JACO VAN DER WALT should be able to return to action next weekend, according to Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill. The stand-off will sit out his team’s game against Benetton tomorrow because of swelling on his Achilles, but if Cockerill’s prognosis is correct he should be fit to play for Scotland against Ireland on Sunday 14th.
With Adam Hastings suspended from that Six Nations Championship match as well as the game against Italy six days later, Van der Walt is expected to be selected as back-up stand-off to Finn Russell, as he was for the opening Six Nations matches against England and Wales when Hastings was still making his way back from injury.
Duncan Weir is likely to miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, but Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has other options available to him – Harlequins centre James Lang, for example, has recent experience of playing at 10 – but he will still be hoping that the Edinburgh coach’s prognosis is accurate.
“Probably just this week,” Cockerill answered yesterday when asked how long Van der Walt would be out for. “He got a stud on his ankle and had some swelling around his Achilles tendon.
“It has just not gone away. We thought it would, but it hasn’t and he’s just not fit to play. He will be available for somebody next weekend if selected.”
In Cockerill’s ideal world, Van der Walt would be available to play for Edinburgh against Connacht next Saturday, but it is more likely that Nathan Chamberlain will get another run at 10, as he is doing in tomorrow’s PRO14 match at Murrayfield. The Scotland Under-20 international is partnered at half-back by scrum-half Charlie Shiel, while Henry Pyrgos provides back-up at 9 and Nic Groom drops out of the 23 after starting last week against Scarlets.
Given Wasps scrum-half Ben Vellacott has signed for next season, one of those other 9s is set to leave Edinburgh in the summer, as Cockerill explained. “We’ve got to balance the finances, and one of our senior nines will move on. We’ve brought in a young, Scottish-qualified nine who has got a lot about his game, and the mixture of him with the others that we have will be very good for us.”
The 25-27 defeat by the Scarlets all but officially ended Edinburgh’s hopes of a top-three finish in PRO14 Conference B and the automatic Champions Cup place that goes with it. But, as nothing is yet set in stone when it comes to European competition next season, and as fourth place has been good enough in seasons past, Cockerill remains hopeful of getting into the premier tournament one way or another.
“We still want to qualify for Europe. No-one can definitively tell me how you do that yet – top three guaranteed, top four could be guaranteed. I’m not sure. We’ve got to keep playing and trying to pick up points. Then when we get to the Rainbow Cup we’ll use that to blood some other guys.”