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Seeds planted to raise home-grown next generation

ALAN SOLOMONS, the Edinburgh head coach, offered his vision of the future yesterday when he talked of promoting home-grown talent through the club's academy system.

Alan Solomons addresses his troops. Picture: SNS/SRU
Alan Solomons addresses his troops. Picture: SNS/SRU

And just as well he made that point, too, for there wasn't much sign of home-grown talent in the side he selected for tonight's RaboDirect PRO12 match against Ospreys at Meggetland.

Of the starting XV, only four players could really be said to be the products of a Scottish rugby upbringing. Nor is the bench the place for aspiring local talent either, as only one of the eight chosen replacements has his feet firmly planted in Scottish soil.

In fairness to Solomons, while there is some divergence between his actions and his words at the moment, his selection pattern to date matches what he did at Ulster 14 years ago, when he kicked off his reign with heavy overseas recruitment. As time went by, however, he drew more and more players from the Ulster hinterland, with the likes of Tyrone Howe and Neil Best emerging on his watch.

"If we want to build a sustainable club we have to build it through our youth," Solomons said. "I formed a little sub-committee of myself, [forwards coach] Stevie Scott and Bryan Easson, our elite development manager, in December and we have now completed the player identification process.

"The recruitment has to go through the SRU protocols and we are ready for when that takes place. We have formulated all our plans for integration of those players into the senior squad. So, we're good to go and we are looking forward to seeing those youngsters come through into our set-up.

"But the only way they will develop is by coming into a good, experienced team. Their opportunities will come during international windows when the senior players are away but they need to come into a good side. We are trying to fulfil that strategy of building a club as opposed to a team."

Surprisingly, the native Scots in Solomons' starting line-up include prop Geoff Cross and hooker Ross Ford, both of whom were in the Scotland squad in Rome last weekend and are expected to be involved again for the France match in eight days' time.

While Cross put in an impressive shift against Italy, Ford was an unused replacement, so Scott Johnson, the national head coach, is likely to take a keen interest in the encounter.

The match also sees the return of Harry Leonard, the 21-year-old fly-half who had been in a rich vein of form before his season was interrupted by injury on December. Leonard has had a couple of cameo appearances off the bench in recent weeks, but this will be his first start for almost three months.

Tonight's contest has been moved to Boroughmuir's home ground on account of work on the nematode infestation at Murrayfield and the need to protect the national stadium pitch for the France game.

As a consequence, Edinburgh will enjoy the rare privilege of playing a home game in front of a sell-out crowd, and Solomons is clearly looking forward to the atmosphere that will be created in Meggetland's compact surroundings.

"It wouldn't be fair to expect Meggetland to be able to compete with Murrayfield in terms of facilities and pitch standard and so on," he said. "But Murrayfield is a very big stadium for club fixtures. If you look at the stadia other clubs use, like Ulster - they started off with 12,000 at Ravenshill and when it is finished it will take 20,000 with a great atmosphere - that would be the ideal type of scenario. Ultimately, Edinburgh need their own ground and their own identity.

"It's still a good rugby pitch and I have no doubt the staff at Meggetland will do an excellent job in preparing it. I don't have any complaint about the pitch at all. I don't think it should affect the way we want to play this game."

Edinburgh have lost their last three PRO12 games - against Glasgow, Connacht and Scarlets - a pattern that has seemingly robbed them the momentum they started to build in December, when they beat Gloucester in the Heineken Cup and Leinster in the PRO12.

However, Solomons said he was unconcerned and that he always expected the road to get bumpy at times. "I said right from the beginning that we are looking for improvements throughout the season and we are looking for respect," he said. "There will be times when we take a step back but we will continue to go forward in terms of our overall improvement."

Ospreys need a win to cement their place in the group of five sides that have begin to pull away from the rest at the top of the PRO12 table. Like Edinburgh, the Swansea outfit are missing a number of top-name players due to international call-ups, but they have been able to call on Wales's Dan Biggar and Justin Tipuric.

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