ONLY the coldest of hearts could resist the urge to sympathise with the plight of Alan Solomons and his injury ravaged Edinburgh squad.
Just as the capital outfit were finally managing to get some traction with three impressive wins on the trot, a cruel barrage of injuries has left the pack decimated. As a result the South African coach has had to parachute one amateur club player with no previous experience of operating in this professional environment straight into the starting XV, where he will play alongside a 19-year-old who is on a professional ‘Elite Development’ contract but has not yet played a competitive game at this level.
Jack Turley has been widely applauded for the way he has led Heriot’s to the top of the BT Premiership table this season, and having spent his formative years in New Zealand, where he played in an All Black Schools team alongside Israel Dagg, Zac Guildford and Sam Whitelock, he has a decent rugby pedigree.
But, given that Turley was only introduced to his team-mates yesterday morning, this is a massive ask for the 25-year-old second-rower.
Meanwhile, Magnus Bradbury was born in Glasgow and raised in Oban before moving to Edinburgh to attend Merchiston Castle School on a scholarship, so he is very much a home-grown prospect. Solomons has spoken highly about the back-rower in the past – but the coach has also made it clear that he wants to bleed his youngsters into the team gradually so that they can learn to cope with the demands of the pro game. It goes without saying that throwing him in at the deep end at blindside flanker this evening was not the way Solomons wanted Bradbury to take his professional bow.
Solomons has also had to name two 18-year-olds in the shape of hooker Jake Kerr and flanker Jamie Ritchie on his bench for tonight’s match. An added concern is that David Denton was ill on Monday and sent home from training. He only returned to the squad yesterday.
“We haven’t been able to practice properly this week. On Monday we did some conditioning games because we only had four of the starting fifteen available. On Tuesday we had a much happier day – we had eight. Really, the first time they’ve been able to get together is Thursday, so Jack joined us today,” explained Solomons.
“George Turner, who has had one game of rugby in nine weeks, is having to cover the back-row [he usually plays hooker]. We are down. We have 18 players injured, so that is massive. We were concerned about fielding a team at one point this week.”
And as if the challenge facing this makeshift team was not daunting enough, tonight’s match takes them to Dublin to face mighty Leinster in their own back-yard. The Irishmen are missing a few frontline players of their own, with Jordi Murphy, Dave Kearney, Fergus McFadden and Shane Jennings all currently unavailable through injury – but the reigning Pro12 champions have built up such a powerful squad during their long tenure as one of European rugby’s leading lights that they can take this sort of thing in their stride.
“Yes, our team has not had time to practice together but you’ve got to look at it in a positive light. I’d like to see the team perform well, and I’d really like to see the young guys play well. We’ve got to take the attitude that we’re up for the massive challenge of playing Leinster away at the RDS,” said Solomons.
“You guys can say that we are decimated in terms of injuries – but I’ve taken the line that they are good rugby players who are getting a real opportunity to show their mettle.”
Turley has been earning a crust since arriving on these shores in 2012 as a part-time rugby coach at Fettes College in Edinburgh whilst also working on a removal van with a few Heriot’s team-mates. To say that the call-up for tonight’s match was a bolt from the blue would be an understatement.
“I went from playing 80 minutes against Gala on Saturday and for Edinburgh A [against Ontario Blues] on Monday night to getting a call on Wednesday to ask me to join the squad. When it came I thought it was one of the boys pulling my leg to be honest,” he said.
“It will be a lot faster and a lot more physical than I am used to. I will have to rise to the challenge and put my own spin on the game. I haven’t had time to worry about it yet, I am just trying to get myself in the right frame of mind. I have never been to Ireland before. To start against Leinster is a great chance for me to see how I fare against the big boys.”
Turley looked impressively relaxed as he spoke to the press yesterday afternoon, especially as he had just spent an intense morning working with Solomons on Edinburgh’s attacking strategy and with assistant coach Omar Mouneimne on their defensive game-plan.
“He’s an intelligent guy – he comes from Canterbury and he’s been here for a bit. We have five injured locks so we really don’t have anywhere else to go,” shrugged Solomons. “We just had to look within the club game in Edinburgh to find someone, and at least he played on Monday against Ontario Blues.”
Solomons is quietly confident about his problems at hooker and second-row alleviating with the return of injured players by the end of the November Test window, but did hint that a back-row may need to be recruited because the injuries there are rather more long-term.
“I have had chats with [SRU director of rugby] Scott Johnson and [chief executive] Mark Dodson about what we can possibly do,” he said.
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