GRANT Gilchrist says that coach Alan Solomons and his assistant Omar Mouneimne have brought a ruthless streak typical of their South African rugby heritage to the Edinburgh squad since arriving in the capital at the start of the season.
The Murrayfield men entertain Gloucester in the Heineken Cup tomorrow afternoon and then face a return fixture in the West Country seven days later. Positive results from those two outings will put them in a great position to make it into the knockout stages of Europe for the second time in three years.
Edinburgh’s previous European odyssey in 2011-12 was counter-balanced by an awful Rabo Pro12 campaign, and last year they failed miserably in both competitions, with coach Michael Bradley eventually paying with his job.
Solomons seems to have steadied the ship during his three and a half months in the job and they go into this match on the back of a four-match winning streak at home.
“I’ve learned a lot from the time I have spent with Alan and Omar. They are coaches I really respect. I think all the guys do,” said Gilchrist.
“Omar is a big character for such as small bloke. He is a great guy to have around. You’ll always know where you stand with him, and if you make a mistake in training you’ll certainly know about it, but I don’t mind that at all. I would much rather to have somebody who brings a lot of energy and a lot of intensity to training because that’s how we will develop.
“Alan is a nice guy – but he does have an edge,” Gilchrist added.
While all Edinburgh fans will be glad to see their team showing more backbone this season, concerns have been expressed about the number of overseas players who have been brought into the set-up. It is a difficult balancing act, because nobody is in any doubt about the value that a few top level imports can have to a team. However, with less than half the current Edinburgh squad having been born in Scotland and almost a quarter not currently qualified to play for the country, is there a danger of the club suffering an identity crisis?
Gilchrist – who was born in Stirling, raised in Alloa and picked up his fourth Scottish cap against Australia last month – is in no doubt about the value of having a cosmopolitan squad, and he reckons that the large South African coaching and playing contingent will help Edinburgh realise their full potential.
“It is always great to have different players coming from different places. They bring a different approach and different ways of doing things,” said the giant lock, who is fit again after a shoulder injury.
“For example, Izak [van der Westhuizen] does slightly different things at the lineout which we wouldn’t have done before, and that’s given us a new dimension. You are always going to improve your game by looking at the way other people do things and working out whether what they are doing is something you can add to your own game.”
Van der Westhuizen is one of three South Africans in the Edinburgh pack tomorrow, while Wicus Blaauw is certain to make an appearance off the bench. Back-rowers David Denton and Roddy Grant also have strong connections with the country but are slightly different cases given that they were both Scottish qualified when they arrived in Scotland at the start of their adult careers.
“Obviously our style of play has changed and we are a lot more confrontational, I would say. We do have a lot more of that South African edge, if you want to call it that, than we did in the past – but I don’t think that is a bad thing. In fact, it is something that Edinburgh Rugby needed,” said Gilchrist.
“At times it has been said that we can attack well but we can’t defend very well, so bringing that hard-edge, that hard-nosed defence is going to put Edinburgh in a better place.”
Edinburgh had their most convincing win of the season against Connacht last week, but tomorrow’s match will be a sterner test. “Everybody is talking about [Gloucester] being on a five-game losing streak but they are a quality side, so it is going to be a massive challenge,” said Gilchrist.