Edinburgh’s backroom department have been busy in recent weeks with Richard Cockerill wasting no time plugging gaps in the areas he must feel lack depth and also in putting his own stamp on the Edinburgh squad for next season. Whilst Glasgow fans may moan that this is Finn Russell’s contract fee going up in smoke as he legs it to France with a fat wallet, I’m not sure that’s how it works with the funding. Edinburgh are also historically funded less than Glasgow and are probably due a shot in the arm.
In recent weeks he has signed up player of the autumn Stuart McInally and lineout wizard Ben Toolis to contract extensions, and last week the capital side announced John Barclay as a marquee signing for next season. While this may mean another openside John Hardie’s days are numbered at the capital club – the silence over his disciplinary issue remains deafening – I would imagine that particular recruitment news would have delighted fans of the Black and Red.
Scottish-qualified prop Elliot Millar-Mills has also been recruited to provide tighthead cover from Yorkshire Carnegie. He has a sister who has played rugby for Scotland and another for England – sure to be lively round the dinner table at Christmas. He’ll be at Edinburgh for the rest of the season and was also with the squad last weekend in South Africa. Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist and Jamie Ritchie have today arrived as reinforcements for the second game of the tour against the Southern Kings this weekend.
It is fair to say that the big signing drive has been for playmakers, with three announced in the last two weeks.
23-year-old former Lions flyhalf Jaco van der Walt (23) joined in sufficient time to do the 3 year project thing and also to head back to his homeland last weekend for the 33-13 loss against the Cheetahs where he replaced Jason Tovey for the second half.
Castleford Tigers U19 stand-off Callum McLelland has come across from League via the new Scottish Qualified programme and some monitoring by our most successful convert Alan Tait. The former England U16 captain’s long term ambition as stated on the Castleford website was to be playing rugby (league) in Australia – but that may change if he can find a foothold under Richard Cockerill in the Edinburgh development system. I’d need someone more versed in the other code to tell me if all standoffs are created equal, but he did play union until the age of 13 so it won’t be wholly unfamiliar.
Joining next season from France is former Auckland Blues, NZ U20 and Bordeaux-Begles standoff Simon Hickey. He has made 16 Super Rugby appearances and 28 Top 14 appearances but is still only 23. He’s got a decent pedigree via King’s College, Auckland but no mention has been made as to whether he is Scottish qualified as he won’t be here in time to do the Project thing, at least not within 3 years. Looking at it from a purely Edinburgh point of view, of the three he’s a signing a cut above Nick McLennan (now with Scotland 7s), Hagen Schulte (now playing in Germany) or even Phil Burleigh (now a Scotsman) of this world in terms of potential.
There is a Duncan Weir shaped elephant (admittedly, not a very big elephant) sitting in the room when discussing the 10 shirt at Edinburgh now that the competition is becoming crowded. Weir has not featured since Edinburgh lost to Zebre in October, although that is largely down to injury. All these new signings could mean that either he or Jason Tovey (the Welshman’s contract expires in May 2018) could be moving on next season.
Or maybe even both.
It would be a shame for Duncan to disappear when Scots 10s are so thin on the ground but with Scotland on the up following a strong autumn, there is no question that Finn Russell and Pete Horne are some distance ahead of him now both in attack and defence. Is our favourite meatball destined to join a fairly lengthy list of workmanlike Scotland standoffs including Dan Parks, Phil Godman and Gordon Ross who often – but not often enough – punched above their weight?