AS THE rugby season begins to hove into view, there is a fresh air of calm around Murrayfield with the long-awaited confirmation that Alan Solomons is to take charge of what the SRU hope will be a successful new era in the capital.
But, according to the man who has held it all together in the interim, Stevie Scott, it is a calm before a storm he expects Solomons to whip up when he arrives in Scotland at the end of next week. The new coach may have just turned 63, but according to the former Scotland hooker his intent to create a powerful team remains the same as when he was plotting success with the Stormers and Springboks nearly 20 years ago, also likely to mean more new faces arriving on the playing side.
Welcoming Solomons’ appointment, Scott said: “He fits the bill of what we need well. It is a clean slate for all players and staff. He will arrive a week on Friday and with his CV he is the right man for the job.
“I have spoken to Alan through the magic of Skype because a lot of the stuff we are doing in pre-season he has to be happy with, and he is happy with what we are doing. He is looking forward to getting over here and discussing with me how we want to play the game. But he will bring an edge. He is a South African so he will want us to be very physical. Watch the way South African teams play and you see they are very physical in attack and defence, so I think you will see us becoming a lot more aggressive.
“We know that we have to become this team that is very hard to beat. I have seen a few areas in the last few months that we need to improve and Alan shares my feelings. Edinburgh need to be defensively very good. Set-piece is another area we need to be strong on. These are the same key areas that I mentioned needed improved at the end of last season.”
As for playing strength, Scott insisted that he will have a strong input into selection early on as he knows the players far more, but all will be given an opportunity to impress the new coach albeit with new competition for places.
Scott has already signed Nikki Walker, Jack Cuthbert, Alasdair Dickinson and Tongan hooker Aleki Lutui for the new season, on top of a clutch of youngsters promoted from the academy ranks including scrum-half Sean Kennedy, back from Glasgow after rising to Scotland’s Six Nations training status, while Test flanker Ross Rennie may seem like a new signing after his time out with injury.
They are added to the clutch of last year’s newcomers that included Dimitri Basilaia, WP Nel, Izak van der Westhuizen and Piers Francis, all of whom Scott feels are now more settled into the squad, and primed to offer more this term.
“A lot of people expected Piers to drop in and be the saviour of Edinburgh Rugby when he arrived, which was a big call because he’s still a young lad, but he has been training well, as have the rest of them. But guys like Allan Jacobsen and Netani Talei have gone, so we still need to strengthen as they were quality players,” said Scott.
“It is the same old story. We need a big squad and need to keep strengthening it. Hopefully, in the next few weeks there will be more players coming in. We have real competition at hooker with Ross Ford, Lutui, Stevie Lawrie, now capped, and George Hunter coming through, but we need strong competition in every position with two or three players competing. We should have more new players before the start of the season.”
That kind of talk is bound to restore a sense of buoyancy around Edinburgh as we move into August and within three weeks of the first friendly with Northampton. The challenge of turning around Edinburgh fortunes is not a minor one, but Scott is eager for the campaign to start and swiftly quashed a suggestion he might harbour disappointment from being overlooked for the top post.
“We have a good set-up now,” he said. “I am really pleased and excited about Alan’s appointment. He has an impressive CV and has coached in a lot of different competitions like the Premiership, Celtic League and the Super 15 and has also been heavily involved in coaching development so I am looking forward to working with him.
“I have had a taste for it and I want to get back there. The time has to be right and maybe the time is not right for me now but I am still going forward to try and do that. If Alan is here for two years or for three or four years I’d hopefully be present to take that job on off the back of that if he ever moves on.”
Tonks agrees new deal
EDINBURGH were arguably the surprise packet of last season as few expected the previous year’s Heineken Cup semi-finalists to be whitewashed in the competition as a follow-up and plumb the depths of the RaboDirect Pro12.
But, while eradicating the capital club’s rollercoaster history is undoubtedly uppermost in minds, full-back Greig Tonks is convinced the squad has the ability to defy the now less-flattering predictions and produce another surprising twist for their Celtic rivals.
The 24-year-old, who earned his first Test cap for Scotland on the recent tour to South Africa, has signed a new contract keeping him at the club until 2015 and he is confident that his ambitions to win silverware and progress a Test career can both be satisfied in Scotland.
“We definitely have learned a lot in the last year and if people still have this perception of Edinburgh that we are an easy target – and they probably will because we certainly did not help ourselves last year – then it’s something we as a club want to change,” he said. “The only way to do that is to win more games, and not just at home but away, winning tough games in Ireland and Wales.”
He added: “I’m delighted to sign on and never thought of going anywhere else as I feel this club has so much potential. And I’m confident that this season we’ll start to show it.”