2017/18 Guinness PRO14 quarter-finalists Edinburgh Rugby begin their season with a tough trip to Ospreys on Friday in Swansea.
Ospreys host Edinburgh at the Liberty Stadium on Friday in the opening Guinness PRO14 round of fixtures looking to clinch a third round one victory in succession.
In their way is an Edinburgh Rugby side keen to build on a fine first season under Richard Cockerill that saw them narrowly miss out on the semi-finals.
What’s at stake?
Ospreys will be looking to improve on last season after a fifth place finish in Conference A and missing out on the European Rugby Champions Cup.
However, the Welsh region will be hoping to continue their home form from the backend of last season that saw them win their last five matches at the Liberty Stadium in the Guinness PRO14.
Contrastingly, Edinburgh are to go in search of ending a streak of nine years without a victory at the Liberty Stadium
Team news (Ospreys)
New signings George North, Tom Botha, Aled Davies and Scott Williams will all make their Ospreys debuts on Friday after their respective summer moves.
But the Welshmen will be without ten players for the opening fixture with new signing Gheorghe Gajion missing out with a hamstring injury.
Wales international Dan Baker is out with a knee injury, Olly Cracknell with a shoulder problem and Ma’afu Fia, Keelan Giles, Paul James, Lesley Klim, Rob McCusker, Sam Parry and Gareth Thomas all out.
Team news (Edinburgh)
Head Coach Richard Cockerill has named four debutants in the starting XV for tomorrow night’s Guinness PRO14 opener.
Summer recruits Henry Pyrgos and Simon Hickey are selected at half-back, alongside signings Pierre Schoeman, Luke Hamilton and Matt Scott.
Scotland flanker Hamish Watson will make his first league appearance since undergoing season-ending surgery in April.
Edinburgh Rugby head coach Richard Cockerill said: “We’ve named an experienced outfit, which we believe has the mentality and toughness to compete against a combative Ospreys side.
“It’s imperative that we lay down an early marker in the championship. We are prepared as we possibly can and will travel to Wales with confidence.”
While Ospreys Head Coach Allen Clarke said: “Selection has been based on performance throughout pre-season training & the two games against Saints & Saracens.
“Across the squad there are players who’ve impressed, who’ve put their hands up for selection resulting in some tight calls.
“For those selected the challenge is to embrace the opportunity, while others will channel their disappointment positively.”
Key battle – George North v Duhan van der Merwe
Expectations are high at Ospreys after the signing of 76-times capped Wales international George North from Northampton Saints.
After a two-month break after appearing in all three summer Tests for Wales on tour, North made a promising pre-season debut against Saracens.
In his way is Edinburgh’s last season highest try scorer Duhan van der Merwe, who will be looking to improve on the eight tries he scored last campaign.
Key fact: Ospreys have won their last five matches at the Liberty Stadium in the Guinness PRO14.
Did you know? Edinburgh have won on two of their last three visits to Wales in the Guinness PRO14.
Ospreys: Dan Evans, George North, Scott Williams, Owen Watkin, Hanno Dirksen, Luke Price, Aled Davies, Nicky Smith, Scott Otten, Tom Botha, Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, James King
Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Rhodri Jones, Alex Jeffries, Adam Beard, Sam Cross, Tom Habberfield, Sam Davies, Joe Thomas
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn, Dougie Fife, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Duhan van der Merwe, Simon Hickey, Henry Pyrgos, Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally, Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Luke Hamilton, Hamish Watson, Bill Mata
Replacements: Ross Ford, Allan Dell, Murray McCallum, Fraser McKenzie, Jamie Ritchie, Sean Kennedy, Jaco van der Walt, James Johnstone
TV: Live on Premier Sports
George North made a perfect first impression on the Ospreys faithful as his debut double saw the Welsh side begin their Guinness PRO14 campaign with a scrappy 17-13 victory over Edinburgh.
North made his return to Wales over the summer after a five-year spell with English side Northampton Saints and demonstrated his considerable pace to run in a pair of tries.
That lit up an otherwise attritional encounter and although Blair Kinghorn gave Edinburgh a glimmer of hope with a late try, their streak of nine years without a win at the Liberty Stadium in the Guinness PRO14 goes on.
— Ospreys (@ospreys) August 31, 2018
Ospreys dominated territory in the early stages but failed to get on the scoreboard as Scott Williams was narrowly beaten to a grubber kick over the try-line and Luke Price pulled a kickable penalty wide.
The visiting defence then held firm in the face of an onslaught on their own try-line before starting to gain a foothold in proceedings and ultimately taking a 3-0 lead on 31 minutes when Simon Hickey got his first points for Edinburgh from the kicking tee.
That lead was short-lived as Price answered back with three points of his own, although he had to be replaced by Sam Davies shortly after and the new kicker left a long-range penalty just short of the uprights on the stroke of half-time.
When Ospreys were pinged in front of the posts on 55 minutes, Hickey made no mistake for the Scots but the first try of the game finally came four minutes later.
North demonstrated the fleetness of foot that has made him one of the most effective wingers in the northern hemisphere as he burst down the right touchline and juked inside two defenders for a try that Davies duly converted.
The 26-year-old’s debut then got even better on 70 minutes as he received the ball on halfway and used his pace to scamper 50 metres down the right wing and sprint over the line.
— Edinburgh Rugby (@EdinburghRugby) August 31, 2018
Another Davies conversion gave the hosts a cushion at 17-6 ahead but Edinburgh set up a grandstand finish when Kinghorn powered over from close-range with four minutes remaining and Jaco van der Walt nailed the tricky conversion.
However, Ospreys held on and extended their winning run at the Liberty Stadium in the Guinness PRO14 to six matches.