Planet Rugby

Preview: Ospreys v Edinburgh

30th April 2008 14:56

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mike blair scotland

Mike Blair: Back to lead Edinburgh

Mike Blair has recovered from a head knock to reclaim Edinburgh's number nine jersey for the trip to Ospreys on Friday as part of a new-look line-up in the club's penultimate Magners League match.

Blair, 27, missed the recent home win over Leinster after sustaining the injury against Glasgow and revealed he was relieved to be returning to first team duties to help surpass their best ever final place in the Magners League (fifth).

"It is a major relief to be back playing again because it was so frustrating having to watch the team from the sidelines," said Blair.

"There is still so much left to play for because Edinburgh can achieve our best-ever finish to a Magners League season.

"The mood in the squad is very positive after the win against Leinster and we are determined to finish the season with a flourish."

Prop Geoff Cross is handed his first start since January after impressing at the coalface against Leinster while Calum MacRae has been given the full-back's berth and Andrew Maxwell will start the match against the EDF Energy Cup winners.

Meanwhile, Scotland flanker Ross Rennie has been ruled out for the final two matches of the season after undergoing keyhole surgery on his knee on Friday.

The 22-year-old openside is joined in a congested treatment room by Simon Cross (lower back), Craig Hamilton (thigh strain), John Houston (head knock), Andrew Kelly (calf), Gavin Kerr (neck), Mark Robertson (shoulder) and Simon Webster (hamstring).

Long term casualties Allan Jacobsen (groin), Roland Reid (hamstring) and Craig Smith (calf) are also still out of action while Hugo Southwell misses the fixture because of family commitments.

The Ospreys are also struggling with a number of injuries.

Gavin Henson underwent keyhole surgery on his damaged ankle ligaments on Wednesday and now faces a 12-week lay-off.

Shane Williams suffered a haematoma against the Dragons last Friday and has failed to recover in time to be considered for this match.

Mike Phillips recently underwent surgery to repair damage to his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments and will be out of action until next season; Nikki Walker is recovering from a stress fracture of the fibia in the right leg; and Andrew Millward has been ruled out for the season due to a cartilage problem in the right knee and will shortly undergo keyhole surgery

"Preparations for Friday night's game have been hampered a little by a number of injuries in the camp, which is inevitable when you get to the end of a long campaign," said Ospreys coach Lyn Jones.

"When you look at the difficult season that our squad has had with so many big games, it comes as no surprise to see players becoming fatigued, especially when the matches continue to come thick and fast.

"Once again, this final week of the season will see our squad stretched to its limit, but it will provide an opportunity for those who maybe haven't played as much rugby recently to step in and show what they can do.

"Edinburgh will present us with a different kind of challenge to what we have been used to seeing at the Liberty Stadium recently.

"We know that they like to play rugby and it is likely to be a more open contest and will prove a huge challenge so we realize that we will have to go some if we are to maintain our record of being the best defensive side in the Magners League this season.

"It's our final home fixture of the season and we'll be looking to sign off at the Liberty Stadium in style in front of supporters who have been fantastic all season long.

"Our stated aim for the closing weeks of the season has been to target the top spot amongst the Welsh sides, and a win on Friday night would not only all but guarantee Heineken Cup qualification for next season, but also, could see us rise up to 4th place in the table, overtaking the Scarlets with two away fixtures remaining.

"When you look at how we have been hit by international calls this season, with next weeks Welsh training camp meaning that we would only have been able to select from a full squad for seven of our 18 Magners League fixtures this season, then to finish as the highest placed Welsh region would be an achievement that we could take great satisfaction from as we look forward to a more favourable fixture list next season."

Form: Ospreys' only loss at Liberty Stadium in any competition since September was 19-26 to Leinster in the Magners League on 23 November. Ospreys have hosted Scottish sides on 13 previous occasions in league play and won them all. Edinburgh Rugby beat Magners League leaders Leinster 15-13 last time out at Murrayfield on 18 April. Edinburgh are winless in their last three away matches in all competitions since an 11-10 victory at Cardiff on 4 January. In nine previous encounters in league play Edinburgh have beaten the Ospreys only once: 24-18 at Murrayfield on 25 September 2005.

The teams:

Ospreys: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Aled Brew, 13 Sonny Parker, 12 Andrew Bishop, 11 Johnny Vaughton, 10 James Hook, 9 Justin Marshall, 8 Ryan Jones (c), 7 Marty Holah, 6 Jonathan Thomas, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Cai Griffiths, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Duncan Jones.

Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Adam Jones, 18 Ian Gough, 19 Filo Tiatia, 20 Rhys Webb, 21 Shaun Connor, 22 Jonathan Spratt.

Edinburgh: 15 Calum MacRae, 14 Andrew Maxwell, 13 Ben Cairns, 12 Nick De Luca, 11 Andrew Turnbull, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair, 8 David Callam, 7 Alan MacDonald, 6 Allister Hogg (c), 5 Ben Gissing, 4 Matt Mustchin, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Augusto Allori.

Replacements: 16 Steve Lawrie, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Fergus Pringle, 19 Scott Newlands, 20 Greig Laidlaw, 21 David Blair, 22 Matt Dey.

Date: Friday, May 2

Venue: Liberty Stadium

Kick-off: 19:10 BST (18:10 GMT)

Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)

Touch Judges: James Jones (WRU), Huw David (WRU).

TMO: Tony Rowlands (WRU).

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