Every Edinburgh player sported a broad smile after flattening Treviso last Friday but it is just possible that one man was a little happier than most. Kiwi Nasi Manu arrived in the capital at the start of last season, a big man with a reputation to match having led the Highlanders to the Super Rugby title.
He started just six matches in his first season before injuring his neck and missing the next six months. He eventually returned for the final match of the season against Cardiff – and injured his ribs.
“I have sort of had a pretty frustrating year,” said the bear of a man. “Last season I did my neck and I was out for six months. I came back in the last game against Cardiff and about 30 minutes in I got injured again, so I haven’t played since.
“It’s just part of the game, the way that I play. I try and be physical and sometimes you are unlucky and you run a bit wrong or someone gets you in a good spot – it’s just part of it.”
Edinburgh have a reputation as a cup team and while Manu insists that European competition was one of the reasons that he moved to Scotland, you can bet that he didn’t have Timisoara Saracens in mind.
The Romanian club host Edinburgh on Saturday with Hodge’s team undertaking a convoluted trans-European trip involving almost every mode of transport bar balloon. Manu knows the opposition is Romanian and that Edinburgh will put their best foot forward, but not much else.
“I was really excited to know that they are in our pool because for me it was about travelling the world and it will be awesome to go there but I have no idea about the team. All I know is that their tight five is usually pretty strong. It’s going to be a big battle up front.
“For us here, we want to do well in both competitions (Pro12 and Europe). I guess for me it’s really exciting because that was why I really wanted to come over here to play, the Heineken Cup, as it was back then. I really wanted to experience it and the Pro12 and the challenges they bring.
“Our mindset is to do as good as we can, every week in any competition. I am sure we’ll put up a good team and we have good depth in this squad if you look at some of the younger boys. Blair Kinghorn and Magnus Bradbury, they are really stepping up. Whatever team we take to Romania I am sure it will be good.”
Edinburgh find themselves in one of the tougher pools, with French giants Stade Francaise and English challengers Harlequins, both of whom will come to play rugby.
The same is probably true of Edinburgh now that the club is under new management. Whatever the players thought of their previous coach, and he seemed to be well liked, they played as if an enormous weight had been lifted from their shoulders last Friday, throwing the ball about and, heaven forfend, enjoying themselves.
“We’ve had a pretty strange couple of weeks,” conceded Manu. “I think there was a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves over the last couple of performances and we just wanted to go out there and express ourselves and I think that we did that.”
The number eight is coming to the end of his original two-year contract with Edinburgh but he has yet to work up a proper sweat for what must still feel like a new club after his stop-start season.
The big man made an impact in Friday’s game but only fitfully, as you might expect from someone who has sat on the sidelines for as long as he has.
At one point in the second half he went down and the heart sank but it was no more than a bang on his shin – although soon after, he admitted, “the legs gave way” and he sat out the final few minutes.
“My main focus is just to do good by the team, on the field, off the field… I just hope that the body let’s me be available.”
So too, you imagine, does Duncan Hodge.