PERHAPS the most satisfying thing for Alan Solomons about his team’s recent run of good results has been the role that a handful of his most promising youngsters have had in helping Edinburgh achieve nine wins in their last 12 outings.
The return to action after long-term injury of internationals Dave Denton and Matt Scott has injected some serious vitality in recent weeks. Front rowers Ross Ford and Ally Dickinson are also playing some of the best rugby of their careers after taking a short time to recover from the rigours of the November Test schedule.
However, it has been a full squad effort – with the likes of scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, lock Ben Toolis and prop Rory Sutherland having played just as important a role as their more experienced counterparts in the impressive turnaround in fortunes of the capital outfit since a stuttering start to the campaign.
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As a goal-kicking No 9 with a wicked eye for a gap, Hidalgo-Clyne has made a bit of a name for himself in recent weeks. He started the season as one of three youngsters vying for the jersey vacated by Greig Laidlaw when he moved to Gloucester during the summer – and he has gone on to become a genuine contender for selection for the national side when this season’s RBS Six Nations campaign gets under way next month.
Initially, Sean Kennedy looked set to be Laidlaw’s heir apparent. He started the first two games of the campaign and, when Hidalgo-Clyne did get his chance against the Ospreys, he was a member of a hapless team which slumped to a 62-13 defeat. Kennedy was promptly reinstalled for the next three games.
The turning point was the start of Edinburgh’s European Challenge Cup campaign. With Solomons keen to freshen things up, he gave Hidalgo-Clyne another chance to show what he can do from the start for their trip to Bordeaux. Against all expectations, the visitors ran out 13-15 victors and the 21-year-old has never looked back.
He has started ten of the 11 games Edinburgh have played since that victory and, on the single occasion he was excluded from the run-on team, he made sure he had a big impact off the bench – with his introduction alongside half-back partner Greig Tonks providing the impetus for the home team as they fought back from being 6-13 down at half-time to secure a 25-13 victory over London Welsh.
He has played 721 of a possible 880 minutes during this period, and his importance to the team at the moment is perhaps illustrated by the fact he has been on the field for every single minute of Edinburgh’s last three matches – which is virtually unheard of these days for a player in a specialist position such as scrum-half.
There has never been any doubt that Hidalgo-Clyne – who is fast enough to have been selected on the wing for Edinburgh during their injury crisis at the start of the season – is a dangerous broken-field runner, and that threat continues to be a useful tool for the capital outfit.
However, the player believes the biggest thing he has learned during his recent run in the side is how to balance his natural attacking instincts with the requirement to carry out the more mundane functions of scrum-half play when required.
“When I started out this season I wasn’t that experienced a scrum-half, and I think I am learning with every game. I am definitely more composed now. It is just a case of not trying to do everything quickly like I was at the start. It’s a case of picking my moment so, when a gap opens up, hopefully I can take the chance. Basically, I’ve got to keep calm and make sure everyone feels controlled around me,” explained the youngster, who began his career as a stand-off.
Hidalgo-Clyne added that being entrusted with kicking duties has been crucial to his settling into the side. That facet of his game was of particular importance last Friday when he kicked three second-half penalties in wet and windy Galway – including a monster 50-yard effort – to secure a 13-16 victory over Connacht.
“I thrive on confidence, so I am always looking to get into the game early – and kicking goals often helps me do that. At the moment I’m loving it – this is the best rugby I have played,” he added.
Edinburgh will be looking for him to be at his dead-eyed best again this Saturday evening, when they aim to keep their 100 per cent record in the Challenge Cup intact against Lyon at the Matmut Stadium.
“French sides tend to play a very loose game so we’ve just got to make sure that we expect the unexpected. Personally, I’ve got to make sure that I’m really sharp, and constantly talking to the guys so that everyone is alert. But I don’t think we should look at them too much – we need to focus on our own game. We got the win over them at Murrayfield, which was great. Unfortunately we got a lot of injuries in that match, but the guys are back now and they are playing well. It is definitely up to us and how we play – I think we’ll determine whether we win or lose.”
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