A NEW era for Edinburgh Rugby will begin during the first weekend of September, with coach Alan Solomons insisting opportunities now exist for what amounts to a “complete team of indigenous Scots” he is theoretically capable of fielding.
For the third successive season – and the second in-a-row across the Irish Sea – Edinburgh will open the Guinness Pro 12 against Munster, and Solomons welcomed that challenge set out in a fixture list just announced.
He said: “It’s tough but last season was tougher as we had to go to eventual champions Leinster on the last day and this time they are coming here at the end so the schedule is better balanced.”
Looking beyond the big kick-off, Solomons pronounced himself satisfied with the strength and depth of his squad after a summer of recruitment at home and abroad while setting the primary target of a top-six finish.
“The most important thing for us is to secure a top-six finish in the Guinness Pro 12 because then we qualify for the Heineken Cup. We still want to be at the top table of European rugby. That is something we have to focus on.”
Edinburgh have dropped into the European second tier but much has been made of a global scouting mission that has brought in the likes of Phil Burleigh from New Zealand, Anton Bresler from South Africa and Brett Thompson from the USA.
However Solomons puts emphasis on home-bred talent, too, saying: “You can be like Toulon and buy a team but then you have to be ready to buy another team when these players move on. I don’t like that approach, anyway.
“If we have a constant flow of youngsters we can sustain Edinburgh as a club but it is important they get experience and a modicum of success that will aid and abet development.
“When I look at our wider squad, I see Rory Sutherland, George Turner, Ewen McQuillin, Ben Toolis, Gilcho (Grant Gilchrist) who is only 23, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, and Dave Denton is still a young man also.
“(Among the backs) there’s Sean Kennedy, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Alex Glashan, Tom Heathcote, Matt Scott, Chris Dean and Damien Hoyland.
“We have a team of indigenous Scots under the age of 23 apart from Ben Toolis (who was brought up in Australia).
“We have a vision for what we want to do longer term. We would like to build a club and we’ve got to do it through our young players. That is now going ahead very, very nicely.
“The only way we can build a sustainable club is through our indigenous players.”
Compared to the team which started in Munster last season Nick De Luca, Ben Atiga, Lee Jones, Piers Francis, Izak van der Westhuizen and Sean Cox have left, and that isn’t counting other departures, notably Geoff Cross, Greig Laidlaw and Ross Rennie.
So how does Solomons feel about opening without notable internationalists?
“There comes a time where people move on in their careers. That just happens. That is the way it works. I’m happy with what we have done in terms of recruitment and that’s no reflection on any individuals. In the broadest sense we have greater strength in depth.”
In some instances, there are replacement players from the Southern Hemisphere, where the intensity towards rugby is identical to the passion shown in parts towards football as highlighted by the current World Cup in Brazil. That is something Solomons is keen to promote, with a fascinating analogy concerning events in Brazil.
“Soccer is to Brazil what rugby is to South Africa and New Zealand. There the response would have been exactly the same as what happened in Brazil this week (had there been a loss equivalent to the 7-1 thrashing by Germany).
“In ’99 a South African team I was attached to as a coach beat a New Zealand side for third place and at the function afterwards the All Blacks guys told me they were not going home for a month. ‘Stuff that’, they told me, ‘We’re waiting until things calm down’.
“That’s the difference, the mentality that makes a difference in how you play the game.”