Richard Cockerill reckons that as many as four of his Edinburgh players could be named on Thursday in the British and Irish Lions squad to tour South Africa this summer – but he won’t be surprised if none of his boys end up making the cut. 

The head coach believes Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Duhan van der Merwe and Rory Sutherland (even though he is in a race against time to recover from the shoulder injury suffered playing for Scotland against France at the end of March) have all made strong cases over the last year to 18 months for inclusion in the touring party, but recognises that with only 36 places up for grabs there will inevitably be some very good players who are deeply unfortunate to miss out. 

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Duhan was well in the mix to get picked,” said Cockerill. “The timing for him couldn’t have been better in terms of qualifying to play for Scotland, scoring lots of tries and making lots of metres. He is very quick, very powerful, and there has been some injuries in and around that wing spot with Jonny May being potentially out and George North definitely out.  

“Then there is Suz [Sutherland] who has put himself in the frame. His rehab is going well. He’s out on the field doing lots of running and whatever he can at the gym to strengthen that shoulder. Exact timescales can’t be given, but if selected it will be tight. 

“But he’s working hard and is very optimistic around being fit sooner rather than later, so we’ll just have to see. Those discussions will be had with our medical team and if they are being shared with the Lions selectors then I don’t know that.” 

“Jamie Ritchie wouldn’t be out of consideration and Hamish Watson had a very good Six Nations, so you would like to think that some of those guys are in the mix,” he added. “But to pick 36 out of all those players is going to be tough and we could easily have none – so it’ll be a nervous half an hour for some guys on Thursday. Hopefully we will at least get a couple in there if we are lucky.” 

Meanwhile, hooker Stuart McInally – who will have started the season as a Lions hopeful before suffering a neck injury during training back in January which ruled him out of the Six Nations – is back in full training and set to make his comeback in Friday night’s 1872 Cup decider against Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun. 

However, 20-year-old outside-centre Matt Currie – who impressed in his first start for the club when scoring a try in a 24-18 victory over Zebre last time out – will not be involved.  

“Stu is training fully and available for selection,” explained Cockerill. “Unfortunately, Matt is not available after he injured his shoulder playing an internal trial game for Scotland Under- 20s last Thursday, which is a shame because it would have been good to see him in action again.  

“But the rest of the young guys who stood up [against Zebre] will be in and around the matchday 23, or even the starting 15, for the next couple of games. Obviously, there is a bit of silverware up for grabs on Friday which both teams are pretty keen to win, but for us it will be about getting the balance of selection right and using it as an opportunity for some guys to get more experience in big games. 

“For me, the rest of this season is more about preparing for next year. This season has been tough for all sorts of reasons, and while the 1872 Cup is important in the city I don’t think it will rescue the season for either team.” 

Cockerill also shot down rumours about Sutherland following the lead of van der Merwe by making move to English Premiership side Worcester Warriors ahead of next season. The loose-head prop was first linked with a switch to Sixways back in December, but Edinburgh have remained adamant that this is nothing more than a kite-flying exercise because the player is not available. 

“Rory is under contract until the end of next season and that’s it,” stated Cockeril. “He won’t be released from his contract. He’s an Edinburgh player until his contract runs out, and from an Edinburgh and Scotland point of view we’d like to keep him long-term. It is as simple as that really – there is no truth in that whatsoever.”