JACO VAN DER WALT says he is ready to fight for the Edinburgh No 10 jersey after falling behind Blair Kinghorn in the stand-off pecking-order at the club.  

The South African born playmaker was a key man in the capital midfield for four years after being recruited by former head coach Richard Cockerill in the summer of 2017 – he has scored 459 points in 83 appearances for the club – but a combination of injury and new head coach Mike Blair’s decision to switch Kinghorn from full-back to stand-off has limited van der Walt’s game-time this season. 

The 26-year-old – who has been capped twice by Scotland after qualifying to wear the thistle through the controversial three-year residency rule – has managed just six starts and eight bench appearances in this campaign. However, he did deliver a timely reminder that he can add value to the team when he came off the bench in the centre and helped set up Emiliano Boffelli’s second try with a well-timed pass against Bath last Friday night. 

With Edinburgh playing struggling Zebre – who have lost 13 out of 13 matches with an average deficit of just under 25 points in the United Rugby Championship this season – there is a high probability that Kinghorn will be one of several frontline players rested ahead of facing second in the table Ulster the following week, which would open the door for van der Walt to make only his fourth start of this calendar year. 

“At the start of the season I had a knock to the head, and when I got back I played a couple of good games against the South African teams before picking up a shoulder injury, so it hasn't been a great season for me thus far with being injured almost all the time,” said the player. “And it is difficult to get that momentum again – especially when you have guys like Blair and Charlie Savala doing so well. 

“But it has been good for the squad and any game time I do get is perfect. I was fortunate enough to get some at the weekend and it was awesome to represent the club. 

“Obviously, I would like to play 10, but Blair has been in great form this season, so if I need to slot in at full-back or centre or wherever, I am happy with that. 

“I think Blair and I feed off each other,” van der Walt added. “I’ve learned from him, and it is the same the other way, so it has been a good thing for me that he has made that switch. 

“I feel you get better with the more games you play, so if I just get the game time, then I will hopefully be back in form pretty soon.” 

Van der Walt pointed out that this is not the first time in his Edinburgh career that he has had to fight for that No 10 jersey. 

“Back when Simon Hockey joined [in 2018] it was a difficult stage,” he said. “But the more competition you have the harder you need to work and the better you get. For me it has been great. Blair is a great player whether he plays full-back, wing, or 10. He has been good all season.” 

“It is difficult at the moment not getting that gametime I would want, but it is great for the team. It is good to have the depth in the squad and it really does make a difference when you are wanting to back up one performance with another the following week.” 

There will be no let up for Edinburgh after the Ulster game, with Wasps due at the DAM Health Stadium the following weekend in the last eight of the Challenge Cup. It might be Europe’s second-tier competition, but there are some pretty big names involved – including Toulon, Saracens and Gloucester – so success for the capital side would be a significant marker at the end of Mike Blair’s first season as head coach at the club. 

“The confidence has been great,” concluded van der Walt. “Everyone has bought into the plan and we’re all working hard together. It is great to be among all the big teams and hopefully we can do well for the rest of the season and go all the way to the final.  

“There are tough teams in the quarter-finals so there is a lot of hard work ahead of us but I'm confident and positive that we can do well.”