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Confidence high at Edinburgh as Davies and Solomons oversee change in fortune

As all concerned sought to draw a line under the disappointment of the call-off of Wednesday's derby and 1872 Challenge Cup decider, the most telling comment was made by Greig Laidlaw, Edinburgh's captain.

Alan Solomons was initially critical  of Edinburgh players' match fitness,                                     but the way in which they have responded to his coaching philosophy has brought about marked improvement. Picture: SNS/SRU
Alan Solomons was initially critical of Edinburgh players' match fitness, but the way in which they have responded to his coaching philosophy has brought about marked improvement. Picture: SNS/SRU

"We have two big Heineken Cup games coming up and we turn our attention to them," he said.

Given the solidarity the players and coaches of Scotland's professional clubs are encouraged to offer one another by their employers then, even if his observation was deliberately pointed, Laidlaw would not have sought to twist the knife but, for those with Glasgow Warriors leanings, it had to hurt.

Scotland's scrum-half then can look forward to the final two rounds of Heineken Cup group games with enthusiasm but, for Glasgow, the only target left is to avoid finishing last in their group. Whether they achieve that or not will depend upon the outcome of a foot-of-the-table showdown with Exeter Chiefs.

Should they finish bottom it will be for the second successive season, such an ignominy having been avoided in the previous six.

Their plight is all the more painful as their unexpectedly early exit was inflicted by an unrated Cardiff Blues side that currently languishes ninth in the RaboDirect PRO12 table and will probably be 10th once the weekend fixtures are completed.

Edinburgh, meanwhile, are entitled to believe they can set up a pool decider in Munster as their recent form suggests they are well capable of beating bottom-of-the-table Perpignan at Murrayfield next week.

What really highlights the contrast between the two Scottish teams' schedules for the remainder of January, however, is recalling the state of play when this Heineken Cup campaign got under way less than three months ago.

Back then Glasgow looked to be benefiting from their substantial budget increases of the previous year or so and could boast the last 100% winning record of any top-flight team in Europe as they led the PRO12.

The full length of the league table separated them from their inter-city rivals who had won just one of their first five matches of the season.

That, though, was almost precisely the point at which Alan Solomons, Edinburgh's new head coach, had anticipated a change in their competitiveness, having completed the first phase of remedial work he considered necessary upon taking over.

The South African was critical of the lack of "functional conditioning" within his squad, by which he meant the work that needs to be done on match specific fitness.

In saying so, he explained that his men were in an unfortunate position in having to go through what amounted to the equivalent of pre-season training while also having to negotiate matches, something he anticipated as being a problem for them into October.

On reflection they could hardly have been better placed for that opener against Munster, then, expectations having been reduced to zero while they were finally considered as being up to pace by their management and could draw inner confidence from that.

All the moreso now that the players know they have a head coach who has a proven track record and has demonstrated to them that, if they apply themselves to what he tells them to do. they will see genuine progress.

Since that weekend, they have won six of their 10 matches in both competitions, as opposed to Glasgow's four wins in nine and, by the time they prepared themselves for the first of the derbies, Edinburgh were just a place below their rivals in the table and could, with two wins, overhaul them.

That was unimaginable at the beginning of October and, while an hour of dominance at Murrayfield on Boxing Day was not enough to earn them victory, a team that has won just one derby since 2008 had reason to believe they could finally reclaim the 1872 Challenge Cup ahead of Wednesday's cancellation.

For all that the Scottish Rugby Union have an equal interest in both sides, the way in which the team based at their own headquarters has closed the gap must have been a substantial source of relief for the Murrayfield power-brokers.

Solomons' appointment followed a string of unfortunate manoeuvres on the coaching front, after all. In particular it came hard on the heels of the embarrassing decision to announce the recruitment, for a national team floundering in their bid to achieve their bosses' stated strategic target of winning the 2015 World Cup, of a head coach who was not available to take up his post until more than a year later.

They should, then, be grateful to David Davies, Edinburgh's new managing director, since Solomons' arrival was the first major appointment made on his watch.

A managing director with genuine experience of high office in sporting organisations has clearly insisted upon due diligence in undergoing a rigorous recruitment process, while the head coach he appointed has installed structures that have clearly produced results.

On and off the field, Edinburgh go into 2014 in confident mood.

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