GIVEN that Scott Johnson was at pains to stress the importance of giving promising young players exposure to international rugby during the recent Autumn Test series, Greig Tonks could be forgiven for feeling slightly frustrated that he wasn’t handed an opportunity to add to the solitary cap he picked up against Samoa during the summer.
While that match against the South Sea Islanders ended in a disappointing 27-17 defeat for the Scots, Tonks gave a creditable account of himself and, as one of five debutants in the side, it seems unfeasible that he would carry the can for the setback.
So, as one of Edinburgh’s most consistent performers since signing for the club in the summer of 2012, the full-back must have fancied his chances of being given another run-out at some point during the past month against either Japan, Australia or South Africa.
Yet, despite the absence of Stuart Hogg and Peter Murchie, who were both injured, Tonks failed to make it out of the training squad and into the match-day 23 for any of Scotland’s three games, with Johnson opting to switch Sean Maitland from wing to full-back in the starting XV on each of those occasions.
But, if Tonks is feeling disheartened by that snub, then he is not showing it – insisting instead that his focus is on helping Edinburgh finish in the top half of the RaboDirect Pro12 for the first time since 2010 – with Friday’s match against Connacht likely to be a crucial moment in that quest.
Tonks said: “It was disappointing to be in the [training] squad and not play a single game, but my rugby is purely based around playing for Edinburgh and everything seems to be going in the right direction at the moment, so it is a good place to be.”
The 24-year-old, who was born in South Africa, raised in England and wore the red rose at age-grade level, but qualifies for Scotland through his Ayrshire-born mother, added: “I always knew it was going to be difficult with Sean potentially playing full-back as well, so it is up to the coaches and it is out of my hands. All I can do is play as well as I can for Edinburgh and see what happens from there.”
Alan Solomons has spoken a lot since arriving as head coach in mid-August about the time it will take to get his systems into place at the club, but the idea that his late arrival in the capital means the team have effectively been doing their pre-season during the early part of the league campaign has become an increasingly tiresome get-out clause for failing to provide supporters with value for money.
Some fans who pay £20-£25 per head to watch home games are bound to become unhappy at being made to suffer because of Edinburgh’s failure to get a coach in position in time.
Solomons’ last stint coaching in Britain ended in heartache when he was sacked by Northampton Saints after eight consecutive league losses at the start of 2004-5 season, with reports at the time stating that he had failed to grasp the ethos of the club and that his policy of packing his team with overseas recruits had created a rift in the changing room.
With Edinburgh losing four of their first five games in this campaign, and Solomons wasting no time in recruiting a raft of overseas players, there is inevitably cause for concern that they might be heading down the same route.
Recently, however, there has been some evidence that things are beginning to improve, with Tonks identifying back-to-back victories over Benetton Treviso and Zebre at the end of October and the beginning of November as having provided a crucial boost to morale.
“Those two games we played at home against the Italian sides were huge for us. They were must-win matches and, while they were a little bit closer than we would have liked, they made a massive difference in terms of our league position and a lot of confidence has been taken from that,” he said.
Edinburgh did lose 41-17 to Ulster at Ravenhill last weekend and Tonks added: “Obviously it was a disappointing result. To concede that many points is frustrating. We played well at the start and finished well, but went off the rails a little bit in the middle – but the guys are still confident in the systems and what we want to do.’
“We have good enough players and good enough things in place to beat teams like that – it’s just a matter of us delivering it. It’s a learning curve and we’re getting there now.”
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE