Edinburgh Rugby head coach Richard Cockerill has hailed the recent impact of Viliame Mata, stating that the Fijian No.8 has been “outstanding”.
The 26-year-old won an Olympic sevens gold medal with his country in the summer of 2016 and joined Edinburgh a few months later, but never really showed what he was capable of last term.
He did not appear in the black and red this season until late October away to Krasny Yar but, ahead of the return match against the Russians at Myreside on Friday evening in the European Rugby Challenge Cup, Mata he has been in fine form.
As a result the man known as ‘Bill’ is pushing Cornell du Preez and Magnus Bradbury hard for the starting No.8 jersey against Glasgow Warriors in the two festive fixtures on December 23 and 30.
“I think Bill has been outstanding. He’s probably been our standout player in the last few weeks,” Cockerill said.
“He is very physical with ball in hand, a very good lineout forward – and in those wide channels he’s world class.
“So I’m very happy to have him.”
Meanwhile, Scotland cap Mark Bennett’s hopes of making a long-awaited Edinburgh Rugby debut this week have been dashed.
It was thought that he was closing in on a return to action after nine months out, but he has hit a snag in his recovery in recent days.
Bennett, 24, joined Edinburgh from the Warriors in the summer and, at that, stage was already a few months into a rehab programme following ACL reconstruction.
Cockerill said last week he hoped to use him in this week’s European clash as they go for their fourth win in four pool games.
However, things have changed in the last seven days and the centre will not be risked.
As a result, Bennett may be a doubt for the first Guinness PRO14 match against the Warriors in ten days time, Cockerill hinting that throwing him into a match of that magnitude first up may just be too much.
“Mark won’t be quite right for this weekend so we will have to take a rain-check on that return,” Cockerill said.
“There is no setback. He is just a tiny bit behind in one of the things [fitness indicators] he needs to reach. He is not ready to be signed off to play, but has done 95 per cent of what he has to do [to get back].
“He may well be available for the Glasgow games, but having not played for a year we will see.”