With the good ship Edinburgh Rugby listing badly, at least one player must be patting himself on the back that he quit when he had the chance. Tim Visser once personified Edinburgh’s attacking philosophy and now he has taken his scoring prowess to England. He scored nine tries in 11 league starts in his debut season with Harlequins and he grabbed his first touchdown of the new season last week to help down the reigning English and European champions, Saracens.
They don’t lose very often, so rarely that last weekend’s reversal proved to be flanker Maro Itoje’s first loss in any professional match which he had started. Up to that point he had been on the winning team, with Saracens or England, every time he was in the run-on XV. How, exactly did Quins fell the best team in Europe?
“I think we beat them at their own game,” says Visser. “They play a very straightforward type of rugby where they kick the ball a lot and they are very good in defence, they suffocate teams which is almost exactly what we did to them.
“We kicked very well, won the aerial battle and put pressure on them when they caught it. They don’t have a plan B, so, when we matched them up front and cut off their options out wide, they, after one or two carries, kicked the ball away.
“The key with Sarries is that a lot of teams get bored and try and run it back, but we kept our patience really well and beat them at their own game. My interception try at the very start took the wind out of their sails.”
Visser is relishing his time in England’s Aviva Premiership. If he has any regrets they revolve around his appearing in successive European Challenge Cup finals, with Edinburgh then Harlequins, and somehow losing both. He calls it a nightmare and says that Quins should have won their final against Montpellier but Edinburgh were already punching above their weight just to get there.
Visser fled Alan Solomons’ Edinburgh at least partly because he spent every Friday evening staring into the floodlights wondering where, exactly, the ball was going to land.
In contrast, there has been a revolution in English club play at the highest level and Visser has joined the Cuba club because Harlequins kick-started the entire enterprise. Back in 2012 they won the Championship with a quick-fire, off-loading game and the fact that they beat Leicester Tigers in the final seemed to confirm a changing of the guard at the top of English rugby.
It wasn’t quite so simple. Tigers, Saints and Sarries (twice) have all claimed the title since Quins triumphed and none of them played Super Rugby in doing so, but this season has been a revelation. One decade ago, the Aviva matches were averaging exactly two tries per match, this season they are close to three and the English clubs have managed 13 more to date than the Pro12 who like to think of themselves as a free-scoring league.
Visser plays against league leaders Wasps this afternoon who, more than anyone else, are responsible for the explosion in scoring.
“They [Wasps] are playing the most exciting rugby in the championship at the moment, they are an all-round team,” says the Dutchman. “They did the same last season although with less success, but this year they have certainly started with a bang. They are playing some fine rugby and winning, which is a deadly combination.
“The most important thing is line speed, just as we did against Sarries, cut their options off and hope they run out of ideas. Especially against a team like Wasps. If the ball gets outside the second receiver, all hell breaks loose. We have to try and stop them early, halt their momentum and not let them get hands on the ball in the wide channels.
“The rugby in the Aviva is being played at an incredible tempo as well because a few teams have really loosened up. Look at Leicester, they play an expansive game now, they throw it around. I remember when they won the title in 2008-9 it was nothing like that, but it’s been a transformation the way the game is being approached by a number of teams. It’s a really entertaining sport these days.”
Visser missed Scotland’s tour with a long-term knee problem and, while he insists that the summer off was just what the joint needed, he also says that it still isn’t behaving just as he would want. At one point, he concedes that the injury might end his career early, “that is certainly how it feels”, but quickly adds that the experts’ diagnosis is a lot more positive.
“The thing with professional rugby is that you can’t spend a year out getting it right so I just have to live with it,” he says with resignation. “World Cup training into World Cup into Six Nations and all that stuff, it’s a long season with no real rest which probably made it worse than it really was. Hopefully, I’ll have another few good years in me.”
Hopefully he will but when his rugby is finished Visser insists he will be heading home – to Edinburgh – and he doesn’t rule out another stint at the club where he made his reputation.
The Dutchman considers the Scottish capital his home these days and why not after spending the best part of six years there. He moved south in search of a club that would utilise his talents in a way that Solomons was never going to so you might expect Visser to rail against the South African but instead he underlines the positives.
“Everyone seems to share the same opinion,” says Visser. “Solly did a great job coming in and laying some defensive foundations. He put a real defensive style of playing at the club which we were not renowned for.
“So that was a real bonus because that was something that we were extremely bad at, but the next step is obviously to become a good team and compete with anyone in the league and to do that you need to have a good attacking game and he never instilled that at Edinburgh all the time I was there.
“Hodgey [Duncan Hodge] was probably brought in to do something like that but he was probably hamstrung because Solly was still head coach so it was going to be old-school style of play. It will be really interesting to see what happens in the next couple of years now that Hodgey has taken over.”
There is one final issue I need to raise. For, as long as anyone can remember, Visser has been the one Dutch player that everyone knows but that status is now challenged. La Rochelle, surprise Top 14 leaders going into this weekend, boast Zeno Kieft on the flank, a Dutchman but one, Visser assures me, from the wrong side of the tracks.
“I read up about him only this week,” says the winger when confronted with this upstart. “I have never spoken to him and I don’t know if I am allowed to because he comes from my club’s biggest rivals in Holland. I played for Hilversum and he came from The Hague.
“Funnily enough we just signed a player from La Rochelle, [Samoan wing] Alofa Alofa who told me that he [Kieft] is doing really well in France. He’s starting. He’s scoring!”
Reminds you of another high-flying Dutchman.