New Edinburgh Rugby signing Ollie Atkins believes the rapid progress of fellow Super-15 player Sean Maitland to Test honours out of Glasgow Warriors has got individuals throughout the Southern Hemisphere checking their ancestry for Scottish roots.
Atkins, a 24-year-old second row whose identity as an Edinburgh target was revealed exclusively by the Edinburgh Evening News on Tuesday and who qualifies for Scotland through a father from Dunbar, arrives from the Sydney-based Waratahs at a time when expectation levels have been raised through the exploits of Maitland.
Last year Maitland pitched up and within months was a Scotland winger, going on to be selected for the Lions.
Said Atkins: “First and foremost Sean is a fantastic footballer who made his own case for higher honours. But he has done so well since coming over that, definitely, a few people are looking at their ancestry around the clubs back home.”
One of those who has already checked in is scrum half Grayson Hart. And with Hart being unable to attend a scheduled media call due to completing what was made clear were medical formalities, it was left to his Waratahs colleague to describe the abilities about to be displayed to long suffering Edinburgh fans.
“Grayson is very good defensively. I’ve played with him a few times and he is a quality footballer. He’s a good sniper (breaking runner) with a good boot on him.”
As for the style that earned himself a start against the Lions this summer, he explained: “I like to get around the park, get sucked into a lot of rucks and do a lot of defensive work.” Both imports – assuming Hart hasn’t suffered the same fate as poor Alex Allan whose non-appearance at the announcement of his rugby scholarship last Spring was initially played down by the SRU before it emerged he had a broken leg! – will have to adjust to competing all year round rugby since they come off the back of the Southern Hemisphere season.
Atkins is undeterred, however. “Pre-season training is extremely important but I love just to play rugby,” he said. “I played last Saturday and was on the plane on Tuesday. I can’t wait to get stuck in.
“You manage your workload and I was fortunate that at the Sydney University club they have very good medical, fitness and conditioning [facilities].”
If Atkins – inevitably – was inclined to be modest about any international aspirations other than to confirm he had been approached by national coach/director of rugby Scott Johnson over the summer there was an effusive response to the mention of the Heineken European Cup.
“The Heineken Cup is huge with some of the best players in the world in one competition. It’s such a high standard and the opportunity to play in something like that would be dream come true.”
And Atkins went even further, insisting: “They should push for a match between the Super-15 champions and the Heineken Cup winners. Imagine a game between the (Waikato) Chiefs and Toulon . . . or hopefully, yes, Edinburgh!”
Atkins revealed that during a gap year teaching at Edinburgh Academy and turning out for Accies 2nds as a teenager he attended the 2007 internationals at Murrayfield.
“I’ve been to a fair few games and got to know why everybody back home respects Edinburgh as a rugby city that has produced a lot of good players while Scotland have made Murrayfield a bit of a fortress.
“I can’t wait to start turning out for Edinburgh under floodlights at the stadium.” Edinburgh chief executive David Davies, sitting alongside, said: “These signings are a statement of intent going forward. Signing players who are available for Scotland widens our player base. There will probably be other players of a similar ilk looking at coming in the next month.
“We need to identify what Edinburgh’s unique selling point is. Look at clubs like Leicester and you know you are going to get good strong forwards. One of the challenges for the coaches is to come to terms with whatever our unique selling point is going to be then, in 12 months, I can say the basket case (a phrase used by SRU boss Mark Dodson to describe recent Edinburgh teams) is clearly set in a direction.”