WHILE the solitary change Mike Blair has made to his Edinburgh starting fifteen for this evening’s United Rugby Championship play-off quarter-final clash against the Stormers in Cape Town was enforced by Ben Vellacott’s hip injury, the head coach stressed that the opportunity this affords Henry Pyrgos is richly deserved. 

“Henry has played well for us this season and is different type of player to Ben, obviously, but someone who has real strengths to his game as well,” Blair explained. “His game management, understanding, speed to breakdown, speed to get the ball away, high rugby IQ have all been outstanding, and he has defended really well on the edges for us. 

“Some of Henry’s qualities are not as easy to look at on a stat sheet or to show on a highlight reel. There’s that element of control and understanding that he brings.” 

As a former scrum-half himself, it would be easy to conclude that Blair’s own influence since taking over the reins at Edinburgh last summer has contributed to Pyrgos’ fine form – but he insists that would be unfair to the player. 

“I don't take credit for anything,” said Blair. “These guys are there to decide whether they want to improve or not. Henry is a brilliant example of someone who sees areas he wants to work at in his game, and who wants to talk about how decisions are made on the pitch and how they can be made better.  

“We, as coaches, provide an outlet for them to speak about it but they are doing the work and Henry deserves this opportunity because he has been playing well, and for what he has been putting into his own game. 

“These players are very much in charge of how they perform on the pitch,” he reiterated. “They put the work in, they do the details, they do their extras and ask the questions and start the discussions which gives them a great chance of performing. That is something I have been pushing them on.  

“This is their team, and if they don’t want to get better they won't get better, whereas if they are driven to get better and to create opportunities for themselves then they will do that.” 

Blair added that Vellacott could come back into contention next week if Edinburgh manage a surprise win over Stormers to keep their season alive, setting up a home semi-final against either Ulster of Munster. 

Meanwhile, tonight’s match will mark Darcy Graham’s 50th appearance for the club, which Blair admits came as a bit of a surprise to him because he assumed the little winger – who made his Edinburgh debut against London Irish back in December 2017 – had played more games than that. 

“He’s got a fair few Scotland caps as well so you’ve got to add them in,” Blair reflected. “I was surprised, to be honest. I would have imagined he’d be on 70 or 80 by now. Maybe that’s the quality of the guy – you can pick out so many moments for his highlights reel that you just think it’s been from so many games. It’s probably in every game that he’s played in that he’s scored a ridiculous try. 

“He’s playing bloody well at the moment and it would be great to see him play even better, and as I touched on earlier in terms’ of the players’ responsibility to self-improvement, if Darcy keeps on top of that then there’s no doubt he’ll get better.” 

Whether Graham manages to add to his tally this evening will depend to some extent on how Edinburgh cope with the conditions and the physicality of the opposition – but he is also a player who can conjure something out of nothing, which is kind of handy in knock-ot matches against teams who have the ability to starve you of possession. 

“There will be some dew on the pitch so we’ve got to be conscious of that,” said Blair. “We’ve got to have some balance to our game so that when we see an opportunity we can take it.  

“We need to prevent Stormers from playing. They have some really strong individuals who if we give space to will make the most of it, so we need to cut down their opportunities.  

“We need to look after ball ourselves and put pressure back on the Stormers.” 

Edinburgh (v Stormers at DHL Stadium, Saturday 6.00pm): E Boffelli; D Graham, M Bennett, C Dean, D Hoylsnd; B Kinghorn, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, D Cherry, W Nel, J Hodgson, G Gilchrist (captain), L Crosbie, H Watson, M Bradbury. Substitutes: A McBurney H Courtney, L Atalifo, M Sykes, B Muncaster, C Shiel, J van der Walt, J Lang. 

Stormers: W Gelant; S Senatla, R Nel, R Pretorius, L Zas; M Libbok, H Jantjies; S Kitshoff (captain), J Kotze, F Malherbe, S Moerat, M Orie, D Fourie, H Dayimani, E Roos. Substitutes: A Venter, B Harris, N Fouche, A Smith, E van Rhyn, N Xaba, G Masimla, S Mngomezulu.