Jaco van der Walt throws off the shackles as he rediscovers his love of running rugby
The perception of Jaco van der Walt as a safety-first, kicking stand-off took a bit of a dunt on Saturday when the Edinburgh man created two fine tries in the first six minutes of the 20-20 draw with the Stormers.
The shackles were off for the South African who seemed to be playing with a freedom rarely seen in his four years in the capital.
He was named player of the match but van der Walt says he has always preferred to play a running game and it was only when he came to Edinburgh that the kicking took over.
“I love running rugby,” he said. “It was difficult for me to come over four years ago and change to kicking. It’s always nice hitting a gap or running through - and hopefully I can score more tries, because I haven’t scored in four years.
“It’s weird. Even people back in South Africa were quite interested to see me playing a running game. It’s exciting. Every 10 likes to play running rugby, and hopefully we get the opportunity again this weekend to do so.”
The change of coach at Edinburgh combined with the fast, artificial pitch has sparked a more adventurous style and van der Walt seems to be flourishing under Mike Blair.
While he may not have scored a try, van der Walt played in Darcy Graham for the first against the Stormers with a cute dummy and then spotted another gap in the defence to open up space for Ben Vellacott to run in his third in as many games.
“Our game plan is a bit different,” added van der Walt, “but it makes it a little bit easier for you to play running rugby when the people around you know their roles.”
Van der Walt had to be content with a place on the bench in the first URC game of the season against the Scarlets, with Blair Kinghorn preferred as the starting stand-off even though he has played most of his rugby in the back three. Kinghorn injured his quad and has been out of action since but van der Walt thinks the fresh challenge for the No 10 jersey has spurred him on.
“It’s always good having extra competition in the team - it makes you better,” he said. “Blair’s a world-class player: he can play anything. He’s a good 10. We learn from each other and I think that’s a good thing. He’s there to help me and I’m there to help him. It’s always nice having that extra guidance as well.”
Edinburgh are up against South African opposition again this weekend, with the Bulls the visitors. Veteran Springbok Morne Steyn has flown in to join them after they lost Johan Goosen to injury and van der Walt is likely to find himself up against the 37-year-old whose penalty clinched the Test series against the British & Irish Lions.
The Scotland international is looking forward to the challenge but knows the Bulls offer threats all over the pitch, particularly from their pack.
“He’s one of the world’s best 10s, so it’s going to be good playing against him,” said van der Walt. “But to be honest, most of them are dangerous, especially their forward pack. Have you seen the size of them?”