EDINBURGH coach Alan Solomons believes Ross Rennie’s career could be rejuvenated by a move to Bristol, insisting that his loan move is not a precursor to a permanent departure for the Test flanker.
Rennie was named this week in the Scotland squad ahead of the man keeping him out of the Edinburgh side, Roddy Grant, but if that came as a surprise, news yesterday that the 27-year-old would be leaving Murrayfield with former No 8-turned-hooker Stuart McInally to join up with Andy Robinson at Bristol until the end of the season came as a bolt from the blue.
The reason, Solomons stated, was chiefly to allow Rennie and McInally to get regular game-time of a high standard, both having played for Edinburgh Accies last weekend, but there is also a feeling that it may allow Rennie a fresh start.
The former Edinburgh Academy pupil has made just two starts for the club since returning from two shoulder dislocations in the past 14 months, which followed a two-year battle against a serious knee injury, and in a newly-competitive Edinburgh back row he has not claimed a regular first-team place.
As well as Grant playing consistently well, Solomons has youngster Hamish Watson coming through and new signings Mike Coman from New Zealand, Argentinian Tomas Leonardi and Cornell du Preez from South Africa vying with David Denton and Dimitri Basilaia in a congested back-row department.
An added complication is that Rennie, as a specialist openside, does not give Solomons the back-row versatility he wants from replacements and so if he does not start, he is unlikely to feature at all. Solomons explained: “Ross has had a very tough 12 months with the injuries he has had, and the loss of his mum, and this will be like a breath of fresh air for him to get away from everything.
“He will get regular game-time in terms of finding a way back and will be under a coach in Andy Robinson he knows very well. But Ross needs to get game time under his belt and he’s excited at the prospect of that.
“The change of scenery will be a positive thing for him. Ross is a fine man. Stu McInally is similar. It was a good decision to make him a hooker, and all the hard physical stuff has been done to make sure he can withstand the rigours of the position and he has played a little bit of club rugby, but he now has to play at a higher level regularly.
“The Championship is a great place for front-row forwards because the scrums are a big thing and he too will be under his former provincial coach, so I think it will be a win-win situation for the player.”
Solomons has been at pains to stress how highly he values Rennie, both as a person and a player, and, at least publicly, backs Scott Johnson’s selection of the openside at Test level. He gives the impression of being a father reluctantly letting a son go to reap long-term benefit, but with Rennie’s contract up at the end of the season it may be that his Edinburgh days are over.
Asked if the switch might lead to a long-term deal with Bristol or any other club, Solomons stated: “This is a loan and means what it says it is. He is an Edinburgh player who is being loaned to Bristol, as is Stuart McInally, and there will be benefit for both players and for Scottish rugby.”
It will be a boost to Bristol, who are currently fourth in the Greene King IPA Championship, with the top four qualifying for play-offs to reach the Premiership, and one imagines that the ambitious Robinson will view Rennie, and possibly McInally, as players that could enhance his plans to turn Bristol into a Premiership force.
Rennie would not be drawn on the idea of a permanent move, but after all he has been through over the past three years the real surprise at this juncture might be that he still has any appetite for the game left. “Edinburgh is my home town and I love the club,” he said. “It’s been my life for the last 10 years but I think the time is right to have a new challenge.
“I know the direction Bristol want to go and the plans that Andy has, so it’s an exciting time to join the club. There’s an important few months coming up and I hope that I can contribute to the cause.”
Centre Nick de Luca said he was disappointed to lose Rennie from the squad, but hoped that the move would prove to be a springboard back to the top level.
“We have been friends a long time so of course I’m sad to see him go,” said De Luca. “We started our first pre-season together when we were both academy players. He is a fantastic talent, a great player and a very good friend and I wish him all the best.
“He is going down to a familiar face [Robinson] and is a good addition to them. He’s just not getting the chance to play. He will be a big miss personally but he is not really getting to play so how could I miss him on the field? He needs game time and they [Bristol] will give it to him which is fantastic.
“Ross is a quality player who still adds a lot to the squad... he is a formidable opponent.”
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