There aren’t many parts of the rugby world that Duncan Hodge’s career as player and coach hasn’t taken him, but this week’s trip to Romania will be a first for Edinburgh’s caretaker boss.
The former Scotland stand-off will lead the side for a third time as they open their European Challenge Cup pool campaign at Timisoara Saracens on Saturday afternoon. Having stopped the rot of a faltering Guinness Pro12 campaign, which led to the departure of Alan Solomons, with a thumping 45-10 home win over Treviso last Friday, Hodge is keen to keep the ball rolling in Europe.
“It starts with a team we don’t really know very well,” said Hodge, “but, in saying that, like any team we have received quite a lot of footage of them and we have analysed them and formulated thoughts. It will be a tough game over there and you could guess what some of their traits are.
“They have a big, physical pack and in defence they’re certainly aggressive at getting the ball back and with their line-speed, so there are things there we need to be very wary of. But we need to focus on our game and how we take it forward.
“I haven’t been to Romania before. It’s possibly the one place I haven’t. We’re playing at a great stadium as well, so it’s going to be good.”
WP Nel will almost certainly be missing again with a neck injury and Ewen McQuillin, the young tighthead who was an emergency call-up from London Scottish to the starting XV last Friday is ineligible for European competition. That means Nick Beavon heads back to Edinburgh, though academy prospect Murray McCallum did his chances no harm of taking the No.3 shirt in Romania’s third largest city this weekend.
“We’re still short there [at prop] but fair play to Murray, who came on and did really well,” said Hodge. “OK, it was only for 22, 23 minutes – but he didn’t look out of place at all. He had one great scrum. In training he communicates well. I have no doubt he could definitely do a job. We are still waiting to find out [about Nel]. It shouldn’t be long-term, but this week could be too much.”
Hodge was a player when Scottish clubs made their first foray into European competition back in the 1990s and he has always relished the fresh challenges that trans-continental tournaments present.
Edinburgh are, of course, desperate to get back into the premier Champions Cup but the second-tier competition has provided them with some good memories in recent years, culminating in an historic run to the final in 2015. With Edinburgh’s pool made up of more glamorous opposition in the shape of Harlequins and Stade Francais, Hodge says there is plenty to be excited about in the weeks and months ahead.
“It doesn’t seem that long since I was playing Bath in 1996 down there, so I can remember playing in Europe, and it is a different challenge to the domestic competition,” said the 42-year-old. “The bigger tournament makes most of the headlines but look at the teams in our pool – there are great teams there and it’s great to play against them, and also be able to afford opportunities to other players sometimes.
“You look at how the team has performed in recent years on this stage and there are loads of positives.”
That seven-try win, albeit against a limited Treviso side, has injected some positivity to the squad and Hodge said: “As I said last week, the players have been good [before and after Solomons departure] and so it was nice for them to get some reward on Friday night. It certainly wasn’t perfect by any means but there were a lot of positives in there.”