Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons hopes that new loan signing Jason Tovey can help guide the club to the top-six finish they crave, but doesn’t know yet if the Welshman’s stay will be longer.
Solomons reiterated yesterday that the decision to release Greig Tonks to London Irish in February was because they did not want to stand in the way of a chance the player had to take there and then, with a guarantee of selection at his favoured stand-off position.
Tovey slots in at No 10 against Zebre at BT Murrayfield this evening, with Phil Burleigh moving to inside centre – a position where the Kiwi-born back’s future may lie with Duncan Weir arriving in the summer and Matt Scott heading to Gloucester.
Tovey’s short-term move to Edinburgh is a loan, although going by the scathing criticism he has since given of his former club, a return to Dragons is not on the cards.
“Jason is an ideal replacement [for Tonks],” said Solomons yesterday. “He is a left-sided player, can play 10 or 15 and can goal kick.
“Part of the deal was that he couldn’t play against Dragons [a 16-15 win for Edinburgh in Newport on Sunday], which was understandable, and that has given him time to slot in with us.”
Asked if his stay could be prolonged, the coach replied: “Things like that take care of themselves and the focus at the moment is this season.”
Tovey will form a half-back pairing with Sean Kennedy for tonight’s visit of the next-to-bottom Italian strugglers, as Scotland scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne drops to the bench.
“I think Sean has looked really sharp when he has played and deserves an opportunity,” said Solomons.
John Hardie remains out injured, but the South African coach said: “John will be back before the end of the season. He is still not 100 per cent with both a groin and neck problem, and Hamish Watson has been playing really well.”
Skipper Mike Coman, who will follow Tonks to London Irish at the end of the season, returns for his 50th appearance, and Solomons believes the boost in senior figures will ensure there is no repeat of the complacency which led to an embarrassing defeat by Zebre in Parma earlier in the season.
He said: “Zebre are not just going to roll over. They are going to be competitive and have some good players. We give respect to all teams. You don’t fear any team but, likewise, you don’t underestimate any team.
“There is no doubt that having Fordy [Ross Ford] and Dicko [Alasdair Dickinson], and I’d include [sub hooker] Stu McInally in this too because he is a great leader, and Mike Coman coming back in, makes a huge difference. That thread of leadership wasn’t there. When you’ve got guys like that in there any underestimation of the opposition doesn’t happen.”
Asked if he had targeted a specific number of points needed in the last four games in the chase for the top-half finish which would guarantee a return to the European Champions Cup next season, Solomons said: “I’ve actually taken a different approach and just thought that every game is absolutely critical here. We are just going one game at a time.”
Edinburgh have only managed one try bonus all season and, while clearly that will be the target tonight, Solomons cautioned: “You’ve got to build your innings and earn the right to go for a bonus point.”
He agreed that increasing the number of tries was a priority moving forward but added: “It’s part of our evolution in attack. It’s not going to happen overnight and we’ve got to constantly look to improve in all facets. When you build a house you’ve always got to lay the foundation and in rugby, for me, that’s conditioning, set-piece and defence. We want to keep improving those and not go back but also look to evolve our attack.”
Lock Ben Toolis agreed a five-pointer was the ambition against a team who were hammered 47-0 at Munster last weekend. “Any point we can get is gold at the moment,” said the forward, who turned 24 along with his twin team-mate Alex yesterday.
“But it is a balancing act. When Munster beat them at the weekend I think it was only 14-0 until around the last quarter when they fell off. We’ll need to be patient.”
Zebre welcome back Italy prop Andrea Lovotti to their starting XV, while Azzurri stand-off Carlo Canna will be on the bench as fellow Test No 10 Kelly Haimona starts.
International lock Quintin Geldenhuys skippers a team who have failed to register a single point in their last two matches, with a 32-0 loss to Ulster preceeding their Munster mauling.
Glasgow-bound Leonardo Sarto will line up on the left wing.
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