SPECULATION is mounting that Rory Sutherland and Duhan Van der Merwe are close to agreeing deals to return to Edinburgh after their current club, Worcester Warriors, were suspended from all competitions by the RFU and put into administration.
Speaking from Cape Town, where Edinburgh are preparing for Saturday’s URC match against the Stormers, assistant coach Stevie Lawrie said: “It’s a really tough situation and it wouldn’t be right for me to comment on any speculation, because I just don’t know. For me, my thoughts are with the staff and the players there – my feelings go out to them, because it appears to be a pretty tough and dire situation.”
However, Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair revealed at the end of last month that he would be interested in signing winger Van der Merwe and prop Sutherland if they became available – and in another Scottish international prop, Murray McCallum, who is also on Worcester’s books. “We do have a little bit of budget left for emergencies, injuries and what have you,” Blair said then. “If players become available then we’ll have to see how that fits with what we want.”
Edinburgh may have to settle for signing one or both of Sutherland and Van der Merwe on loan, at least until the end of the season with a view to a more permanent deal. With the World Cup now just a year away, Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, for one, will be keen to ensure that the pair return to playing regular rugby as quickly as possible rather than waiting to learn if and when Worcester will be readmitted to competition. And he won’t want them disappearing to play club rugby in France where their game time will not be managed as it is at home.
Worcester have debts of around £25million, including back taxes of £6m, and face relegation from the Premiership as a penalty for going into administration even if they find new investors to get them playing again. Their planned pre-season friendly against Glasgow in Inverness at the start of this month was called off as their financial woes worsened.
Meanwhile, Lawrie offered a positive prognosis when asked for an update on his squad’s injury list following their 33-31 defeat by the Bulls in Pretoria last week. Mark Bennett, Luke Crosbie and Jaco van der Walt all sustained head injuries in that game and must complete their return-to-play protocols before being cleared to play against the champions. Grant Gilchrist cut a hand, Blair Kinghorn was ruled out before kick-off by a stomach bug and Chris Dean was injured during the warm-up.
Kinghorn, in particular, appears to have a good chance of taking the field against the Stormers. “Blair was a short-term overnight thing, so he’s been back in training this week, which has been great for the group,” Lawrie added.
“Most of the guys are in good health. Gilco got a wee slice to his hand, but he was back in doing bits and bobs of training on Tuesday – so we’re monitoring him, but he was running around well.”
Edinburgh only lost to the Bulls when full-back Henry Immelman was off target with a last-gasp penalty, and they played some excellent rugby at times. However, they took a while to get going and showed some obvious failings at times, leading Lawrie to warn that they will need to be more consistent this weekend.
“There were times when the pack was very dominant, but then a couple of times towards the end there were key moments that slipped away from us,” he said. “Our ability to continually apply pressure on the opposition would be the other thing we have spoken about constantly.”