2020 a year to remember for Jaco
For most, 2020 was a year to forget and one that was packed with plenty of surreal moments, however, for stand-off Jaco van der Walt it was quite the opposite as he celebrated a number of milestones, both on and off the field - writes James Parsons
In the space of a month, Jaco returned to his native South Africa to marry his partner of 10 years, before returning to make his international debut for Scotland against Ireland in November's Autumn Nations Cup.
Now, with the dust finally settled on a madcap end to the year, Jaco can reflect on his achievements and what they mean to both he and his family.
“It was a busy couple of months!" said van der Walt. “I have a good family that supports me a lot, so it made things a bit easier.
“Siobhan and I have been together for 10 years, so marriage feels quite normal, other than her having my surname! It has been awesome for us, we’re glad that in these difficult times we were able to get married.
“The ceremony was good, luckily in South Africa the current cases weren’t too bad, so we were able to have a good time and see our families.
“It wasn’t a planned honeymoon, playing for Scotland! It was a good opportunity to get back to Edinburgh and play for Scotland, so I was focused on that.”
While it hasn’t been the conventional honeymoon period, Jaco was able to pull on the jersey of his adoptive country, and it is a moment he will never forget.
“It was an awesome moment. Growing up I always wanted to play international rugby. At the time I thought it would be for South Africa, but playing for Scotland has been an amazing experience that I’m really proud of.
“The step up wasn’t too bad, I got a lot of help from my teammates. The mindset is different, and everything is a bit quicker.
“It was great to play against Johnny Sexton, he’s a player who was playing when I was still at school, it’s a good experience to play against guys like that.
“It helped a lot having the Edinburgh boys there. They supported me in the game, but they also supported me in the lead up to the game, so it was awesome to have those guys there.”
When Jaco first moved to Edinburgh from the Lions in 2017, the first thing on his mind wasn’t playing for Scotland, instead it was the challenge of playing for Edinburgh, and adapting to the unique Scottish conditions.
“I just wanted to come over and play good rugby for Edinburgh. Adapting to the weather was the first thing in my mind! It’s a great city and I was just enjoying playing for the club.
“Learning how to play in wet weather is something you don’t often have to do in South Africa, so I had to adapt to that. You have to change a lot in your game, but it improved my playing, because I know I can play in more situations now.”
Having made his Test debut, Jaco’s focus has been firmly set on playing for Edinburgh, both domestically and on the continent.
Since his move from South Africa, one of the playmaker's favourite things has been European competition, being able to travel around the continent and test himself against the world’s best.
“One of the good things about Edinburgh has been travelling and seeing different places in Europe.
“In Super Rugby, you only really travel to a couple of countries, so in Edinburgh you get to see a lot more, and play against players from so many different countries.
“Now I just want to improve every game, and for now that’s about playing well for Edinburgh, and if I get opportunities again I’ll take them.”
Since his arrival in the Scottish capital in 2017, Jaco has developed from a 23-year-old that had never played in the rain, to being a married man and a Test capped half-back - and hard work has been the secret to Van Der Walt’s recent successes.
“I try to take every opportunity I get, sometimes it’s not easy, but I work hard and have a positive mindset. It wasn’t easy when I first came here, but I’ve adapted and things are going really well.”