New Edinburgh Rugby coach Alan Solomons will look to reconstruct the underperforming side by cultivating traditional Scottish strengths.
“When I think of typical Scottish rugby players I think they are always tough, always physically committed. I always think of Scots as being pretty rugged,” said Solomons who has arrived from South Africa charged with restoring pride to a team which fell rapidly from grace last season in finishing third bottom of the Rabo Direct Pro 12 League.
The 63-year-old one-time Ulster mentor, who had a successful spell attached to the Springboks backroom team, insists he has an open mind about the playing resources at his disposal and will start to take stock with individual interviews when Edinburgh train at Loughborough University next week.
What he is absolutely transparent about is the benefits of coming to full-time rugby after a lengthy period in the business world, extensive studying acquiring two degrees and also compulsory South African national service.
Citing Arsenal football boss Arsene Wenger (economics degree) and All Blacks world cup winning coach Sir Graham Henry (ex-headmaster) as well as Sir Alex Ferguson as role models Solomons said: “Having a background in law has been of huge assistance to me. A lot of guys go straight from playing to coaching and don’t really work in the commercial world. Having earned a law degree I then read business science in a four-year honours course.
“Practising law gave me the ability to sift through vast amounts of information and pick out the kernel of a problem. “It also gave me the ability to analyse, to find solutions and to articulate. It has been a great help.
“My dad was a lawyer until he left the profession to help my grandfather’s business and when I was a boy he was always setting me challenges.
“I was a reasonable tennis player and wanted a Dunlop Maxply (top range racquet). My dad said ‘fine, but you have to win the school tennis tournament to get it. It was the same with university. I was I told I could go but only if I got first-class entry qualifications.”
National Service in the 1960s would be at the height of the apartheid era but Solomons quickly glosses over that aspect of his upbringing to insist: “What shaped me most was university where I was chairman of the Sports Union and had a very good Principal as well as a good rugby coach while working in Ulster meant getting to know Syd Millar (former Ireland cap and Lions coach) and Michael Gibson (ex-Ireland and Lions) both outstanding men.” At Ulster, Solomons created a side which went three years unbeaten at home in the Heineken European Cup.
“It is important to develop your home ground as a fortress. The advantage of familiar surroundings include sleeping in your own bed the day before a game although I don’t think it is that major an issue in the professional game,” he said.
That stint also featured a Celtic Cup Final victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield where a 17,000 crowd remained a record for a provincial fixture until the Euro quarter final with Toulouse 18 months ago.
Many – rightly – regard the cavernous arena as playing into the hands of opponents and to his credit Solomons doesn’t downplay the fact things could be better.
“It is very difficult,” he said of the Murrayfield factor, adding: “It is a fantastic stadium although huge. To fill it is really going to be (only) for a major Test match and to fill it for what I call domestic representative rugby is not that easy.
“When we played in the Celtic Cup Final the crowd were on the other side, too. That gave a little bit of atmosphere and a lot of Ulster people came. But it is difficult because it is such a big stadium.
“What Ulster’s team had that day, though was a will to win. They were very together.”
Instilling that desire will be the first challenge for Solomons and his lieutenants but there is a steely determination about the sage with the sparrow-like build that suggests Edinburgh Rugby will soon be delivering.