Edinburgh’s determination to continue the progress made on the park during Richard Cockerill’s first three seasons at the club was underlined yesterday morning with news that international flanker Jamie Ritchie had re-committed to the club on a multi-season deal.
Hot on the heels of Hamish Watson’s re-signing last week, plus James Lang and Glen Young’s recruitment from Harlequins on Tuesday, this latest piece of business is arguably the most emphatic demonstration yet that Cockerill is not going to allow his team to be dismantled by the financial squeeze facing Scottish rugby due to the Covid pandemic.
The anxiety stirred up by the departures earlier this month of winger Duhan van der Merwe to Worcester Warriors, second-row Andrew Davidson to Gloucester and loose-head prop Jamie Bhatti to Bath has not yet completely dissipated, but the outlook is certainly brighter now than it was a fortnight ago.
Ritchie was identified as a player with a big future in his mid-teens. The 24-year-old joined Edinburgh straight from school seven years ago and made his club debut in a 33-8 defeat to Leinster in October 2014. He played three years for the Scotland Under-20s team between 2014 and 2016, before picking up his first senior cap in the summer 2018.
During the last two and a half years, he has established himself as one the top breakaways in the European game, and if – it is a very big if – this summer’s Lions tour to South Africa goes ahead as scheduled, he will be among the leading Scottish contenders for a seat on the plane.
“There’s no two ways about it, this really is fantastic news for the club,” said Cockerill. “Jamie and Hamish are two of best back-row forwards in the game right now.
“The back-row and their role at the breakdown is so vital in today’s game. Dominance, and at the very least parity, is so often a decisive factor in the outcome of the game, while Jamie’s height and athleticism means he’s also an excellent lineout option.”
“Jamie is an excellent young player with an old head on his shoulders. He has a really bright future ahead of him and we’re delighted he’s signed such a long-term deal.
“His work-rate is immense but it’s the quality of work within that which sets him apart. He’s a fantastic leader on the park and certainly has, in my opinion, the capacity to captain his country in the future.”
The press release announcing Ritchie’s recapture boasted that it was a “record deal” as “the longest contract in the club’s history”. Unfortunately, Scottish Rugby’s desire that stakeholders – clubs and fans – should be given as little information as possible about the running of the business meant that we were not told what exactly that means, but we can safely assume that he is signed up until at least the summer of 2025.
“I’m really chuffed to be staying at Edinburgh,” said the player. “It means a lot to me and my family to know we’ll be here for the foreseeable future.
“I have been at this club since I was 17 and these guys have been like my family since I left school. We have a strong group here and I think we can continue to improve.
“Edinburgh is a great club in a great city with an amazing bunch of boys who work extremely hard. I’m proud of what I have achieved so far in my time at the club and I feel there is so much more to come.
“I want to continue to help improve this club. I think we have made strides in the last few seasons and there’s still lots we can do to get better, on and off the field.
“With the leadership group we have here at the club I believe we can build something special and win silverware.
“We also have brilliant fans who I can’t wait to have back watching us, when we can. This is a big part of the reason why I feel Edinburgh is the place for me to continue my career.
Winger Darcy Graham, full-back Blair Kinghorn and No8 Viliam Mata are among the other leading Edinburgh players who will finish their current contracts in the summer, and have not yet announced their plans for next season.