Alan Solomons wants cool heads with derby hunger

Alan Solomons believes the Glasgow team is full of matchwinning players
Alan Solomons believes the Glasgow team is full of matchwinning players
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Edinburgh will need to play with “ice in the brain and fire in the belly” tomorrow as they seek to get their 1872 Cup defence off to a positive start, according to their coach Alan Solomons.

Guinness PRO12 champions Glasgow will arrive at BT Murrayfield as favourites to regain the trophy they lost a six-year grip on at the national stadium last season.

Solomons considers the showdown to be one of the biggest derbies in world rugby but is calling for calm heads when his players take to the field in front of a record crowd for the fixture.

“Everybody knows you have to, as the old saying goes, have ice in the brain and fire in the belly. If fire elevates to the brain you are going to have a problem.”

Edinburgh stormed to a shock 20-8 humbling of Gregor Townsend’s men on January 2, which overturned the ten-point deficit from the first leg at Scotstoun.

The 65-year-old South African is under no illusions that repeating last season’s heroics will be a tough task.

“The Glasgow team is very powerful,” Solomons said. “They have got one or two injuries but not as many as we have got. Their cover is pretty good. They have [scrum-halves Henry] Pyrgos and [Mike] Blair out but Grayson [Hart] is a good player who has played at New Zealand Under-20 level and Ali Price is a very good young player.

“They have lost [Alex] Dunbar at centre but have internationalists [Mark] Bennett and [Peter] Horne there so it is very difficult to argue with that. They have lost Rob Harley but Ryan Wilson comes in. [Josh] Strauss has been rested but Adam Ashe is a Test player.”

Asked about the general view that Edinburgh have the strongest pack while Glasgow pose more of a threat in the backs, Solomons said: “They’ve certainly got some outstanding backs. They’ve got threats right across the backline. I still think we have a very good pack but guys like Dicko [Al Dickinson] and Gilco [Grant Gilchrist] –starting 15 guys for Scotland – are not there for us.

“Nasi [Manu] is a big player for us and he’s not there. Fraz [Fraser McKenzie] has become an important player and he’s not there either, so our pack has been hard hit by injury.”

With Blair and Sean Lamont not involved for Glasgow in the first game of the double-header, Solomons will boast the most experienced head on the field tomorrow in the shape of Scotland hooker Ross Ford, who will be making his 150th appearance for the club.

Solomons paid a glowing tribute to Scotland’s most-capped forward. “He is one of the outstanding guys I’ve had the privilege of coaching,” said the coach.

“He is a world class hooker. He’s starting to approach the 100 Test mark [on 94 caps] and he has been a stalwart for the club. He is on our leadership group and has captained the team on many occasions.

“He’s a typical guy from the Borders: tough. His set-piece is outstanding, a great team man and very popular. We’re very lucky to have him.”

With Edinburgh’s resources in the second row particularly stretched at present, another boost is the return to the bench of Scotland lock Ben Toolis after a three-month lay off with an elbow injury.

Toolis, whose two-year contract extension was announced on Christmas Eve, said: “I’m not match fit, but my fitness other than that is good. I definitely need to get back out there even if that means 20 or 30 minutes at a time. I just need to blow the cobwebs off, then I should be right.

“I don’t really need any motivation for this game. I played in it last year and you can tell how big the game is with the fans.”

Australia-born Toolis, who was capped in the Six Nations game against Italy earlier in the year, has been frustrated at having to miss so much of the season but has taken pleasure in watching his twin brother Alex flourish in the Edinburgh engine room and take advantage of the second row injury crisis.

“Yes, he has come on well,” said Ben. “It was quite frustrating for him and even for me seeing him not getting on. He has stepped up well.

“I’ve been helping a lot with lineouts and finding his feet with that, getting in a rhythm and realising how it works. He has done really well with that.

“It is the same for anyone – take your opportunity – and he has done a good job.”

If Toolis does come off the bench tomorrow there is a 50-50 chance of packing down with his brother, but he hopes it doesn’t end the same way as it did on the only other previous occasion they have teamed up.

“It was in the scrum in last two minutes of the Treviso game that I got my injury. I was bound on Alex and could not get my arm out when the tighthead side went down.

“If I get on this weekend with him, hopefully the same thing does not happen. If we do play together, exciting times.”

Edinburgh Rugby: Jack Cuthbert, Dougie Fife, Michael Allen, Matt Scott, Tom Brown, Phil Burleigh, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Rory Sutherland, Ross Ford, WP Nel, Anton Bresler, Alex Toolis, Mike Coman (captain), John Hardie, Cornell Du Preez. Subs: Neil Cochrane, Allan Dell, John Andress, Ben Toolis, Jamie Ritchie, Sean Kennedy, Greig Tonks, Andries Strauss.

Glasgow Warriors: Stuart Hogg, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Mark Bennett, Peter Horne, Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell, Grayson Hart, Ryan Grant, Fraser Brown, Sila Puafisi, Leone Nakarawa, Jonny Gray (captain), Ryan Wilson, Chris Fusaro, Adam Ashe. Subs: James Malcolm, Gordon Reid, Zander Fagerson, Tim Swinson, Simone Favaro, Ali Price, Sam Johnson, Lee Jones.