AFTER winning just one of their last seven league matches, Edinburgh are badly in need of a boost to their morale as they bid to fight their way back into the URC’s play-off places.

Getting the better of unbeaten

Leinster today would certainly provide the kind of fillip they need, but head coach Mike Blair is well aware that his team will need to be at their best if they are going to do that.

Hamish Watson, Luke Crosbie and Sam Skinner have all been released from Scotland duty to take their place in the home pack, while Emiliano Boffelli and Stuart McInally are both back after spells out through return after injury. That quintet seems sure to give the capital club the competitive edge that was conspicuous by its absence from their last outing – the 42-14 defeat by Scarlets a fortnight ago which saw them fall to 11th in the 16-team table.

Nonetheless, Blair knows that a high-quality performance all round will be required against a team which, although missing 17 Ireland squad members, boasts formidable strength in depth. “This game is huge for the club,” he said yesterday. “It’s a cup final in terms of our chances of making the top eight.

“Leinster are unbeaten in the league for a reason and they’re a side with a lot of power and accuracy. They’re a really strong side and this perceived second team that they play have got some big wins under their belts. It’s really important for us to put in a really strong performance.”

As well as the Scotland trio, Boffelli and McInally, Blair (right) has made three changes from the team that began the 42-14 defeat by the Scarlets a fortnight ago. Ben Vellacott returns at scrum-half, Lee-Roy Atalifo is named at tighthead prop and Marshall Sykes comes in at lock. The game is Edinburgh’s first since Blair announced he is stepping down at the end of the season, but the coach does not believe that his decision will lead

to any demotivation on the part of the playing squad, and he has not noticed

any difference to their attitude towards him in training.

“I’ve always said this isn’t my team, this is the players’ team, and what we do as coaches is try to facilitate learning and opportunities where guys are going to get better. You encourage them to look at their games, to look at their team, to look at the unit work we do.

“So, no, I’ve not seen a difference.

I just want the players to believe in themselves and the process of what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to get better, and have real belief in their own abilities going into the game. The performance against the Scarlets wasn’t acceptable. Playing Leinster at home is a great way to show that that was a blip and to show how much playing for the club means for these guys.”

Meanwhile, Darcy Graham is now close to returning to action after being sidelined since early December with a knee injury. However, Blair warned that the winger is by no means certain to be available for either of Scotland’s remaining Six Nations Championship matches.

“He’s showing really good progress – he’s into the ‘weeks’ category, as opposed to ‘months’. He’d be touch and go for the Six Nations, is the current thought on it.”

Graham is one of nine players on the injury list, the others being Nick Auterac, Luan de Bruin, Matt Currie, Henry Immelman, Murray McCallum, Ben Muncaster, Cammy Scott and Angus Williams. Scotland have retained six men – Grant Gilchrist, Blair Kinghorn, Duhan van der Merwe, WP Nel, Jamie Ritchie and Pierre Schoeman.


Edinburgh (v Leinster at the DAM Health Stadium, today [Sat] 5.05pm): E Boffelli; D Hoyland, M Bennett, J Lang, W Goosen; C Savala, B Vellacott; B Venter, S McInally, L Atalifo, M Sykes, S Skinner, L Crosbie (captain), H Watson, V Mata. Substitutes: D Cherry, J Jack, E Millar-Mills, J Hodgson, N Haining, C Shiel, J van der Walt, C Dean.


Leinster: C Frawley; J Larmour, L Turner, J Osborne, D Kearney; H Byrne, L McGrath; M Milne, J McKee, M Ala’alatoa, R Molony, J Jenkins, R Ruddock (captain), S Penny, M Deegan. Substitutes: L Barron, J Boyle, T Clarkson, B Deeny, W Connors, N McCarthy, C Tector, R Russell.


Referee: C Evans (Wales).