EDINBURGH will field the strongest team of their season so far on the resumption of RaboDirect Pro12 business tonight, but coach Alan Solomons has warned that any drop-off in performance will be pounced on by Italian visitors Treviso.
After shocking Munster in their opening Heineken Cup match and giving Perpignan a scare by taking a half-time lead in the south of France last weekend, before suffering a second-half slide, Edinburgh return to Murrayfield bolstered by the re-appearance of internationalists David Denton, Dimitri Basilaia and Matt Scott, all of whom were missing through injury in Perpignan, and Greig Tonks back in the starting line-up.
With new signings Cornell du Preez, Wicus Blaauw, Joaquin Dominguez and Tomas Leonardi now settled in, Mike Coman due to arrive next week after leading Hawke’s Bay in the ITM Cup Final and Ross Rennie back in training it is little wonder that Solomons is in cheerier mood than when the season started.
“We are looking much, much better when you look at us now compared to the start of the season,” he said. “At loose forward we were struggling to field players, but now have Tomas, Roddy [Grant], Dimitri fully fit and playing, Cornell, Dave Denton, Ross [Rennie] returning, Hamish [Watson] had some time and Mike [Coman] is coming after playing in the ITM Cup Final this weekend, so we’re much healthier, as is the midfield situation with Matt fit, where we were rocky.
“Ben [Atiga] is getting close to playing again, Sam Beard and Joaquin have joined us, so in the two most attritional positions on the rugby pitch we’re much stronger. The guys also now understand and are comfortable in the systems and because we’ve had quite a few injuries a lot of guys have been given opportunities to play, and that’s given me a good chance to assess the squad.”
However, he warned: “There is no doubt that we have improved over the last six or seven weeks of competition, but it’s important that we continue to show that improvement and we are aware of the fact that Treviso are a tough side.
“I have a lot of respect for what Treviso have done over the years. They are tough opposition. They have been together for a long time. Franco Smith has been coaching there for seven years and he’s a good coach, and they have the bulk of the Italian side. And when you look at recent games between Scotland and Italy at national level there haven’t been huge differences between the two, they’ve been hard fought, hard contested games, so we know we’re going to have a tough game.”
Solomons coached former stand-off Smith in the Springboks team during the world-record run of 17 Test wins and so is full of admiration for his development of the Italian side. Treviso deserve respect from Edinburgh more than anyone, having beaten the Scots in two of their last three meetings, including a 27-22 triumph at Murrayfield last season. They have also won two league games this season to Edinburgh’s one, and sit in ninth, five points above their bottom-placed hosts.
Skipper Antonio Pavanello makes his 50th league appearance in front of a strong back row of Dean Budd, Alessandro Zanni and Manoa Vosawai, James Ambrosini joining Fabio Semenzato at half-back and a talented back three of Ludovico Nitoglia and Christian Loamanu on the wings and Brendan Williams at full-back.
Tonks missed the games against Cardiff and Munster with a hamstring injury, and returned off the bench in Perpignan, and sees a new confidence about Edinburgh in the wake of the Heineken Cup displays and ahead of back-to-back home games against Italian opposition.
“It is all starting to come together,” he said. “Everyone is improving individually but when everyone is adjusting to new systems, new moves and calls it takes a while for that to become fluid and for people to react to what people do in different moves and scenarios. It was always going to take time but now it is there and becoming more second nature rather than having to double think what we do here and there. When you get a good win like we did against Munster and a good performance like we did in the first half in Perpignan, you can see the benefits of what we are trying to do come through. The guys start to get a bit of confidence and a bit of trust in the system, and it certainly helps when everyone knows what is going on.
“These two games now are massive for us. We need to pick up a couple of wins.”
Treviso team: B Williams; L Nitoglia, L Morisi, A Sgarbi, C Loamanu; J Ambrosini, F Semenzato; M Rizzo, E Ceccato, L Cittadini, A Pavanello (capt), M Fuser, D Budd, A Zanni, M Vosawai. Subs: F Sbaraglini, I Fernandez-Rouyet, P Di Santo, V Bernabò, R Barbieri, M Filippucci, T Botes, L McLean.
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE