Rob Moffat hopes Edinburgh can make him a second season wonder again

ROB Moffat is no stranger to following in the shoes of legendary international coaches and as he returned to an old school yesterday the Edinburgh head coach insisted he was confident of emerging stronger from his team's nosedive in this season's Magners League.

Moffat was still a PE teacher in the Borders when he took over at the Melrose helm in 1994 from Jim Telfer, the Scotland and British and Irish Lions coach who stepped down to concentrate on a new full-time role as the SRU's first director of rugby. Having won the Division One title three years on the trot with Telfer as head coach and Moffat his assistant, Melrose slumped to eighth place in Moffat's first season at the helm.

In the next season, however, he guided them back to the top and his team went on the next year, 1996-97, to win the Scottish Cup, Border League and its own sevens tournament with Moffat pulling the strings.

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He finds himself in a similar position this season, having taken over from Andy Robinson, another international and Lions head coach, and his attempts to mirror Robinson's efforts and improve on last season's second spot have fallen over the final few hurdles.

Yesterday, Moffat was at Earlston High School, which he left to take up his first professional rugby role as head coach of the first Borders team. At the new campus yesterday, he helped to take a coaching masterclass along with Scott Renwick, the school's current rugby coach and son of Hawick and Scotland centre Jim, to Earlston and Kelso pupils as a reward for them achieving the gold standard in the Scottish Widows Rugby Champions scheme.

Moffat clearly enjoyed a brief break from analysis over Edinburgh's shocking defeats to the Dragons and Ulster, results that have stripped them of realistic hopes for a play-off spot. However, he insisted he welcomes the pressure that comes with the role and stated that supporters were right to question and criticise, before pausing to reflect on the last time he replaced a legendary figure.

"I don't generally like to look back; I prefer to always look forward," he said. "I don't tend to bother with that (comparisons with other coaches] because you have to be your own person.

"In that first year that I took over from Jim you just carry on the good work but then the next year you get the chance to put your stamp on the squad and it's similar now.

"A lot of things have gone well for us this season and if we'd won in the last couple of weeks we'd be in the play-offs and going to Leinster this weekend looking for a home semi-final. The Magners League is very tight. The Ospreys a month ago had people thinking they were out of it, and now I think they could go on and win it."

There is little doubt that Robinson held more influence at the top level within Murrayfield after taking the Edinburgh post and had more money to play with than Moffat does, the native Scot having agreed to replace Robinson in the role last year despite knowing that cuts were being enforced by the SRU executive board.

However, he remains confident he can mould a squad capable of again challenging for the top four in the Magners League next season and pushing again for a quarter-final place in the Heineken Cup on the relative rations of finance he has to work off.

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"I'm happy with the squad we have," he said. "Next season we will have a lot of the same guys and the same squad really, but I'm happy because a lot of these players are maturing and coming towards their peak.

"The experienced guys Allan Jacobsen and Chris Paterson still have a couple of years or so in them, but a lot of the players are in their mid-twenties and have a lot of rugby behind them now, so 'Come on, let's kick on now' is the message."

Moffat has come under flak from supporters this season for rotating his centres and resting players such as Mike Blair. But the lack of consistent form from his international captain, as well as that of Scotland stand-off Phil Godman, players at the heart of Edinburgh's rise to second place last season, has played its part.

Moffat is rarely one to lose faith, however. He added: "I wouldn't have signed him (Godman] again if I didn't think he would (regain his form]. Look at how Dan Parks has moved on this season after being criticised by a lot of people.

We need competition in all positions and Phil will have two brothers (Alex and David Blair] and that rivalry pushing him next season.

"As for resting players, it's a difficult balance. We have a squad and we have to use it because you can't suddenly throw players into a game when they've had no rugby, and it will be a bigger test next season with the Italian teams coming into the league and another four games.

"You can't play players in every game in such a long season at this level of rugby now, yet I've asked a lot of back rows like Alan MacDonald and Roddy Grant this season because we've been missing Simon Cross, Dave Callam, Ross Rennie and Ally Hogg for much of it. You could argue that with the intensity of pro and Test rugby now games should be every two weeks, but that will never happen."

He added: "Had we won two of our last three games, which we should have, we'd have been in the play-offs. I said after the Ulster game on Sunday that I wasn't critical only of the players, that I took responsibility and all of our management team do. We all must improve, but I'm confident we will and will be better next season."