Big Bill Mata on his landmark 100th appearance, his four Edinburgh coaches and (not) getting used to the Scottish weather
Mike Blair, the club’s head coach, is a huge admirer of the popular No 8 and believes his squad can harness the emotion of the day to turbo-charge their performance against Zebre in Italy. Mata has been with the capital side for six years and is their first non-Scottish-qualified player to reach the century landmark.
He admits it hasn’t all been plain sailing and you suspect he’s only half-joking when he says he is still coming to terms with the weather but his contributions to the club have been hugely appreciated by team-mates and supporters alike. He arrived as an Olympic gold medallist, part of the all-conquering Fiji sevens side that defeated Britain in the final at Rio 2016. His reputation has been burnished by his performances for Edinburgh and he remains a vital figure for club and country. He is likely to be a key performer when Fiji take on Scotland in the Autumn Nations Series at Murrayfield on November 5 but there are a couple of important bits of business to take care of with Edinburgh before then, starting with this weekend’s match in Parma.
“I feel a real attachment towards Bill because of the kind of guy he is,” Blair said. “He’s quiet, he’s really humble, the way he goes about his work. I believe he cares a lot about the club, and Saturday’s going to be a really big day for him. We spoke to the group about how a team performance can be enhanced massively by emotion, and I believe that the players will go out and really put a performance in for Bill.”
Blair is the fourth coach Mata has played under at Edinburgh and the player is phlegmatic when he looks back at the changing hierarchy. Alan Solomons was the man who signed him but the South African was gone within a fortnight, replaced initially by Duncan Hodge as caretaker, and then Richard Cockerill. The former England hooker was in charge for four seasons before leaving in summer 2021 to be succeeded by Blair.
“I met Solly and then two weeks later he was gone,” reflected Mata who turns 31 on Saturday. “Hodgy took over and then Cockers and now Mike. I think I just play the same game for all the four coaches. I think the coaches have got a game structure that fits me really well, so I just keep doing what I’m doing.”
There is no finer sight than a rampaging Mata on the charge and the Edinburgh fans quickly took him to their hearts but the player himself was sceptical about his long-term prospects as he tried to acclimatise after growing up in Tailevu, on Fiji’s main island. “I came here in October 2016 when it was just starting to get into the cold weather,” he said. “To be honest, I didn’t think I would be here for long when I started running around in the cold. At the moment we can’t believe that we’re still here. I don’t know what’s keeping me here - just to get this 100 maybe.”
Asked me if he was now used to the weather, Mata’s reply is deadpan: “The summer, yeah.”
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