Pierre Schoeman relishing Edinburgh v Montpellier's South African sub-plot
It may ostensibly be a Scotland v France clash when Edinburgh lock horns with Montpellier on Friday night for what is all set to be a humdinger at BT Murrayfield, but foreign legionnaires on both sides will have a big say on who comes out on top of Heineken Champions Cup Pool 5.
English coach Richard Cockerill is preparing his team for the biggest test since he took the reins against a Kiwi in Vern Cotter who attained honorary Scotsman status during his time here in charge of the national team in a match which will see the South African accent one of the most prominent on the field.
Edinburgh have their contingent, who have either become adopted Scotland internationalists or aspire to be so, while the cashed-up French side boast a number of bona fide Springboks.
One on the home side is Pierre Schoeman, the loosehead who has quickly attained cult status with the Edinburgh faithful, and is well aware that the land of his birth will provide a strong flavour to Friday night’s proceedings.
“I think the guys who have been in the Scottish side are going to prepare the same as though they are playing the Springboks,” said Schoeman with a chuckle.
Cockerill’s settled big-game starting XV over the successful last couple of months has included stand-off Jaco van der Walt, wing Duhan van der Merwe, tighthead titan WP Nel and Schoeman, who has been getting the nod over fellow South Africa-born prop Allan Dell, whose departure for London Irish next season was confirmed on Monday.
Montpellier have a raft of well-known Boks, including the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, Ruan Pienaar, Johan Goosen, Jan Serfontein and Francois Steyn, while Edinburgh have mined the Republic for talent for many years now, particularly under the stewardship of their South African former coach Alan Solomons.
So much so that Schoeman said it wasn’t a case that he was going to be teaching his team-mates any Afrikaans ahead of Friday.
“No, they teach us,” he said with a smile. “They know more Afrikaans words than us!”
Schoeman, 24, has stated that he hopes to represent Scotland once he has served his five-year residency, so it was worth asking if he has been learning any Scots words in return.
“Aye,” was his one-word response, again accompanied by that beaming smile which has seen him become such a popular arrival since he signed from Pretoria-based Blue Bulls last summer.
Montpellier’s South African contingent has certainly sparked some conversations in the Edinburgh dressing room this week, with his own personal focus on those Du Plessis brothers, 36-year-old prop Jannie, who won 70 Bok caps between 2007-2015 and 34-year-old hooker Bismarck, whose tally was 79 over the same period.
“Yes, I was talking to WP about maybe if Jannie is going to play or not, because I think he is at that stage where he selects which games he wants to play,” said Schoeman.
“Bismarck – they call him ‘Sheep’ because his face looks like a sheep but he is as big as a bear – could be back this week. And there is Paul Willemse, who is in the squad for the Six Nations with France who is a very good player.
“Fran Steyn, Goosen, Serfontein, they all have a lot of experience with the Springboks. It is going to be a good game, I’m looking forward to it, especially the set-piece. We will have a nice full day of it [scrum practise] with Coach Cockers.”
Schoeman knows Mike Willemse, the Southern Kings hooker, who was revealed this week to be in talks about a move to Edinburgh next season.
“He was with the Stormers when I played him in a couple of Currie Cup and Super Rugby games, then he went to the Kings,” said the loosehead. “He’s a very good player, very hard and I must say his lineout throwing his quite good. A good guy all round. I played against him three or four seasons when he was still with the Stormers, he played with Oli Kebble and Huw Jones who are at Glasgow now. They were at the Stormers at that time. He has been through a few clubs already.
“He hasn’t asked me at all [about moving to Edinburgh]. We do chat now and again. We are going to South Africa in two weeks and can maybe catch up with some of the boys there [at Kings].”