Alan Solomons: Connacht game ‘miles tougher’ than Zebre
A run of four wins from four came to a shuddering halt in Italy last weekend when bogey side Zebre enjoyed a third straight win over the Scots in Parma and it only gets tougher with a trip to face the high-flying Irishmen.
“This game will be miles tougher,” admitted Solomons ahead of the clash with the side currently lying second in the Guinness Pro12 table. “Playing in Italy is always tough, they [Zebre] had all their World Cup players back. Connacht have a few injuries, but they have had very few players out with the World Cup. They had [centre] Robbie Henshaw and one other player [prop Nathan White] and they are both back playing. At the moment we have something like 14 players out – counting injuries and the World Cup players who need an extra week.”
Reviewing the video of the 19-11 loss in Italy proved painful viewing and Solomons said: “We definitely fell off our game too much. Ulster [a 16-10 home win the previous week] was a big game and it probably took a bit out of us. You are always going to drop off a bit the next week, but we dropped off too much. The key problem areas we had were that we turned over too many balls and gave away too many penalties.”
Edinburgh pulled off a 16-13 win on their last trip to Galway in January, but Solomons knows that the Sportsground has become one of the most difficult venues in the league. Gone are the days when Connacht were seen as the poor relations of Irish rugby and, while they lack the budget and profile of Leinster, Munster and Ulster, they have fostered a formidable team ethic and are now accustomed to being in the top half of the competition rather than battling in the basement.
“Playing in Galway is always tough and the players know that,” added Solomons. “They’ve had a lot of continuity because, as I said, they had very few players away at the World Cup. What we have focused on is that we have to lift our performance against them. We’ve got to deliver something close to that Ulster performance. If we don’t, then we won’t have a prospect of success.”
The South African coach said the players who played a lot of World Cup rugby need another week off, mentally as much as physically, but added: “The cavalry will arrive next week. Obviously it will be great to have the Scotland boys back, although we know [Grant] Gilchrist won’t be until the middle of next month and Stu McInally and Ben Toolis not till January.”
One Scotland squad player who could return to the starting line-up is scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who played the second half at Zebre.
“He did reasonably well [in Italy],” said Solomons. “What one has to bear in mind is that Sammy has played very little rugby. The experience of being part of the World Cup was marvellous. The bit of game time he had will have stood him in good stead, albeit that during the World Cup itself it was just a couple of cameos and one decent half against Italy in the warm-up match. But he hasn’t played 80 minutes of rugby during that period, so obviously he is rusty. He’s got to get used to being back in the team but he is fast getting into it. Yes, he is in line to start this week, but I think he himself would have felt very uncomfortable starting last weekend. It’s a key position where you’ve got to know the plays and the calls and so on.”
Edinburgh are yet to pick up a bonus point, even missing a losing one by going down by eight points at Zebre, and Solomons admitted it was important to start picking up extras which could prove crucial come the end of the regular season.
“I agree they are very important,” he said.
“I think the games we have won were tight games. Treviso was an ideal opportunity because we had three tries and should have got the fourth, but we fell away in the second half. At the weekend there we should certainly have been within seven. The other games are a little bit different because Leinster, Ospreys and Ulster are tough games. But it is important. You need to look to win your match first, but we need to be picking up bonus points if you lose and also if you win.”
Solomons revealed that young centre Chris Dean is on course to return this week after recovering from a back problem.