Edinburgh coach agrees SRU request to play Cross and Ford

Alan Solomons
Alan Solomons
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Coach Alan Solomons has mounted a spirited justification of Edinburgh’s heavy overseas recruitment while revealing that Scottish Rugby owners had stepped in to “request” a start for Scotland front row reserves Geoff Cross and Ross Ford against Ospreys at Meggetland tonight (7.35pm) in the RaboDirect PRO12.

If Cross completes a full shift, it will be more than his aggregate minutes accumulated this season either in the European Cup (76) or the League (66), while his Scotland tally is 77 minutes.

However, Solomons sees putting an emphasis on overseas talent shoring up the team as tantamount to mandatory.

“It is not a question of lack of opportunities (for Scottish players),” said South African Solomons, adding: “One’s got to understand the strategies we have.

“The only way you can build a sustainable club is through an academy and since December a sub committee comprising myself, Steve Scott (assistant coach) and Bryan Easson (development manager) have met on a regular basis.

“We have already identified players we would like to see in our academy and the next step will be recruitment working within the Scottish protocol.

“Plans are in place for the integration of these players into our squad. That is the future.

“(But) we cannot have these players coming into a team that is struggling.

“So, we need to strengthen the team to give effect to that strategy. That is what we are busy doing.

“Unfortunately, at the moment, clubs in Scotland and particularly our region, are struggling.

“In the British and Irish Cup, they won only 20 per cent of games, conceded 2000 points and scored 1000.

“We have scoured the club scene, picking up Damien Hoyland, although he is in age-grade rugby, and had one or two other lads practise with us.

“But we have not had anyone who can come into the professional game at the moment, as we see it.

“Certainly, I would think that if there are players who are putting their hands up they would be in the professional game already.

“Players at under-20 have just been beaten by Italy, who are not one of the leading nations.

“However, apparently there is a very good under-18 team which is very, very positive. We have already identified players there we would like to bring in.

“The process is in hand to bring through young players.

“All countries go through cycles.

“Ireland has had a golden age with O’Driscoll and O’Connell; similarly Scotland (once) had the Hastings’ coming through along with John Jeffrey. You have got to look at it like that.

“I’m not saying there aren’t good players with the under-20s – there’s Hoyland and also Chris Dean, to name just two.

“But, a simple example: it would be much better for Chris Dean to come in when Matt Scott is away with Scotland and play alongside Andries Strauss rather than another inexperienced player.

“Chris Dean has been targeted along with Hoyland. Ewan McQuillan and George Turner have been on the bench, so opportunities are there.”

Referring to two of his previous coaching assignments, Solomons said: “The process is tried and tested as used at Ulster and the (Southern) Kings.”

Solomons was three seasons at Ulster and during five league meetings with Edinburgh the maximum number of overseas players he used in a single match was six.

In each of the past two matches, Edinburgh have started seven non-Scots and the total has peaked at eight this season.

However, it is argued by Solomons that the need is acute.

“Edinburgh is a club that has been struggling for a number of years. I was brought in to rebuild the club,” he says.

Eyebrows might be raised at the choice of adjective as 12 of this “struggling” squad were in the starting line-up which defeated Toulouse on the way to a Euro semi-final less than two years ago.

Among them is Ross Ford, released back from Scotland, of whom Solomons says: “We have got to take into consideration the national consideration.

“There was a request and we are happy to accommodate that.”

Asked about Cross’ scant opportunities, Solomons said: “We have to look at our requirements at Edinburgh and what is going to suit our game.

“From a national perspective there are only so many experienced and qualified tight head props who can play for Scotland.

“Geoff is important to the national team, so he gets an opportunity to start in facilitating the national team.”

Currently, the Edinburgh web-site continues to refer to “progress” when, in fact, three successive league fixtures have been lost during which the team have dropped two places.

Again, Solomons is defiant and convinced things are better than when Ospreys inflicted the biggest Edinburgh defeat of the season – 44-10, at Swansea.

“We are further down the track that we were in that first game. This team is now going into a third (successive) match after a month’s break.

“The problem we have had is that we have been on the road.”

Incredibly, this is Edinburgh’s first home match in seven weeks – answers on a postcard as to how a fan-base can be built under those conditions – and as for recent reverses, Solomons says: “In Connacht we should have won but made too many errors.

“That said, we had a try disallowed that to me was clearly a try.

“The Scarlets game we could and should have won but for errors.

“We are looking to put it right in terms of a performance that will give us every opportunity to get a (winning) result.”

If all else fails, there is always the under-18 crop to look forward to. Eventually.

Solomons has a special faith, though, in Kiwi Mike Coman, who continues to captain the team in only his third start.

“Mike has an incredible work rate and I can see he has very strong leadership qualities,” says Solomons.