Preview – Can Cell C Sharks Storm Into Top Eight Against Edinburg Rugby

 

The ninth-placed Cell C Sharks will have their sights on displacing Edinburgh in the top eight on the table at the DAM Health Stadium on Saturday at 19:15 (SA Time).

Edinburgh, who beat the Cell C Sharks in Durban when these sides met for the first time last season, has scored 37 more points in their 12 matches this season, but the Durbanites have won more matches, which they will draw confidence from.

They will also be desperate to bounce back from their last defeat against Connacht in the Vodacom URC and Harlequins in the Heineken Champions Cup in two of their last three matches.

Prediction: Cell C Sharks by 10

Scotland internationalist and British & Irish Lion Hamish Watson returns from injury to start for Edinburgh Rugby. Watson has been cleared for action (concussion) having progressed through the graduated return to play protocol to make his first appearance since facing New Zealand in November’s Autumn Nations Series.

The openside flanker’s inclusion in place of Luke Crosbie, currently in Scotland camp, is one of eight changes to the XV that claimed a famous European win against Saracens last weekend, as Edinburgh Rugby now go in search of a fourth consecutive victory in all competitions.

In the backline, Wes Goosen (wing) makes his first start since mid-December, replacing Blair Kinghorn who is retained by the national team.

The inclusion of Goosen on the wing is the only alteration to an otherwise unchanged back-three as Jack Blain (wing) and Henry Immelman (full-back) once again start.

Centres Mark Bennett, named captain, and James Lang continue in midfield as Ben Vellacott (scrum-half) and Charlie Savala (stand-off) start at half-back once more.

An all-new front-row sees Murray McCallum (tighthead) make his first appearance since re-joining the club earlier this month, with Boan Venter (loosehead) and Adam McBurney (hooker) both handed starts after featuring on the bench last weekend.

Scotland capped locks Marshall Sykes and Glen Young complete the tight-five, taking the place of Grant Gilchrist and Sam Skinner who are also retained by Scotland.

Nick Haining starts at blindside flanker in place of Scotland skipper Jamie Ritchie in the only other change to starting XV, while Fijian number 8 Viliame ‘Bill’ Mata once again anchors the capital pack.

Ahead of the match, Head Coach Mike Blair said: “First and foremost, we’re absolutely delighted to see Hamish [Watson] back fit.

“He’s one of our most experienced players and someone who has the ability to influence a match with a game-changing piece of skill, turnover or destructive carry. His timely return is a real boost for both us and Scotland.

“We were obviously really pleased with the performance against Saracens last weekend. It was probably our most physically dominant display of the season so far, which was undoubtedly fuelled by a passionate home support at DAM Health Stadium.

“We’re really looking forward to getting back out there and representing our fans once again tomorrow night but we’re under no illusions about the side we’re coming up against. Cell C Sharks are one of the most dangerous teams in the league – they possess a hugely physical pack with plenty of size across the board.

“This is a massive league game for both clubs. We need to replicate last week’s efforts while once again fronting up physically. The Edinburgh supporters will also have a huge role to play, we’ll need their backing from first whistle to last to really drive us forward.”

Cell C Sharks director of Rugby, Neil Powell, has made five changes to last week’s starting line-up, resting his Springbok contingent of Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Jaden Hendrikse and Lukhanyo Am and bringing in Hyron Andrews, the Venter duo of James and Henco (who comes in for Vincent Tshituka), with two backline changes, Grant Williams for Hendrikse at scrumhalf and Francois Venter taking over from Am where he partners Ben Tapuai.

“At this stage of the season, we’ve addressed where we’re lying on the log and where we feel we should be sitting, but we have played two games less than some of the teams, and we know the games we have left we have to win and that starts this weekend where we’re looking to put in a good performance,” Tapuai explains.

Despite the Edinburgh team missing players to the Scottish camp this weekend, the Australian international believes their opponents will be no less dangerous.

“We can’t read too much into that, they are a very strong, quality side that has been in this competition for a long time, while this is only our second year and we’re still learning the ropes.

“Whether they have their Scottish internationals or they don’t, we know it’s important for their campaign to try and finish as high as they can, the same for us.

“Coming off a disappointing loss against Harlequins last week, we’re just focusing on ourselves and trying to get everything sorted for this match.”

Teams:

Edinburgh Rugby: 15. Henry Immelman, 14. Wes Goosen, 13. Mark Bennett (c), 12. James Lang, 11. Jack Blain, 10. Charlie Savala, 9. Ben Vellacott, 8. Viliame Mata, 7. Hamish Watson, 6. Nick Haining, 5. Glen Young, 4. Marshall Sykes, 3. Murray McCallum, 2. Adam McBurney, 1. Boan Venter. Replacements: 16. Dave Cherry, 17. Luan de Bruin, 18. Lee-Roy Atalifo, 19. Jamie Hodgson, 20. Ben Muncaster, 21. Charlie Shiel, 22. Jaco van der Walt, 23. Cammy Hutchison

Cell C Sharks: 15. Aphelele Fassi, 14. Marnus Potgieter, 13. Francois Venter, 12. Ben Tapuai, 11. Thaakir Abrahams, 10. Curwin Bosch, 9. Grant Williams, 8. Phepsi Buthelezi (c), 7. Henco Venter, 6. James Venter, 5. Gerbrandt Grobler, 4. Hyron Andrews, 3. Thomas du Toit, 2. Kerron van Vuuren, 1. Ox Nche. Replacements: 16. Dan Jooste, 17. Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18. Carlü Sadie, 19. Reniel Hugo, 20. Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21. Cameron Wright, 22. Lionel Cronje, 23. Yaw Penxe