EDINBURGH coach Alan Solomons reckons his players are not well enough conditioned to be competitive on a weekly basis in the RaboDirect Pro12 – and the South African has vowed to put that right over the summer so that there can be no excuses for failing to produce the goods on a consistent basis next season.
The capital outfit suffered what looks certain to be a terminal blow in their quest to qualify for top-flight European rugby next season when they were bullied to a 22-29 home defeat by Cardiff Blues last Friday night.
Solomons recognised that his players looked jaded, which is a major concern given that the team had an eight day lay-off before the match, and should have come into the game on a high after a morale boosting victory at Newport Gwent Dragons in their previous outing.
“When you play rugby you’ve got to be between 90 and 100 per cent of your potential, and we were between 80 and 90. They played really, really well while we were just a little bit off colour, and we paid a high price for that,” he said.
When asked if he could explain why his team had been so flat in a match of such importance, Solomons did not hesitate in pointing his finger at the fitness levels of the players he inherited, while also stressing that some of the recruits he has brought in during the last few months are now feeling the pace having not had a break since the start of last season’s southern hemisphere season.
“I am not happy with the conditioning of this team and obviously that conditioning took place during the course of pre-season. There are also a number of key players in this team who are playing back-to-back seasons, which is the way it operates when you come from one hemisphere to another,” he said.
“This side is not conditioned – that’s it. But they will be conditioned next year. They will be conditioned in a way that will allow them to front up physically every single week,” he added.
Solomons arrived in Scotland from his native South Africa two weeks before the start of the current campaign because he was committed to seeing out his contract as director of rugby with the Southern Kings Super Rugby franchise – and it has clearly been a bit of a culture shock to the 63-year-old.
“They are not in the same league,” he replied, when asked to compare the conditioning levels between the team he has left and the team he has joined.
“You have to back-up games – week-in and week-out – so that’s where it plays a major role, and that’s where it is tough for the boys. In South Africa, we didn’t have any stars in that Kings side, we hardly had any players who had played Super Rugby, but the conditioning programme that we put them through into the start of the season made all the difference,” he explained.
“In that league we had ten games in a row including going to Australia and New Zealand. We went on tour and played the Crusaders, then played the Hurricanes, then played the Brumbies, then played the Rebels, and then went straight back home and played the Bulls. That gives you an idea of the massively high level you are trying to play week-in and week-out. If you equate Super Rugby to top flight Heineken Cup, you are playing 16 matches in total with ten of them being back-to-back. Now, in order to cope with that you have to be appropriately conditioned, and that made the difference for us.”
It is clear that conditioning was not the only area Solomons found in need of urgent attention when he eventually arrived in the Scottish capital.
“When we first came here nobody had any idea about the systems and structures we were bringing in. There was no kicking game here, the attack system was different, the defence system was completely different – so there was a lot of new things had to be brought in,” he explained.
“I arrived here two weeks before the competitive season started, Omar [Mouneimne, the defence coach] arrived as the competitive season started, our strength and conditioning trainer the week that the competitive season started – so that made it very difficult. You’ve got to realise that this is a unique situation. I have never come across a situation like this in my career and I’ve coached for a long, long time.
“Next season is a little bit different because we’ve had an opportunity to deal with the recruitment and retention of players, we’ll have the opportunity to plan our off-season and our pre-season. That will be a big help, and allow us to introduce that element of rotation we need in order to keep players fresh, while maintaining that fine balance so that we also have consistency in selection.’
Solomons added that he doesn’t believe that the fact that Edinburgh are now almost certain to be excluded from Europe’s top competition next year will have a detrimental effect on his ability to entice players of the appropriate calibre to the club during the summer.
“Our recruitment is pretty close to being done, so that has no impact at all,” he insisted, before refusing to be drawn on how many players we can expect to arrive during the next few months, and what positions they are likely to occupy.