THERE is something eminently likeable about Tim Visser.
It is not the Edinburgh winger’s tries, as much as they have excited supporters and inspired team-mates, nor is it the fact that he has an engaging personality and sense of humour.
It is instead the unashamed confidence which bubbles to the surface of the tall Dutchman that pulls you in.
He is a natural joker in the Edinburgh squad and, having beaten his try tally each season since joining the club from Newcastle in 2009, and provided ever-more important scores, he has every reason to be buoyant ahead of Saturday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final at Murrayfield. But that façade hides a steely ambition, one of the most underrated traits in a successful sportsman or woman.
Visser has developed from a skinny stripling who danced around Borders rugby grounds in Newcastle colours as a sevens player in his teens into a 6ft 4in, 17-stone mass of muscle, crucially without losing his pace, for which he is quick to pay tribute to the Edinburgh strength and conditioning team, particularly Andy Boyd.
He has improved his handling skills and, now with the lure of international rugby for Scotland potentially just ten weeks away, has begun to work intensely on his defence, the one weakness that is too easily exploited on the Test stage.
But he has a powerful desire and ambition that cannot be coached. It popped out this week in a media session when the 24-year-old was asked how happy he was with 15 tries this season.
“I’m 16 now.” He smiled, but the eyes said ‘offence taken’. “I’m past last year’s record in total, and this [four] is the most I’ve scored in the Heineken Cup and, if we get back into the Rabo, I’ll look to get past last year’s [league] record. “But,” returning to the pre-Toulouse script, “that’s in the back of the mind right now – we’re just looking forward to playing against Toulouse this weekend.”
Yeah, right. Visser is a popular team man, but he has that single-mindedness one associates with a striker who not only knows his responsibility is to provide the team with a finish, but lives for it. Another relatively innocuous question – ‘Are you relieved that your team-mates are chipping in with more tries now, and you don’t have to shoulder the burden yourself?’ – brought it back to the surface.
“I don’t know if it’s a relief,” he said mischievously, the eyes again saying something different to the jokey smile. “But, no, it is good to see other people score, mainly because we’re getting wins through that.”
The sentence was finished with a sly wink at the questioner which said it all – yes, he enjoys seeing team-mates contributing, but make no mistake he wants to remain top of the tree. Numbers matter, but Visser also takes pleasure from knowing that the four tries he has notched in Eur-ope this season were significant.
He grabbed a brace in the stunning 48-47 victory over Racing Metro and scored the only try in the 19-12 win over Cardiff. He also set the ball rolling in the final pool match win over London Irish, having also ‘scored’ a perfectly good try down in Reading which the referee failed to spot.
“The times where I’ve been the only one scoring hasn’t necessarily been times where we’ve won the game, so you do need more people scoring. I’ve said lots of times that I’d rather win games than score tries; so as long as we’re winning I don’t mind who scores.
“Dave Denton has shown that he can score tries, so has Matt Scott and Nick de Luca comes away with one every now and again. We like to score tries in the back three, myself, [Lee] Jonesy and Tom Brown, who is a huge talent.
“But, more importantly, this weekend we have to stop them [Toulouse] scoring tries. We have seen that they are one of the best counter-attacking teams in the world, so that’s our biggest focus – stopping them and hopefully picking up some points on the way.”
That is a salient point. Only Leinster and Ulster have scored more tries than Edinburgh in the RaboDirect PRO12 this season, but no team has conceded more than Michael Bradley’s team. In Europe, even with the Racing try-fest, they were still only fifth-best in the try-scoring stakes, but ten teams conceded more.
This season, Edinburgh have scored on average two tries per game but shipped 2.4 and there is a strong awareness through the squad that Toulouse, the top scorers in France, are potentially the most clinical in exploiting the mere sniff of defensive frailty. Visser said: “Defence is the core of any game. Although we haven’t been hugely competitive on the defensive front, when we have our real first-team out there with all the internationalists back there is a huge difference.
“Last week wasn’t as good as it could have been but it was still a huge step-up from when those guys were away, and we showed away to London Irish and Racing Metro that we can stop good teams scoring.
“There is a fine balance between playing a defensive game and concentrating on our strengths which is attacking, and we have to get that right. Toulouse are similar to Racing and we don’t want that [conceding 47 points] to happen again … but if it does we have shown that we can win games like that as well!”
And there was that joie de vivre again, leaping out of the Dutchman in a manner thousands of Scottish rugby supporters are paying to witness on Saturday. “This is obviously the biggest game that I’ve played in for Edinburgh so far,” he added. “To get into the latter stages of the Heineken Cup is incredible. It’s a big day for the club and the whole city of Edinburgh.
“Toulouse have shown that they are hugely competitive in this cup, and that they can win it, and are easily one of the biggest teams in the world. They are topping the table in France and they have some of the best players in the world, though I wouldn’t necessarily say they were the best team in the world at this moment because, although they have a lot of good individuals, they don’t necessarily play that well together.”
Did I forget to mention that he also goes where others fear to tread? Picking holes in the French cup winners? Visser shrugs. “They don’t, and that’s something that we’re focusing on and keeping in the back of our mind. If we’re accurate and play better as a team I think we’ve got a very good chance.
“The crowd will help us. We have played in front of some big crowds at Munster and Leinster, and I played at Twickenham for the BaaBaas which was a big crowd, but it will be great to have that many Edinburgh supporters behind you. And with so few Toulouse supporters the difference will be great.”
With training and media duties over, the winger then left Murrayfield in his black sports car, with personalised number plate, bought, fittingly, from Keith Robertson. It takes one to know one. Visser is certainly making a decent job of emulating the former Melrose and Scotland finisher, on and off the pitch.
Edinburgh have got to this point through impressive teamwork, but, wholly refreshing and not a little exciting for Scottish rugby supporters, Visser’s tries and confidence are helping to instil new belief.