Edinburgh Rugby’s Ben Atiga is revitalised

Ben Atiga breaking through the Treviso defence. Picture: SNS
Ben Atiga breaking through the Treviso defence. Picture: SNS
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Ben Atiga will make his first home start for Edinburgh Rugby since considering quitting during the summer, against Scarlets, in the Rabo Direct Pro 12 League tonight.

The 30-year-old former All Black’s first season in the Capital was marred by injury and, frustrated by the sidelining, returned to Auckland with his wife and daughter over the summer to consider his future.

Centre Atiga, voted IRB junior player of the year in 2003, today revealed: “I probably had to get away from Edinburgh for a spell to realise home much I loved the place and fortunately my family felt the same way because things aren’t going to work if home life isn’t right.

“Last season ended with us being homesick because I hadn’t been able to contribute what I wanted through injuries, while my wife and child found it hard to settle.

“Could I still do it? That was the question I was asking myself. Within days of returning to New Zealand I realised I was an old school player who wants to do what it says on the contract.

“For me, that meant thanking Edinburgh for giving me an opportunity.”

That was a reference to how Atiga, partly through his meteoric rise to All Black status at the 2003 World Cup, felt he needed a break and planned to start a business.

He adds: “What got me back was a charity match in aid of victims of a tsunami that hit Samoa in 2009.

“Playing alongside the likes of (ex All Blacks) Frank Bunce, Joe Stanley, Craig Innes, Jeff Wilson and Christian Cullen, my idols, made me realise how lucky a sportsman is doing what we do.

“The charity match was a curtain raiser to one involving my old Auckland team and that helped get me back, too, just mixing in that company again.

“The situation with Edinburgh last season was one of frustration but I sat down with Alan Solomons (the new coach) and started planning one game at a time because the opening fixture away to Munster saw me suffer a slight hamstring tear.

“In fact, every game I now play I try to perform as if it is my last match. That’s how determined I am to contribute.”

Solomons sees a fit Atiga as a major asset, remarking: “It will be fantastic to have Ben firing on all cylinders. He has had injury problems and we have given him the appropriate rest and are looking to manage him.

“He has looked good in training and will add huge value to the team because he is very, very experienced and so is (fellow centre) Nick de Luca.

“It will help Harry (Leonard) having Ben and Nick alongside.”

For Atiga there is no need to look far for inspiration even if his countrymen did lose out on the Americas Cup sailing trophy to the USA this week.

“I followed the races and couldn’t have felt prouder to be a New Zealander given the effort our team put in even when beaten in the deciding race.

“When you go halfway across the world then sometimes that makes you feel prouder.

“When I watched the Americas Cup I saw how great sports people we do have in New Zealand.

“Having seen the characteristics of the New Zealand sportsman I take motivation from that to bring to the Edinburgh Rugby cause starting against a Scarlets side who have a lot of strength in midfield.”

In fact, Scarlets will be captained by returning Lions centre Jonathan Davies, while coach Simon Easterby is warning his side to be on guard against opponents with one win from three so far.

“We are expecting Edinburgh to be very competitive. They have key individuals that we’ll have to manage and will be well-organised under an experienced coach in Alan Solomons.

“They have players up front that give them good go forward as well as the threats on the wing. It’ll be about imposing our game plan and stopping them from getting going.

“It’s a nice wide pitch at Murrayfield, so hopefully that will allow us to play with a bit of width. The players are familiar with the ground and we know after last season that we can get a good result there.”