ONE can admire, indeed applaud, Mark Dodson’s willingness to delay till he has got the right man.
This is certainly better than making a hurried appointment when, for one reason or another, a post becomes vacant.
All the same it’s a pity that we shall have to wait until next summer before the new Scotland coach, Vern Cotter, is free to take up the job, and that Alan Solomons has been named as Edinburgh’s coach only a few weeks before the start of the new season.
No doubt the delay was unavoidable in view of Solomons’ commitments in South Africa. Nevertheless, whereas Cotter’s unavailability may not matter greatly, since Scott Johnson is in place to continue as national coach this season, combining the job with that of Director of Rugby, the delay in appointing Solomons does disadvantage Edinburgh. Had he been able to take up the post within a few weeks of Michael Bradley’s dismissal, he would have been in a position to strengthen the squad over the summer. All new coaches want to bring in a few players of their own choice, but now of course northern hemisphere players are already committed to their clubs.
Edinburgh have signed new players, but none is the kind of recruit described as “a marquee player”. Three are Scottish internationals: Nikki Walker, Jack Cuthbert and Alasdair Dickinson. Dickinson replaces Allan Jacobsen who has retired. Walker, a wing, and Cuthbert, wing and full-back, are more than useful additions, whose merit few would dispute.
Nevertheless they play in positions where Edinburgh are already well equipped, rather than in those needing attention. Looking at Edinburgh last season, you wouldn’t say the back three was the area of the team that most needed reinforcement. The fourth signing is the veteran Tongan hooker, Aleko Lutui. At the age of 35 he is back-up to Ross Ford and Steve Lawrie.
Last season it was common to remark that whereas Glasgow had recruited well in the summer of 2012, Edinburgh hadn’t, some of their signings already past their best. One consequence was that Gregor Townsend was able to rotate his squad without weakening his team, this wasn’t the case with Edinburgh – and Glasgow’s bench was stronger too.
Solomons comes with vast and varied experience, which is good. His task is difficult, but he has one other thing going for him. Last season was so dismal almost anything must be an improvement. Of course there were extenuating circumstances. International players such as Ross Rennie, David Denton, Nick De Luca and Lee Jones, were all injured for part of the season, and a couple of them found it hard to regain form when they returned to the side. But all teams have stars injured from time to time. Edinburgh suffered more on account of their lack of reserve strength.
The new coach will have little time to develop the style he wants his team to play. Yet getting this right is important. It seemed to me that Michael Bradley tried to impose a style unsuited to those at his disposal.
They weren’t equipped to play the driving forward-orientated game he demanded. Too often using the backs seemed a last resort. They were often starved of the ball, which was far too often kicked away, presumably on orders. Yet they have threequarters capable of scoring tries against any opposition. Edinburgh have three young fly-halves: Piers Francis, the Englishman recruited from New Zealand, Harry Leonard, the former captain of the under-20 national side, and Gregor Hunter. All are talented, but none are established yet. One of them at least must surely do so in the first months of the season.
Otherwise Solomons will either have to bring in a new player – perhaps from South Africa – or consider moving Greig Laidlaw back to fly-half, with the more than promising young Sean Kennedy at scrum-half. This would be unfair to Laidlaw, now established as Scotland’s first choice No 9.
Edinburgh still won’t have a dominating scrum, even though more will be expected from W P Nel in his second season, and from the fast-improving Grant Gilchrist. Last year they were almost always in trouble in the set scrum. Since they are unlikely to win many penalties awarded for being stronger in the set scrum than the other side, they might even be advised to try the daring experiment of a quick heel and a pass to the fly-half, rather than relying on the No 8 to pick up, drive, and set up second-phase possession.
Who knows? Such an unfashionable ploy might even take the opposition by surprise.
A final word: let us hope that Alan Solomons realizes a front-row forward is rarely the best person to have standing as first receiver in the No 10 slot.