Edinburgh Rugby has confirmed that lock Izak van der Westhuizen will return to South Africa at the end of the season.
The 28-year-old signed at the start of the 2012/13 campaign from Free State Cheetahs. However, his debut season in the capital was hampered by an ankle injury. Despite this he has since gone on to make 19 starts in 24 appearances for the club.
Westhuizen said: “Scotland will always have a special place for me and I’ll be able to look back on a lot of good times.”
While head coach Alan Solomons added: “Sakki has done a splendid job for us this year and will continue to do so until the end of the season. An opportunity has presented itself back in his home country that suits him and his young family. I’m sure he will make a valuable contribution to the Kings.”
French side Racing Metro visit Murrayfield tomorrow night as Edinburgh look to avenge last week’s defeat in the Heineken Cup.
Edinburgh have made eight changes to the side that lost in France.
Scottish centre Ben Cairns returns after long-term injury. As Edinburgh’s all-time top try scorer in the competition, he is a welcome addition to a team struggling for points.
Cairns is joined in the back line by New Zealand centre Ben Atiga, whilst Piers Francis and Chris Leck form a new half-back combination. Lee Jones and Dougie Fife have been brought in to replace injured wingers Tom Brown and Tim Visser.
Robert McAlpine replaces Sean Cox in the pack, joining forces with his former Scotland age-grade colleague, Grant Gilchrist, in the second-row.
Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley could not explain how his side lost 19-9 at Racing Metro last week, slumping to their third defeat in the competition.
Following last season’s surprise surge into semi-finals, Edinburgh have failed to win qualification from the group stages.
Tomorrow’s game offers the team an opportunity for an improved performance ahead of their Pro12 double header against Glasgow Warriors.
We spoke to Scotland Centre Matt Scott and Edinburgh Second Row Robert McAlpine ahead of the clash.
What was the feeling amongst the squad after last Saturday’s defeat to Racing Metro?
Matt Scott – It was a feeling of great disappointment and frustration as we felt we played good enough rugby to win the game. Rugby games at this level are won by small margins, and unfortunately we didn’t get the majority of these small margins right.
Rob McAlpine – Everyone was pretty gutted after the defeat in Paris, the game was for the taking. We provided enough scoring opportunities to win the game, but didn’t manage to convert those opportunities into points. It was disappointing.
Is the pressure now off for tomorrow’s game with qualification looking unlikely, or are players still feeling the stress of the situation?
MS – I don’t think the pressure is ever really off when playing professional rugby. There has been quite a few changes for this game, and the new players that have come in will be looking to stamp down a marker for selection in the upcoming games.
RM – No, there is no pressure off at all. We are desperate to put in a performance against Racing Metro at home, and we owe it to our fans and supporters to get a result. Having the home advantage is a great help and we should hopefully get a result.
What has training been like this week, have you been working on anything in particular?
MS – Training has been tough as everyone is keen to get a win on the board in the Heineken cup. We have targeted a few areas that Racing are weak in, so the boys will be looking to exploit those.
RM – Training has been really good this week, especially with players stepping in and playing that have been out injured. Netani Talei (Fiji), Ben Atiga (All Blacks), Ben Cairns (Scotland), and Dimitri Basilaia (Georgia) all step in after time out injured.
What have the coaches been saying ahead of tomorrow’s game?
MS – They have been willing us to get a win in front of our own fans, particularly to gain some momentum going into the two Glasgow games, which are going to be really important in our season.
RM – .. Can’t answer too much about strategy..
Personally what do you think can be done tomorrow to get a result?
MS – I think if we get our set piece delivery better and hold on to the ball we will cause them all sorts of problems. They are a huge side and don’t like being moved around. Murrayfield is a particularly large pitch, so I’m sure you will see us using that on Friday.
RM – Racing Metro have a big forward pack and being able to move the point of contact and play a quick game we should expose weaknesses and create opportunities to score.
Finally, if you get a result tomorrow what kind of confidence would that give the team going forward?
MS – It would be great for momentum to get a win, especially against a team of racing’s calibre.
RM – The win would give us massive confidence going into the 1872 cup (Glasgow Edinburgh back to back matches) and will hopefully allow us to pick up where we left off in the Rabo Pro 12. Two wins from two against Glasgow would put us right back up in the mix in the table.
Celtic are still on track on winning their first SPL title in four years and doing so possibly by a record margin. The ten point deduction of archrivals Rangers means Celtic can reclaim the points lost at last weekend’s Old Firm match by beating St. Johnstone on Sunday, with second and third placed Rangers and Motherwell taking each others points.
In the Barclay’s Premier League Manchester City will face Sunderland at home without star striker Sergio Aguero. A win would mean the Citizens would overtake Manchester United by their superior goal difference. At least until Monday, when United will travel to Blackburn.
QPR will host the rejuvenated Arsenal at a London derby on Saturday.
On Sunday traditional sides Newcastle and Liverpool will battle for a place in Europe.
Today at 3pm Andy Murray will face Rafael Nadal at the Semi-Finals of the Miami Open. World number one Novak Djokovic will meet 21th ranked Juan Monaco later on at 7pm for a place in the final on Sunday.
At the Shell Houston Open the World’s Number 10 Carl Petersson and Argentinian Angel Cabrera are currently tying at the top of the field. Ernie Else, who needs to win the Open to gain a place in the Masters, is one under after two.
Edinburgh Rugby take on Scarlets tonight in the RaboPro Direct league at Murrayfield. They will be hoping to end their losing streak when the match kicks off at 7.35pm. Glasgow Warriors meanwhile have had a fairly successful season and will be aiming to continue their good run of results when they play Cardiff Blues tonight. Kick off is 7.35pm at Firhill.
For more on Edinburgh Rugby’s misfortunes and the return of their international players, click here.
Edinburgh Rugby Team hope to reverse their poor run of results as they take on Welsh side Scarlets tonight. Nine international players have returned to the squad after taking part in Scotland’s winless Six Nations campaign, while several players have had their contracts extended for another two seasons.
Coach Michael Bradley stated, “We would love to win the match on Friday night because I think we need it for our sanity at this stage.”
Ross Rennie, who this week announced a contract extension, said, “Everyone is desperate for a win.”
Speaking about the team’s recent poor results, Bradley said, “We’ve had a bad run in the Pro12. We do need to stop the run we’re on and it’s a good opportunity for us to do that at home. That is our priority.”
If the team win their remaining matches they can finish ninth in the league. For the players, it is now time to look ahead to building up momentum for next season. Centre Nick De Luca, who also extended his contract with Edinburgh Rugby this week, said, “Even if we win all our games we’re still not getting a good finish, let’s be honest. It’s more important for going forward into the next season.”
Bradley was also keen to stress the importance of the return of the international players, who started training earlier this week, saying, “They are a big part of Edinburgh Rugby. It’s been great to have them back.”
Rennie believes that their return has bolstered the team prior to both their coming matches. He said, “I think we’ve obviously had a tough time in the league as we did in the Six Nations. I think us coming back together has brought a new bit of life to the people who were here and a bit of life to the guys who were away. I think everyone is just looking forward to building towards something really special.”
Head coach Michael Bradley believes that Scarlets will bring a strong side, as along with Edinburgh, they will be selecting “with a view to fine tuning for the following week,” when both sides are taking part in separate Heineken Cup quarter finals. Speaking about the clash against Toulouse, he said, “It is a one-off event, a separate entity.”
Dumfries-born De Luca believes that the performance of the team in the Scarlets match is key to preparing for next week’s game. He said, “We need a huge performance this weekend to get things very right, or close to perfect.”
De Luca also spoke about the Scotland team’s fortunes in the Six Nations, including the yellow cards he received in both the Wales and Italy matches. He said, “I felt myself that I was under a lot of pressure, I just have to look at my own discipline and why I’m putting myself in those situations. The one in Wales I panicked and just had a moment of madness.”
Along with De Luca and Rennie, Irish coach Michael Bradley has re-signed the services of 17 other players for the following two seasons, as well as gaining new players, WP Nel, Greig Tonks and Ulises Gamboa. There are several other new signings which have yet to be announced.
These new unknown signings were a major factor for both De Luca and Rennie when they decided to extend their contracts. De Luca said that while he looked elsewhere he knew that remaining in Edinburgh was the decision he wanted. Rennie, meanwhile, was keen to stay at the club where he began his professional rugby career. He said, “I’m very happy to be offered something here and very happy to stay. I think with the new signings coming in a lot is going to change. I think it’s going to be an ambitious club next year.”
Edinburgh Rugby Team to play Scarlets at Murrayfield Stadium 30 March (KO 7.35pm):
Tom Brown, Lee Jones, Nick De Luca, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Greig Laidlaw (c), Mike Blair, Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Grant Gilchrist, Sean Cox, David Denton, Ross Rennie, Stuart McInally.
Replacements: Andrew Kelly, Kyle Traynor, Jack Gilding, Esteban Lozada, Roddy Grant, Chris Leck, Phil Godman, Jim Thompson.