Edinburgh Rugby coach Alan Solomons has backed the men who missed out on World Cup selection to shrug off their disappointment and fit seamlessly into his side when the Capital outfit opens the Guinness PRO12 campaign against Leinster at Meggetland tonight (kick off 7.30pm).
Solomons has selected a squad featuring all of the players who were involved in the World Cup build up, but missed out on the final group. Dougie Fife, Allan Dell, Damien Hoyland, Ben Toolis and Hamish Watson returned to the club ahead of last week’s preparation game against Ulster, while Greig Tonks missed out on the final cut when Vern Cotter announced his 31-man squad on Tuesday. Hoyland and Toolis will start tonight, while the others have been named on the bench.
The absence of that contingent over the summer means that Solomons has had limited time to work with them. However, he is happy that they have been in good hands and is confident that all will have the same levels of fitness as their colleagues who have been through the full Edinburgh build-up.
“Anyone coming back from the national squad has had a good pre-season. Our strength and conditioning trainer Ashley Jones has been involved in that so I am very happy with them. Our programmes are identical,” he said.
The players have been welcomed back by their colleagues and Solomons is in no doubt that they will be ready to face the new challenge.
“There is an initial disappointment. You can only take 31 to the World Cup and the fact that they go straight into the club scene and start playing I think that gives them a different focus which is good,” he added. “It’s a good environment we’ve got here, the players are a very tight group.”
Solomons has acknowledged that he has escaped relatively lightly with eight of his players in the Scotland squad and one – Will Helu – with Tonga. With a stated target of a top six finish, he knows it is important to capitalise on that advantage and therefore recognises the need to start the campaign well and accumulate points in the early fixtures, starting tonight against opponents who have 16 players in the Ireland squad and a further three out injured.
While he has fewer of his men unavailable than most rivals – he underlined the limited impact on his squad by comparing Edinburgh’s position with that of Glasgow, who have 20 players away on World Cup duty – the coach admits that the situation is far from ideal. Nevertheless, Solomons is delighted for those who have earned their place in Cotter’s group, saying, “My aim is to make players the best they can be and to see them go the furthest they can go. I get a big kick out of guys making the national squad.”
Despite that, Solomons is not underestimating the magnitude of the task facing his side tonight, saying “Leinster, despite World Cup commitments, have a strong side and we still need to be at our very best.”
That is borne out by the fact that, even with a length list of absentees, new coach Leo Cullen has been able to name a side that features 11 internationals, among them four men who were released when Ireland’s 31-man World Cup squad was named this week.
Leinster will be looking to bounce back from an uncharacteristically poor season in which they finished outside the top four for the first time in more than a decade although they did post a 36-23 win at Murrayfield in the final game of the campaign.
Edinburgh Rugby: J Cuthbert, D Fife, C Dean, S Beard, D Hoyland, P Burleigh, N Fowles, R Sutherland, N Cochrane, J Andress, A Bresler, B Toolis, C Du Preez, R Grant (c), N Manu
Subs; G Turner, A Dell, S Berghan, F McKenzie, H Watson, S Kennedy, G Tonks, J Johnstone.
Leinster: I Nacewa, F McFadden, B Te’o, N Reid, D Fanning, C Marsh, L McGrath, M Bent, A Dundon, J Hagan, T Denton, M McCarthy, K McLaughlin (c), D Leavy, J Conan
Subs: B Byrne, P Dooley, R Burke-Flynn, R Molony, D Ryan, I Boss, R Byrne, G Ringrose.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)