MIKE BLAIR said last week that the coming weeks could well constitute the most testing period of the season for his Edinburgh squad, and the magnitude of the test in question became apparent yesterday with the announcement of the matchday 23 to play Zebre in Parma.

Ten players are absent on Scotland duty, among them key names such as Blair Kinghorn, Hamish Watson and new national captain Jamie Ritchie. Another five are either ill or injured.

There will be similar problems with availability before the away games against Cardiff and Benetton which are either during or immediately after the Autumn Nations Series window, so it easy to see where the head coach was coming from. Having said that, a glance at the line-up chosen by Blair for today’s games suggests that, at least on paper, the squad has the depth needed to deal with the coming trials.

For example, forwards Sam Skinner, Luke Crosbie and Nick Haining will all start after being released by Gregor Townsend from the national team camp. A fourth member of Scotland’s 40-strong squad, Damien Hoyland, is on the bench.

The front-row trio that will begin against Zebre is the one that ended last week’s convincing home win over Benetton. Two of the most talented members of the squad - Argentina’s Emiliano Boffelli and Fijian Bill Mata - are also in the starting line-up. And Jaco van der Walt should be a safe pair of hands at stand-off.

In other words, without underestimating the scale of the task against a Zebre side which ran Leinster and the Sharks close at home last month, Edinburgh should go into this game confident that they have the ball-playing ability and the physical capacity to get a result. Assistant coach Stevie Lawrie certainly suggested as much yesterday at his eve-of-match press conference.

“We’ve still got a good number of internationals in the squad and we believe we’ve got a strong side going to Zebre,” he said. “I think we’ve got strength in depth.

“I don’t think I’d say to Sam Skinner, Luke Crosbie, Bill Mata and Nick Haining that they’re understudies. And It’s the front row that finished the game last week - and finished it strongly. We knew there was a game outwith the [Test] window, so we recognised that we needed to plan for this game and that’s the team you see before you.”

No 8 Mata will be making his 100th appearance for the team, while summer signing Wes Goosen is set to make his debut on the wing after shaking off a couple of niggling injuries that have kept him out of action so far. “We just watched a wee montage for Bill,” Lawrie added. “We recognise how special a player he’s been for the club - one of the best if not the best overseas signings that the club has ever had. And I think I’m right in saying he’s going to be the first overseas player to get to 100 caps for the club.

“That’s going to be a pretty powerful motivation for the players around him, to make sure they get the W for Bill and everything he’s brought - moving his family to Edinburgh and everything that he’s given to the Edinburgh jersey. I know that he’s super-motivated, but it also adds a wee bit of spice for the other guys in that line-up with him.

“And anybody who watched Wes at the Hurricanes will know that he's a bit of a Darcy Graham - a pocket rocket with good footwork and a lot of energy. I'm excited for Wes to play this weekend, because it has been a tough run of injuries.”

The ten players retained by Scotland are: Mark Bennett, Dave Cherry, Grant Gilchrist, Graham, Kinghorn, WP Nel, Ritchie, Pierre Schoeman, Duhan van der Merwe and Watson. Marshall Sykes is ill, while Cammy Hutchison, James Lang, Stuart McInally and Ben Vellacott are all injured.

Bottom-of-the-table Zebre have injury problems of their own, with 11 of their players currently on the treatment table. However, as Italy begin their Autumn Nations Series campaign a week after Scotland, they have no worries this weekend about players being held back by the national squad.

Edinburgh (v Zebre at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, today [Saturday] 1pm UK time): H Immelman; W Goosen, M Currie, C Dean, E Boffelli; J van der Walt, C Shiel; B Venter, A McBurney, L de Bruin, J Hodgson, S Skinner, N Haining, L Crosbie (captain), V Mata. Substitutes: P Harrison, N Auterac, A Williams, P Phillips, B Muncaster, H Pyrgos, C Savala, D Hoyland.

Zebre: L Pani; P Bruno, T Boni, D Mazza, J Trulla; T Eden, A Fusco; J Pitinari, M Manfredi, I Neculai, D Sisi (captain), L Krumov, L Andreani, M Pelser, T Fox-Matamua. Substitutes: L Bigi, L Rizzoli, M Hasa, A Zambonin, G Venditti, C Cook, G Prisciantelli, R Kriel.

Referee: Craig Evans (Wales).