THERE was a sense of inevitability about the parting of ways between Alan Solomons and Edinburgh Rugby. A lack of progress in terms of both playing style and results during his three years in charge meant that his coat was already on a shoogly peg before the current season got off to an inauspicious start with three defeats from four matches.
It is still early in the campaign and those of a charitable disposition may argue that he has not been given a decent crack of the whip in terms of putting in to action the more adventurous game we were promised with the signing of players such as Solomoni ‘Junior’ Rasolea and Sasa Tofilau during the summer – but that ignores the lack of positive energy which has been evident at the club for far too long now.
Something drastic needed to change at the top to break the pattern of mediocrity. The real folly was offering him a year-long extension to his contract when things were going relatively well last December, meaning that a swift and less painful divorce did not happen during the summer (after the team’s form nose-dived during the second half of the season).
Following Edinburgh has become a predictable and tiresome activity. They usually battle well but lack the zip to catch the opposition out with something unexpected. Solomons has increasingly worn the expression of a lost soul, haunted by opportunities missed and devoid of ideas as to how he might persuade his team that they can be masters of their own destiny.
The South African is, from the outside looking in, a likeable, gentlemanly, articulate and honest individual, but from day one he had an exasperating propensity to make excuses for failure. At various times he blamed the strength and conditioning regime in place before he arrived, lack of experience within the squad, and individual errors. All these points have some degree of truth to them, but by focussing on what was going wrong, rather than on what the team were trying to do, he created an environment whereby failure was almost expected.
His favourite excuse was injuries. Team announcement press conferences were a minefield for journalists, who spent an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with ways of phrasing questions so as to avoid a long monologue listing every individual who was not available that week for one reason or another. Solomons might say that he was merely trying to give an honest appraisal of where the squad stood at that moment in time, but it felt like we were always waiting for jam tomorrow and that must have had an impact on expectation levels within the team.
It is a very different experience at Scotstoun. With Gregor Townsend it is never about the player who is missing, it is always about the player who is getting the opportunity.
The players continued to publicly back their coach right up to the end (Damian Hoyland proclaimed yesterday that the team were ‘100 per cent’ behind Solomons), but they are paid to do that and actions speak louder than words. Nobody doubts the work-rate and commitment of the squad, and there are some very talented individuals in that collective, but you can’t help feeling that they lose more games than they win because they have been conditioned to believe that they are perennial outsiders.
There is no swagger, no self-belief, no sense that they will win games they have no right to win just because they are Edinburgh and they like sticking two fingers up at those who doubt them. If they do win then it is in spite of who they are and not because of who they are.
The tragedy of this is that Solomons brought a level of fitness, organisation and discipline to Edinburgh which made them competitive on their day against any team in the Pro 12, but it always felt like there was something missing – a sprinkling of stardust for which he did not have the recipe.
It would, of course, be grossly unfair to lay all the blame for Edinburgh’s failing at Solomons’ door. Many of the problems pre-date him and are far more deeply-rooted than simply a malfunction at coaching level. An indication of just how screwed up the club is can be grasped from the way this story was handled.
Yesterday’s press release was borderline contemptuous towards the paying public Edinburgh purportedly seek to engage. It was issued by the head of media for Scottish Rugby [not Edinburgh Rugby] and arrived under the banner of “Scottish Rugby [not Edinburgh Rugby] Press Release”. The first paragraph read: “Scottish Rugby can confirm Alan Solomons has today decided to step down as Edinburgh Rugby Head Coach.”
There were bland quotes from both Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson and Solomons, but no sort of explanation of the thought process which has gone into the decision was provided. Jonny Petrie, Edinburgh’s ‘managing director’ was not quoted in the release, and was not available for interview, which tells you all you need to know about the line of accountability at the club.
We were told that attack coach Duncan Hodge has taken over the reins on an interim basis but heard nothing from him about what he hopes to achieve in the short to medium term to rejuvenate the club’s fortunes.
A conference call with Solomons had been scheduled for this [Thursday] afternoon ahead of Friday night’s match in Connacht. Hodge should have been made available in his place but the whole thing was cancelled instead, meaning that there will be no direct communication from Edinburgh for at least 48 hours after the departure of their head coach.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that all this happened on the same day as a letter was sent out from Murrayfield calling a special general meeting of the clubs on 28th October, at which the governing body hopes to secure a mandate to pursue external funding opportunities “to safeguard our on-going investment in our domestic game and still support our pro-clubs at an appropriate level.”
If there is a big money investor waiting in the shadows (maybe all that time and effort making friends in Japan has paid off), and they are desperate to get going as quickly as possible, then they are now able to do so at Edinburgh with their own man calling the shots.