Hastings tips Edinburgh’s Ben Atiga to flourish

Ben Atiga scored his first points for Edinburgh in the win at Gloucester (SNS/SRU)
Ben Atiga scored his first points for Edinburgh in the win at Gloucester (SNS/SRU)
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Former Edinburgh captain and Grand Slam centre Scott Hastings is hoping supporters will now see the best of Ben Atiga after the Kiwi’s match-winning contribution at the weekend.

Atiga, who won the 2003 Under-21 world player of the year and was capped by the All Blacks in the same year, has taken time to settle in Hastings’ old position amidst a welter of injury problems since arriving at the beginning of last season.

In 21 starts and three appearances from off the bench, Atiga had failed to register a single point for Edinburgh.

However, all that changed in glorious fashion at Kingsholm on Sunday as he scored the only try of the game in a 16-10 win over Gloucester that kept alive Edinburgh’s slim hopes of Heineken Cup progression.

The maximum points Edinburgh can now garner are 18 and since the bonus system was introduced in 2003-04, only twice has a team progressed with such a limited amount.

But where there is life there is hope that Perpignan (home) and Munster (away) can be routed and, at the very least, Edinburgh can start to develop momentum returning to the RaboDirect PRO12, where it is possible the final league placing could count towards European qualification next year.

Hastings, who led Edinburgh into their first-ever European campaign back in 1996, was at Sunday’s match at Gloucester in his capacity as a television commentator for Sky Sports. He said: “That’s the first time I have seen Ben Atiga really play and undoubtedly he has needed a run of games. Hopefully now Edinburgh can go on a good run because what they need is consistency.”

Even when Edinburgh surrendered an early lead they had taken thanks to a couple of penalties from Jack Cuthbert, they had the ability to re-assert themselves quickly.

“It was very gutsy and great to see coming off the back of some disappointing form in the Heineken Cup,” said Hastings.

“In the previous weekend’s match against the same opposition at Murrayfield there were 16 turnovers and 19 penalties conceded by Edinburgh.

“That obviously couldn’t be allowed to continue, but the spirit was definitely there as Atiga showed when he battled over for his try.”

Cuthbert converted and notched three penalties as his first points for Edinburgh came on his ninth start with three appearances from off the bench, but it was only shortly before kick off he learned he’d be in the firing line as a goal-kicker.

Previously in the absence of Greig Laidlaw, that job had gone to Harry Leonard, but a late fitness test saw the stand-off pull out and resulted in a reshuffle.

Cuthbert reverted to full-back, with Tom Brown coming in for a first run of the season on the wing. That left Scotland cap Greig Tonks to settle in back at the stand-off role he had previously occupied for Northampton.

“Tonks had obviously played stand off before and he did well enough to think that a door might have opened for him,” said Hastings, aware that neither Ruaridh Jackson or Duncan Weir has really made the position his own since it was decided to keep Laidlaw at scrum half.

With Leonard joining fellow stand-offs Gregor Hunter and Piers Francis on the injured list, it is not inconceivable Laidlaw could yet be seen in the No. 10 jersey, especially as Edinburgh face a hectic schedule of four games in 16 days over the festive period.

Edinburgh return to action on Friday when they host Leinster in the league, a match which could see them enter the top half of the table for the first time since Alan Solomons took over as coach.

Hastings added: “Edinburgh are now out of a losing habit in Europe, so being able to put away Gloucester could act as a catalyst for them to start climbing the league table.”

Meanwhile, Edinburgh will tomorrow learn the dates and kick off times for their two remaining pool matches.

First up will be Perpignan on the weekend of January 10-12, with fans keen to learn when they can make travel plans for the trip to Munster the following week.