Jaco van der Walt closes in on first Scotland cap

Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill reveals national duties will deny him the stand-off's services against Ulster on Monday

Jaco van der Walt
Jaco van der Walt trained with Scotland last month before heading to South Africa for his wedding. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

JACO VAN DER WALT will  be unavailable to play for Edinburgh against Ulster on Monday night as he prepares for a potential Scotland debut in the play-off round of the Autumn Nations Cup. The 26-year-old has just become eligible on residency grounds to represent Scotland, and will resume training with Gregor Townsend’s squad having recently completed a spell in quarantine on his return from getting married in his native South Africa.

Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill is still without around 20 players because of international duty or injury, and would usually be eager to have Van der Walt back in his starting line-up. On this occasion, however, he insisted that he saw the No 10’s possible promotion to Test level as a sign of success for Edinburgh, and another indication of how the squad had progressed since he took charge in 2017.

“He won’t play for us on Monday as he’ll be preparing hopefully to be involved with Scotland on the Saturday,” Cockerill said yesterday. “He has worked really hard at his game and is very committed to want to play for Scotland. We’re very proud we have another player in the squad who’ll get another opportunity in a week or so.

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“I’m delighted for Jaco and for all the Scottish lads. When we started this project three years ago, we were on our arse as a club. Now we’re in a strong place with a good environment and guys are playing at the very highest level. I take a lot of satisfaction from guys getting picked.”

Nathan Chamberlain is again set to deputise for Van der Walt in Monday’s home game, which will see Edinburgh try to end Ulster’s seven-game winning run. Cockerill has made no secret of his belief that arranging games for Mondays was a big mistake by the league as it lessened the likelihood that national teams would release players back to the clubs. However, he has not completely given up hope of getting one or two players back for this match.

“It’s a really difficult one, because we play on Monday,” he continued. “They [Scotland] don’t play this weekend so they’ll want a good two days’ training, Monday and Tuesday, getting all the physical parts done. Well, to do that you need players to train with and against, so therein lies the problem. The PRO14 decided on Mondays and it wasn’t particularly well thought through, was it?”

Edinburgh’s last outing was a heavy defeat in Dublin by defending champions Leinster in a match which highlighted the current disparity in playing resources between Scotland and Ireland. Cockerill added that no-one was more eager than him to win games, but insisted that a realistic assessment had to be made of how difficult things were this season both for his own team and for Danny Wilson’s Glasgow.

“Both ourselves and Glasgow have had our budgets cut back and all our best players taken away. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that will cause you a few problems. But that’s where we’re at. The pandemic is still with us and we don’t have any crowds.

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“From a Scottish point of view we have to manage the finances appropriately – it’s as simple as that. You can criticise results for the two pro teams, but the reality is that all our best players are with Scotland and Fiji, so it’s always going to be tough playing against teams with bigger budgets and deeper squads.

“We have a responsibility to grow the Scottish game and bring Scottish players through, which I think we’ve done very well at Edinburgh over the last three years when you look at the Test squad. Money doesn’t solve everything, but it certainly helps.

“It’s a shame that Super6 has stopped. We’ve got to be able to keep producing and coaching and aligning the pro teams to the youth sections of Scottish rugby so we can bring our own players through at the same time. There’s a real fine balance to that.

“We’re a small playing nation and we punch well above our weight on lots of occasions in how we perform on the world stage and at club level. We’re doing lots of good things. You have to be very careful not to take a snapshot in time at this autumn series around the pro teams to fix all their woes, because it’s a very unique situation.”

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Stuart Bathgate
About Stuart Bathgate 918 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.