Duncan Smith: Solomons vision blurred by expiring deals

Alan Solomons has overseen back-to-back eighth placings. Picture: SNS
Alan Solomons has overseen back-to-back eighth placings. Picture: SNS
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During Thursday’s press conference to announce the Edinburgh team which played Ulster last night, coach Alan Solomons was asked about the fact his contract was up at the end of the season and whether he wanted to stay at the club.

“That is something that [managing director] Jonny Petrie has to deal with. These questions are not for me,” was his response.

Less than 24 hours later the answer was known as, yesterday morning, Edinburgh announced that the 65-year-old South African would indeed be extending his contract by a year to June 2017. It clarifies the head coaching situation earlier than last season when it was only confirmed in mid-May that he would stay on for this season.

Attention will now turn to the remarkable state of affairs which sees 32 of the Edinburgh squad out of contract at the end of the season.

Solomons was asked about that, too, on Thursday but said it was also a matter for Petrie. As 2015 draws to a close, Edinburgh evidently face some hard work both on and off the pitch going into the new year. With players such as their potent international front row WP Nel, Ross Ford and Al Dickinson, as well as other Scotland stars like lock Grant Gilchrist and scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne all on the list of 32, securing as many of those as are willing to stay and can be afforded, will be a priority.

On the field, Solomons has presided over a steady improvement at BT Murrayfield after inheriting a difficult task in 2013 when Edinburgh were in a bit of disarray.

Following some high-profile departures, Solomons arrived just as the season was about to start and was unable to oversee pre-season and recruitment.

The ship was steadied and, in his second season, there was a marked step forward as Edinburgh surprisingly took the 1872 Cup from Glasgow and made history by becoming the first Scottish club to reach a European final when they reached the Challenge Cup showpiece in May, losing 19-13 to Gloucester.

This season Solomons and his players have been up front about the fact that a top-six finish in the Guinness Pro12 and promotion to the elite European Champions Cup is an absolute priority. It makes gauging Solomons’ success or failure pretty clear.

After back-to-back eighth placings, another failure to finish outside the top half of the league would, by his own admission, be unacceptable.

After an initial bolstering surge of southern hemisphere imports, Solomons’ Edinburgh is steadily developing a more local flavour as a stream of homegrown talent starts to break through and he is confident that his project is on track. He said this week: “The vision I have is to build our club through our young talent – local and Scottish qualified players. You saw last year with Ben Toolis, Hamish Watson, Sammy Hidalgo-Clyne and Rory Sutherland coming through. This year we have seen Chris Dean, Damien Hoyland and Jamie Ritchie. Magnus Bradbury is on the sevens squad and I look at the academy guys and I am positive about it. Also, Blair Kinghorn has done outstandingly well for someone who was at school last year.

“We are on the right track at Edinburgh. We are building something good, making good progress and we want to continue that. I am positive and confident that will occur.”