EDINBURGH face a stern test of both their versatility and their squad depth when they take on Benetton in the United Rugby Championship. 

Mike Blair’s team beat the Italians relatively comfortably in a pre-season friendly at home two weeks ago, and followed that up with an excellent victory against Scarlets last weekend. But Benetton bounced back from their defeat at the DAM Health Stadium to beat the Stormers last week, and have a more settled side than the one that flew out from Scotland yesterday.

Blair has made six changes to his starting line-up compared to Benetton’s three, and although most are voluntary, a key alteration has been forced on the head coach at stand-off, where Jaco van der Walt takes over from the injured Blair Kinghorn. Van der Walt, of course, specialises in playing at No 10, while Kinghorn has only recently reverted to the position he played at school. But the attacking threat posed by the erstwhile full-back in the more advanced position has been a vital element of the expansive game plan introduced by the new head coach, and it will be fascinating to see if the more conservative Van der Walt attempts to be more assertive this afternoon.

There is an argument for playing more cautiously away from home in any case. But judging by his remarks after his team’s last two matches, Blair was not inclined to do so in this game, and would have kept faith with Kinghorn but for the leg injury that could keep the 24-year-old out of action for several weeks. 

“Blair is looking at a couple of weeks, potentially a bit longer,” assistant coach Stevie Lawrie said before the squad flew out to Italy. “It’s his quad.”

Scotland international centre James Lang comes in for his first start after impressing as a substitute against Scarlets, taking over from Cameron Hutchison, and Lawrie believes he may well have a vital role to play today. “I thought he was excellent off the bench last week,” he continued. “He brings real energy and that bit of experience as well, and I thought he was real class. It’s great that we can turn to experienced players like James and it’s exciting to see him play against Benetton.”

The other four changes to the starting line-up are all in the pack. Boan Venter and Willem Nel both come into the front row, Jamie Hodgson is back in the second row after injury, and ex-Scotland Under-20 captain Connor Boyle is in the back row. On the bench, lock Pierce Phillips and Argentine international back Ramiro Moyano are in line to make their competitive debuts after signing in the summer.  

Marshall Sykes drops out of the squad to make way for Phillips, while Hutchison is also omitted from the 23, in which Chris Dean is poised to make his first appearance of the season. Charlie Shiel is back-up scrum-half to Ben Vellacott, being preferred to Henry Pyrgos, who came off the bench last week.

Benetton were the surprise winners of the Rainbow Cup at the end of last season, and Lawrie expects a tough match this afternoon. “They took a lot of belief from winning the Rainbow Cup,” he added.

“They bring a real physicality to the game, and play it right on the edge as you would expect from the Italian teams. But equally they’ve added a good threat out wide as well.  They’re very dangerous now. It’s not just the Italian hard edge - they also play really good rugby.”    

Teenage centre Tommaso Menoncello is the one change behind the scrum by Benetton, who also bring back Federico Ruzza at lock and Giovanni Pettinelli in the back row.