Edinburgh have bolstered their front-row options with the signing of Matt Shields from Rotherham following Michele Rizzo’s return to Leicester Tigers.
Born in Carlisle, the 26-year-old tighthead came through the Newcastle Falcons Academy and went on to play two seasons at Nottingham.
Shields, who has represented England Counties, spent the next two seasons with Plymouth Albion and Darlington Mowden Park before securing a deal with Aviva Premiership side Harlequins in February 2015.
The prop signed for Rotherham this May ahead of the current season, but linked up with his new team-mates today. On signing for Edinburgh, Shields said: “I’d like to thank everyone at Rotherham for their support and the opportunities that I’ve been given this season.
“However, I’m delighted to be joining Edinburgh at what is a very exciting time for the club, and I’m very much looking forward to working with Richard Cockerill and the rest of the players and coaches.”
Loosehead Rizzo had been brought in on loan by Cockerill from his former club Leicester as cover for injuries and international call-ups. The initial six-week deal was extended but the Italian has now been recalled to Welford Road following the injury to England prop Ellis Genge.
Meanwhile, wing Duhan van der Merwe is relishing finally getting his Edinburgh career going after a long injury lay-off with a hip injury delayed his debut.
The burly 22-year-old has made it clear that his long-term goal is to earn international recognition from Scotland on residency grounds but at the moment he is focused on nailing down his place with Edinburgh.
The former South Africa Under-20 player, who has signed from Montpellier, is hoping to be involved tomorrow night when London Irish visit Myreside in the European Challenge Cup after making his Edinburgh debut in the land of his birth.
“I loved it [in South Africa]. It was really good and I was lucky to have got my first game,” he said. “It’s been a while, six months. I started training with the team about four weeks ago. It [the hip] still didn’t feel 100 per cent, but Cockers was like ‘well, whenever you’re fit and I think you’re fit I’ll give you an opportunity’, and then I got an opportunity against the Cheetahs. It felt very good.
“It was hard being injured when I’d just come here, because you’re not on the field with the boys and you’re maybe in the gym with four or five other guys. It’s quite tough building relationships with the guys obviously because you’re not on the pitch, so you’re not that involved, but they try getting us on the pitch, watching unit sessions and team sessions, just to be a part of that.”
Van der Merwe is from George in the Western Cape and, despite a mixed start, believes the introduction of the South African sides to the Guinness Pro14 will be a success. The Cheetahs, who beat Edinburgh, have been doing well, but the Southern Kings have struggled badly.
“The Kings have lost a lot of players to be fair, so I quite feel for them,” he said. “They’re not a bad at all. The Cheetahs are doing very good. I just feel it’s quite 50/50.
“When we go there it’s going to be tough for us because they’re going to play running rugby and it’s going to be hard for us to adapt to that. But at the same time, coming here when it’s cold, wet... they don’t train in those conditions so it’s going to be quite hard for them coming over as well.
“I think it’s a very good thing having the two South African teams in. It’s just a bit different because they don’t play the same rugby as any of the other Pro14 teams. I hope they are providing some excitement in South Africa. I spoke to some people there and obviously in the beginning they didn’t have any supporters, but the supporters are coming to watch more games and the boys are quite excited about the Pro14.
“You’re not playing Super Rugby, so most of the boys have left to different clubs to still play Super Rugby, but a lot of players will start moving to the Cheetahs or Kings to maybe get a Pro14 opportunity because it’s a very strong competition.”