Richard Cockerill says former Lions flyhalf Jaco van der Walt has the attributes to make the step up to international rugby when he qualifies for Scotland later this year, writes BRYN PALMER.
Van der Walt has ‘improved out of sight’ since joining the Scottish side in November 2017, according to the former England hooker.
The 26-year-old playmaker will qualify for Scotland via the three-year residency rule in November and could be involved in the Eight Nations tournament due to start in the middle of the month.
As Edinburgh’s first-choice No 10, Van der Walt will attempt to steer the capital club into their first PRO14 final when they tackle Ulster at Murrayfield in Saturday’s semi-final.
‘His goalkicking is very important, but his game management, his understanding of the game, his running of the game, has improved out of sight,’ said Cockerill.
‘He’s been very good this season and he’ll be very important to us on Saturday. I have no doubt that he can step up and play Test rugby.’
Van der Walt was named man of the match in Edinburgh’s 30-15 victory over Glasgow on 22 August as rugby resumed after a five-month hiatus, and remained on the bench in the second encounter between the sides last Friday to ensure his availability to face Ulster.
‘In that first game he was playing against a guy [Adam Hastings] who is a regular for the Scotland team,’ Cockerill noted.
‘Jaco’s more than comfortable in that company and hopefully he’ll get an opportunity in the autumn to show that.’
Van der Walt would provide added depth and competition at No 10 for Hastings and Finn Russell – assuming the latter returns to the Scotland fold as all indications suggest.
Edinburgh teammate Duhan van der Merwe, newly qualified for Scotland, is already pencilled in for inclusion in Gregor Townsend’s squad next month for the autumn programme.
Van der Merwe’s potency as a strike runner and finisher is obvious, but Cockerill wants to see the former Blue Bulls wing follow the example of back-three teammates Blair Kinghorn and Darcy Graham and have an even greater impact in games.
‘We try to get the ball in his hands as often as possible but one of his biggest work-ons is that he has to come and find the ball for himself as well,’ the head coach added.
‘Kinghorn finds himself on the ball a lot and is very dangerous, Darcy Graham goes searching for the ball and comes in off his wing a fair bit, so it’s part of Duhey’s game that he has to get better at.
‘On counter-attack Duhey is very strong, as we saw last week, and if you get him into space then he has the pace to cause real issues. So, I’d like the ball in his hands as often as possible. Some of that we can create, some he has to go and look for.’