EDINBURGH’s front-row crisis has been going on all season, but has become particularly acute in recent weeks as players such as loosehead prop Darryl Marfo and tighthead Simon Berghan have been sidelined by injury and suspension respectively. Yet the remarkable thing is that, no matter how long the list of absent props and hookers may get, you would never guess from the team’s results that so many key players have been missing.
It cannot have been so long ago, for example, that the absence of Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford and Willem Nel would have provoked something akin to panic in Edinburgh’s ranks, not to mention in the Scotland camp too. And yet this season, Richard Cockerill’s side have coped admirably with those losses, and with other absentees such as Allan Dell and Rory Sutherland.
Cockerill’s own leadership must have a lot to do with that, but the attitude of the new players has clearly also had a big part to play in recent weeks as Edinburgh stretched their run of good form to 10 wins from their last 12 games. Friday’s Challenge Cup match against Stade Francais will be another tough ask for the likes of Jordan Lay, Murray McCallum and Matt Shields, but lock Ben Toolis, for one, has every confidence in the players in front of him.
“Obviously Stade’s going to be really tough,” Toolis said. “They’ve got some big heavy men and a lot of people might be saying that our scrum might be put under a lot of pressure, but we’ve been working hard on our scrum, specially with the injuries we have at the moment. The boys have been doing really well in training, and we believe in the props we have.
“We have confidence in our players, they’ve been doing well the last few weeks, and we’re sure they’re going to step up again this week and put in a big performance against Stade. The Kings had a big pack and we put them under a lot of pressure; we scrummed really well. It’s just basically the back five giving them the confidence and supporting them to give them that little bit extra.
“We’ve had a few good wins in the last while, obviously a good win against Glasgow at home, especially with Simon going off and getting the red card. For Shieldsy to come on and do really well, I think that was a really positive sign, seeing that they probably thought that was going to be a weakness of our game.
“Going to Glasgow the weekend after was a bit tough, knowing they were going to target our scrum, but the boys stood up well and we scrummed pretty well.
“I know it’s tough, but the boys that have come in have done really well. It’s a good experience for us to adapt and try and fix the situation with what we’ve got. But they’ve done well and we can go forward from here. We scrummed really well last weekend against the Kings – we put them on the back foot and that gives the boys confidence, specially the guys lacking experience in that area. It’s been decent, and the coaches and staff have been quite pleased.”
Earlier in the season, Marfo, a summer signing from Bath, took his chance when it came at club level and ended up being capped by Scotland in the Autumn Tests. Now, it is McCallum who could be following the same path, and Toolis is sure that if he gets his chance in the Six Nations he will prove himself ready.
“Why not? He’s young, he’s hungry and he’s improved a lot, specially in recent weeks when he’s got a chance. He’s been working closely with Dicko, who’s a world-class loosehead and offers so much experience. Muz has been playing both sides of the scrum as well, tighthead is obviously the issue at the moment, so I’m sure he can come in and do a good job.
“It would be really good experience for him as well, even if he’s in and around the squad learning from everyone [and from] a good forwards coach as well. It’s going to be a difficult thing, but I’m sure he’ll do well and I have no doubt in his ability.”