A SOUTH African defence coach and two Australian players are to follow Alan Solomons to Edinburgh in the latest part of the club’s radical makeover.
Former Springboks assistant and Ulster head coach Solomons has hired his Southern Kings assistant Omar Mouneimne to take charge of Edinburgh’s defence, kicking game and breakdown work, with
Stevie Scott remaining as forwards coach. A development coach from the Scottish club game is still to be confirmed.
Coincidentally, the former Kings, Ulster and Springbok fitness coach Phil Mack is also back in his native Scotland, after a spell with the Borders a decade ago working with Peebles.
However, with his own physiotherapy business being launched, he has ruled himself out of a return to the pro game.
Today the club will unveil new players, however, in scrum-half Grayson Hart, the nephew of former All Blacks coach John Hart, a one-time sparring partner of Solomons in the Test arena, and second row Ollie Atkins. Both are Scottish-qualified.
It is part of the SRU’s desire to lift Edinburgh to the levels set by Glasgow last season, where a clutch of new signings generated fresh interest on and off the field at Scotstoun and, after a period of settling in, helped to carry the Warriors to within touching distance of a first Celtic league final.
As fringe Waratahs men, Hart and Atkins are not quite the ‘marquee players’ SRU CEO Mark Dodson has promised for the capital, but they have both been targeted to deepen the squad’s pool of quality and boost competition levels.
On the coaching front, a first glance at the SRU’s desire to bring the Kings coaching team to Scotland may not be hugely inspiring. The Kings finished bottom of the Super 15, shipped a handful of hefty defeats and recently lost a play-off with the Golden Lions for South Africa’s fifth spot in next season’s championship.
Solomons, however, was one of the few coaches prepared to take on what was considered in South Africa as something of a poisoned chalice, largely because it was his home province.
They were the poor relations of the South African teams and Super Rugby Championship and yet still surprised many with their attacking rugby, notably in drawing 28-28 away to eventual finalists the Brumbies and beating the Western Force, Melbourne Rebels and Highlanders.
Solomons remains widely respected in world rugby and has come to Edinburgh with two challenges: to help the capital side join the elite of the Celtic nations and a team competing for the Heineken Cup knockout stages, and to improve the quality of pro coaches in Scotland.
He agreed to keep Scott on board and also develop an aspiring Scottish club coach as part of the SRU’s drive to tackle the lack of opportunities for home-bred figures. His side of the deal, however, was an insistence that he bring Mouneimne, a South African mixed martial arts champion who has become a leading defence coach at provincial level in South Africa as well as having a spell as Italy’s defence chief in 2010-11, to tackle the club’s inconsistency in defence.
“Omar is a world-class rugby coach,” said Solomons. “He’s absolutely superb in his specialised field of defence and the breakdown, and is certainly the best I have ever worked with.
“He’s been my right-hand man and done a fantastic job during what was an extremely challenging Super Rugby season, just as he did in last season’s
unbeaten Currie Cup run. He is a really good bloke and a great team man. There is a terrific synergy between us and I’m really looking forward to continuing our partnership alongside forwards coach Stevie Scott at Edinburgh Rugby.”
It is ironic that Boks coach Heyneke Meyer was yesterday lauding Scottish skills after declaring that Richie Gray would join his team to improve the Springboks’ work at the breakdown. Mouneimne started out as a collision and breakdown specialist for the South Africa 7s team, moved on to coach South Africa under-20 and then Western Province and the Stormers in 2008, and while highly rated by Solomons, he will not join Edinburgh until 20 August, just days before the opening pre-season match away to Northampton and less than three weeks before the first RaboDirect PRO12 match in Munster.
Mouneimne is excited by the challenge, however.
He stated: “The sport has taken me to Edinburgh a number of times throughout my career and I’ve always left with a sense of awe for the history, the character, and the values of strength and courage, which I consider very important.
“There is a tremendous amount of potential in Edinburgh Rugby. It’s the type of club I believe can go far and it will truly be an honour to be part of it.”