Alan Solomons comes to Edinburgh Rugby with a great coaching pedigree but is he the man to change the fortunes of an Edinburgh Rugby team that quite frankly were a disgrace last season?
Apart from their magnificent run the Heineken Cup two seasons ago that cup campaign masked the poor form in the domestic league and whilst a good cup run can galvanise a team, peel back the layers during Michael Bradley’s tenure and it does not make good reading. Poor signings, a lack of harmony in the squad and lower league standings in the RaboDirect Pro12 mean that Solomons has some work to do.
I do believe that the Solomons will ultimately have to shed quite a few players for Edinburgh to produce a consistency that supporters crave. A case of separating the wheat from the chaff! We have seen already that he is willing to bring in his own team of players and coaching staff and that includes defence coach Italian born Omar Mouneimne. High plaudits were gained in a recent pre-season friendly with Northampton and as we know defence does win you games. But rugby cannot just be built on defence. I believe that as the game evolves over the next few years the ‘attack game’ will change hugely.
Solomons, I believe is a thinker in that mould and his experience in the southern hemisphere game most recently with the Eastern Province Kings will bring about a change in how Edinburgh isolate and attack in different areas of the pitch.
With new signings Aleki Lutie, Jack Cuthbert and Ollie Atkins, to name but a few of the new recruits, Solomns has also brought in loose head prop Wicus Blaauw to join fellow South African, WP Nel. Whilst Blaauw is not a ‘project signing’ it is how he adapts to his new team mates and gels with the Edinburgh pack that will prove crucial in setting a firm base in the scrum. The new scrum law at least looks as though it might just work. Hookers hooking for the ball, straight feeds and a genuine ‘eight man push’! When was the last time that you heard that phrase?
I personally was not impressed with Nel last season not have I been particularly enamoured with the signings of 21 year old twin locks Ben and Alex Toolis from Brisbane who are apparently on an eight week training programme to get them used to the rigours of the new season? Surely there are two locks currently playing in Scotland’s club game that merit a contract? I have not met these two young Australians and hope that they enjoy their stint but beyond these signings is an umbilical cord that attaches Edinburgh Rugby to the Scottish Clubs, the players and supporters. I do feel that if we are to truly embrace Edinburgh Rugby they must reach out to this community as a feeder system.
Recently I have been speaking with some prominent rugby club members who support the club game. There is a consensus that payment to players in the club game cannot be sustained. However they would consider supporting and paying players if there was a joint investment programme meaning that if players and coaches of the clubs were financially supported by the professional teams, then there would a willingness to contribute. Partnerships can be strong if managed well.
Recently we heard that Melrose star ? had turned down an opportunity of a pro-contract with Glasgow on the basis that he just wanted to play rugby. Yes there were other factors in his decision including securing employment in Gala but the fact is that professional players are paid to play rugby and not to sit on the benches.
To continue on the theme of our professional teams engaging with clubs let me take you back to last season. Young Piers Francis of Edinburgh had a shocking start to his campaign in an Edinburgh jersey denying Harry Leonard the chance for a run of games. Francis playing on low confidence could have gone to the club game and in particular to Melrose to gain some much needed form and indeed could have played in the British & Irish Cup with the Borders outfit. At the time Craig Chalmers was there. Surely Francis could have benefited from that experience but because the relationship was not there between Michael Bradley and the club, there was nowhere for young Francis to develop his form.
Perhaps Kenny Murray’s involvement with Glasgow could spark a new period of synergy? Surely there is no one better suited to developing this roll alongside Sean Lineen (Under 20s head coach) and Eddie Pollock (U18s head coach). That just leaves Edinburgh to find its own coach to link with the clubs. He’s already in position but unless Stevie Scott’s job description is widened the status quo will be remain.
And there remains the crux of the problem. The pieces of the jig-saw are there but can they be put together? If they were then players could be put on target programmes to develop their own skills. Working with their club coaches, the dialogue between the player, the club coach and the professional coach would become stronger; building the base of players that are home bred and enabling them to step from a vibrant club game to the professional game.
Finally if Edinburgh is to become a force in the RaboDirect Pro 12 league and in the Heineken Cup they must move to a new stadium. I know I have mentioned this before and whilst there are no hand to gloves fixes you only have to look at Glasgow to see how they have developed their brand, their supporter base and more importantly their team ethos. These are the building blocks of any team and whilst Solomons can control the destiny of his team there is as much work to be done off the pitch as there is on it!