NIKO MATAWALU being Niko Matawalu, he couldn’t resist throwing a bit of mischief into proceedings when he met the press yesterday to discuss his decision to sign a one-year contract extension which will keep him at Glasgow Warriors until at least May 2019.
“It [Glasgow] is a lovely town, a beautiful town. I think it’s a more beautiful town than Edinburgh,” he grinned, whilst simultaneously directing a cheeky jibe east-ward ahead of his club’s up-coming 1872 Cup double-header against the professional team from Scotland’s capital city – which kicks off this Saturday evening at BT Murayfield and carries on at Scotstoun seven days later.
In a change to previous seasons, the Cup will be played over a ‘best-of-three’ format this year, with the final leg scheduled for the last weekend of the regular season at the end of April.
Matawalu has the potential to be a key man in all three matches, as a proven game-breaker in a match which has traditionally been too tight to call.
He has scored 28 tries in 84 appearances during two spells at the club (interrupted by two largely frustrating seasons between 2015 and 2017 playing for Bath then Exeter Chiefs in the English Aviva Premiership), and is a firm fans favourite as a result of his audacious – attack first and ask questions later – approach to the game.
“I’m really honoured to sign for Glasgow again. When I re-signed [earlier this season] it was optional that I might go somewhere else at the end of the year, but I really enjoy being here and the kind of game the coach likes to play,” said the 28-year-old, who first arrived in Glasgow from Fiji in the summer of 2012.
“This club is like my family. It was my first professional club when I came from Fiji. It was the first country I knew in the UK.”
While his time south of the border did not work out as he hoped it would, Matawalu is not the type of character to dwell on past disappointments.
“I don’t regret it. I never regret. Sometimes you have to try something different. I wanted to try the Premiership. I really liked it, but it is a different kind of league and a more physical style,” he explained.
“I have more freedom to play here. It’s a big difference. The coach knows my abilities to play what’s in front of me, but I have to stay disciplined.”
He has been deployed primarily on the wing since his return at the start of the season, but he first came to prominence as a scrum-half and still considers that to be his primary position.
However, with Ali Price in excellent form at scrum-half at the moment, George Horne biting at his heals as the club’s player-of-the-month for November, and Henry Pyrgos also there to provide experience and a steady-hand when required, the Fijian buzz-bomb is likely to carry on getting most of his game time on the wing for the foreseeable future.
“That was the first thing I talked about with Dave. He said he was signing me as a scrum-half, but I needed to get my fitness back. I have that now and he has said that he wants to play me on the wing. I don’t mind. Give me 13, 15 or even hooker, I’ll play,” he said.
“We will wait for the right time [to play scrum-half]. If you are given any opportunity you shouldn’t waste it.”
Meanwhile, the Warriors are expecting to have back-rows Callum Gibbons [hamstring] and Rob Harley [knee] back in the selection mix for Saturday night’s match, and are also hopeful that captain Ryan Wilson will recovered from the ankle injury he picked up during Saturday’s defeat in Montpellier in time to face Edinbugh.
“He [Wilson] didn’t train today, he’s under medical supervision so we’ll see how he gets on and if he can train tomorrow. He’s definitely still in contention for Saturday, but we’ll find out more tomorrow,” esplained assistant coach Kenny Murray.
Prop Oli Kebble, a summer recruit from the Stormers in South Africa who only managed two appearances before hurting his foot in early September, is also in with a shout. He was supposed to play for Marr against Watsonians in the BT Premiership last weekend before that game was postponed due to a frozen pitch.
Huw Jones was given the Montpellier game off to rest a persistent wrist problem but is expected to return to the centre this week.