It has become something close to an official second language around Edinburgh these past few months. When he arrived from South Africa last August, new coach Alan Solomons already had two of his countrymen – prop Willem Nel and lock Izak van der Westhuizen – in the Edinburgh squad he inherited, but that pair have since been bolstered by the signing of the prop Wicus Blaauw, the flanker Cornell du Preez, the centre Andries Strauss and the fly-half Carl Bezuidenhout. In addition, the Solomons recruitment drive has also brought players from Australia, New Zealand and Argentina to the club.
As far as signing Scots is concerned, Solomons has talked the talk but has yet to make a significant move. He has apparently had a look at Michael Tait [son of Alan, formerly at Newcastle] and Alex Blair [brother of Mike, now at Edinburgh Accies] but has reportedly made commitments to neither. When it comes to plugging gaps in the squad, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and (especially) Port Elizabeth have been happier hunting grounds for the new Edinburgh coach than his Edinburgh backyard.
All of which would reinforce the caricature of South Africans as parochial and inward-looking, were it not for the fact that Solomons is a worldly, cosmopolitan and thoughtful individual. Not only has he coached in the northern hemisphere for many years, he has also made his home in these parts, settling in Northern Ireland after his stint in charge of Ulster just over a decade ago. A successful lawyer before he turned to full-time coaching in the late 1990s, Solomons is widely recognised as one of the most intelligent individuals in the game.
And there is, to be fair, a precedent here as well. At Ulster, Solomons initially strengthened his squad by bringing in tried and trusted players from South Africa on a short-term basis, but thereafter focused his attention on talent closer to home. The Ravenhill side may never have repeated their epic Heineken Cup triumph of January 1999, when the beat Colomiers 21-6 at Lansdowne Road, but they became a pretty solid outfit all the same, and one based squarely on local players. But still there has to be a concern about the direction Edinburgh have taken over the past six months. After all, it was primarily in order to give opportunities – and, specifically, a pathway to international rugby – that the Scottish Rugby Union first created regional professional sides back in 1996, barely a year after the ending of the amateur era. Much water has gone under the bridge since then, but if Glasgow and Edinburgh no longer serve that fundamental purpose then it becomes devilishly difficult to justify the expenditure, around £4m per team, that the two sides take out of the wider game.
There is also the consideration that the best players to emerge for Scotland over the past few seasons have not come straight off the plane from Sydney, Auckland or Johannesburg, but out of the amateur club game that seems to be a forgotten backwater at the moment. As diverse as their origins might be, Richie Gray, Stuart Hogg, Dave Denton, Alex Dunbar and Matt Scott all cut their teeth in what is now the RBS Premiership.
Before them, the best overseas players – think Sean Lineen and Glenn Metcalfe for a start – also came through the Scottish club route as opposed to being imported specifically to do a job for the Test side.
None of which is to argue that Scottish rugby should turn in upon itself. Long gone are the days when Celtic could field 11 players born within a few miles of Parkhead; long gone, too, that time when the Scotland rugby team could claim a grand slam without casting the selection net far beyond Edinburgh and the Borders. Over the past 15 years, Scottish rugby’s foreign legion has produced such notable successes as Todd Blackadder. Bernardo Stortoni and Niko Matawalu – none of whom was eligible to play for his adopted country but all of whom unquestionably added to the Scottish game.
But still, the underlying business model, and sporting justification, for the two professional teams is one in which they develop players for the national team. Yet two months ago Edinburgh fielded a team against Ulster in the RaboDirect PRO12 in which only one player – Dougie Fife – had actually been born in Scotland. Granted, many others on their books were unavailable as the game took place during the autumn Test window, but such a selection does beg the question of where the next generation of international players is coming from.
Questions, too, about the strategy that underpins the Scottish game. For the past 30 years or so, an ever-growing army of SRU development officers has been roaming the country, but their contributions and worth have to be questioned at a time when the first port of call for talent spotters has become the departure lounge of Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo airport.
Maybe it is just a demographic blip. Maybe a whole new generation of brilliant, home-grown players is waiting in the wings, ready and willing to transform Scottish rugby’s fortunes over the next few years. Until then, though, you had better get used to used to the sport’s change of accent.