With information on the length of Edinburgh players’ contracts more scarce than hair on Richard Cockerill’s baldy napper, up until now it has been difficult to put together a 2021/22 Depth Chart with any real certainty.
Following the club’s confirmation of this season’s leavers it’s now possible to make a reasoned attempt at the lineup for the club’s squad for next season based on the 45 players it appears who are signed up for the next campaign – 27 forwards and 18 backs.
There probably isn’t much (if any) business still to be done and in some areas of the squad there will continue to be a reliance on the Scottish Rugby Academy to provide extra depth in the event of shortages of players due to injuries or international call-ups.
Depth Chart for next season:
And here are the remainder of this year’s squad:
Ins – Luan de Bruin (Leicester), Dan Gamble (Academy), Adam McBurney (Ulster)
Outs – Simon Berghan (Glasgow), Jamie Bhatti (Bath), Sam Kitchen [Partnership Contract] (unconfirmed), Murray McCallum (unconfirmed), Mike Willemse (London Irish)
In addition to the above Edinburgh have already brought in Jamie Bhatti’s replacement in the shape of Boan Venter who joined from the Cheetahs during February.
There is a strong quartet in place at loosehead although Pierre Schoeman’s ascension to the hallowed status of Scottish qualified could impact the big prop’s game time. Since his debut in 2018 he has played in 65 out of Edinburgh’s 74 fixtures (and four of those missed were due to a ban). That kind of resilience and consistency is a valuable asset in a front row but going forward, Schoeman is likely to be impacted by international periods and rest protocols.
A fourth hooker for the rotation is essential. Academy player Patrick Harrison’s performances late on in the current season may well have propelled him into that role and saved Edinburgh from having to add some squad depth. The question then becomes if the young lad is regularly part of the first team how long before he needs to be awarded a full-time pro contract rather than continuing with Academy status.
With Willem Nel aged 35 and Lee Roy Atalifo aged 33 a big part of next season will need to include looking to the future at tighthead. Edinburgh might have bought themselves an extra couple of seasons by trading in 30-year-old Simon Berghan for 28-year-old (but nearly three full years younger than Berghan) Luan de Bruin. Dan Gamble is the big hope in this position but injuries have held him back from strutting his stuff with Scotland under 20s and also prevented him adding to his three sub appearances for Edinburgh.
As next season progresses the need for more high quality players to fill out the tighthead rotation will become ever more pressing. As he starts his 15th season as a pro rugby player, just how do you replace the irreplaceable WP?
Ins – Pierce Phillips (Agen), Glen Young (Harlequins)
Outs – Andrew Davidson (Gloucester), Andries Ferreira (unconfirmed), Fraser McKenzie (retired)
Seven locks does seem like a bit of overload, especially when considering there are players in the back row who can cover in extremis. Bringing in Pierce Phillips to an already congested position adds a bit to the fear that the luckless Lewis Carmichael might not be able to continue his club career. Just three years ago he was debuting for Scotland on their summer tour alongside the likes of Jamie Ritchie, James Lang, Adam Hastings, Matt Fagerson and George Horne – all of whom will be key players on this summer’s Tests against Romania and Georgia. All Scottish rugby fans – but particularly those from Edinburgh – will be hoping Lewis can get back playing and pushing to rejoin his peers from that 2018 group.
Beyond this, Edinburgh look well set with a good age profile from the players coming through to challenge Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis as well as the young players who will be the next generation for club and country. In particular, Marshall Sykes has recently started to demonstrate the Jonny Gray-esque work rate that was his point of difference at age grade level. The former Ayrshire Bull will start next season in the development slots at lock but there’s every chance he could push on and displace some of his more experienced colleagues.
Ins – Ben Muncaster (Academy)
Outs – Rory Darge (Glasgow), Ally Miller (Glasgow)
There have been some pretty extraordinary achievements in Scottish rugby over the last twelve months but the work done by those involved in contract negotiations for Edinburgh’s back row must be right up there. Retaining all three of their top choices (Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson and Viliame Mata) on new deals is an excellent – and no doubt pretty expensive – bit of business.
The capital club have another trio of internationals to call on among the backups as well as Luke Crosbie, whose first Scotland cap is surely imminent. Throw in two of Scottish rugby’s hottest prospects – Connor Boyle and Ben Muncaster – to add depth and future potential and this is unarguably the strongest area of the squad. What compromises have had to be made elsewhere to retain this level of talent though?
Ins – Nathan Chamberlain (Academy), Ben Vellacott (Wasps)
Outs – Nic Groom (London Irish), Dan Nutton (unconfirmed)
Henry Pyrgos will move into his fourth season as Edinburgh’s number one number 9 and so far his competitors have yet to really lay a glove on his status as first choice. New signing Ben Vellacott will be the latest to try and displace the former Warriors’ player. The main threat to the veteran Pyrgos may come from the existing squad though. Four of Charlie Shiel’s six starts came in the latter half of the season as he finally saw off the challenge of Nic Groom. The next test for Shiel is to prove he can be the top choice and marshal the Edinburgh pack while getting the backline moving.
Roan Frostwick seems the most likely to fill the fourth slot in the rotation. The scrum half will only turn 21 in July but last season was his third at Stage 3 in the Scottish Rugby Academy so he’s likely to have to take a step up. If a fully pro deal isn’t on the cards then a Partnership Contract with one of the Super 6 sides may be suitable for keeping him involved as emergency cover and still continuing to develop as an option for the future.
Jaco van der Walt has dominated recent game time at stand off for Edinburgh, although his absence through a combination of international duty and injury provided opportunities for both Charlie Savala and Nathan Chamberlain (who will finally move on to a full-time pro contract next season) to start games during 2020/21.
Richard Cockerill’s decision to hand the number 10 shirt to Blair Kinghorn for the end of the Rainbow Cup suggests the head coach would still like more cover here. Budget concerns are likely to scupper any move for more experienced support though. Edinburgh may well need to make do with what they have – although there is always the option to deploy new signing James Lang at stand off.
Ins – James Lang (Harlequins)
Outs – Matt Gordon (Ealing Trailfinders)
As a current international, James Lang has to be Edinburgh’s biggest new signing for next season. The soon-to-be former Harlequin will be expected to make an instant impact on the starting lineup, most likely at inside centre. With the existing top four choices (Mark Bennett, Chris Dean, James Johnstone and George Taylor) all still in situ this should mean an upgrade for the Edinburgh midfield.
The real transformation in this area may well arrive when the next generation of players break through. Given the potential some of them have shown that could be sooner rather than later. Matt Currie has looked to the manor born in his appearances during the current campaign. Fellow Academy player, Scott King, could well get a chance to set out his stall when Scotland u20 play this summer. Jordan Venter should be settled in after arriving from South Africa midway through the 2020/21 campaign. Within the next couple of seasons Edinburgh’s centre options could start to provide the sort of dynamism that will allow the side to evolve the way they play.
Ins – Henry Immelman (Montpellier)
Outs – Jamie Farndale (GB 7s), Eroni Sau (unconfirmed), Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester), Korie Winters (unconfirmed)
In addition Freddie Owsley was signed from Bristol for next season but after an early release was negotiated, the winger arrived in Edinburgh during April.
While not undergoing the full-on revolution that Glasgow are in this positional group, Edinburgh will still be evolving. As an experienced operator in the Top 14 and Champions Cup, Henry Immelman is one of the standout signings for next season. The South African can play across the back 3 or in the centres and that utility could prove useful with a relatively small squad of backs. Given his favoured position with Montpellier was full back there could be some interesting calls to be made when both he and Blair Kinghorn are available.
Numbers wise this is the area of the team with the least cover for injuries and absences. Waiting in the wings (apologies…) are 3 talented youngsters coming through the Scottish Rugby Academy. Jacob Henry kept Jack Blain out of the starting lineup for Scotland’s u20s in 2020. Nathan Sweeney has played through the age grades for the national side. Harry Paterson has already made his Edinburgh debut, starting against Ulster in June. There should be opportunities for at least some, if not all, of this trio.
7s players like Alec Coombes and Kyle Rowe (as well as Jamie Farndale who is returning to the abbreviated form of the game) who have featured for Edinburgh this season are also likely to continue to provide additional depth when required in 2021/22.
For a detailed look at Edinburgh’s squad at the start of the 2020/21 campaign click here.