IT HAS not been the greatest of summers so far, and you would think that the dark skies along with frequent showers would be particularly tough to take for Edinburgh’s recent Tongan signing – but if Will Helu was feeling under the weather during the team’s training camp in St Andrews this week then he was doing a pretty good job of putting a brave face on it.
“It’s been alright. A wee bit of rain here and there, but not too cold – we just truck on,” said the 29-year-old, who has signed a two-year contract at the club after moving north from Wasps at the end of last season.
I am pretty impressed with what I have seen in training. The guys have a good skill set, want to train hard and want to get the ball in handWill Helu
Trucking through training is all well and good, but it is safe to say that Alan Solomons is hoping for something a little more glamorous from the Auckland-born winger when the hard slog of pre-season fitness work finally gives way to real match time in just under three weeks (their first pre-season game is slated for 21 August, when Romania provide the opposition at the Greenyards).
The coach has stated he expects Helu to bring an “X factor” to the Edinburgh backline, and a quick look at the various compilation videos dedicated to the player which have been posted on YouTube point to an outside back with pace, fast feet, good hands and the power to bowl over any tackler who comes in too high or half-heartedly.
Significantly, given he is effectively a direct replacement for Harlequins-bound Tim Visser, the new boy seems to have a good nose for the try-line – scoring 14 tries in 28 appearances over two years with Wasps, which is a marginally inferior strike rate to the flying Dutchman, who scored 73 in 149 for Edinburgh in all competitions.
This is, of course, not an entirely fair comparison given that Visser continually produced the goods over six fantastic seasons for the capital outfit, during which time he played more than five times as many games as Helu managed for Wasps – but it is surely enough to reassure Edinburgh fans that all is not lost now that their record try scorer has moved to pastures new.
Visser is understood to have been frustrated that Edinburgh’s style of play under Solomons provided fewer opportunities for him to show his undoubted finishing prowess, however Helu says he is excited about the brand of rugby he anticipates his new club exhibiting.
“I have been playing in the Premiership and the Pro12 is obviously a whole new ball game. I’ve heard it is a more open, running kind of competition. Edinburgh are known for their forward pack, I’ve watched a few games and the pack has really taken it to the teams – so if the backs can do some good work on the top of that then I’m sure we can be a dangerous team to play for,” he said.
“There is a lot of go-forward in our pack and in rugby if you are going forward there has got to be space somewhere, it could be out wide or it could be up the middle,” he added. “It is about finding the right balance of when to unleash that into the backs and hopefully we can find that balance this year. The forwards work tirelessly so we have to help them out. That is why we are honing down on our skill levels. If we want to play, our skill level has to be top notch, so our standards have to be high.”
Helu was a regular in the Tongan national side for four years after making his debut against Fiji in June 2010, scoring six tries in 21 appearances. He was on the right wing for the Pacific Islanders when they humiliated Scotland at Pittodrie in November 2012, and scored a try at the Millennium Stadium when they gave Wales a run for their money the following autumn.
But he has not played an international match in over a year, and is not part of the squad for this autumn’s World Cup. He seems pretty relaxed about this, and says he is looking forward instead to taking on a leadership role at his new club while the current internationalists in the squad are away competing for the Webb Ellis Cup. “They [Tonga] are playing in Newcastle, so I’m hoping the boys can find me a ticket. I will be supporting them but at the same time it is the Pro12 and club duties that are my first priority,” he said.
“There are going to be a lot of young guys coming in here, so it is really important for senior squad members to be available for them to come and ask for help, and for us to lead by example.
“It is going to be tough but the positive side is that we might unearth some future Scotland players at this time. I am sure that has happened in the past so I am looking forward to having a run out with these young guys and see what they can do.
“I am pretty impressed with what I have seen in training. They have a good skill set, want to train hard and they want to get the ball in hand and do a lot of things around the field.”
He added: “The boys have been very welcoming and I have enjoyed my time here so far. It is a new environment with new structures and so forth, as well as getting to know new players. The beautiful thing about rugby is that if you come into a team and get stuck in then the boys will always welcome you with open arms. You just have to take the opportunity and go for it.”