Viliame Mata’s early impressions of Edinburgh after his arrival in the Scottish capital back in October 2016 were not particularly positive.

It was cold, it was dark a lot of the time, he and his young family were thousands of miles away from home and lonely, and the rugby was nothing like the sort of stuff he had been used to when helping the Fiji sevens team to gold at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics just a few months earlier.

Head coach Alan Solomons had been nudged out the club just a few weeks before Mata landed at Murrayfield following a woeful start to the 2016-17 campaign, and Edinburgh spent the rest of that season in a rudderless state, with assistant coach Duncan Hodge battling manfully to hold things together on an interim basis. Six wins from 22 matches in the PRO12 (as it was then) to finish ninth in the table was a fair reflection of the club’s level at that time, with Mata managing seven starts and five bench appearances.

He freely admits that at that stage he wondered whether he could ever properly settle in top-flight rugby’s most northerly outpost, but then the arrival of Richard Cockerill in the summer of 2017 jolted the club into life and created the sort of environment the 6ft 5ins breakaway needed in order to make the most of his undoubted physical and ball-playing attributes.

During the next three seasons, Mata’s game flourished and he emerged as one of the most entertaining and highly regarded performers in the European club game.

After an inauspicious start, Mata and his family grew to love Edinburgh – and the club has loved him back – meaning it was a fairly straight-forward decision for the 29-year-old to agree a contract extension (for an unspecified period of time) yesterday.

“I feel truly blessed and I thank God for another opportunity to extend our stay here in Edinburgh,” he enthused. “Edinburgh Rugby is heading to a good stage right now and I think we’re building together well as a team.

“Since I started with Edinburgh Rugby, I’ve felt my rugby has progressed season after season, so staying with the club means I can hopefully progress even more and aim higher than where I am now.

“All the staff have been really helpful, especially the S&C who have created a personal programme for me to suit my recovery and physical needs.

“To be honest, in my second season, I wasn’t sure I’d last long in Edinburgh, maybe because of the difference in weather and being so far from home, but we feel truly blessed that we are still here and that my family now call Edinburgh ‘home’ as well.

“After Cockers came in and the S&C programme started to change, I felt like I had a bit more in me that I could show. Since then, I’ve been grabbing every opportunity. That’s why I’m still here now and staying for more.

“My daughter (Vinny) knows only two places, Fiji and Edinburgh, and it’s home for our son (Bill Junior) because he was born here. My wife (Wati) feels that way too and we are very happy.”

The player market might not be as avaricious as it was before Covid turned rugby finances on its head, but it would be a surprise if there hadn’t been some serious interest from England and France in the No8 ahead of his current contract running out this summer.

So, yesterday’s news of Mata following in the footsteps of fellow internationalists Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Blair Kinghorn and Jaco van der Walt in recommitting to the club, might be seen as the most emphatic demonstration yet that Cockerill meant what he said when he talked about continuing to build his squad next season despite the financial challenges posed by Covid.

However, there will be some anxiety as well about whether the money could have been more usefully directed elsewhere. We don’t know what Mata is on but we understand he is one of the highest earners at the club. Indeed, Cockerill joked that he would sell one his children’s kidneys to pay for Mata’s last contract extension back in early 2019.

Afterall, back-row is an area where Edinburgh have some depth. Alongside Ritchie and Watson, Magnus Bradbury and Nick Haining have also been capped by Scotland, while Luke Crosbie, Ally Miller, Connor Boyle and Rory Darge could all do with some sustained game-time to see where their potential takes them. However, as far as Cockerill is concerned, Mata offers something irreplaceable, so is worth pushing the boat out for.

“He’s not a luxury at all, the key is that anyone would be happy to have Bill in their team across European rugby, or even one of the Japanese teams,” said the coach. “So, I’d be reluctant to let someone of Bill’s quality leave, because once he leaves, you’re never going to replace that quality and X-Factor.

“He’s a devastating, powerful runner in broken field and from the back of the scrum and has the passing and offloading skills in and before the tackle to bring players around him into the game from nowhere.

“He has worked exceptionally hard over his career to develop those soft skills which complement a lot of the excellent and more understated work he gets through in a game.”