best place to start the next game.”

20-year-old Blain will be making his sixth start of the season but getting his first taste of the Champions Cup.

“Jack has come in and played really well,” said Lawrie. “He’s got areas to develop around systems and understanding that side of the game, but he’s a really nice runner, really good under the high ball and he’s a threat, which is exciting.

“He’s a good professional and he works hard. It’s just about him continuing to develop and this is another good opportunity for him to do that.”

Sale also lost their opening game of this Champions Cup campaign – 26-14 away to Toulon – and have had a bit of upheaval in recent week with long-serving director of rugby Steve Diamond abruptly resigning with immediate effect at the start of the month.
“Paul Deacon has taken over and he was coaching at the club before, so it’s not like they’ve changed their coaching group massively,” said Lawrie. “I would expect them to be doing more of the same.

“With the South Africans in their team, they want to play that physical, on-the-gain-line type of game. They will look to play in the appropriate areas and they’ve got a pretty set structure as well. We’re ready for the challenge.”