Rugby: New chapter for Edinburgh star Lewis Niven

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It was such a short cameo appearance that few newspapers or media outlets even bothered to record it.

But statistics show that in Edinburgh’s 20-19 victory at London Irish to launch a potentially historic Heineken European Cup campaign this season Lewis Niven came off the bench for a couple of minutes as a blood substitute while international prop forward Geoff Cross received treatment.

So, Niven has played a part in the current successful run and if Edinburgh win the return fixture with the Exiles on Sunday and qualify for the knock-out stages of the continent’s blue riband club event he can take encouragement from being part of something special with the prospect of even more exciting times ahead.

“It was only a short involvement at the Madejeski Stadium but an experience and something that was great to be part of,” admits a player who is quintessentially Edinburgh with spells at Leith Accies, Trinity Accies, Boroughmuir and finally Edinburgh Accies on the way through the age-group ranks to prove it.

He adds that having contributed to the buzz currently engulfing Edinburgh – he also started last season’s Euro clash with Cardiff and came off the bench at Northampton – that can act as a stimulus for more especially having just become one of three prop forwards awarded new contracts.

Higher up the propping scale Geoff Cross will be looking to add to his international cap total out of Edinburgh for the next two years, while for 19-year-old Robin Hislop, it is a first real step up the professional ladder.

“For [coach] Michael Bradley to offer me the chance to stay at Edinburgh is brilliant,” says Niven, adding: “At the start of this season I was keen to stay at Edinburgh and my agent put that message out.

“Michael Bradley has a plan for the club and for me to be part of his plans fro the next two years at least is fantastic.

“Geoff is pushing ahead in my position at the moment but I just need to keep training and my role just now is to be ready for whenever I’m required. If you are not involved you do your best to help out the guys in training in any way you can. Even being on the sidelines is a fantastic feeling at Edinburgh just now.

“It’s particularly satisfying to be extending my contract at a club I grew up supporting.”

News of Niven’s progress is destined to spread across the globe to New Zealand, where he spent a summer turning out for Auckland University under the Macphail Scholarship scheme.

“My coach at ‘varsity, Robert Taylor, is someone I keep in touch with. Going to New Zealand was my first taste of playing abroad and it set me up for games like the Heineken Cup including my first start for Edinburgh which was against Cardiff in Europe.

“Last year I played a lot on the loose head side of the front row but I’ve switched over and gradually I’m trying to add more ballast. It’s a steady process because you don’t want to add weight too quickly and lose mobility.”

While competition for front row places may be tough with capped props in Georff Cross, Allan Jacobsen and Kyle Traynor such competition is one of the attractions of putting down roots – along with the fact forwards coach Tom Smith represented the British and Irish Lions in the front row as well as captaining Scotland,” Niven went on.

“My ambition is to get ahead of Geoff and the company I am keeping in training is only going to help me. I’m in the best possible place and while Tom Smith didn’t play tight head prop he is obviously a good man to bounce things off. He knows how loose heads tried to disrupt the opposite scrummager.”

It is more than two years since Niven, now 23, was called on to the Edinburgh bench for the first time at short notice for a Euro tie at home to Bath. He didn’t get on the pitch that day but it was all part of a learning curve and 18 league outings and three Euro appearances later he is ready to move to a new level having already appeared in a Scotland A squad.