Pierre Schoeman: Edinburgh can meet nightmare run head on

Pierre Schoeman in action for Edinburgh against Dragons
Pierre Schoeman in action for Edinburgh against Dragons

THIS season’s fixture list may have begun benignly enough for Edinburgh by presenting them with a home game against the Dragons first up, but the forthcoming run of three matches has an altogether more intimidating look about it for Mike Blair’s side.

Tomorrow[Sat] they play the Bulls, last year’s runners-up, at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. Then seven days on they meet the Stormers, the reigning champions, in Cape Town, before flying back home and preparing for a meeting the following Friday with another South African team, the Lions.

Such a run of games will be a serious test of the depth of the Edinburgh squad - but it is a test which Pierre Schoeman, for one, believes they are well equipped to meet. Indeed, the 28-year-old loosehead prop appears very confident that his team can do significantly better than last year’s seventh-place finish, thanks in large part to the strength of that squad.

“ Everyone is of the same belief that this is probably the best group of players we’ve had at Edinburgh,” Schoeman said. “Even guys who’ve been here for a while like Chris Dean, Stuart McInally and Grant Gilchrist all say the same thing. There’s real depth in the squad now and we have an amazing management with innovative coaches.

“I think we can go really far and be successful. We have massive ambitions.”

HeraldScotland: Pierre Schoeman in training
HeraldScotland: Pierre Schoeman in training

Pierre Schoeman in training

Schoeman is back on home turf this weekend, having gone to secondary school in Pretoria and played for the Bulls in Super Rugby for three seasons before signing for Edinburgh in 2018. Many exiles feel they have a point to prove when returning home and playing against their old team-mates, but the prop insisted he does not come into that category.

“I’ve nothing to prove for nobody except myself. I’m very proud to play for Edinburgh and Scotland.

“It’s really cool to play for Edinburgh against the Bulls at Loftus. These are my roots. It’s where I came from and played high-school rugby. Now I get to do it with my mates in Edinburgh. For me, that’s such a nice thing.”

On signing a new, long-term contract with Edinburgh earlier this year, Schoeman revealed that he wants to go on playing rugby for another decade. That suggestion was met with some scepticism at the time given the attritional position in which he plays, but this week he insisted he could take inspiration from the likes of Edinburgh team-mate WP Nel, now 36, and other current players who are a bit older.

“Look at guys like WP. Also guys like Morne Steyn [38], Jannie [39] and Bismarck du Plessis [38]. They’re still going strong. They’re all pushing 40. Ruan Pienaar [38] still plays for the Cheetahs as well - he’s still going and still successful.

“It doesn’t really bother me what other people say - I can have a bit of banter about it. But it’s definitely a personal goal for me to play until I’m 38 or 39.”

The personal goal for Schoeman tomorrow will be to play his part in beating his old team and maintaining Edinburgh’s lead at the top of the URC. He and Nel came off the bench at the start of the second half last week in the 44-6 win against the Dragons, and played a significant role in their team’s achieving domination after a shaky first quarter. This week, he is likely to start, and could well stay on the field throughout what he expects to be a long and gruelling struggle.

“We need to be on top of our detail,” he added. “It’ll be a battle until the 80th minute. Individually and collectively, you have to be on it.”

At nearly 4,500 feet above sea level, Pretoria can present some problems for those who are not used to playing at altitude. But Schoeman believes that visiting teams can adapt their style of play successfully.

“Altitude does play a big part in the game. Mentally it can play a big part as well. I don’t have to kick, or chuck 30-metre passes - well, hopefully not! But for the guys that do these things, the distance changes.

“It can take a little while to get used to it, but we’ve been trying to adjust. You can also use it to your advantage as well in terms of how you attack and defend.”