ALAN Solomons will lead Edinburgh into next season after it was confirmed yesterday that the head coach has signed a 12-month extension to his contract, taking him to June 2016.
The South African’s current deal was due to expire at the end of the season but he has now put pen to paper ahead of tomorrow’s crucial final Guinness Pro12 game of the regular season against Leinster at BT Murrayfield.
Solomons led Edinburgh to a historic first European final for a Scottish club this season when they reached the European Challenge Cup final, losing 19-13 to Gloucester at Twickenham Stoop two weeks ago. A defeat at Newport Gwent Dragons last Friday has left the capital side in eighth position in the league and struggling to qualify for the elite Champions Cup next season. If they can scrape into seventh place tomorrow they will enter the play-off system, starting with a rematch against Gloucester at Kingsholm, with a home tie against the seventh-placed French team up next for the victors.
The coach has, for some time, been stressing his desire to stay at the club and yesterday that was finally clarified, although a one-year extension suggests a good start to next season will be expected. Solomons has, with some justification to any fair-minded observer, pointed out that when he was appointed in 2013 his arrival was late and he was unable to put in place a full recruitment and pre-season training plan. The squad was, in his words, “poorly conditioned” and an underwhelming year ensued. After a sticky start, this season has seen gradual improvement, with the run to the European final and a victory over Glasgow in the 1872 Cup obvious highlights. There have also been improved results in the league with away wins at the likes of Munster, Connacht and Scarlets.
The new contract will take the former Springboks assistant and coach of Ulster, Western Province and Kings through his 65th birthday and, in the build-up to the Challenge Cup final, he stressed that he was fit, in good health and relishing the work.
Solomons said yesterday: “We set ourselves the target, at the start of the season, of being in the top six in the league this year and although this is no longer possible we are still challenging for a play-off spot for the European Champions Cup. Reaching the final of the European Challenge Cup and winning the 1872 Cup have been equally pleasing and that’s testament to the hard work of the players as well as the commitment of all our backroom staff.
“The challenges we’ve faced as a squad this year have been enormous – the injury count in the home game against Lyon being a case in point – but on each occasion we have risen to the challenge. I feel we’re moving into the next phase of our development as a squad and that’s really exciting. We are progressing but there is still a long way to go. I am absolutely focused on continuing this progress and realising the vision.”
There has been some criticism of the number of southern hemisphere imports to the club since Solomons took the reins, but yesterday he was keen to emphasise the young native and Scottish-qualified talent flourishing under his regime.
Players such as scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, flanker Hamish Watson and the Australian-born lock Ben Toolis all broke into the Scotland team during this year’s Six Nations.
Solomons continued: “It’s been very pleasing to see how players like Sam and Hamish – young Scottish talents – have developed over this season as our overall team performance has improved. I’ve ensured we have a well-conditioned squad, with the necessary strength in depth, into which young players could come and learn and flourish.”
I feel we’re moving into the next phase of our development as a squad and that’s really exciting.Alan Solomons
SRU chief executive Mark Dodson added: “Everyone at Scottish Rugby acknowledges the contribution Alan has made in bringing Edinburgh to a major cup final and improving its league position.
“From the outset we set him the task of rebuilding the club, with Scottish players at its core and to develop young talent. This is now generating the results we hoped for and I am delighted he will continue his progress at Edinburgh Rugby.”
Once this season, which may yet be elongated by play-offs, is done and dusted the work will start on getting Edinburgh in shape for the next campaign. Solomons has spoken about the need to increase staffing levels in the back-room operations, which are currently much lower than those along the M8 at Glasgow. For example, Solomons’ assistant Stevie Scott has been covering both the forwards and defence coaching briefs.
With the likes of Scotland winger Tim Visser leaving, new blood will also need to be brought in as Edinburgh look to follow the example of their Scotstoun rivals and start making an impression on the upper reaches of the Guinness Pro12 next term.