Cornell du Preez has Scotland in back of mind

Cornell du Preez wants to put right last week's defeat by London Irish. Pic: SNS
Cornell du Preez wants to put right last week's defeat by London Irish. Pic: SNS
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Edinburgh forward Cornell du Preez admits that playing for Scotland is something that is on his mind as his qualification on residency grounds looms.

The South Africa-born 24-year-old arrived in the Capital in October 2013 and will be eligible to wear the dark blue in less than a year’s time, following in the footsteps of the likes of Tim Visser, Josh Strauss and WP Nel.

The three-year residency rule has been controversial in some quarters but has undoubtedly benefited Scotland and powerful back-rower Du Preez, who Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons brought from Southern Kings two years ago, is the next major so-called “project player” to become available ahead of next year’s autumn Tests.

“It is something in the long run that is at the back of my mind,” said Du Preez as he looked ahead to Friday’s European Challenge Cup clash with London Irish at BT Murrayfield.

When he arrived in Scotland he admitted that the lure of Test rugby for his now adopted country had been part of the attraction in coming, but there is a lot of rugby to negotiate between now and then and he added: “My priority is with Edinburgh. That is the only thing I am thinking about, getting to the end of the season and doing well.”

Du Preez, who has been an ever present this season after missing much of last term with a broken ankle, is one of a number of players who could end up representing Scotland on residency either through chance or design. Edinburgh’s second row Anton Bresler and stand-off Phil Burleigh would qualify in 2017.

The 24-year-old Du Preez has featured in all of Edinburgh’s Guinness PRO12 and European Challenge Cup matches this season and, while Solomons has looked to manage his squad through a punishing schedule, he has had no qualms about turning to his back-row workhorse time and time again.

After missing a large chunk of last season with a broken ankle, the Port Elizabeth-born Du Preez, who qualifies for Scotland on the three-year residency rule next October, is relishing a prolonged run of action.

“It is better to just keep on playing and getting momentum going rather than not playing,” said the former Southern Kings player. “I came back and played around five games at the end of last season. I have been lucky during my career and that was my first big injury.

“I am getting good rest during the week and not involved in too many contact sessions. We had a big group of loose forwards at the beginning of the season but with Dents [David Denton] leaving [to join Bath] and Nasi [Manu] being injured these are crucial parts of the back row. I just have to bite the bullet.”

It was rockets rather than bullets flying in the Edinburgh players’ direction following their limp six-tries-to-nil 38-6 surrender at London Irish last Saturday.

Solomons fielded a young, experimental side at the Madejski Stadium but was still left fuming by a performance which brutally exposed a lack of strength in depth the South African coach had hoped was beginning to take shape.

Du Preez admits it was a chastening day at the office and said: “It was a combination of things, a lack of experience. There were a lot of new guys, we had something like 11 changes going into the game. I just think we were not at the races, we were not up for the game as we were against Ulster the previous week.

“We definitely want to put that right this week, it is a massive game, a massive opportunity. It is a big focus this week.

“We had a big talk at half time [when Edinburgh trailed 26-6], which was pretty gruesome to be honest.

“It just made us realise again how fortunate we are to have this opportunity and we have to make the best of every opportunity we get and should not take anything for granted this week; we have to put it right.”

Du Preez returned from his injury last season to play in both the semi-final and final of Europe’s second-tier competition last season, with his incredible tap-tackle on Gloucester flier Jonny May one of the highlights of the showpiece at Twickenham Stoop.

He is under no illusions that, if Edinburgh are to make the knock-out stage this season, Friday’s return encounter with the Exiles is crucial. A win for the Pool 5 leaders, combined with the same for second-placed Grenoble at home to makeweights Agen, would leave the Scots cut adrift in third place.

He said: “It is definitely a must-win if we are go to forward and get qualification into Europe.”