THE Edinburgh squad as a whole appear to have enjoyed a new lease of life this season thanks to the more expansive game plan given to them by new head coach Mike Blair. But if there is one player in particular who has thrived, it is surely Jaco van der Walt.
In his four seasons under former coach Richard Cockerill, the South Africa-born stand-off was often viewed as a dependable but limited stand-off, one who could kick for position or at goal but lacked a creative side. More recently, however, Van der Walt has shown there is another side to his game, and that he can be a considerably more versatile player than was widely believed.
“I love running rugby,” the 27-year-old said earlier this week. “It was difficult for me to come over four years ago and change to kicking.
“It’s weird. Even people back in South Africa were quite interested to see me playing a running game. It’s exciting. Every 10 likes to play running rugby. It’s always nice hitting a gap or running through – and hopefully I can score more tries, because I haven’t scored in four years.”
Hasn’t scored a try, that is – he has scored plenty of points with the boot, of course. But he is also now providing more try assists than used to be the case, and laid on two, for Darcy Graham then Ben Vellacott, in last week’s 20-20 draw with the Stormers. He converted both in, chipped in with two penalties, and was named man of the match, although he insisted he had done nothing special to deserve the award.
“It was just luck, to be honest, but it’s good to have a decent game behind me. The most important thing for me now is just to keep that form.”
Keeping that form will surely help Van der Walt’s prospects of a Scotland recall after he was left out of the 36-man squad that will gather for a training camp this weekend, although his first battle is likely to be holding on to the jersey at club level, presuming Edinburgh continue to experiment with Blair Kinghorn as a 10 rather than as a full-back. But, as Kinghorn has been sidelined by injury recently, Van der Walt looks set to continue in the role in tomorrow’s United Rugby Championship match at the DAM Health Stadium against the Bulls. The team for that match will be announced at lunchtime today.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s 19-year-old hooker Patrick Harrison has joined English Premiership side Wasps as short-term injury cover.