VILIAME MATA signed for Edinburgh in late 2016 with no clear plan of how long he was going to stay. Indeed, when Alan Solomons, the coach who signed him, was sacked just a fortnight later, the Fijian forward half-expected to be told he was now surplus to requirements.

Instead, six years and three head coaches later, Mata - known to fans and team-mates alike as Bill - is not only still here, but very much central to the team’s plans. And, while he is an unassuming individual who prefers to do his work out of the limelight, Mata will be very much the centre of attention tomorrow when Edinburgh play Zebre in Parma: not only will it be his 31st birthday, he will also become the first non-Scot to make 100 appearances for the team.

“I came here in October 2016, and to be honest, I didn’t think I would be here for long when I started running around in the cold,” Mata recalled this week. “Alan Solomons signed me and then two weeks after he was gone. I thought I was going back to Fiji as well.

“After Solly, Hodgy [Duncan Hodge] took over and then Cockers [Richard Cockerill] and now Mike [Blair]. I think I just play the same game for all the four coaches. I think the coaches have got a game structure that fits me really well, so I just keep doing what I’m doing.”

“My wife has been counting down [to 100] ever since I passed 50. I thought I was going to leave before 100. I think she’s more excited than I am, but it means a lot to me to get 100 caps for Edinburgh Rugby.”

Mata means a lot to Blair too, not only because of his evident ability, but also because of his conscientious approach. “I feel a real attachment towards Bill because of the kind of guy he is,” the coach said. “He’s quiet, he’s really humble, he goes about his work. The way he was during his knee injury and how he came back from that - the shape he came back from that - was really impressive.

“I believe he cares a lot about the club, and it’s going to be a really big day for him. We spoke to the group about feeling that a team performance can be enhanced massively by emotion, and I believe that the players will go out on Saturday and really put a performance in for Bill.”