Mike Willemse set to start for Edinburgh as Dave Cherry is sidelined

Summer signing expected to have run in starting line-up as his fellow-hooker is ruled out for up to six weeks

Dave Cherry (middle) faces a longer than expected spell on the sidelines after an AC joint injury. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson.

MIKE Willemse will get the chance to make the Edinburgh No 2 jersey his own over the next few weeks after head coach Richard Cockerill revealed that Dave Cherry will be out for longer than first expected.

Willemse, who signed from the Southern Kings in the summer, made his debut as a replacement for Cherry in the team’s 50-15 win against Zebre last Saturday. He is now set to start for the first time against Cardiff this Saturday, with either Cammy Fenton or Ewan Ashman on the bench.

“Dave Cherry has got an injury to his AC joint, so he won’t be fit for the weekend,” Cockerill said yesterday. “Hopefully we’ll get it scanned in the next couple of days once the swelling’s gone down, see where it is, but it’s probably a four- to six-week injury, I’d have thought.”

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Cherry was originally expected to be out for just a couple of weeks, but Willemse looks more than ready to step up for an extended run in the team – at least until club captain Stuart McInally returns from the World Cup. The 26-year-old from Cape Town explained that one of the reasons for joining Edinburgh was because he was sure he would learn a lot from Cockerill, who played in his position.

“I was always eager to get over this side and grow my game as a whole,” he said. “So when Cockers gave me the call, having played the game in my position, I thought it would help me quite a bit in developing as a hooker.

“You could clearly see the journey the team’s been on over the last two years and I was quite eager to get in to that sort of set-up. I’m just really stoked to be here now and I’ve already learned so much, so hopefully I can contribute going forward.”

WIllemse is part of a large group of South Africans in the Edinburgh squad, and believes that the fact he already knew compatriots such as Pierre Schoeman, Jaco van der Walt and Nic Groom from back home as helped speed up his integration into his new squad.

“I think there’s about eight or nine of us South Africans here now, so it’s actually made it very easy,” he added. “I’ve played against Pierre quite a few times, played with Jaco a couple of times and I played with Groomy quite a bit as well back in Cape  Town, so it’s actually worked out quite nicely.”

Apart from Cherry, the squad who were on duty against Zebre should all be available for the Cardiff match. “No – all good,” Cockerill said when asked if there were any other casualites. “What we’ve got is what we’ve got, and they’re still alive.”

“By and large with everybody fit and healthy that squad will pretty much stay the same bar the odd player. We’re just training as well as we can and getting in as much preparation time as we can and we’re going to try and get as many points as we can without the Test players. 

“Even post-World Cup those guys are going to need rest and it’s going to be a slow integration for those guys to come back into the squad and that will be the same for a lot of teams. I’m happy with the squad we’ve got. It was a good result for us at the weekend when historically those types of games have been very difficult for us to put teams away. So let’s hope it’s a good sign for us.”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1428 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.