EVERYONE at Edinburgh knows they still have a long way to go before approaching the form that took them to the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup two seasons ago.
But, after Saturday’s remarkable 29-23 victory over Munster, it is clear they are at least travelling on the right road under Alan Solomons, who insisted from the day he arrived in August that it would take a couple of months to sort out his new team’s problems. When four of their first five league games were lost, it was easy to agree with the veteran coach that Edinburgh had their problems all right; less simple to discern how they were being sorted.
As Allan Massie noted in these pages on Saturday, Solomons’ implication that he needed time to put things right was disturbingly reminiscent of former national coach Matt Williams, who was quick to point out the defects of Scottish rugby while signally incapable of applying corrective action. Yet, thankfully, there are a couple of critical differences between the two coaches. For a start, there is an undemonstrative honesty about Solomons. Where the Australian was all show and little substance, the South African is not out to impress – he just wants to do his job.
And perhaps of equal significance is the way in which Solomons goes about doing that job. Where Williams bamboozled players and spectators alike with gobbledegook, Solomons has the intelligence to speak with a reassuring simplicity.
He cuts through the clutter, hands his team a message and invites them to deliver. And on Saturday they delivered all right – no one more so than Matt Scott, who on his first start of the season sparked Edinburgh’s back line to life in the opening minutes with the opening try of the game.
Scott understands why there has been scepticism at best, deep-rooted pessimism at worst, about Edinburgh under Solomons. But he is convinced that the win against Munster was the outcome of steady improvement, no matter how hard that improvement might have been for anyone outside the camp to spot.
“It’s easy to say to people ‘The results are coming, the results are coming’,” Scott said after the match. “The way we were playing, we were in games, then a couple of silly mistakes here and there cost us. Today we didn’t really make those mistakes, and we capitalised on the opportunities we had.
“This result was coming, I think. It’s just the start of the process. We’re still on a rebuilding phase – we ended up playing well enough today to win, but we’ve got a tough game [against Perpignan] in France next.
“It’s a great start to our campaign. It will give us confidence, certainly. We needed that win.
“I’ve never played rugby in the south of France. I’ll expect a hostile atmosphere. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’ll be a good test to see where we are as a team.
“That’s the thing about the Heineken Cup. You get a bit of momentum going in the first couple of games and anything can happen. I’m looking forward to it.
“We’ve not won in a while, and it’s just great to have that winning feeling back in the dressing room, so we’ll be buoyed by that. But there’s a lot of hard work to be done going into next week.”
There was certainly a lot of hard work to be done after a third quarter in which Edinburgh had failed to score, and fallen behind after starting the second half ahead. “When you’re not used to winning all the time, and you build up a lead then that lead goes and you’re behind, it is a big momentum shift,” Scott accepted. “You are a bit nervous and you’re thinking ‘Come on, we’ve shipped however many points’.
“But it just shows there’s good resilience in the team.
“We didn’t panic. We stuck to the game plan, and Greig [Laidlaw] kicked everything bar the last one. He was outstanding with the boot.
“We know if we keep the ball and get penalties in their half, Greig’s probably going to knock them over nine times out of ten. We’re lucky to have a kicker as good as him.”
Laidlaw said that Edinburgh now had to prove themselves capable of playing at that level in every match, and praised the contributions of assistant coaches Omar Mouneimne and Stevie Scott as well as that of Solomons. “We’ll keep our feet on the ground,” said the scrum-half, who ended up with 19 points on his 28th birthday. “It’s only our second win of the season, but it was a good win.
“We trained well all week, and for me it’s no surprise if we train well then turn up and play well. That’s a good message for the boys.
“We need to get away from this inconsistency. We had a good first half last week down in Cardiff, and we put it together for 80 minutes this week.
“It is a big confidence-boost. When you’re coming in day after day and you’re not picking up wins, you’re thinking ‘Where do we turn next?’
“But I believe we’re on the right track. Alan and Omar and Stevie are working hard behind the scenes, putting things in place. We’re starting to get there now.”
There will be setbacks along the way, and the match in Perpignan on Sunday will be a particularly severe test of the team’s resilience. But the journey back has begun.