Edinburgh head coach Alan Solomons believes adding a Pacific islands flavour to his squad can inject some dynamism this season but insists it doesn’t represent a softening of his push to promote homegrown talent.
The South African has named a new-look centre pairing of Sasa Tofilau and Solomoni ‘Junior’ Rasolea for this evening’s Guinness Pro12 opener at Cardiff Blues. They have both been added to the squad this summer, joining other players of South Seas heritage like centre/wing Will Helu and the back-row duo of Viliame Fihaki and Nasi Manu. Another could be on the way in the shape of Fiji sevens star Viliame Mata.
“Nothing has changed in my policy that we have to build a sustainable club through young Scottish talent, which you can see now has come through to be honest,” said Solomons yesterday.
“You want to make your squad as well balanced and strong as possible. Players from the Pacific Islands or who have that heritage have exceptional genetics for the game. That’s a fact. These are good rugby players and there are players from there playing all around the world. Look at Super Rugby in Australia and New Zealand. There’s an incredible amount. They are genetically gifted and rugby suits their temperament too.”
Rasolea has joined from Western Force, while Tofilau has made the incredible leap from third-tier Scottish club rugby at Kirkcaldy to make his competitive pro debut in the Welsh capital after impressing the coaching staff over the summer and in pre-season.
“I think they’re going to be very important,” said Solomons of the centres. “They’re up against a good [Cardiff] partnership [Cory Allen and Ray Le-Lo]. I thought Junior was very impressive against Newcastle last week, and Sasa is growing game by game.
“Both of them, attacking-wise, can present challenges for the opposition. The big thing for me is that they defend well. I’m very positive about their attacking ability, that’s for sure.”
Asked if it was a risk throwing Tofilau straight in, Solomons was keen to stress that the Samoan-born player who turned out for Kirkcaldy as part of a working holiday, was not your normal National League 2 player: “You must analyse his background,” said the coach. “He played for Australia under-20s, Brisbane Broncos, Waikato Chiefs wider squad. He can stretch a defence – there’s no doubt about that.”
Five of the seven named in the backline are new signings, with Glenn Bryce starting at full-back and fellow former Glasgow Warrior Duncan Weir at stand-off. Rory Scholes, the new signing from Ulster starts on the right wing.
Cardiff were one of the form teams in the league towards the end of last season and this evening’s match is a tough start for an Edinburgh team desperate to get some early momentum in their bid to atone for last season’s poor ninth-place finish.
“We want to finish as high as we can in the league,” added Solomons. “If you ask Cardiff their ambition will be exactly the same. Everybody wants a play-off spot. We don’t want to end up landing extra pressure on ourselves. We’ll take it game by game and what’s very important for us is, if we are in a position to win a game, we close it out.
“[Last season] there were games there that we should have won and didn’t. You pay a price for that because the margins are very fine in this league. Cardiff at home will not be an easy game for anybody this season.”
Cardiff coach Danny Wilson has named a strong team containing 14 full internationals and will be looking to maintain their daunting home form after an 80 per cent success rate at the Arms Park last season.