MAGNUS BRADBURY will play his first game of rugby since dislocating his shoulder last October when he lines up at blind-side flanker for Edinburgh against the Dragons at Murrayfield tonight [Friday, kick-off: 7.35pm], and his club head coach Richard Cockerill believes that the 23-year-old can use the match as a launchpad into the Scotland side to face France eight days later.
With Ryan Wilson joining a long list of injured Scottish back-row players earlier this week – including John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson, Sam Skinner, John Hardie, Dave Denton, Blade Thomson, Luke Hamilton, Lewis Carmichael and Cornell du Preez – the door appears wide open for the powerful Bradbury to push his way straight back into the national set-up, having earned the last of his four caps against Argentina last summer.
“If Maggie [Bradbury] has a strong game at the weekend he will give himself an opportunity to go to Paris, for sure,” said Cockerill. “There are some injury issues and combinations that the national team have to deal with and Maggie would have been a certain starter if he had stayed fit through the autumn and the Six Nations.
“So, if he gets some good time under his belt and looks sharp, which I think he will – because he’s trained really, really well – then I think there is every chance that Gregor may come calling for him.”
There is bound to be concern that Bradbury could be undercooked if he is thrown straight in against France after four months out, but Cockerill insisted that the sports science side of the game has now advanced to a stage where players don’t need to build up match fitness like they once did before really hitting their straps.
“I think the rehab has moved on a lot,” he explained. “Maggie has been training properly for three weeks now – all the contact and all the set-piece work – getting himself back to fitness. We monitor their metres in training and what they will do in a normal week to prevent injury as much as possible, so we know he has been training really hard and doing everything [asked of him] i, and he just hasn’t been taking the field. This will be his fourth week of full training which puts him in a good position to play.
“He’s a young man and he recovers quickly and he’s looking good.”
Bradbury won’t be the only player in the Edinburgh team looking to make a point to Scotland’s selectors in this game. Ben Toolis started the first Six Nations match against Italy but gave way to fit-again Jonny Gray against Ireland last week and ended up an unused replacement, before being released back to his club this weekend. Cockerill welcomed the return of a ‘world-class player’.
“Last year that would have been tough for Ben, but he’s a bit more experienced now in coming and going between club and country,” said the coach. “He’s a good club man, he wants to come and contribute. He’ll run the line-out for us against the Dragons and he’s a world-class player.
“It’s good that we have guys who are prepared to come back in on Monday to get stuck into training and play for their clubs. Hopefully he’ll go back into the Scotland squad ready to play and be involved in Paris.”
Meanwhile, with Huw Jones also dropping out of the Scotland set-up this week, there is potential for Chris Dean to elbow his way into a revamped midfield for his first cap – although that seems a long-shot.
“He’s certainly played pretty well for us this year,” said Cockerill, in support of his player. “If there is an opportunity for Chris to step up then I think he will acquit himself very well – but there are a lot of good backs around at the moment and a lot of competition for those spots. Hopefully he’ll have another good game tomorrow and be involved [in Paris].”
Ford gets a chance
Despite six leading players being retained by Scotland this week, and at least the same number again injured, there is an experienced and highly capable spine to the Edinburgh team which will take the field against the Dragons. Nowhere more so than at hooker, where Scotland’s most capped player in Ross Ford has been handed a rare starting slot.
“Dave Cherry has been away from us [with the Scotland squad] for a couple of weeks and Ross gets the start this time round,” explained Cockerill. “Cherry will impact off the bench and part of his development is to come in and out the side. Ross has done everything with us and he gets the opportunity to start this week.
“He has a lot of experience and he is a very good set-piece player, especially around his defence and his scrummaging. He gives us a little authority in those areas and he leads well, in his own way, around the set-piece … and 110 caps isn’t to be sniffed at. He brings that little bit of experience to the squad.
“I think that that front-row is big and powerful and along with that back-five of the scrum it gives us real strength and a real point of difference.
“Obviously, having Toolis back from the national team is a big boost for us, and Bradbury coming back to fitness with Luke Crosbie and Viliame Mata makes a really good back-row,” added Cockerill. “With Fraser McKenzie, Pietro Ceccarelli and Pierre Schoeman … that is a really good forward pack.
“There is some real impact off the bench as well. I am happy with what we’ve picked and apart from Blair Kinghorn it is pretty much our first choice back-line.”
Edinburgh (v The Dragons at Murrayfield, Friday 7.35pm, live on Premier Sports 2): Dougie Fife; Darcy Graham, James Johnstone, Chris Dean, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos ©; Pierre Schoeman, Ross Ford, Pietro Ceccarelli, Fraser McKenzie, Ben Toolis, Magnus Bradbury, Luke Crosbie, Bill Mata. Substitutes: Dave Cherry, Rory Sutherland, Murray McCallum, Callum Huner-Hill, Ally Miller, Nathan Fowles, Simon Hickey, Juan Pablo Socino.
Dragons: Jordan Williams; Jared Rosser, Tyler Morgan, Jarryd Sage, Will Talbot-Davies; Josh Lewis, Rhodri Williams; Brok Harris, Richard Hibbard ©, Lloyd Fairbrother, Joe Davies, Matthew Screech, Harrison Keddie, Ollie Griffiths, James Benjamin. Substitutes: Rhys Lawrence, Rhys Fawcett, Dan Suter, Lewis Evans, Taine Basham, Rhodri Davies, Gavin Henson, Zane Kirchner.