NEW Edinburgh Rugby head coach Alan Solomons met his squad for the first time on Monday morning, which means he will have less than three weeks to get them prepared for their opening league match of the season against Munster on Saturday 7 September.
But the South African insists he will not be pushed by the tight timescale into making any rash decisions about how to turn around the team’s fortunes.
After finishing third bottom of the RaboDirect PRO12 table last season with only seven wins from 22 outings, and having lost all six of their matches in a humiliating Heineken Cup campaign, the capital outfit are in desperate need of some positive energy at the start of the 2013-14 campaign.
The appointment of a coach with genuine international credentials should provide that but, if Edinburgh are to become serious contenders in both competitions, the new man in charge must dig deep into the heart of the club to get a real grip of what exactly has gone wrong.
He will probably have to make some fundamental changes to the personnel and culture of the squad. It is a massive task and 63-year-old Solomons has been around the block enough times to recognise that such root and branch transformation cannot be achieved on the hoof. It needs to be properly thought out and sensibly implemented.
“I’m just getting my feet under the table. Monday was the first day I was with the team and involved in a training session. You learn each day but it is still very, very early. I am not prejudging the situation at all. I will have a look and see, and it will probably take a couple of months to get a clear picture,” he said yesterday, at his first press conference since arriving at the club.
Solomons has pitched up in Scotland having barely had a chance to draw breath after guiding South African side the Southern Kings through their first campaign of Super Rugby. The season might have ended in disappointment for the Kings, with a play-off loss to the Lions on points difference condemning them to relegation from Super Rugby – but the Port Elizabeth outfit earned widespread respect for the way they stepped up to the challenge of being truly competitive at such a high level just three short years after their formation.
As director of rugby, Solomons deserves much credit for what the Kings managed to achieve – and he, in turn, speaks in glowing terms of the players who stepped up to the plate for him. Now that many of those players are facing a return to domestic rugby in South Africa, it would not be a huge surprise if he tried to tempt a few of his trusted old charges to follow him to Europe.
Edinburgh have already brought new faces into the fold this summer, but nobody with a proven track record. Towering twins Alex and Ben Toolis have come from club rugby in Australia, while Waratahs duo Ollie Atkins and Grayson Hart have had only very limited exposure to Super Rugby.
Asked if he had been given a recruitment budget, Solomons said: “I haven’t really had those discussions. I only just came in on Friday and I have been pretty much under the whip since then.”
However, David Davies, the club’s managing director, indicated that the new man had shown him at least a few names from his wishlist of possible signings. He said: “We have made calls at Alan’s suggestion in the last 24 hours, only to find the people are already contracted. That is the way of the world. The reality is that, at any single time, we might have four names we are interested in. Sport being what it is, the likelihood is that only one of those might be available to us at any given time.”
Glasgow added some real grunt to their pack and élan to their backline last year when they recruited Josh Strauss and Sean Maitland after the season had begun, and Edinburgh fans will be hoping that they get a similar sort of mid-season boost this time round.
But Davies added a few words of caution when he said: “To say to anyone that they should expect signings would be leading them down the garden path. We will be working on it, but there are absolutely no guarantees. I think that Strauss and Maitland were great signings for Glasgow but sport has taught me to expect disappointments, but to be ever hopeful.”
“There will be efforts made to make sure we can attract players, but, at this stage, knowing that the season is only three weeks away, we are behind the eight ball. The time that we both feel we can make a real contribution is for the season 2014-15. We are planning now for the season after next,” he added.
Of more immediate concern is getting a sufficient degree of understanding between coach and players in such a short time-scale and, to that end, Solomons believes that next week’s training camp at the high performance campus at Loughbrough University will be vital.
“It is an excellent opportunity because we will have time together as a team. I plan to sit down with each player and have a chat about general things as well as rugby,” he said.
“The other thing we will do is that we will have a bit of a workshop where we can set out our values for our team and the code of conduct by which we intend to live.
“It’s understandable that, if the team goes through a difficult run, then confidence seeps out of the squad. It becomes difficult for everybody. But the hallmark of a good team is the ability to bounce back.”
By the time the squad return from camp, Solomons is hopeful that his wife, Mary, will have found a home for them in or near the city. Unlike previous out-of-town coaches, who commuted back and forth each week, the South African is determined to immerse himself fully in his new role.
“You can’t do a job if you’re not living in the place. We will be staying in Edinburgh. Mary is out looking as we speak for suitable accommodation, although it’s not that easy around here – but I’m sure she will find something. It is very important to get to know the place,” he added.