Duncan Hodge reflects on ‘manic’ week after Edinburgh call

Edinburgh's acting head coach Duncan Hodge at Murrayfield. Picture: SNS Group.

Edinburgh's acting head coach Duncan Hodge at Murrayfield. Picture: SNS Group.

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Edinburgh’s acting head coach Duncan Hodge has been given no timescale on how long he will be in the post and admits the past week has been a “whirlwind”.

The attack coach was promoted to take the reins when Alan Solomons stepped down last Wednesday following a disappointing start to the season which had seen the club lose three of their first four Guinness Pro12 matches. That record became one win out of five after the 28-15 defeat by Connacht at the weekend.

Hodge is now focusing all his energies on stopping the rot with a win at home to Treviso on Friday night but confessed it had been a challenging few days.

“It’s been manic,” said the former Scotland stand-off as he spoke to the media for the first time since his elevation.

“I haven’t had time to think about it, to be honest, since I was called in and told last Wednesday. It was a day off and I was planning to go for a game of squash when I was called. I had two days to get the team organised for last Friday’s game and since then it’s been full-on planning for this Friday.”

Treviso have endured a similarly miserable start to the season, having picked up only one victory themselves. Edinburgh’s woeful run can be stretched to one win in eight if you factor in the three straight losses which saw them slump to ninth place at the end of last term.

Hodge is now the man tasked with turning things around but when asked how he will do it he replied: “That is the million dollar question. Every coach I ever worked with had different views. No-one sees the same thing and there are things I’d like to change. But we are where we are, with a huge game on Friday night, and there’s lots going around in my head, so you have to be extremely careful in terms of what you change.

“I am trying to change a few behaviours though because we need to start winning rugby matches. I need to work out how we do that and that comes down to working out our strengths, weaknesses, and where I can tweak that, which is what you go through as a coach every week but, now, on a different scale.”

Hodge has no idea at this stage on how long he will be given to stake his claim for the job on a more permanent basis. “I know as much as you guys,” he said. “I’m just doing this job, am extremely honoured to do this job and love doing it so will do the best I can and see what happens.”

The 42-year-old rejoined Edinburgh following last autumn’s World Cup, where he was working with the national team. He said he had not spoken to Solomons since his departure but revealed the development had come as a surprise.

“I suppose the only other time I’ve seen a head coach go suddenly like that was Andy Robinson. It’s incredibly hard because Solly is a great man and a very good coach, and extremely loyal to myself and all his staff. Then all of a sudden he’s not there anymore.

“But I had no doubts [about accepting role]. It’s always been an ambition of mine. I’m an ambitious coach and I’m incredibly honoured to be even interim, and given this shot. Hopefully, I can make a difference and then we’ll see what happens.”

Hodge insisted that squad morale remains good but stressed that there was sadness among the players when they heard that the 66-year-old South African had gone.

“Alan has worked with these guys for three years, signed a lot of them and was close with the players, and he’s an honourable man, so it’s been hard for everyone.”

There has been a general perception that Edinburgh’s negative style of play has hampered progress and Hodge will now have more of a free rein to loosen the shackles. However, the hero of the 2000 Calcutta Cup win, warned that the “champagne rugby” couldn’t simply flow with the flick of a switch.

He reflected on the Edinburgh of five years ago, who played a fast attacking style but were often undone at the other end of the field.

“They attacked well then, but I don’t think their league position was great then either,” said Hodge. “The game of rugby is a blend. If you’re heavily focused on one area the other suffers.

“We have to work out ways of being more consistent in our performance, squeezing more points and more tries.

“We’ve been letting teams off the hook too easily. There have been some good periods of play but in all departments we’ve then been letting teams off hook.

“In defence we’ve given away too many tries; in attack, we play five or six phases in attack and then there’s a skills error, so if we could tighten up we’ll improve because there are good players at this club.

“Whether it’s lack of concentration, what is causing these little errors? That’s what I’m trying to get to the bottom of. That’s my job, to work it out and then fix it, and what can we do on the training pitch to help these guys. We want them to learn, to fulfil the potential I see.

“It’s not an easy thing to do.”

Hodge knows that it is imperative to start building momentum heading into the move to Myreside at the turn of the year. As a former Watsonians player it is something he is relishing.

“It’s great for the club,” said the man who joined Edinburgh at the start of the professional era and went on to win 26 caps for his country. “You look over at Scotstoun and other club grounds and if we can five, six or seven thousand in there it would be fantastic.

“I’ve played at Myreside with that kind of crowd – Scotland A games and big matches for Watsonians against Melrose and suchlike – and it was great.

“Having those people passionate about you right there, you can hear them and see them, personally I think will be great. But we need to do our bit on the pitch to help it grow as well.

“Hopefully, we will see some of it this week. It needs to come out on Friday night.”