ALAN Solomons says he will be “shocked” if Scotland don’t start the World Cup with an all-Edinburgh front row of Al Dickinson, Ross Ford and WP Nel.
The coach of the capital side was speaking at yesterday’s launch of the Guinness Pro12 at the title sponsor’s London headquarters and said he was sure national head coach Vern Cotter will look to three of his players to provide Scotland with their set-piece platform.
I put a lot of emphasis on the set-piece. That is the foundation for everything else
South Africa-born prop Nel came off the bench to win his first cap in Saturday’s 16-12 victory over Italy in Turin just over two months after becoming eligible to play for Scotland on the three-year residency rule.
Solomons said: “Dicko, Fordy and WP in the front row can take on anybody. I will be shocked to my boots if that is not the front row. I’ve watched these games and, believe me, that is the front row for sure, and Stuart McInally on the bench, too.
“I have been very proud watching our guys the last couple of weeks, but I was really upset that Gilco [Grant Gilchrist] was ill. I usually stay closely in touch by text, but I didn’t know until I sat down to watch the match and I thought, ‘where is this guy?’
“That was a big disappointment with him going to captain the side. Even though there were a couple of errors at the back end of the game I thought Sammy [Hidalgo-Clyne] played with a lot of confidence and a lot of composure. And Matt Scott, whose X-factor we missed a lot last season, looked back to his best with a lovely pass for the try.”
Solomons is entering his third season as Edinburgh head coach and the 65-year-old South African is confident that the side can significantly improve on back-to-back eighth-place finishes and build on last term’s promising campaign, the highlight of which was the run to the European Challenge Cup final.
After a final pre-season friendly against Ulster at Goldenacre on Friday night, Edinburgh start their campaign at home to Leinster a week later, in a match moved to Meggetland due to a Foo Fighters concert at BT Murrayfield.
Despite having the World Cup period when many of his big names will be on international duty, he believes the squad is in excellent shape compared with his previous two years.
“There’s no comparison,” said Solomons. “When I first arrived, I wasn’t involved in the recruitment and pre-season and we had around 23-26 players who were capable of playing Pro12 rugby. We have much better strength in depth and starting to see our Scottish youngsters starting to come through. We saw last season with Hamish Watson, Ben Toolis and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. We’ve now got Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury, Chris Dean, Damien Hoyland. I believe we have strength and can cope, but, like every side, you hope to have an injury-free run and get a bit of luck.”
Responding to the news that five Edinburgh players had been cut from the extended World Cup squad – Toolis, Watson, Dougie Fife, Allan Dell and Damien Hoyland – Solomons said he was disappointed for the players concerned but happy to have them available for the start of the league campaign.
He added that he wasn’t too concerned by the fact the World Cup disruption effectively makes for two seasons and added: “I don’t think any of the sides will have too much trouble integrating guys back in. The players are all very much part of the club and should slot back seamlessly, so I don’t think it will be a problem.
“Every country will decide on rest periods. If a player has played a lot of games in the World Cup, they’ll need a proper break. That will vary and will have a knock-on effect.
“There is obviously going to be a distinction between World Cup and post-World Cup because squads are going to be back to full strength, but one has to view it that it’s a competition and you know you’re going to have at least six games without your strongest squad and that’s just the way it is and you get on with it.”
The backroom staff has been beefed up, with Duncan Hodge coming in as backs coach after the World Cup and Peter Wilkins recently appointed defence coach to ease the burden on Solomons and his assistant Stevie Scott.
The head coach said: “Stevie has done a lot, he’s a great guy and a good coach. He’s done a great job with the forwards.
“I put a lot of emphasis on the set-piece. That is the foundation and platform for everything else and Stevie has helped build that.
“We’ve got Hodgey coming in and we’ve also had Calum MacRae, who is a good young coach, and the rest of the sevens boys working with us.
“Peter Wilkins has come in as defence coach. It’s great because last season the workload was massive.”
Solomons is a former Ulster coach and has also worked in the English Premiership and his native South Africa. He believes the standard of the Guinness Pro12 comfortably holds its own in global terms and said: “It’s right up there and European qualification has given it a nice little edge. Also the fact that it is a cross-border competition, not just domestic, gives it an interesting mix of styles.”