Mata back fit and relishing Champions Cup challenge
Edinburgh Rugby fans will have been overjoyed to see Bill Mata make his return to first-team action during Monday’s fixture against Ulster - writes James Parsons.
While the result did not go Edinburgh’s way, one of the major positives from the evening was the return of the big Fijian and former Guinness PRO14 Player of the Season, who came on with 30 minutes to go following his return from an ankle injury.
No one was happier to see the Olympic Gold Medal winner back in action than BT Murrayfield Stadium announcer, Bruce Aitchison.
His announcement of the return of “BIG BILL MATA” boomed through the stadium, and indeed the television coverage of the match - not that Mata noticed!
“I could only hear him a little bit, but I liked it," said Mata. “It felt good to be back playing rugby. I’ve really been missing it, so it was amazing to get the chance to play again.
“I had to work hard to get back, it was an ankle injury so lots of work on jumping, calf raises, and then running. It wasn’t the worst injury, but I’m just happy to be playing again.”
Having made his long-awaited return to action on Monday, Mata and Edinburgh’s attention now turns to European competition, with the capital facing La Rochelle and Sale Sharks in the pool stages of the Heineken Champions Cup.
The capital side’s strong display in the Guinness PRO14 last season means they are back in the top tier of rugby’s European competition, and Bill is looking forward to testing himself against some of the best players Europe has to offer.
“Last season’s performance has got us back into the Champions Cup, it’s the biggest tournament so we’re looking forward to it.
“I enjoy playing against teams from other competitions, so I’m looking forward to playing against Sale and La Rochelle, and we’ll see where we go from there.
“La Rochelle are a quality team, and like Sale they’re physical too. Both games will be really physical.
“For me, it’s more exciting to play in the Champions Cup, because of how good the teams are.”
Edinburgh’s last Heineken Champions Cup adventure was filled with highs and amazing moments.
During the 2018-19 European campaign there were memorable victories against Newcastle Falcons, Montpellier and Toulon, with Mata himself playing a pivotal role that eventually saw him nominated for European Player of the Season.
Richard Cockerill's side were eventually knocked out in the Quarter-Final in a tight match against Munster, however the campaign was one that Mata remembers fondly.
“My best moment in Europe for Edinburgh was definitely making it to the Quarter-Final in 2019, but there have been lots of good memories.”
While that campaign was Bill’s favourite memory of playing in Europe for Edinburgh, he couldn't but help mention *that* offload against Toulon, which for many fans, was a defining moment of the season.
“I didn’t think about it too much, offloading comes naturally to me. In the Toulon game I tried to step the defender and chuck the ball, I wasn’t thinking about throwing the ball over my shoulder like that!
“I’ve watched it back a couple of times, the Edinburgh guys like to show it to me. I also liked the offload against Glasgow!
“The team knows how I play, so the players like to run behind me. I know that Darcy and Jamie will be near me every time when I’m running with the ball!”