The 28-year-old faces surgery this week after damaging ankle ligaments during his side’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final loss to Bordeaux last week.
He will now be missing as Richard Cockerill’s team kick off the season against Ospreys at Murrayfield on Saturday. And Mata is also likely to be absent when Fiji visit Edinburgh in late November as part of the new Autumn Nations Cup tournament.
Confirming the news, Cockerill – who hopes star wing Duhan van der Merwe will be fit to face Ospreys but is still waiting for scrum-half Henry Pyrgos to shake off a concussion – said: “Bill Mata will have surgery on his ankle on Thursday to repair a ligament.
“He will probably be six to eight weeks with that, meaning he will miss the first two rounds of the PRO14 with us then the international period with Fiji. Once he has surgery we’ll know more. It may be shorter, it may be longer but roughly it will be six to eight weeks.
“It’s tough. He has been playing very well. We know Bill is pivotal to ourselves so it’s disappointing. Listen, we’ve got good cover with Nick Haining and Magnus Bradbury are good number eights so we’re not short in the back row but certainly for Edinburgh and Fiji that will be a blow.”
Losing Mata for such a lengthy period would be bad enough during the best of times but Cockerill admits he will be unable to bring in fresh recruits as Scottish rugby’s coronavirus crisis deepens. New restrictions on fans attending sporting events mean the autumn Tests and next year’s Six Nations are set to be played behind closed doors.
Scottish Rugby Union chief executive Mark Dodson has already admitted that will leave a £30million blackhole in the Murrayfield coffers and Cockerill admits the repercussions might leave his hands tied going into next season.
“No, we won’t be adding, that’s for sure,” he said. “At this point (I’ve no concerns about this year’s budget) because the money I’ve had I’ve spent. You can’t take it off me. Obviously, for everybody it’s a concern that there will be no fans in during the autumn Tests and if it’s the worst case, there will be no fans in during the Six Nations.
“If that happens then I think the whole game will have a rethink around where we’re at. But I think that will be a challenge all round. We know that if we don’t have fans in within the next six months it’s going to cause problems for the world game, not just Scottish rugby.
“Hopefully it won’t get to that but we just need to keep working through it and we’ll have to adjust playing-wise as we go along. That’s just the way it is. We’ve got our squad that we’ve got for the season coming and depending on where we end up Covid wise our budgets will reflect that.
“We’ve not looked that far ahead (to next season). We would normally probably for recruitment but I think everybody is waiting to see where we end up with this. It might be more positive. Likewise we may have to cut our cloth to suit depending on the financial circumstances.”