EDINBURGH might be lacking depth in certain key positions such as stand-off and full-back at the start of what promises to be the most gruelling rugby season of the professional era, but the loss of Bill Mata for the next six to eight weeks with an ankle injury has highlighted just how well stocked they are in the back-row.

Mata is that rare breed of player who can be described – without a hint of irony – as irreplaceable, but with Magnus Bradbury (one of Scotland’s few stand-out performers during last year’s World Cup) and Bill Haining (a revelation when called up to wear the thistle during the 2020 Six Nations) the next two cabs off the rank, head coach Richard Cockerill is not exactly scraping the barrel at the back of the scrum at this point.

It will be fascinating to see how those two players rise to the challenge of filling the gap left by Mata during the first two weeks of the 2020-21 Pro14 season – against Ospreys at home this Saturday night and Munster away seven days later – especially as both men are also competing for further international recognition when Scotland’s six-match Autumn schedule gets under way at the end of the month.

“For the next couple of weeks, it’s just about playing as well as I can and I know the Scotland management will be down watching training, so I need to always be on the ball, train as well as I can, and hopefully impress them enough ahead of other guys,” said Bradbury. “But it’s always difficult in the back-row for Scotland, and for Edinburgh as well, because there is so much competition.”

Bradbury’s physicality and ability to make hard yards in heavy traffic has never been in doubt, but he has struggled at times to impose himself on the game throughout the 80 minutes.

At 25, his best years are still ahead of him, but a combination of injuries, patchy form and ferocious competition in his position means he doesn’t have as many miles on the clock as he would have hoped for after making his international debut against Argentina back in November 2016.

“There’s always things you can work on,” he acknowledged. “For me, I tend to take it on a game to game basis. I want to continue to be as physical as I can be and keep doing what I do well, then look to develop my ‘soft skills’, like my catch-pass, so I can be more of a link


“But I try to not look too far ahead. If you think about the end goal to play for Scotland it’s not going to get you far. You need to focus on the short-term before looking at the bigger


Bradbury is in no doubt that training alongside and competing for game-time against Mata and Haining in recent seasons has helped his own development.

“It’s the best way, to look at guys in your position and rather than saying ‘they are competition, I can’t learn from them’, you look at them and see what gets them in the team and figure out whether you can add that to your game,” he reasoned.

“It was the same with John Barclay and other older guys who’ve been and gone,” he adds. “I feel like I’ve developed a lot just from watching them train and seeing how they go day-to-day. With Bill, I wouldn’t say I’ll be able to do half the stuff he can do, but there are things that you can look at to grow your own game. Nick is a completely different player, but he’s class and again there’s things I can take from him.”

Of course, there is a very good chance that Bradbury and Haining will both be called up by Scotland during the Autumn, which would create a headache for Cockerill as he tries to put out a competitive team at


Although Bradbury suggests that the likes of Luke Crosbie and academy prospects Rory Darge, Conor Boyle, Ben

Muncaster and Jack Mann are ready to do a job in the side if called upon.

“It’s not just guys that are older than you, there’s young guys coming through as well, like Luke Crosbie, and even from the academy there’s real talent in the back-row,” he said.