THE first autumn leaves have fallen. Check. Wallaby James O’Connor is embroiled in a booze-related fracas. Check.
The Heineken Cup is undermined by politics. Check. Edinburgh have a stand-off crisis on their hands. Check. Welcome to the start of another season.
Despite the fact that they had no coach in place Edinburgh were active in the recruitment market this summer. The club signed two players for the back three, four front row forwards, a Kiwi scrum-half, an Aussie lock and a Saffa breakaway who was trumpeted last week as the “complete player”.
Meanwhile, an Argentinian midfielder and Michael Tait from Newcastle are both on trial.
The club boasts a larger squad than Leicester Tigers.
Edinburgh have hired in pretty much every position on the field except the one where they desperately need a top-class player – stand-off.
Now, three weeks into the season, they have a crisis at No.10. While you could say that about the club at petty much any time in the last few seasons, the ongoing problems at pivot have been exacerbated by injuries to Gregor Hunter (out for an entire season), Piers Francis and Greig Laidlaw.
Edinburgh started the season with three stand-offs and yesterday at the Liberty Stadium they were down to one – Harry Leonard. He started six matches last season and finished on the winning side just once. He did almost nothing of note in yesterday’s match against the Ospreys but that was down to his forward pack, who were roasted to a cinder by the opposition eight, beaten and bullied at every turn.
With so many rivals sidelined, Leonard may have a chance to play himself into the number ten shirt but he might need to be quick about it. Edinburgh boss David Davies admitted last week that the club is actively looking to sign an experienced playmaker and the fact that the SRU’s head of recruitment, Sean Lineen, is currently in his native New Zealand may not be a co-incidence.
Edinburgh’s crisis says something of the intensity of modern rugby but it also says a lot about the club’s lack of forward planning that they started the season with six scrum-halves and just three stand-offs.
Much faith was placed in Francis, who was signed on the recommendation of former All Black coach Wayne Smith, but the best that can be said about the Kiwi to date is that the jury is still out.
He did little in the second half of last season to justify his signing and Edinburgh might have done better to snap up Gala’s Lee Millar before London Scottish grabbed him as they would at least have signed a reliable goal kicker. Francis missed four out of five the first time he was handed the tee.
Edinburgh have instead called up Alex Blair, below, from Edinburgh Accies on a temporary trial. He got the nod despite the fact that he was outshone by Rory Hutton in a recent Premier rugby match at Raeburn Place when the Hawick man came off the bench around the 50 minute mark and proved the difference between the sides. Still, Blair displayed his broken play prowess against Melrose yesterday, grabbing one interception try and giving the scoring pass for the final touchdown.
He is an exciting player who makes things happen but wise heads see Blair ending up at outside centre where his speed and eye for a gap would be best utilised. Game management is not his forte and game management is what a No.10 is all about.
Both Hutton and Blair have already been on Edinburgh’s books and were perhaps unlucky to be jettisoned so quickly, injuries played their part in the latter’s case. But they are the exception that proves the rule because other players appear to be marked out for the pro-game early on and retained almost regardless of performance, seemingly untouchable. A lot of time, money and effort has been invested in these players and showing them the door now would mean throwing all that down the drain.
They may be loathe to play Greig Laidlaw there but, at least for the time being, Edinburgh’s number one scrum-half remains their best stand-off.