Ollie Atkins has revealed one of the reasons for Edinburgh Rugby’s dramatic resurgence is the input of a 43-year-old French skills coach.
The Murrayfield outfit have won six of their past nine matches after a dismal start to the season and going into Boxing Day’s eagerly-awaited 1872 Cup clash with Glasgow Warriors, nobody epitomises Edinburgh’s improvement more than second-row Atkins.
The Australian – who qualifies to play for Scotland – was impressive in both attack and defence in Edinburgh’s 11-6 triumph over Leinster on Friday night, but he attributes the involvement of new coach Philippe Doussy as the main catalyst for the upturn in fortunes.
“Philippe is working with all the forwards and takes us back to basic principals such as trying to improve the speed we execute our moves,” said Atkins.
“All the boys are getting a smarter focus from an energetic bloke who brings a lot of fun to training.
“He is slightly from left field, but we are getting a lot of pay out of it.”
Since arriving in October following coaching spells at Rovato, Leonessa, the Italian national team and Southern Kings, Doussy has kept a low profile. However, as the countdown begun to the first of two inter-city clashes in six days, Edinburgh’s players are queuing to pay tribute.
Skipper Greig Laidlaw said: “Alan (Solomons) brought in a world-class skills coach in Philippe and he is making a big difference.
“Some of his drills are brilliant and while he is a bit mad, both myself and the squad can see the gains.
“The boys are getting ball in hand more and as a former scrum half [with Montauban] he is especially good for me and the younger players.”
Coach Solomons added: “I want to endorse that. One hundred per cent is Philippe world class.”
While Doussy was once recruited to assist the Italian national side, it was from Solomons’ old team, Southern Kings, that he was persuaded to pitch up.
Added Solomons: “Philippe chips away at his task and I have seen him sit in a reception area and catch the guys as they go past in order to help them improve.
“It took us a while to get him over here, but the players are ecstatic with him.”
What stood out from last week’s RaboDirect PRO12 win over Leinster was the way the Irish side were prevented from scoring a try, which reflects well on another of Solomons’ lieutenants – defensive guru Omar Mouneimne.
“That shut-out was a positive step in the right direction,” said Atkins, aware that it is often said the strength of any top side lies in the ability of the front five forwards to put in tackles.
That was certainly the case with Atkins and his second row partner Grant Gilchrist last time. “You can never feel settled in this Edinburgh squad because there are so many players pushing for places and in the case of Gilcho I don’t know how he feels about putting in all those tackles, but I know the opposition will be feeling it when he hits them,” said Atkins.
“Really, a lot of work has gone into upping the work rate of the tight five and that is beginning to show on the field.
“In the tough times you have to grit your teeth and bear it.
“When the opportunity comes you have to grab it with both hands and that is what everybody is trying to do.
“It was tough at the beginning of the season when things could have translated to training being a bit of a chore, but with the wins starting to come – and that victory at Gloucester in front of a noisy home crowd is the highlight for me so far – the effect has been to put a smile on the face of everyone from management to medical staff to the players. As a result, confidence grows.
“We are also seeing some class players come to the fore in the likes of Ben Atiga and Nick de Luca, who are really bringing their experience to bear in the centre.
“And, as a forward, it is great to pick myself up from a set piece or a ruck and see how far Jack Cuthbert or Greig Tonks has booted us upfield.”
Some might be concerned that players like Atkins, Cornell du Preez and Wicus Blaauw, all of whom start against Glasgow, are coming straight off the back of a southern hemisphere season, but 25-year-old Atkins, who stands 6ft 7in and weighs in at 18st 5lbs, insists that isn’t a problem, claiming: “How can you call it a long stretch of games when you are doing something you love for a living?”
Certainly, coach Solomons has had no problem going with virtually the same side that saw off Leinster as Edinburgh try to win only their second 1872 Cup game in ten meetings against rivals who have won all five RaboDirect PRO12 league games on the road this season.