RICHARD COCKERILL has challenged the youngsters he is giving game time to in tonight’s Rainbow Cup campaign opener against Zebre at Murrayfield to seize the opportunity and create a selection headache ahead of the team’s next match against Glasgow Warriors in a fortnight’s time.  

“They’re playing for places,” insisted the capital outfit’s head coach. “If Ben Muncaster is better than Bill Mata then he can play the next game. No problem.  

“If you are going to give young guys experience of playing then there is no better weekend than this one, because there are no league points at stake, there is no Europe at stake, it is a competition which has been invented because of circumstance – so, if not now, then when? 

“We can now see if there is a bolter out there who can find themselves in the 23 in the next few weeks.” 

Nineteen-year-old Muncaster, who is making his debut at No8, is joined in the pack by 21-year-old second-row Marshall Sykes, who is picking up his second start and fourth appearance for the club. Meanwhile, in the backline, 20-year-old Matt Currie gets his first start at outside-centre, and 21-year-old Nathan Chamberlain is at stand-off. 

The team is captained by 24-year-old flanker Luke Crosbie, with second-row Jamie Hodgson, scrum-half Charlie Shiel (both 23), inside-centre George Taylor and full-back Blair Kinghorn (both 24) all contributing towards the average age of the team being just 24.5. 

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There is also a fair but of youth on the bench in the shape of hooker Patrick Harrison (aged 18), scrum-half Roan Frostwick (20), flanker Connor Boyle (21) and winger Jack Blain (21) all listed. 

Muncaster was born and started playing rugby in North Berwick, spent a couple of years at Loretto School in Musselburgh on a sports scholarship, and then moved to Rugby School on a joint cricket and rugby scholarship in his mid-teens. He was picked up by Leicester Tigers and spent four years in their academy programme, before opting to return north of the border last May, initially on a full-time stage three academy contract, which is due to convert into a senior deal this summer. 

“He’s 19 years old, he’s very dynamic, he’s quite a big lad – 108 to 109kgs – and he’s been with us the best part of 12 months working very, very hard both on and off the field,” said Cockerill. “He’s got good feet, very quick and an all-action back-rower who prefers to play eight, and we’ll see over time whether that’s his best position. 

“He’s got a lot of talent, very enthusiastic, loves playing with the ball in hand, so very much a ball-carrying eight but probably more in a Sam Simmonds mould than a Duane Vermeulen mould – he runs at space rather than through people.” 

While Cockerill has opted to rest most of his internationalists ahead of their final match of this season’s 1872 Cup series at Scotstoun on Friday 7th May, Hamish Watson is listed as injured, but it is not serious. 

“He has a tight groin so he's one of the guys on a regeneration programme over the next three or four weeks,” said the coach. “He had a big shift at Racing and we have good cover in the back-row. Hamish will be fit and well for the Glasgow games.” 

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Meanwhile, there was encouraging news for Rory Sutherland, although the loose-head prop’s Lions prospects still hang by a thread after he suffered a shoulder injury during Scotland’s final match of this year’s Six Nations. 

“He had more scans and reviews with the specialists and it’s good news, he doesn’t need surgery,” explained Cockerill. ‘He’ll undergo a process of rehabilitation and we’re hoping that will be, best case, six to eight weeks, which is an optimistic guide to where he’ll be at.” 

Cockerill added that he is hopeful that winger Darcy Graham will sign a contract extension for next season. “We’ve had some positive discussions with Darcy and we’re looking forward to a positive outcome,” he said. 

Edinburgh confirmed yesterday that scrum-half Nic Groom and hooker Sam Kitchen have left the club with immediate effect. 

South African Groom had been set to leave the team at the end of the season when his contract expired, but his departure has been brought forward to enable him to “see out the season in England” according to a press release from Edinburgh. Meanwhile, Kitchen, who joined from Ayrshire Bulls last summer, is heading home to Australia. 

Edinburgh (v Zebre at Murrayfield, Friday @ 8.15pm): B Kinghorn; D Hoyland, M Currie, G Taylor, E Sau; N Chamberlain, C Shiel; B Venter, M Willemse, L Atalifo, M Sykes, J Hodgson, M Kunavula, L Crosbie©, B Muncaster.  Subs: P Harrison, P Schoeman, W Nel, V Mata, C Boyle, R Frostwick, J Blain, C Dean.