Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons’ decision to appoint Stuart McInally and Grant Gilchrist as co-captains is part of his ongoing drive to build a strong Scottish identity for the club, he said yesterday.
The first couple of years of the South African’s reign saw a big influx of southern hemisphere imports but, with a clutch of homegrown youngsters breaking through into the first team last season, Solomons is adamant that progress is being made.
He said that the co-captaincy was something he has had in mind for some time.
“I spoke with Mike Coman [the New Zealander who left to join London Irish at the end of the season] who is a terrific captain and a terrific bloke, and we agreed that we need to move it into a Scottish-led team. The captaincy needed to come from Scotland. When it is from your own home it just means that little bit more.
“I know Glasgow have done that too [with Jonny Gray and Henry Pyrgos co-captains]. I haven’t spoken with Gregor [Townsend, the Glasgow coach] about it, but the boys knew before they went on the break at the end of the season that they would be co-captains. Gregor probably did it for different reasons.”
Solomons believes that the two 26-year-olds will bring a yin and yang dynamic to the joint role and said: “Gilcho is a highly intelligent guy and Stuart is a guy who can have an edge. But Gilcho is quite an edgy character and personality on the pitch, while Stuart is a tough physical competitor, but a very intelligent, cerebral character. They complement each other very nicely there.”
As with the Glasgow pairing the fact that both are, when fit, regulars in the Scotland squad means that there will be periods during the season when both will be away.
“We have guys there,” said Solomons. “Fordy [Ross Ford] and Fraser McKenzie are part of the leadership group.
“We have guys like Neil Cochrane who captained last season and did an excellent job. We have Nasi Manu who has experience of captaincy as well. We have a number of players we can call upon if needed.
“I think quite a lot about things and try to plan ahead. When we arrived and started building the club, we were in the infancy of it and I didn’t feel there was anyone at that point who could do the job better than Mike [Coman].
“I feel we have now advanced to this stage. I told Mike that even if he stayed I would still appoint Scottish lads. This has been the plan all along.”
For his part, McInally, the hooker who converted from back-row a few years ago, is delighted to be given the honour along with lock Gilchrist, who has captained Scotland in a couple of Tests.
“I’ve known Grant for a while so I’m looking forward to it and I feel we will work well together,” said McInally. “We’ve not gone into the nuts and bolts of it yet. But we’ve known for a few months and we’ve had a chance to put our own stamp on these things and bounce ideas off each other. In terms of matchday stuff we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.”
Edinburgh start their Pro12 campaign away to Cardiff a week on Saturday evening and McInally said the squad is determined to make amends for the disappointment of last season’s ninth-place finish.
“Top six is our minimum target,” he said. “We were hugely disappointed with how we did last year, and in the past four years we’ve been around eighth, ninth. This needs to be a top-six team at the very least. We know what a competitive league it is. Last year from first to ninth there was a lot of points shared between the teams. The points total we had to finish ninth last season would probably have got us fifth a couple of years ago.”
“I don’t think we are miles off where we need to be,” added McInally. “We’ve developed a reputation as a team that is hard to beat. We have a good set-piece, we’re working on other aspects of our game and I believe we can start turning the losing bonus points we’ve been picking up into wins. All it would take is a couple more of them and we’d be looking at top six, maybe even top four.”
Edinburgh move to Myreside in January and McInally, who is a former head boy of George Watson’s College, is excited about returning to his old school’s ground.
“It gives us somewhere that’s not nice for teams to come to,” he said. “Murrayfield is nice for them – a big stadium with good facilities. At Myreside the fans will be a lot closer and it will feel more like a home ground for us. It’s a positive move for the club.”