EDINBURGH forward Bill Mata is set to miss the first six to eight weeks of the new season as he recuperates from ankle surgery. The loss of the talismanic number eight is a blow not only to Richard Cockerill’s squad but also to the Fijian national team, who are taking part in next month’s Nations Cup and would normally expect to have Mata available to them.

“Bill Mata will have surgery on his ankle on Thursday,” Cockerill explained yesterday. “He got caught awkwardly in a tackle in the game against Bordeaux and damaged a ligament, which is being repaired. He’ll probably be six to eight weeks with that, meaning he’ll miss the first two rounds of the Pro14 with us then the international period with Fiji.

“Once he has surgery we’ll know more. It may be shorter, it may be longer, but roughly it will be six to eight weeks. It’s tough. He’s been playing very well. We know Bill is pivotal to ourselves so it’s disappointing, not just for us but for Fiji too. We want our guys to play for their countries because they are very proud.

“So he’ll be disappointed, and so will lots of rugby fans who want to see Bill playing in a full-strength Fiji team. Listen, we’ve got good cover. Nick Haining and Magnus Bradbury are good number eights so we’re not short in the back row, but certainly for Edinburgh and Fiji that will be a blow.”

Scrum-half Henry Pyrgos is still out with concussion and lock Fraser McKenzie is recuperating from a shoulder injury. But otherwise, the injury list which forced the head coach to choose a depleted side in the Challenge Cup against Bordeaux is clearing up, with Mark Bennett, Nic Groom and Duhan van der Merwe all expected to be fit for Saturday’s Pro14 opener at home to Ospreys.

Edinburgh have a more straightforward opening run of fixtures than some of their rivals, with two games on a Saturday, two on a Sunday and then four in a row on Monday. Even so, it is an unfamiliar and demanding schedule, especially given the absence of so many front-line players during the two international windows, and Cockerill did not hide his dissatisfaction with it.

“The first time the clubs had sight of that was when it was announced, so we were as intrigued as everyone else,” he continued. “I don’t think anyone is really sure how it’s going to work, but if Pro14 are telling us that Premier Sports think Monday night is the best TV slot, and that’s the way to create more revenue, well, once you’ve sold your soul, you’ve sold your soul. You get told what to do – it’s no different to any other sport.

“We’ll be positive. If you want to make it work, you’ll make it work. I’m not worried about Sundays, Mondays, Saturdays - we’ll just have our weekends on Tuesday.”

With around 15 players expected to be away on international duty, Cockerill will not only have to rely on the fringe members of his full-time squad but also call up players from Super6, which is due to start its second year of competition at the end of October. The new tournament had many detractors from well before it kicked off, and was unable to complete its first season because of the lockdown, but the Edinburgh coach believes it has already proven valuable and feels it should be given a proper chance to grow.

“Super6 is in its infancy, and I know there’s a lot of knockers and it’s a great Scottish tradition to say everything’s s**t, isn’t it? Is it perfect? No, but like most things if we just sit and moan about it nothing will get better. We should be proactive with the Super6 clubs, like Edinburgh are.”

With a freeze on player recruitment at both Murrayfield and Scotstoun, the two Scottish teams could struggle this season compared to some teams with bigger budgets, which perhaps is why Cockerill believes that Pro14 should think about following the English and French leagues in introducing a salary cap. “When you look at the resources and the way things are going with Covid maybe it’s time for a Pro14 salary cap, like the Premiership and the French, so everyone’s playing off the same budget,” he reasoned.

“You’d have to phase it in over a season or two or three, because everyone’s got contractual obligations. I’m not hard and fast on it, but obviously in the situation right now it’s potentially worth having to look at. I know that’ll give the shits to all the teams that have lots of money, and there’s a different view from the Leinsters, the Munsters and the Ulsters of this world.”