Edinburgh Rugby announced four new signings for next season as they seek to bolster their squad to cover Rugby World Cup absences, but the fifth signature secured was arguably the most important.
Scotland international Hamish Watson has pledged his immediate future – and perhaps beyond – to the capital club in agreeing a two-year extension to his current contract, taking him through to the summer of 2021.
The flanker’s stock rose even further when he returned to action for Scotland in the 6 Nations after a broken hand on the eve of the tournament meant he missed the first three games, as one of the national side’s stand-out performers against Wales and England.
Now capped 25 times, the former Leicester Tigers product who moved to Scotland in 2011 is a vital part of Gregor Townsend’s plans and a key figure for his club, for whom he has been outstanding during this season’s Heineken European Cup run.
At 27 it would have been natural for Watson to seek a new challenge at this stage in his career, but he had no doubts about pledging himself to Richard Cockerill’s team.
“I couldn’t see myself playing anywhere else in my career,” said Watson. “I love it in Edinburgh. The playing group we’ve got, and are building, is absolutely amazing.
“We’ve got a great coaching staff and I want to win something with Edinburgh. If that takes two years or ten years, it doesn’t matter. This group of players and coaches is going places and I love the direction that the club is moving in.”
Cockerill said: “Hamish is one of the most exciting back-row players in the country, so it’s fantastic that he’ll be representing this club for years to come.
“He’s a leader in the changing room and is so often a match-winner on the field. We’re looking forward to watching him develop further and hopefully bring success to this city.”
Re-signing Watson was just the headline on a flurry of action by the club yesterday, securing four new faces for next season, when considerable strain will be placed on playing numbers with Scotland away at the World Cup in Japan in September and October.
After the massive success of Viliame Mata at the club, Edinburgh have signed two more Fijians.
Current Fiji sevens captain Kalione Nasoko and Eroni “The Sledgehammer” Sau have will join in the summer, both on two-year deals, and both took the counsel of their former team-mate Mata before agreeing to come north.
“I’m very excited by the opportunity to join Edinburgh,” said Nasoko, who has played over 140 games for Fiji in the World Sevens circuit. “
“This is a great opportunity for my family, and after many years on the Sevens circuit, I can’t wait for this new challenge in Scotland. Everyone sounds very welcoming and I am looking forward to running out in front of the Edinburgh fans.”
Sau joins from Perpignan, having been the World Sevens Series rookie of the year in 2017. The former policeman, like Nasoko, plays mostly on the wing.
“Kalione brings something different to our back-three. He gives us a little bit more of an x-factor and, as you see with the good teams around Europe, you need that type of threat, said Cockerill.”
“Anyone who has watched sevens will know Eroni Sau. He’s a very strong and powerful runner, he’s tough and very combative. A nickname like ‘The Sledgehammer” gives you an idea of what he does with and without the ball.”
Edinburgh have also confirmed the signing of Southern Kings hooker Mike Willemse, a deal that had been widely reported in South Africa, and the Scottish-qualified, Australian-born back rower Nick Haining from Bristol, both on two-year contracts.