EDINBURGH coach Mike Blair has delivered a major vote of confidence in Harrison Courtney and Connor Boyle after selecting them instead of senior forwards Pierre Schoeman and Hamish Watson respectively for today’s Challenge Cup quarter-final against Wasps.

Schoeman will start on the bench for the match at the DAM Health Stadium and appears sure to be used at some stage, but Watson has been left out of the squad altogether. In part the omission of the two Scotland forwards is a sign of Blair’s eagerness to husband his resources carefully in the face of a growing injury list, but it also demonstrates his belief that Courtney and Boyle are more than capable of doing a job at this level.

“Pierre has played a huge amount of rugby for us since coming back from the Six Nations,” Blair explained yesterday. “He played 80 minutes at the weekend there [against Ulster] when he had 24 ball carries, which is pretty unprecedented for a prop. He’s putting a huge amount of work in.

“We want to look after him. We are a little bit light in that area going through to the end of the season. 

“When Harrison has had opportunities with us he’s done really well. He’s one of the most professional guys you’ll come across and that’s brilliant considering he’s a partnership player with Watsonians.

“He’s going to make the most of his opportunity and it’s great to see how he goes in a big game. And we’ve obviously got Pierre on the bench to be able to come on with a huge effort and enthusiasm and explosive power.

“Hamish has played three in a row, and last week he had a huge amount of output,” the coach continued when asked why he had plumped for Boyle over Watson.  “Connor has been excellent for us whilst Hamish has been away with the Six Nations or rested, and we feel it’s a good opportunity to bring Connor in and show the progress that he’s made.

“So part of that decision is management of Mish, and part of it is the chance to bring someone in who’s really enthusiastic, given a lot to the jersey, and worthy of a chance to play in a game like this.” 

Blair has made four changes in all from the line-up that began last week’s league loss to Ulster, choosing hooker Adam McBurney to start in place of the injured Stuart McInally and naming Chris Dean at centre instead of James Lang, who was also a casualty last week. 

It had been hoped that winger Darcy Graham would be back from injury this afternoon, but Blair explained that, with a number of big games coming up, it had been decided not to risk him. If Edinburgh beat Wasps today they will have a semi-final next weekend either away to Lyon or at home to Glasgow, then in two weeks’ time they meet the Warriors at BT Murrayfield in the final URC game of the regular season.

In addition to Graham, Lang and McInally, the injury list consists of Luan de Bruin, Dave Cherry, Nick Haining, Henry Immelman, Bill Mata, Ben Muncaster, Ramiro Moyano, Jamie Ritchie, Ben Toolis, Boan Venter, Angus Williams and Glen Young. Marshall Sykes is serving a suspension.

Blair’s team have reserved some of their best performances for Europe this season, both away from home, where they beat Saracens, and at the DAM, where they defeated Brive and Pau in their pool before disposing of Bath in the round of 16. “We’ve spoken a lot this week about our journey to this point in the season and the hard work that has gone in to get us into the last eight of Europe," the coach added. “Looking back at the games against Saracens and Bath, those great wins were built on a desire to play for the club and your team-mates, and taking pride in pulling on the Edinburgh jersey and representing the city.

“We know that Wasps are a quality opponent, and Saturday is going to be another huge test, but it’s one we relish. We love playing for our fans and we feed off their noise and support, which will be important as ever this weekend.”

Edinburgh (v Wasps at the DAM Health Stadium, today[Sat] 12.30pm): J van der Walt; D Hoyland, M Bennett, C Dean, E Boffelli; B Kinghorn, B Vellacott; H Courtney, A McBurney, W Nel, J Hodgson, G Gilchrist (captain), L Crosbie, C Boyle, M Bradbury. Substitutes: P Harrison, P Schoeman, L Atalifo, P Phillips, M Kunavula, H Pyrgos, M Currie, J Blain.

Wasps:  Z Kibirige, F Hougaard, S Spink, J Gopperth, J Bassett; C Atkinson, D Robson;  T West, G Oghre, B Alo, J Launchbury (captain), E Stooke, B Shields, J Willis, A Barbeary.  Substitutes: D Frost, B Harris, E Millar-Mills, J Gaskell, T Willis, W Porter, J Umaga, P Odogwu.