New Edinburgh Rugby coach Alan Solomons will bring a fresh intensity and prove no respecter of reputations when he starts work at Murrayfield on August 9.
Few with links to Scottish rugby know 63-year-old Solomons better than Mark Blair, who played at Currie on either side of a pro career that saw him spend two seasons with Ulster under the South African’s tutelage.
Blair, a member of Ulster’s 1999 Heineken European Cup-winning team who also turned out for the Borders and Narbonne, said: “Solly will bring a new level of expectation in terms of performance.
“That is one thing he did at Ulster and for us it was a bit of a shock to the system in terms of what everybody thought was a professional approach until he arrived.
“But he went down really well and, from what I have heard, about his time at the Southern Kings Super 15 team he produced the goods as director of rugby, considering it was not the biggest of budgets at his disposal.”
Solomons has been hired to replace Michael Bradley, with interim coach Stevie Scott remaining on a permanent basis in charge of the Edinburgh forwards.
Blair says the Edinburgh squad can expect to feel a wind of change blowing through the dressing room at the behest of a man who was assistant to the Springboks at the time when they won the Tri-Nations (1998) and went 17 matches unbeaten.
Added Blair: “Solly instilled a different mentality in the Ulster players.
“He’s fairly hard-nosed in terms of what he wants.
“He’s very pleasant, very articulate and speaks well.
“And there’s no doubt he commands respect.
“All in all I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ulster when he was there.”
Blair’s first impressions were stark, as he recalled: “When Solly first arrived we did some fitness testing and I remember him looking at the results and saying ‘right, nobody touches a rugby ball for six weeks until you get yourselves fit’!”
“He is very focused on what he does and what he wants to achieve.
“Technically his knowledge and expertise is first-class and he has a great knack of utilising people around him.
“He’ll delegate to get the best out of his support team.
“I also got the feeling he went home and thought about rugby in a way few were able to do.
“By that I mean ‘think rugby all day and all night’!
“While at Ulster he kept very much in touch with the club scene and had a real hand in plucking Neil Best, a very good back-row forward who ended up at Northampton, from the local leagues.
“(Lion) Stephen Ferris was another who came into the Ulster side under Solly and went on to have an outstanding international career.
“This willingness to engage with the clubs will certainly prove useful at Edinburgh.
“When I was at Currie, one professional coach came along to the club for a chat and apparently didn’t like what he heard too much because we never saw him again.
“I don’t think that will happen with Solly who’ll speak to people to get a feel for the players outwith the core group.
“He’ll want to know what other options are out there and will be aware of the extended squad at his team’s disposal.
“One thing is guaranteed and that’s the fact nobody will be guaranteed a place in the team he selects.
“He’ll arrive with an open mind and won’t care about names or reputations!”
Meanwhile, while Solomons may have coached Ulster to a Celtic Cup win at Murrayfield where he also steered the Barbarians to victory over Scotland, his respect for Edinburgh’s capabilities might be traced back to September 2002 when the Capital outfit began their Celtic League season with a 19-18 victory over Solomons’ Ulster at Ravenhill.
The Ulstermen might have been in the middle of a three-year unbeaten home run in the Heineken Cup but Edinburgh proved themselves in a way that was perhaps to have a bearing on the team’s future years later.
Alan Solomons Profile
1950: Born on July 31 in
Uitenhage, South Africa.
1997: Begins professional
career as an assistant coach with Western Province.
2000: Coaches South Africa under head coach Nick Mallett.
2001: Appointed head coach of Ulster in the Celtic League and leads them to a three-year unbeaten home record in the Heineken Cup.
2004: Becomes head coach at Northampton Saints in the English Premiership. He leaves in the 2004/05 season after losing eight straight games.
2006: Appointed as a high performance consultant for the IRB and coaches Barbarians.
2010: Becomes director of rugby and head coach at the Eastern Province Kings in South Africa. Remains as
director of rugby when Matt Sexton becomes head coach.
July 2013: Named head coach of Edinburgh Rugby.
Kilted kiwi Mustchin gives his former boss a ringing endorsement
The appointment of Alan Solomons, who celebrates his 63rd birthday today, as Edinburgh Rugby’s new coach, has received a ringing endorsement on the other side of the world, writes BILL LOTHIAN.
Kilted kiwi Matt Mustchin spent a season at Ulster under Solomons before moving to Edinburgh and on to five Scotland caps in 2008 under the residency rule.
Now back in New Zealand, Mustchin told the Evening News: “I found Alan to be very well organised and clear in what he wanted players to do.
“He would give good feedback on how you had played and what you could do to improve. Alan was always asking about how you are to make sure everything was going well off the field because he believed if things were settled elsewhere playing performances would be better.
“Players will find him very open and easy to talk to. The experience he has gained means a great knowledge of the game and that will ensure he has the best plans to make Edinburgh successful.”
Solomons starts at Murrayfield on August 9 alongside Stevie Scott, the former Edinburgh and Scotland hooker who is the club’s new forwards’ coach.