Ben Atiga is looking forward to once more crossing paths with Brian O’Driscoll tomorrow, although unlike on the previous occasion, Edinburgh Rugby’s All Black doesn’t expect HRH Prince William to be part of the encounter.
Rival centres Atiga and O’Driscoll go head to head for Edinburgh and Leinster respectively in the RaboDirect PRO12 League at Murrayfield. They last got together after Auckland had faced the British and Irish Lions, who were captained by the Irishman on their 2005 tour of his native New Zealand.
“O’Driscoll wasn’t actually playing that day, but because he is someone I have always rated highly and followed throughout his career, I was keen to have a chat with him afterwards at a function,” said Atiga.
“We were talking when Prince William joined in and I was like a kid in a chocolate factory for that moment. His Royal Highness was travelling around New Zealand during the tour and asked us how we enjoyed the game.
“Auckland lost by four points and it came down to a ‘try’ disallowed by the video ref. William told us we were unlucky.”
The setting will very different tomorrow with Atiga playing to extend a stay with Edinburgh, while O’Driscoll is taking a step back on to the ladder after injury.
“At the end of this month my contract will have to be renegotiated,” said Atiga, whose first six months at Edinburgh have been bedevilled by hip and knee injuries, the latter requiring surgery on a cartilage problem.
“It’s a new year and a new start for me as well as the team. All things being equal I want to be here for Edinburgh long enough to repay the faith of the SRU and the coaches.
“I think Edinburgh are a great club with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of people who want to make this work.
“The next few games are going to be important starting against Leinster, but so too are the next five months.”
Amidst signs that Edinburgh are embracing a more settled line-up to try to end a run of four defeats, Atiga will make only his sixth start and the first alongside Matt Scott at centre since the October clash with Treviso.
Although he started against Racing Metro last month, it was his emergence as a sub for the final part of Saturday’s clash with Glasgow, coinciding with a strong finish by the hosts, which hinted that the worst of times may be behind him and the aim is to help Edinburgh get back on track.
“Soon after an encouraging pre-season programme I found myself carrying a niggle on each leg and I knew I wasn’t helping my cause,” said Atiga. “I’m still getting used to the workload, but with every game I move nearer to 100 per cent.
“Even watching rugby fires me up to want to come back and make a difference. That is what I have been asked to do, bring everything to the table and leave nothing out there.
“That’s what I intend to do and I am so thankful that everything is now coming right.
“Despite being sidelined I have realised how young this Edinburgh team is in terms of rugby. These guys are learning new things the same as myself every day. I know it is definitely going to click.
“It is just a matter of time. It’s a patience game.”
Edinburgh have restricted themselves to four changes of personnel overall, with back rows Dimitri Basilaia and Stuart McInally, prop Willem Nel and Atiga returning, while it is a stronger Leinster team in view of their crucial home match against Scarlets next week in defence of their Heineken Cup title.