Monday, January 11, 2010

Rob Moffat buoyed as Rory Hutton muscles into contention

ROB Moffat may have finally broken the glass ceiling for the next group of emerging stand-offs by handing Rory Hutton his Magners League debut, but, having done so, the experienced Edinburgh coach could have given himself a real selection headache for the team's Heineken Cup matches over the next fortnight.

Had Edinburgh beaten Bath, as they probably should have done, at the Recreation Ground in early December, they would be staring at a great opportunity to qualify for the Heineken Cup quarter- finals. It is now slim, but the chance is not gone. Edinburgh need to win their remaining games, beating Ulster at Ravenhill for the second time this season and then Stade Francais at Murrayfield, preferably with bonus points. They may not even need Bath to win in Paris this weekend, though that would help.

It is not impossible as Stade have endured a tough time in recent weeks and are looking at a very French solution to the problem of running out of scrum-halves – playing the hooker there this week. Countless French sides have also shown an aversion to playing in Scotland, with Pau, Colomiers, Grenoble, Toulouse, Agen, Clermont Auvergne, Perpignan, Bourgoin, Castres and Biarritz all returning home winless. Stade also lost at Ulster this season for a third time.

If winning the pool and grasping one of the two best runners-up spots fails to materialise, two wins could still hand Edinburgh a place in the last eight of the Amlin Challenge Cup, and seal European rugby and more income in the latter stages of the season. So these games are important. There were many plus points in Saturday's team performance, notably up front, but after finding a stand-off with the ability to surprise a defence like Cardiff's and energise players around him the way Hutton did, the coach might have been tempted to stick with the same team.

However, he cannot. Hutton was not registered for the Heineken Cup as he was not in the frame for selection at the last stage of squad changes. That has eased Moffat's week somewhat, as the coach has the Scotland stand-off Phil Godman champing at the bit to return after a week off to rest a hip injury.

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