IT IS a problem which has left many a Murrayfield decision-maker scratching their head in confusion in recent seasons. Traditionally the favoured son of Scottish professional rugby franchises, Edinburgh’s last six years have been characterised by catastrophic inconsistency and chronic under-achievement.
There have, of course, been some highs along the way, most notably in 2011-12 when they reached the Heineken Cup semi-finals – but even that must be viewed in the context of a woeful league campaign which ended with them finishing second bottom with just six wins.
Edinburgh have not finished in the top half of the table since Andy Robinson led them to second in 2008-09. Several coaches and countless leading players have since come and gone, which has surely been both a cause and an effect of Edinburgh seeming to be a team perpetually in transition.
Last summer, when Alan Solomons became the most recent to accept Edinburgh’s poisoned coaching chalice, he was at pains to stress that there could be no overnight revolution. He was determined to build a high-achieving squad and a winning culture in a very specific mould. That might mean plenty of pain before we started to see tangible gain, he warned – and a rugby public fed-up with sticking-plaster solutions to a major problem gave him time and space.
That patience is beginning to wear thin. When the current side defeated Newport Gwent Dragons, Bordeaux Begles and Lyon on consecutive weekends during October, it was a cause for celebration as the first time since November 2011 they had won three competitive games on the bounce. Since then they have lost heavily away to Leinster, claimed a comfortable victory over Cardiff Blues at home, and then come unstuck away at Zebre.
If Edinburgh were just plain useless then it would be easier to accept – but they continue to hint that something better might be just around the corner without ever delivering.
There is no doubt that Solomons has been hamstrung by injuries this season, and he has not been shy in telling us that these have prevented him from integrating his new-look team. But that has only highlighted that sidelining then getting rid of several established internationalists at the first opportunity was a foolhardy manoeuvre. Also, is it bad luck or poor planning that so many of his new faces arrived either injured or not fit enough to play the style of game the South African is looking to play?
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Club captain Mike Coman is a typical no-nonsense Kiwi. He greets you with a firm handshake, looks you straight in the eye, and clearly understands that actions speak louder than words in the world of professional sport.
He says: “Without doubt there is a lot of pressure involved. It has been disappointing because we have talked a lot about trying to be consistent, but it has been two steps forward and one step back each time. There is pressure on myself to iron out these issues to make us a better club and more consistent.
“It hasn’t helped that I have not been a constant figure early on. It was a slow start for me personally because of injury but that is behind me now so, hopefully, I can be with the team every week at training and we can start talking about the things we want to drive forward. It’s hard when you can’t be involved to try to drive up standards and it’s not ideal on the field when you have a different guy leading each week.”
Coman clearly appreciates that all is not as it should be but strenuously rejects the idea that Edinburgh are floundering under Solomons.
“We’ve had bad games but I think, overall, I’ve noticed improvements in our skill level, and our defence is now really strong,” he insists.
“I can’t give an exact answer to why we are not consistent but I do think that, individually, we have to take more responsibility. Guys have been great one week and dropped off the next, so we all need to be more accountable. And that also applies to off the field. We need to drive standards by being professional in everything we do and that will lead into games.
“Some of the guys we have lost have been key figures but I still feel that, if we play to our capabilities with the guys we’ve got, then we should be able to get results.”
When Edinburgh take on a struggling London Welsh outfit in the European Challenge Cup at BT Murrayfield this afternoon a win will be the only acceptable outcome. With two wins from two outings in the competition so far, Edinburgh are in a great position to progress to the knockout stages. They must not let that slip away against a team who have lost their last 11 competitive games by an average margin of 35 points.
Coman adds: “Teams with nothing to lose are often the toughest team you play because you don’t know what to expect. They will recognise that we have been up and down this season, so they will be targeting us as a real chance at a victory.
“They’ve been on the receiving end of some heavy defeats and they look like they have taken the view that they’ve got nothing to lose.
“Their back three look particularly fast and dangerous and prepared to have a crack at us from anywhere around the park. Against Northampton last week they scored some good tries. It’s a matter of being aware that they will be here to play and determined to run us off the park if they can.”
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