WHAT doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That is the lesson Alan Solomons believes his Edinburgh team are now reaping the benefit of as they go in search of back-to-back victories over French opposition when they take on Lyon in the second round of pool matches in the European Challenge Cup at Murrayfield this evening.
A record of 11 wins in 33 competitive matches under his tutelage up to a fortnight ago gives a fair indication of the frustrations the team’s long-suffering supporters have had to endure during Solomons’ 14 months at the club – but the South African coach has been unwavering in his insistence that the groundwork is being laid for a more successful future, and he has also stressed that morale within the squad has not been dented by the indignities the team has suffered.
Now, all of a sudden, the capital outfit are on a two-match winning streak. While this might not be enough in itself to merit talk of a brave new dawn, the nature of these recent successes has raised hopes in the capital that the arrival of daylight may be closer than previously anticipated.
First, Edinburgh played with an increasing sense of freedom as the game wore on to score two tries and come within a whisker of grabbing three more when claiming a comprehensive 24-10 home victory over the Dragons in the Pro12. Then they confounded all external expectations by defeating high-flying French side Bordeaux Begles in their own backyard last Friday night to get their European campaign off to a flying start.
It was the character his team showed when the chips were down that clearly brought Solomons most satisfaction from that success at the Stade André Moga.
“For me, the turning point in the game was when Phil Burleigh was yellow-carded and we were losing 13-5. They kicked it into the corner and tried to use their massive pack – which has mauled both Clermont and Castres for tries in recent weeks – to get over the line, but we held them up,” the coach recalled.
“Then they did a cross kick but Nick McLennan saved that. They came back for the penalty and kicked to the corner again, and had another maul, but we held them up again to get the scrum. Then we got a penalty, kicked it out, mauled it, got another penalty, kicked it out and Nick McLennan struck a kick over to make it 13-8. The whole game turned there and then. Suddenly we started getting the upper hand.
“A lot of what you go through prepares you for things like that, when your backs are to the wall. We also lost [club captain] Mike Coman in the first five minutes but the players stuck to their task, kept their composure and eventually they came through,” he added.
“Life is not about everything going smoothly all the time and I think you breed resilience by dealing with that. How you deal with the difficult times is the most important thing. So, I think we’ve become more resilient, and the game we had on the weekend, backed up on the game against the Dragons, has generated a certain amount of confidence.”
If they can win in Bordeaux, then Edinburgh are entitled to regard themselves as favourites at home to Lyon, who beat London Welsh at home last week but are currently ninth in the French Top 14 [six places behind Bordeaux] and have yet to win a game on the road in five outings so far this season.
“It is about delivering another performance like last week, and if we do that it will hopefully be good enough to get the outcome we want,” agreed Solomons.
“They are similar to Bordeaux in some ways, but Lyon are very attack orientated,” he continued. “Whereas Bordeaux use their very strong maul and Lionel Beauxis’s boot to play the territory game, Lyon look like more of what I would call a tempo side, playing with the ball in hand. So they will love performing on the absolutely fantastic surface we have here at Murrayfield.”
With that in mind, the solitary change in personnel for this match – enforced by Coman’s ankle injury, which is likely to keep him sidelined until after the break for the autumn international Test series – could end up working in the home team’s favour.
Roddy Grant takes over the No 6 jersey, with Tomas Leonardi shifting to No 8, meaning that Edinburgh will start the match with two highly mobile open-side flankers in the side – with the prospect of David Denton bringing a physical boost later in the match when he makes his long-awaited return from injury off the bench.
Grant Gilchrist, who was named earlier this week as Scotland captain for the autumn Test series, will lead the side – with Solomons echoing national coach Vern Cotter’s praise for the youngster.
“I think he’s a fantastic player. He leads by example and he’s an intelligent guy. He’s got the respect of the players, so he’s got a very bright future,” said the 64-year-old.
15 Greig Tonks
14 Dougie Fife
13 Sam Beard
12 Andries Strauss
11 Tim Visser
10 Phil Burleigh
9 Sam Hidlago-Clyne
1 Alasdair Dickinson
2 Ross Ford
3 Willem Nel
4 Anton Bresler
5 Grant Gilchrist (captain)
6 Roddy Grant
7 Hamish Watson
8 Tomas Leonardi
16 James Hilterbrand
17 Allan Del
18 John Andress
19 Ben Toolis
20 David Denton
21 Sean Kennedy
22 Tom Heathcote
23 Nick McLennan