Edinburgh Rugby lock Ollie Atkins is confident that the Murrayfield-based outfit are on track to consign last season’s dismal experience to the past and challenge for a top-six finish in the Guinness Pro 12 championship.
By the end of last season, Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons was bemoaning his players’ lack of fitness and pledged to address that issue during the preparations for the upcoming campaign.
The coach was true to his word and Atkins, 26, believes that the commitment the Edinburgh players have shown over recent weeks will form the foundation on which to build a bid to achieve the targets Solomons has set for his men.
“We have sat down together and one of our big goals is to get into the top six of the Guinness Pro 12 and try to get back up into the European Cup,” said Atkins although he acknowledges that the squad’s readiness will only become clear once the campaign has started. “It is that old cliché of week by week and when you have someone like Munster coming up first, you can only think about that. The boys are just really excited to get out there and play.”
The former Waratahs player, who is Scottish qualified through a father from Dunbar, concedes that the conditioning work was painful but clearly subscribes to the “no pain, no gain” school of thought.
“It was actually really good,” he said. “I say that now that we have completed it but during it I wouldn’t have said that. Johan (Pretorius) and Omar (Mouneimne) have done a fantastic job trying to get us functionally fit. We didn’t have that last year.
“It’s all about getting you fit for rugby. It’s a lot of pad work and sprints and strong man type of stuff. It’s getting you ready for the short bursts of energy that you need throughout the 80 minutes.
“I wasn’t here for last year’s pre-season. The boys said it was a huge amount of running and stairs and stuff like that. So it’s totally different this year. I think a huge amount of benefit has come out of the process.”
Atkins arrived in the Capital last summer and featured 12 times on league duty, starting on five occasions.
He is desperate to be involved when the league action gets underway against Munster at Thomond Park tomorrow after featuring in the victory over Newcastle Falcons in last week’s warm-up match in Hawick.
However, with Solomons having bolstered his squad over the close season, Atkins knows that every player must now raise their game in order to stake a claim for a squad berth.
“There is a huge amount of competition for all spots and that is only going to increase. It’s going to lift the level of the boys and the standards, so that’s a great thing,” said Atkins, who points out that competition for places now extends throughout the side and believes the challenge of securing a place in the team should raise overall standards.
“Fraser (McKenzie) is a fantastic rugby player and there are a lot of good guys coming into the fold. We’ve got Anton Bresler coming in, one of the stand-outs at the Sharks,” he said of the competition in his own position.
“The boys have all worked really hard and you can see it. It’s good and we are just working every week to try and get our physicality up. It was a bit down against Newcastle and that’s not acceptable from our standards. We’ve really got to hit another level when we play Munster.”
And, while he does not yet know if he will make the trip to Ireland for the opener, Atkins is desperate to set the ball rolling on a campaign that will be a major test for Solomons, who has now imposed his identity on the group having signed the players on his wish list and supervised the pre-season preparations.