DURING his short three weeks in this country, Alan Solomons has been at pains to stress that the process of transforming Edinburgh from the rudderless shambles which drifted aimlessly through last season into a team capable of competing at the top of the RaboDirect Pro12 table will be a painstaking process lasting years rather than months.
But listening to the new head coach and some of his senior players speaking at Thursday’s team announcement, ahead of tonight’s Pro12 curtain raiser against Munster at Musgrave Park, it was clear that one area where an instant improvement can be made has already been identified.
If Edinburgh had been just hopeless last year that would have been tough enough for supporters to accept. The fact that they were hopeless and gutless was almost unbearable. When the going got tough, Edinburgh went missing. There was a fatal flaw somewhere in the culture of the club, and Solomons is determined to bring a hard edge to his new team.
With that in mind, Sean Cox must have been a fairly obvious choice to take over from Greig Laidlaw as captain for tonight’s match, when the playmaker succumbed to a knee injury.
The 28-year-old Lancastrian is one of those back-five forwards who fall between two stools. Not quite big enough to be an out-and-out second-row but not quite mobile enough for the back-row – but through sheer force of will he is capable of doing both jobs more than effectively.
As an ever-present member of the side throughout last season’s calamitous campaign, Cox must shoulder his share of the blame for everything that went wrong – but his body language and general conduct during those desperate days when Edinburgh lurched from disaster to humiliation suggested that he was one of the players who deeply and genuinely objected to the mortifications which were being heaped upon the team.
And when he spoke this week about the season ahead it was blindingly clear that he has fully bought into the new mantra of hard-nosed pragmatism that Solomons is championing.
“It’s what we needed. With Alan and his coaching team not having as much time as I’m sure they would have liked, they’ve kept things concise so that we can get the work done and be ready for this first game,” said Cox. “There is a lot of intensity in training, and it has been really well structured. They have been really clever with how they have tailored it to take into account that short amount of time, and a little bit of consistency in selection has maybe helped with that.
“It served us well in the first two [pre-season] games. Considering the amount of time the coaching team had with us and the amount of things like contact and defence sessions we were able to do, there were two pretty good showings there.
“We’ll be looking to build on that right throughout the season, hopefully peaking right at the end.
“The boys have learned all the systems. We’ve got a pretty intelligent group here and they’ve picked up things and ran with them fairly well.
“Omar Mouneimne, the defence coach, has started doing his sessions full-time this week and we’ve got some great work done there so hopefully we’ll be able to build on last week’s defensive performance against Newcastle, which was a good starting place for us. Defence is one area we really want to push forward this year because that will give us the foundation for getting some good results.”
The message from Cox is fairly clear. Edinburgh’s tactics and structures may be a work in progress, but when it comes to attitude they are looking for revolution rather than evolution.
“At the start of last season I think we got a lot of smoke blown up our backsides by just about everyone on the back of reaching the Heineken Cup semi-final, and there is certainly none of that this year. We were brought down to earth with a massive bang and that’s affected everyone in a very positive way,” explained Cox.
“I don’t believe we could have worked any harder over the last three months in trying to put it right, and we’re looking forward to putting all that together into a decent performance this weekend. The boys are literally bouncing off the walls ready for the first game.”