THE European Challenge Cup might not demand the same level of prestige as is afforded the Champions Cup or even the Guinness Pro12, but Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons says he is in no doubt that it is a very important competition for the sides involved – and he insists he is not just saying that because his team are currently sitting pretty at the top of Pool 4 with three wins from three games.
“I think it’s probably a bit rough calling it a Mickey Mouse tournament. The premier competition is the Champions Cup and that’s accepted. This competition is secondary to that but there are still some very, very good sides in this competition and it still has value,” he said.
“Obviously the Pro12 is very important as our domestic competition, but it’s important to play well in any competition in which you participate.
“Obviously we have targets we set for ourselves and we review those goals, but we know that every game for us is a tough game.
“Getting to a play-off would be a big positive for the team but we are still a long, long way away from achieving that. We still have three big games to play – and two of them are away from home.”
Edinburgh will be looking to make it four out of four in the Challenge Cup when they play the return leg of their London Welsh double-header at the Kassam Stadium on Sunday afternoon. They defeated the same opponents 25-13 at Murrayfield last weekend, but Solomons says he is expecting more from his players this time around.
London Welsh have not won a game all season and last Sunday was only the third time they had managed to finish within two converted tries of their opponents.
“We really didn’t play well against them in the first half when we made far too many mistakes,” said Solomons.
“We gifted them a seven point try and the consequence of that was that we were behind at half-time. Fortunately we rectified that in the second half, we cut the error rate which meant we had territory and possession that we didn’t have in the first half, and we were able to turn that into points. So we know going down there we will have a tough game.
“It’s important for us to maintain that position [at the top of Pool 4] and keep alive our aspirations in Europe – so we need to produce 80 minutes and not just 40 minutes of rugby.”
Edinburgh have endured an injury ravaged season so far, but Solomons believes he is now beginning to enjoy the benefits of being forced to give so many fringe players game-time that would not ordinarily have come their way. He believes his squad now has a level of strength in depth which would have taken months to develop in normal circumstances.
“The subs made a huge difference on the weekend when they came on, so what was really positive was that with nine frontline players out we still put out a 23 which was really competitive,” he explained.
“So, full marks to the team as a whole, but especially to the guys who came on – I think they made a real difference. We started making a lot less errors at that point, had more possession, and also got a lot more flow into our game during that second half, so it’s really nice to see guys coming on and making that’s sort of impact.”
And now that his wounded warriors are slowly starting to filter their way back into the selection mix, he is excited about how the team are going to perform during the remainder of the season. “Beating Bordeaux over there [in the first round of Challenge Cup games back in October] was massive. It was probably the only game when we’ve had the bulk of our side available – we had Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, Grant Gilchrist, Anton Bresler, Hamish Watson, Mike Coman and Phil Burleigh playing – and that made a big difference. It was a fine performance by the team, but you get a sense of what you can do when you have all your frontline players available,” he reasoned.
Solomons will be without his international triumvirate of Ross Ford (back), Al Dickinson (Achilles) and Dave Denton (shoulder) again this week, but he is quietly confident that all three will be back by the time Edinburgh return to Pro12 action when Benetton Treviso come calling a week today.
Dougie Fife has shaken off the hamstring strain which caused him to be a late withdrawal from last weekend’s match and is expected to be named on the right wing on Sunday.