Dave Cherry gets big chance as Edinburgh ring changes for Southern Kings visit

Yet to start a match since moving rugby home to the national stadium, Dave Cherry took a step closer to a remarkable call-up to Scotland ’s Six Nations Championship when he was named yesterday in Edinburgh ’s starting XV for their Pro14 encounter with the Southern Kings. The hooker turned 28 on Wednesday, yet only became a full-time professional when joined Edinburgh from London Scottish at the start of this season and has so far made just four appearances off the bench. However, in selecting him ahead of Scotland’s most capped player Ross Ford, his head coach Richard Cockerill is aware of the chance he is giving Cherry at this advanced stage of his rugby career, given that injuries to Glasgow Warriors Fraser Brown and George Turner have left Scotland with a problem. “Dave’s come a long way round to get his opportunity. He’s very dynamic, very physical... so he’s got an opportunity to develop,” the former England hooker explained. “That’s why I’ve picked him in front of Ross Ford. There are injuries in the Scotland set-up and potentially an opportunity for someone to stick their hand up and get a march on the others. He’s got his opportunity and I hope he takes it.” Individually and collectively, this match represents a very different type of challenge for Edinburgh as a whole compared with those they have been taking on over the past month. Against Newcastle they successfully battled for pole position heading into the final matches of their European Champions Cup pool, while further back-to-back meetings with Glasgow saw them secure the 1872 Challenge Cup, while also gaining vital ground on their Conference rivals in bidding for a Pro14 play-off spot. That was achieved with essentially the same team, but Cockerill knew he had to rest key players this weekend and Cherry is one of 11 players brought into a starting team that shows changes in every department. Ring rustiness will be hard to avoid for several of those who have had little involvement of late, but they should still be expected to make full use of home advantage against opponents who have won just a solitary Pro14 match this season as, for all that he struck a cautionary note in doing so, Cockerill acknowledged. “They’ve got some real pace in that back line and when teams don’t treat them as they should and show them the respect they should they cause them problems,” he said of the Kings. “We know they’re going to come and be physical and get stuck in, but so are we. They’ve got a huge threat in that back line and a big forward pack who are very awkward, but it’s going to be cold night in January in Edinburgh and we need to take advantage of that.” In looking for the right tone to be set he is placing his trust in the man who helped him turn things around in his first few weeks at the club, after Cockerill had identified the problems that existed within the club’s culture. He could not claim it was love at first sight when he first clapped eyes on Fraser McKenzie, wryly observing last year that his first impression was that the lock reminded him of “a retired footballer,” but he quickly realised that under the surface there was substance to the big Fifer and made him his club captain, after off-field disciplinary issues with others had threatened to undermine what he was trying to achieve. A knee injury has contributed to McKenzie having been more peripheral this season, but his return as captain speaks to his status within the organisation. “He’s been great. He’s worked very hard to stay at the club and keep his job,” said Cockerill. “He’s been bloody good playing wise. He’s had a relatively serious knee injury which he’s just got over and he worked very hard to get back. He’s a really good club man who works really hard, can play at the highest level and can do a good job. He leads the team very well, has a good edge about him and is looking forward to playing and pushing his case against Hunter-Hill to get into the 23 for the European game. As I said previously, when I arrived I thought he wouldn’t last very long, but he’s become one of the mainstays of our squad, a good core member of our team and highly valued.” With so many members of their pack in particular set to be on Scotland duty over the next couple of months, that value will increase significantly if he can lead the side to victory in this awkwardly timed match that is testing their resources with victory tonight potentially taking Edinburgh into the play-off spots for the first time since the beginning of the season and reliant on the majority of these players to keep them there until the Championship is over.

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