PICKING the team is one of the main tasks of a head coach but, in the week when it was confirmed he has signed a 12-month extension at Edinburgh, Alan Solomons didn’t have too much difficulty with that aspect of the job.
“Put it this way, the selection wasn’t that difficult this week,” the South African said ahead of this afternoon’s final Guinness Pro12 match against Leinster at BT Murrayfield: “At the moment we only have 28 fit players to pick from, excluding the boys with the sevens squad. We have eight frontline players out at this point, which is a massive injury list.”
“Because of injuries, we’ve not been able to rotate at the back end of the season”Alan Solomons
In many ways it has been the story of the season for Edinburgh and Solomons will dearly hope he has better luck on that front when he heads into his third season.
He said: “After the first few months it did get better but what is disappointing for us is that Matt Scott has played very little rugby for us, the same with [Grant] Gilchrist. David Denton has played a bit more than them but been out for a while now. The first two months of the season we were averaging about seven injuries a game. It got a bit better but it’s an attritional season and, because of injuries, we’ve not been able to rotate at the back end of the season. We are down to two loose forwards.
“WP [Nel] is out with knee trouble, and we’re missing Gilchrist, Denton, Stu McInally, Mike Coman, Greig Tonks, Phil Burleigh and Matt Scott. That’s quite a chunk. Not many clubs could cope with that.”
Tom Heathcote moves up from the bench at stand-off, to replace the injured Phil Burleigh, while there are three changes in the pack.
John Andress starts at tighthead, in place of Nel and Anton Bresler comes in at lock, in place of Fraser McKenzie who moves blindside in place of McInally (shoulder).
Solomons believes that, despite the casualty list, the squad still has what it takes to seal seventh place this afternoon and get into the play-offs for the elite Champions Cup – starting with a trip to face European Challenge Cup final conquerors Gloucester at Kingsholm next weekend.
The 64-year-old said: “This is our 33rd game of the season. But we can see, even if there was to be three more games, that there is an end at the end of the month. I do believe they would have it in them, though we would hope to have no further injuries because we are in a difficult position.”
Solomons admitted it was a relief to get the contractual situation put to bed but said: “Things were pretty well advanced so it wasn’t too much of a concern to be honest. But it is good to have that out of the way now.”
Asked if the shortish nature of the 12-month extension was his decision, he said: “My focus has always been on doing my job and the future takes care of itself. I’m pleased to get the chance to process the vision I have set for Edinburgh Rugby. I’ve got to get stuck in now, build on the work that we have done and we’ll see how it goes going forward.”
He said that looking at increasing the backroom staff would be a priority. “Yes those are things that we’ve got to look at,” he said. “Obviously the coaching staff this season has been, through circumstances beyond anyone’s control, reduced. Stevie [Scott] has done a great job but that’s obviously something we’re going to look at now.”
Leinster may be out of the top-four shake-up but Solomons is expecting a tough game against the deposed Pro12 holders. He said: “They’ve basically named the strongest side available to them. They have [hooker] Sean Cronin out but are able to play Richardt Strauss who is also an Ireland international. [Prop] Cian Healy is out but they’ve got another Irish cap [Jack McGrath] in his place.
“They’ve decided to leave [Jimmy] Gopperth on the bench and play [Ian] Madigan at fly-half instead of inside centre which they have been doing..
“For Leinster, who have been back-to-back European champions, their season hasn’t been what they would hope for. They’d want to be in the Pro12 play-offs. But they will want to finish positively a season that won’t have met their high standards.”
Record tryscorer Tim Visser could play his last game for the club today, though a play-off swansong is hoped for, and his coach paid tribute to the Scotland wing’s service to Edinburgh.
“He’s been terrific,” said Solomons. “A good bloke and obviously a talented footballer. I think he’s served Edinburgh well over six years. The change will freshen him up and it’s a positive challenge for him.”