Edinburgh Rugby coach Alan Solomons has pointed to his team selection for tonight’s Guinness PRO12 home clash with table-toppers Connacht (kick-off 7.35pm) as evidence that his long-term strategy for the Murrayfield-based outfit is coming to fruition.
While conceding that international commitments, injuries and departures from the club have been a factor in naming his side – he has only 27 available players from a squad that numbered 43 men at the start of the season – Solomons said: “One thing that delights me is when I was looking through that team, in our starting fifteen, we have eight guys, youngsters who have come through in the past two seasons and four more on the bench.
“This team excites me. We have had the green shoots of my vision but now we are in full swing with that vision.
“For me it’s no longer green shoots, this is a fact, these boys are playing. The boys I am talking about are all under 24, some of them under 20.
“What gives me a thrill as well is that in terms of Scottish qualified, there are only five players who are not Scottish qualified, three of whom are project players. That only leaves Sam Beard, who is leaving and John Andress, who is leaving.”
Solomons is confident that the side he has selected is capable of toppling the league leaders and moving towards the top-six finish that will open the door to the top tier European Champions Cup next season.
“I know we have a lot of guys out, but this is still a good team that we are putting out. That’s what I’ve said to the players,” added Solomons, who bade farewell to another top team regular earlier in the week when Greig Tonks departed for London Irish.
And while reaffirming that the priority is to finish in the top half of the table, the coach is adamant that the target of a place in the leading quartet is still firmly in his sights.
“The bottom line is that we have to do everything in our power to get a top six and while we are doing everything in our power to get a top six, we are doing everything in our power obviously to make a play-off and we obviously have to take it game by game”, he added.
The recent controversial defeat against Scarlets in Wales was painful and only partially avenged by last weekend’s narrow victory over the same opponents. With the race for the play-offs becoming increasingly tense, it is vital for Edinburgh to take something from tonight’s encounter.
Solomons knows the meeting with a side that is no longer the poor relation of the Irish teams will pose a stern examination for a relatively inexperienced side that has been bolstered by the return from international duty of Rory Sutherland, Matt Scott and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.
Of tonight’s encounter, he stated: “This is another tough game. They are the leaders and we have to get a result so the boys have got to perform well. And the young boys have got to step up to the plate.
“Let’s be honest, they have now got a big budget. They haven’t been bothered much by international call-ups and they don’t have a massive injury list, they are not missing major players – they are missing Robbie Henshaw and that’s it. In days gone by they were the Cinderella province. They are no longer the Cinderella province but they have still kept that mentality so they will fight all the way. They have confidence.”
In the opposition camp, Connacht coach Pat Lam admits that confidence in his ranks is indeed high, but admits that his players are wary of the hosts.
“There is consistency in the way Edinburgh play – they are very physical, very direct, and they are a settled team with a lot of experienced players,” he said.