EDINBURGH head coach Alan Solomons made no attempt to defend his players after an insipid 23-12 Heineken Cup defeat to Gloucester, and is now considering resting key figures for the return at Kingsholm in a bid to come back strongly in their league campaign.
Needing a win to keep European qualification hopes alive after beating Munster but losing away to Perpignan, Edinburgh fell below the standards set in recent weeks and the fact they lost by just 11 points owed as much to the failings of the Premiership strugglers as it did to anything produced by the hosts.
Solomons pointed to a key lapse in attack by his side in the second half, which might have led to a different outcome, but admitted he was concerned by fatigue among his Scotland internationalists. Edinburgh have to beat Gloucester at Kingsholm next Sunday and then Perpignan at home and Munster away in January to have a slim chance of making the last eight, and Solomons hinted that finishing in the top six of the RaboDirect Pro12, and ensuring qualification for next year’s tournament, whatever shape it may take, will be a bigger priority.
“It’s definitely possible but the odds are stacked against us,” he said of gaining revenge at Gloucester. “There is a certain amount of fatigue already with some of the guys that have played in the autumn internationals and played Connacht and this game, so we’re going to have a careful look at the squad on Monday.
“It’s good that they go and play for Scotland, and we want as many representatives as possible, but there’s that break from the team and then the re-integration, which is not a major issue, but it does take time to get right. I think the Pro12 is important. Every game that we play is important. But what we’ve got to do is take a proper assessment and speak to our medical and strength and conditioning guys, have a look at our players, and that fatigue factor, because I think it’s definitely there.
“When you lose a home game it makes it very difficult for you. It doesn’t mean that you’re out, but it makes it very, very difficult. That wasn’t a good performance by us across the board. We lacked sharpness, urgency and made far too many errors. We’ve always said performance is everything but today we didn’t do justice to ourselves, and yet, had we taken that chance at 23-12, the whole game could have changed.”
The chance he spoke of came on the hour mark, when Gloucester had lost lock James Hudson to the sin-bin, but a crucial error in failing to spot an overlap out left let the visitors off the hook. “At 23-12, when we went down the right-hand touchline and they gave away a penalty and a yellow card, I thought was a key moment in the game,” Solomons said.
“We played David Denton in to their posts and then we played a pick-and-go when had we played that ball out and scored, and gone from 23-12 to 23-19, I think that would have changed the whole complexion of that game. But, we’ve got to look at that second half because we had 13 errors, and you add five penalties and, when 18 times you’re giving the ball away in a 40-minute half, you’re making it difficult for yourself.
“The tries we conceded were poor also. The first try was a grubber and it’s about our back three working together as a pendulum, but there was simply no-one at home. In the second try, the catch-up defender should hit that play on the inside ball and I’ve got to look at the tape to see if there was obstruction preventing the catch-up tackler getting there. I don’t know. And then we missed touch on that third try and, when you miss touch, your chase lines are gone and you have major trouble. I never felt there was a panic even when we went down 23-5, but we blew it when we had the opportunity when their man went off.”
Nigel Davies, Gloucester’s head coach, saw things slightly differently and expects a backlash from Edinburgh at Kingsholm. “I thought the turning point for us was when we let Edinburgh off the hook by going for the posts rather than a five-metre lineout,” he said. “But the momentum swings in games are huge. This is a start but we’re still not where we can be as a team. That [failure to get bonus point] was disappointing but we are where we are and it’s little steps at the moment. I’ve come here many a time over the years [also with Scarlets] and not got a result. And Edinburgh had a fantastic result against Munster, so for us to come here when we’re not really firing will certainly help things.”
And of Sunday’s return fixture at Kingsholm, Davies noted: “It will be tough because Edinburgh will be very disappointed with that.”