Edinburgh Rugby coach Alan Solomons has handed his latest signing Otulea Katoa an instant opportunity to make an impression.
The Tongan internationalist has been named in his squad of 28 for tonight’s pre-season encounter with Romania at Melrose (kick-off 6.30pm).
The 24-year-old winger arrived in the Capital earlier this week, having featured for his country at the recent Pacific Nations Cup. However, he failed to make the final cut for the Tongan World Cup squad, his place going to another of Edinburgh’s summer signings, Will Helu. “He is a young guy who has had some international experience but we feel that he can make a valuable contribution,” said Solomons of the new arrival.
The coach wants to use tonight’s outing to take a closer look at the personnel that will be available to him over the coming weeks.
“This is our first hit out and it is a game where we want the guys to get game time,” he added. “What we are planning to do is to give the bulk of the players decent game time. I’ve organised in advance that people know how much game time they get. There are guys who will play 40 minutes and there will only be three or possibly four players I have earmarked to play 80 minutes.”
Solomons will be working largely with the same group during the early weeks of the Guinness PRO12 campaign when his international contingent is absent. He admits that, while he will be relying on untested players, those opening fixtures, when other sides – notably, defending champions Glasgow Warriors – will be harder hit, also represent an opportunity for Edinburgh to gather league points.
“It is important that we hit the ground running and the players are aware of that,” he said before outlining his hopes that some of his rising stars will seize the opportunity. “What is key this season is that guys like Chris Dean and Damien Hoyland come through. There is no doubt they have the wherewithal. They don’t have the experience but we need some firepower in the outside backs. They have the potential to have that X factor but it is their first season.”
Solomons admits that the run to the final of last season’s European Challenge Cup proved to be a distraction but he is confident that the club, with new management, a strengthened coaching team, and better preparations, is in a much healthier position and ready to achieve his target of a top-six finish this time around.
“We have built the side through our conditioning, our defence, our set piece and a structured game plan. Now we need to involve our attack. That has started in bits and pieces. This season we want to evolve that further.”
To that end, he is confident that his side has the firepower to win in a range of ways.
“This season I would like us to be a side that is capable of playing in a variety of ways. To do that, we need to continue to evolve our attack and, like all teams, when we can win with style, absolutely we want to do that.”
Tonight’s opponents are coached by Lyn Howells who spent a season at Edinburgh but lost his job when the team was returned to SRU ownership in 2007. He has been in charge of Romania – currently ranked 17 in the world, five places behind Scotland – for three years and will lead them into the World Cup, where they will meet France, Ireland, Canada and Italy in their pool matches.
The Romanians started their build up to the competition with a 10-10 draw last Friday against Yorkshire Carnegie, who had a five-point kicking contribution from former Edinburgh stand-off Harry Leonard.
Solomons has experience of playing against them from his days in South Africa and is ready for the challenge.
“I know them, reasonably well. I don’t know to what extent things have changed because it’s been a few years, but like most Eastern Europe sides, they are very physical, good up front. A lot of their better players will be playing high up in France,” he said.
“We must expect a massive physical contest.”
N McLennan, J Farndale, C Dean, A Strauss, T Brown, P Burleigh, N Fowles, G Shiells, N Cochrane, J Andress, A Bresler, F McKenzie, J Ritchie, R Grant, C Du Preez. Subs: J Hilterbrand, G Turner, J Cosgrove / A Dell, S Berghan, A Toolis, M Bradbury, M McAndrew, J Te Rure, S Beard, J Johnstone, O Katoa, J Cuthbert
Romania: F Ionita or S Stratila. I Botezatu F Vlaicu, P Kinikinilau, M Wiringi F Surugiu S Burcea, M Lazar, E Capatana, H Pungea, J Van Heerden, M Drenceanu, R Morrison, O Tonita. Subs: P Ion, V Ursache, D Dumbrava, M Lemnaru, C Gal, A Radoi, O Turashvili, Mi Macovei, D Carpo, T Bratu, V Calafeteanu, A Apostol.