Edinburgh coach Mike Blair on Emiliano Boffelli signing hopes

EDINBURGH coach Mike Blair is confident that new signing Emiliano Boffelli can have a major impact on his team, and hopes that impact will start today when the full-back makes his debut against the Dragons.

Although he was signed from Racing 92 earlier this year, before Blair took over as head coach from Richard Cockerill, Boffelli was unavailable until now because of international duty with Argentina. The 26-year-old has had little time as yet to get up to speed fully with Edinburgh’s play book, but Blair, who is sure he has a major talent on his hands, was eager to get him involved straight away.

“With Emiliano, it’s important to get him involved and around the boys as quickly as possible,” the coach said yesterday before travelling to Newport with his squad for the URC match. “He’s an outstanding, world-class player. We could have waited another week, but [the best way] to get the best out of him in the medium and longer term is to get him straight in and playing.

“He’s very good under the high ball. He moves really well and has an excellent off-loading game as well. He’ll fit in really well with what we’re trying to do.

“He was signed prior to me taking up my role. And when I saw we had signed him I was really excited as I’d seen what he had done previously with Argentina and a little bit with Racing. I’ve been watching him closely in the Rugby Championship and the autumn games as well and he’s had some really positive impacts in the game. We’ll look to get that transferred to us.”

Boffelli’s team-mate and compatriot Ramiro Moyano has been acting as unofficial translator for the new arrival and is on the left wing this evening at Rodney Parade, a factor which should make the new man’s integration all the easier. Damian Hoyland completes the back three in the absence of Darcy Graham, who has been rested in the wake of the Autumn Nations Series along with forwards Pierre Schoeman, Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson.

“Part of that is physical, but part of that is mental as well,” Blair explained of those absentees. “Going from four or five weeks in international camp, it just gives them that little bit of a break that might not come later in the season to allow them to freshen up physically and mentally. It’s about looking at the bigger picture to get the best out of these guys – but also giving opportunities to other players to see what they can do in the jersey and try to make it their own.”

Former Ulster hooker Adam McBurney makes his debut up front, while Watsonians loosehead prop Harrison Courtney could take part in his first professional game if he comes off the bench. Scrum-half Ben Vellacott captains the team for the first time, having impressed Blair with his willingness to take a lead in training and during games. 

“I’ve really enjoyed Ben’s input since he’s come in,” the coach said of the No 9, who joined from Wasps in the close season. “He’s shown real leadership qualities, he’s challenged the guys, he’s challenged me. And I see that as the next step in our evolution: handing the team over to the players.  

“It’s been fairly coach-led in the past, so it’s going to take a little bit of time for the players to take a grasp. I’ve seen that from Ben straight away, and that’s why I want to give him the opportunity to captain the team.”

The Dragons have won just one of their five league games to date, at Connacht, but Blair believes that bald statistic is not a true indication of their ability or form. “They’re a good side,” he insisted. “Not many teams put 30 points on Connacht at Connacht. They probably could have, should have, won against Stormers – they put themselves in a good position. I think it was 7-6 they lost to Leinster at home – not many people run Leinster that close, this season certainly.

“They’ve got an excellent coaching team who I know well – I know [former Scotland internationals] Simon Cross and Gordon Ross very well, so I’m looking forward to catching up with them. And we know we need to be absolutely at our best and guys need to take their opportunities in this game.”

Edinburgh (v Dragons at Rodney Parade, today 5.15pm): E Boffelli; D Hoyland, M Currie, J Lang, R Moyano; B Kinghorn, B Vellacott (captain); B Venter, A McBurney, W Nel, M Sykes, J Hodgson, N Haining, L Crosbie, M Bradbury. Substitutes: D Cherry, H Courtney, A Williams, C Boyle, B Muncaster, H Pyrgos, C Savala, C Hutchison.

Dragons: J Williams; J Holmes, J Dixon, J Roberts, R Dyer; S Davies, G Bertranou; G Bateman, T Davies, C Coleman, B Carter, J Maksymiw, H Keddie (captain), T Basham, O Griffiths. Substitutes: E Shipp, J Reynolds, L Brown, J Davies, H Taylor, D Babos, A Owen, J Olowofela.

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