THERE was speculation that Jaco van der Walt might follow his countryman Duhan van der Merwe in heading south to the English Premiership at the first opportunity after completing his three-year residency requirement and picking up his first Scotland cap in the Autumn – but the stand-off says that he and his wife are so settled and happy in Edinburgh that they weren’t really interested in looking to move elsewhere.
Van der Walt yesterday became the fifth Scotland international to commit to the club in the last fortnight – following the re-signings of Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie and Blair Kinghorn, and the recruitment of James Lang from Harlequins – as head coach Richard Cockerill pulls out the stops to make good on his vow to ensure that Edinburgh continue on an upward trajectory despite the financial challenges posed by Covid.
In truth, van der Walt was never going to command the same sort of ‘marquee player’ salary which lured van der Merwe to Worcester Warriors, and Edinburgh’s direct and robust style of play under Cockerill is perfectly suited to his limited skillset, so it always seemed that he would look for a contract extension at the club he first joined back in November 2017 ahead of his existing deal running out this summer.
Current Scottish Rugby policy is to not share the length of player contracts with the press and fans, so we don’t know how long this new deal is for, but van der Walt made it clear that he doesn’t plan to move on any time soon.
“I have fallen in love with this city,” he said. “My wife and I have made it our home and we’re delighted to have committed to spending our future together in Edinburgh.
“It’s been absolutely brilliant, and my family and the club have played a huge role in supporting my wife and I and encouraging us to chase our dreams.
“Playing here has definitely tested my game. I’ve really had to develop my skills. I still have a lot more to learn about the game and I’m excited to grow and develop those skills with Edinburgh.
“The club is in a good place and we’re building a really strong side. It’s important we continue playing the game we know, stay positive and work hard.”
It wouldn’t be an Edinburgh signing announcement if we didn’t get some gushing words about the new home ground which has been built on the back pitches at Murrayfield and van der Walt didn’t disappoint.
“For Edinburgh Rugby to have its own home ground is so important and hugely exciting for all of us – players and supporters,” he beamed. “It gives us an identity and to have the fans come back to watch our games in our own home ground will be great. As a team, we can’t wait to have our supporters back in the stands when it’s safe to do so. We feed off their energy and can’t wait to welcome them back.”
Edinburgh and Scottish Rugby has been good for van der Walt. He is a gritty competitor and solid goal-kicker – picking up the PRO14 Golden Boot Award at the end of his second season at the club with a kicking accuracy of 86.84% – but lacks the vision and timing of a top rank playmaker. He has found a club where the coach appreciates his virtues and doesn’t place too high a premium on the areas where he is limited.
“Jaco has been a very consistent performer since joining the club in 2017. We’re delighted he’s staying here in Edinburgh,” said Cockerill.
“His attacking attributes, kicking ability, bravery in defence and overall knowledge of the game are pivotal to the way we play and he’s been a top-class operator in the number 10 jersey for the last three years.
“We were thrilled to see him make his Scotland debut at the tail end of last year. Jaco has worked incredibly hard on his game and showed he was capable of making that step up to international rugby. It meant a great deal to him and we were all really proud of his achievement.
“Jaco is a good man who takes great pride in representing Edinburgh and Scotland. It’s a huge boost to have him extend his stay here.”
Van der Walt was one of 11 Edinburgh players named on Wednesday in Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations training squad, which will congregate at Oriam on Sunday night to start preparation for the England game on 6th February. But before that, he and his team-mates have a trip to Italy to get through, with Edinburgh playing a re-arranged PRO14 fixture against Zebre at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma at 1pm on Saturday afternoon.