Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons believes South Africa’s loss will be Scotland’s gain after Cornell du Preez extended his contract by two years, just months out from becoming eligible on the residency rule.
The back-row forward will qualify for Scotland just before this year’s autumn internationals and Solomons was glowing in his praise for the 24-year-old “project player” yesterday.
“He’s a terrific player. I think he’s a Test match player,” said the coach. “I’ve always felt that from my time when I coached him at the Southern Kings. I was surprised that he elected to leave South Africa as I felt he could have become a Springbok, but he felt he wanted to come across to Scotland.
“He could play at centre, without a doubt. I know early in his career at school he did. His feel for the game, skill level and footballing ability is international class. He is 110kg, so not a small boy, and we’ve seen the way he came back from his ankle injury that he’s tough as nails. He’s got all the attributes.”
Du Preez has been one of Edinburgh’s most consistent and impressive performers this term and has shown great tenacity in returning from a horror ankle break which wrecked last season. After suffering the injury against Lyon in October 2014, he did make it back to be involved in the latter stages of the Guinness Pro12 and run to the European Challenge Cup final and has kicked on as practically an ever present in this campaign.
The Port Elizabeth-born former South Africa Under-20 said: “If I got the opportunity to play for Scotland it would be a big privilege. It is something in the back of my mind but I will keep it there until it arrives.
“Alan had a big influence on me coming here and probably that [playing for Scotland] was a long-term goal. But at the moment I am happy where Edinburgh is going so that is the reason I signed. I am quite comfortable in this environment and enjoying it at the moment. It is a good place to be. Edinburgh is always busy and I enjoy the city.”
Solomons added: “I think his best position is No 8.
“He can play 6, 7 or 8 but his footballing skills are such that he’s ideally suited to the No 8 position.”
That would make him a rival with his old team-mate David Denton, who is now at Bath, and Solomons said: “Well they’re different players and that would be for Vern to make the decisions and he can mix things around as he feels appropriate.
“But at least he’ll have another quality player to consider for selection. I chat from time to time with Vern and you can ask him yourself but there’s no doubt he feels Cornell is a quality player.”
Hooker Neil Cochrane has also re-signed with Edinburgh for another two seasons. The former Scotland under-21 captain returned to his home city two seasons ago from Lodon Wasps, after a nine-year exile south of the border, where he also played for Rotherham, Doncaster and Bedford.
Solomons said: “Neil has made a terrific contribution to the team since returning home from Wasps.
“He is an Edinburgh man through and through and the club means a great deal to him.”
Cochrane is one of 11 changes to the Edinburgh team who will face Cardiff away in the Guinness Pro12 this evening.
With injuries to Ben Toolis and Anton Bresler the already parlous second row has plunged into crisis once again, with skipper Mike Coman having to move up from back row to partner Alex Toolis.
Six players are with the Scotland Six Nations squad and there are further injuries to Jack Cuthbert and Damien Hoyland.
Last week’s painful defeat to Grenoble in France ended hopes of reaching the knockout stage in Europe but Solomons hopes that can benefit their push for a top-six, perhaps even top four finish in the PRO12, with Edinburgh currently third.
“I don’t think it’s a question of bouncing back at all really, said Solomons. “It’s a completely different competition. We didn’t perform well on the weekend. With the injury toll we’ve got and the Six Nations this is a massive challenge we’ve got but also a massive opportunity for this team. Any side missing who we’re missing is facing a challenge. We’re not Toulon.
“We wanted to make the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup and we’re disappointed we didn’t but the truth is silver lining on that is we want to focus on the league.
“Last season we found finishing an arduous northern hemisphere season with eight back-to-back games was too much.
“After that final we were completely shot. I remember at half-time of the Dragons game Fordy [Ross Ford] and Dicko [Alasdair Dickinson] saying ‘look, we’re finished, we’ve nothing left to give’.
“But this is going to be a tough game – Cardiff at Cardiff with the depletion of resources we have.”
Edinburgh team: (at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, Saturday 30 January, kick-off 5.15pm, live on Sky Sports): G Tonks; D Fife, M Allen, A Strauss, T Brown; Phil Burleigh, N Fowles; R Sutherland, N Cochrane, J Andress, A Toolis, M Coman (c), J Ritchie, H Watson, C Du Preez. Subs: S McInally, A Dell, S Berghan, M Bradbury, G Turner, S Kennedy, W Helu, B Kinghorn