Edinburgh Rugby have been told that it is “time to deliver” in the new season.
The sharp message comes from their former coach and new Scottish Rugby president Ian Rankin in also vowing there will be no let-up in efforts to atone for years of neglect at club level.
Within minutes of taking up office at the governing body’s annual meeting on Saturday, Rankin, a former captain of Edinburgh Wanderers who might have progressed past district rugby but for a handy crop of rival back rowers including John Jeffrey, Derek White, Iain Paxton, John Beattie and the Calder twins, spoke exclusively to the Evening News.
Invariably the conversation would return to the needs of the club scene and their talent- producing role. But when it came to the Edinburgh team which showcases rugby in the Pro 12 yet has won only 26 matches out of a possible 88 there in the past four seasons, Rankin pulled no punches.
“Edinburgh are under a lot of pressure. They disappointed everybody, themselves included, last year. This year it is delivery time.”
There is an underlying perception that too many excuses were put forward for under-performing last year, from lack of pre-season conditioning to injuries, international calls and players experiencing back-to-back seasons through switching hemispheres.
Keen to draw a line in the sand, Rankin, who sees his role partly as “holding the (professional) SRU Board to account”, said: “I came into the AGM with Alan Solomons and said to him ‘I’ve been there and I imagine you just want to get the season started?’
“He came in (to Edinburgh Rugby) last year. Obviously it was exceptionally difficult including at the tail end where people knew guys were leaving. Trying to hold that together can be helluva difficult.
“This time there is a clean sheet. Alan has a pre-season under his belt and a group of players he wants there. That is important. He has players who want to play for him. It’s not going to be easy for him but he is genuinely excited.
“Alan did a presentation to the Board a few weeks ago which was excellent.
“The thrust was getting this group of players in key positions playing with a style and a passion. When heads are down it is not easy to get it back. There is a lot of pressure on him because the neighbours down the road (Glasgow) are playing brilliantly. That makes it harder when one is going well and the other not so well. In the past Glasgow always thought Edinburgh got the favours. What’s true is that winning turns your team spirit around and brings in crowds. The only way (for Edinburgh) to do that is on the pitch.”
If Solomons still had doubts about what is required, SRU bosses occasionally broke off from claiming commercial deals had created “the best financial state for a generation” to remind him.
Outgoing president Donald Macleod, with considerable understatement, remarked: “Edinburgh will be looking forward to a much better season.”
Others were more forceful. Chairman Sir Moir Lockhead noted: “Edinburgh needs to continue to rebuild” while chief executive Mark Dodson reeled off a list of under-23 signings after declaring: “Edinburgh are re-building a team, basing the future on Scottish qualified players but with players brought in from around the world, mostly South Africa.”
Rankin knows better than most that importing talent is unsustainable in the longer term; witness the decline in ice hockey post-war when the North Americans upped sticks and went home leaving the domestic product bereft for a spell.
“Keeping pressure on the Board is very much part of the (president’s) role.
“That is one of the reasons I was persuaded to stand having been close to the sharp end and in contact with club rugby (four years as Dundee coach).
“For me success is measured by playing numbers,” said Rankin.
On the subject of numbers those attending AGMs have dropped from 218 voting delegates from clubs in 2011 to 148, according to Orkney’s Mike O’Reilly – a worrying statistic, surely, hinting that not everyone yet buys into the sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere message that authority is keen to put out.