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Solomons can no longer blame it on the last lot . . . Edinburgh must perform

An excursion to Edinburgh to cover the diving last week brought abrupt and unmistakable proof that the capital was strangely immune to the Commonwealth Games fanaticism that was engulfing Glasgow at that point.

Smiling now, but Alan Solomons faces a growing injury list and tough run of opening fixtures. Picture: SNS
Smiling now, but Alan Solomons faces a growing injury list and tough run of opening fixtures. Picture: SNS

Being all too wearily familiar with the gridlock of Edinburgh traffic even on its quieter days, I decided the best way to get to the Royal Commonwealth Pool would be to leave the jalopy at one of the city's park-and-ride facilities and do the last few miles by bus.

And as accredited media had enjoyed free public transport around Glasgow for the duration of the Games, I also figured that there was at least some possibility that this would apply in the vicinity of their easternmost venue.

Now I wasn't actually counting on this, and even on my modest stipend from Herald Towers I reckoned I could just about manage the £1.50 fare - provided they could supply a receipt - if I had to. What I wasn't quite prepared for was the look of utter scorn the bus driver gave me when I waved my Games pass and asked if I could travel for free.

Frankly, his expression could scarcely have been more disdainful if I had asked him to lick dog sick off my shoe.

The contrast with the upbeat, eager-to-please, sheer cheerfulness of Glasgow (and Glasgow bus drivers) during the Games could not have been more marked. Now I don't actually buy into easy caricatures of Glasgow as a city of welcomes and warmth and Edinburgh as a place of pinch-featured parsimony, but the bus driver seemed happy - although that's not really the word - to do what he could to reinforce the stereotype.

But as the bus shoogled and swayed its way into town, I fell into thinking of just how perfectly my experiences mirrored what those who take their pleasure from watching rugby at opposite ends of the M8 have been going through.

For the past couple of years, Glasgow fans have been bouncing and beaming, lapping up the experience of following a side that has played dazzling rugby and has come enticingly close to Celtic rugby glory. Meanwhile, Edinburgh fans have endured the funereal atmosphere of a near-empty Murrayfield and a team with a seemingly matchless talent for producing inexplicable implosions.

Of course, a diehard Edinburgh fan might argue that, over the course of Scottish rugby's troubled and long-winded process of coming to terms with the realities of a professional game, the capital outfit's achievement of a Heineken Cup semi-final place in 2012 represented a higher peak than that scaled by Glasgow when they reached the final of the RaboDirect (now Guinness) PRO12 competition just a few months ago. And probably rightly so. But it would be a denial of the bleeding obvious to suggest that the Heineken run was a real reflection of Edinburgh's underlying strength and potential.

Truth be told, that Heineken campaign involved a lot of luck, a few outright flukes, and a couple of genuinely stirring and well-deserved wins. The quarter-final victory over Toulouse at Murrayfield was a thoroughly marvellous occasion and a stunning achievement.

But as SRU chief executive Mark Dodson subsequently and candidly admitted, it masked deep problems at the club. "There is not that team ethic," said Dodson, drawing comparison with Glasgow. "They don't seem to be able to bring that level of competitiveness."

It fell to Alan Solomons to remedy that situation. The former Ulster, Northampton and South Africa assistant coach had acquired - and you can speculate on the degree of nominal determinism at play here - a reputation as a bearer of rugby wisdom, and his level-headedness was unquestionably a factor when he was asked to take over the running of a club where the rules of the madhouse seemed to prevail.

The last thing Edinburgh needed a year ago was a bombastic tub-thumper, and it soon became clear that bombastic tub-thumping just wasn't in the repertoire of the quietly spoken former lawyer.

A firm hand on the tiller then? Well, so we thought, but Edinburgh's erratic course through last season's choppy waters would sometimes have persuaded you that the tiller had fallen off. They put in some marvellous, stirring performances, but they also delivered some that were hair-raisingly awful.

What do you make of a side that loses 55-12 at home to an understrength Munster side, as Edinburgh did in May, and then, seven days later, takes full-strength Leinster to the wire in Dublin, going down by just two points? Barmy.

Solomons rationalised it as best he could. Throughout his first season at Edinburgh, he adopted what might be termed the Cameron/Clegg defence: Blame the Last Lot. Canny fellow that he is, he wasn't quite that explicit, but he made it pretty clear that the club's pre-season preparations were not good enough and that the players he inherited were simply not up to scratch fitness-wise.

But as a new season looms, that reasoning is no longer available. With the exception of a handful of players who have arrived recently, Solomons has had complete control for long enough. He could pass the buck a year ago; now it stops with him.

On a personal level, I wish him well. He is one of the game's good guys, a likeable, personable and highly intelligent fellow. But he goes into the new season with an injury list that has grown to an alarming length - Dave Denton and Matt Scott are both on it - and facing a fierce schedule in which two of Edinburgh's first three games will take them on away trips to Munster and Ospreys.

Solomons said yesterday that he wants a top-six finish in the Guinness PRO12. It is a big ask in a league that has become brutally competitive in recent seasons and at a time when European qualification criteria will only add to the intensity.

But Scottish rugby needs a strong Edinburgh, it needs Edinburgh to pull its weight. Because there are no free rides in this game.

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