ALAN Solomons has turned to international wingers Tim Visser and Nikki Walker to inject fresh potency into Edinburgh’s RaboDirect PRO12 campaign, but the head coach appears to be holding some parts of his new team together with willpower.
With Matt Scott out until next month, Greig Laidlaw for a minimum two weeks, Piers Francis three weeks at least with ankle ligament damage and Gregor Hunter having suffered a serious knee injury playing for Hawick, the squad’s already stretched midfield is fit to burst.
Harry Leonard returns at stand-off to partner youngster Sean Kennedy against the Dragons in the first home game tonight, and Nick de Luca is joined in the centre by wing Dougie Fife. The back three has a solid look with Walker, Visser and Greig Tonks, who is also the new stand-off deputy, but the bench is callow with new signings Jack Cuthbert, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and trialist Michael Tait.
The son of Scotland and British dual-code cap Alan, Tait has represented Scotland through the age-grade levels, but his progress stalled at Newcastle with leg injuries. Still just 23, he has been offered a month’s trial with Edinburgh and may benefit from the injury toll.
Time is perhaps more valuable than any player to the new coaching team at this moment, but, while short on that as well heading into the second weekend of the new season, Solomons remains upbeat in the wake of the opening day defeat at Munster.
“In terms of game strategy the players certainly have an understanding of what we want to achieve,” he said. “There is work to be done on our kicking game, which is understandable because it’s a different way of approaching the game, and there is a lot of work to be done on our defence. But the players are willing and capable so it’s a question of being afforded the time to adjust to new systems.
“From what I’ve seen there is absolutely nothing wrong with the attitude and what was important for me at the weekend was the resolve the team showed in that second half. That was critical for me.
“We were in a hole at 22-6 to be honest about it, but what I respected was the way they fought their way out of that. We also had the chance at one stage when we got the try, bringing it back to 22-13, but we made a mistake from the kick-off which let them get another try and that was a key moment in the game.
“Nevertheless, we still came back and could have made the difference eight points by taking the kick at the posts, but we stuck it into the corner and unfortunately lost the lineout with the ball being punched out of our hands, which was well done by Munster. But we scored
17 points to 12 by them in the second half. It is not going to be easy, but I really believe that we will go from strength to strength.”
Intriguingly, another area Solomons is looking to strengthen is the back row, and his side will face their old No 8 Netani Talei tonight as well as scrum-half Richie Rees, having released the pair in the summer.
“I have always told my friends that whatever happens on the field stays on the field,” said Talei. “At the end of the day I am a Dragon and I will do whatever I can to help the boys beat Edinburgh.”
The “Men of Gwent” have won six of their last eight matches with Edinburgh and three of their past six games at Murrayfield, but if the Edinburgh pack can meet Talei and the Dragons head-on, home supporters will hope that the return of Visser and Walker can provide the necessary finishing style to kick-start the season.
DRAGONS: 15 Dan Evans; 14 Matthew Pewtner; 13 Pat Leach; 12 Jack Dixon; 11 Hallam Amos; 10 Jason Tovey; 9 Richie Rees; 1 Owen Evans; 2 T.Rhys Thomas (c); 3 Dan Way; 4 Adam Jones; 5 Matthew Screech; 6 Lewis Evans; 7 Nic Cudd; 8 Netani Talei. Subs: 16 Hugh Gustafson; 17 Phil Price; 18 Francisco Chaparro; 19 Rob Sidoli; 20 Toby Faletau; 21 Jonathan Evans; 22 Kris Burton; 23 Ross Wardle.