Iain Morrison: Why Alan Solomons had to depart Edinburgh

Edinburgh Rugby have appointed Duncan Hodge as acting coach. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Edinburgh Rugby have appointed Duncan Hodge as acting coach. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
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Rugby’s first coaching casualty of the season has arrived after just one month with Edinburgh’s head coach Alan Solomons paying the price for the club’s poor start to the season. Edinburgh have won just one of their opening four matches and currently sit a lowly ninth in the Guinness Pro12 table, exactly where they finished at the end of last season.

The veteran South African coach was starting his fourth season with the club that has finished eighth, eighth and ninth on his watch. After turning up late for his debut season the coach blamed the poor conditioning of the players for their poor performance that year and replaced the conditioning coach.

Solomons’ place is taken by former Scotland stand-off Duncan Hodge who has been his assistant this season and part of last. He is helped by forwards coach Steve Scott who remains in situ.

Hodge won 26 Scotland caps and is best known for his exploits in the 2000 Calcutta Cup match when he scored one try, one conversion and four penalties to help Scotland to a rare win over the auld enemy. He was first approached by Frank Hadden who made Hodge an assistant Scotland coach in 2007, upgraded to a full-time position in 2012, where he remained until the arrival of Jason O’Halloran from New Zealand, appointed by Vern Cotter, who took over after last year’s World Cup.

“Duncan brings his recent coaching experience from the Scotland national team as well as his long playing career with Edinburgh into the role,” said SRU boss Mark Dodson.

“He will receive our full support to keep moving the club forward.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Alan for his significant contribution to the Edinburgh club and I wish him well in the future.”

Just a month ago Edinburgh’s managing director Jonny Petrie was backing the club’s decision to extend Solomons’ contract again.

His time with Edinburgh was not without its success. In Solomons’ second season the club won the 1872 Cup for the first time in six years and they defended it successfully last season against a strong Glasgow team, winning both matches, albeit both games were played at Murrayfield.

Edinburgh also competed in the 2014/15 European Challenge Cup final although they finished a poor second to Gloucester on the night.

As much as for the club’s results, which were improving slowly, Solomons’ has paid the price for a lack of ambition. Taking over an Edinburgh team which was in meltdown after the early exit of Irish coach Michael Bradley, Solomons insisted on going back to basics – set piece, defence and kicking for position, playing a typical, low-risk South African style game. He was helped in this by a strong tight five pack of forwards including the all-international front row of Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford and WP Nel.

However, this route one rugby didn’t sit easy with the fans, who are used to thrills and spills from the capital club, and it didn’t chime with the times, which have moved on apace. The game is evolving faster than ever but Solomons was using last year’s playbook. Instead of skill and speed, Edinburgh were overly reliant upon a big, physical forward pack to bully the opposition but it was rarely enough.

The South African could have defended his style of rugby had the club been more successful but despite spending goodness knows how many millions on a host of players, many of whom were imported from overseas, that success proved elusive.

Solomons also helped perpetuate a culture of excuses at the club. It is one thing to dampen overblown expectations but, every time the boss talked to the press about injuries or a lack of experience he was just giving his players another subliminal reason to lose.

His low point arrived last weekend when, in the face of a front row injury crisis, he handed Kevin Bryce the No 3 shirt against Munster. Bryce has only just made the transition from hooker to tighthead and he had just 12 minutes of competitive professional rugby in his new position before being thrown to the wolves against Munster’s experienced Irish international David Kilcoyne who ate him for breakfast.

Bryce injured his arm in the very first engagement and was withdrawn from the contest after just six minutes. Edinburgh’s management may have fallen short in their duty of care to the player.

Given the timing, few coaches of any stature are available right now so Hodge has an excellent opportunity to cement his place as head coach of Edinburgh over the remainder of the season, starting with current champions Connacht on Friday evening.

Under the former Watsonian, Edinburgh are sure to showcase a more open brand of running rugby in the coming weeks although maybe not on Friday if the wind is blowing in Galway on Friday.

Meanwhile, Solomons left Murrayfield with these words: “I have greatly enjoyed working with the players and coaches and feel I have helped to put the club on a much stronger footing over the past three years and am leaving it in a better place than when I arrived.”

The South African is right, he leaves Edinburgh Rugby in a better place than Michael Bradley did, but that is not necessarily something you’d want to boast about.