Edinburgh’s Alan Solomons wary of massive Bordeaux-Bègles test

Alan Solomons expects massive challenge as Edinburgh take on Bordeaux-Bègles in European Rugby Challenge Cup

By Gareth Llewellyn
Edinburgh head coach Alan Solomons Photo: Jason O'Callaghan

Alan Solomons expects a massive challenge as he prepares his Edinburgh side to take on Top 14 high fliers Bordeaux-Bègles in the European Rugby Challenge Cup on Friday.

The PRO12 club face an arduous nine-and-a-half hour journey to southwest France as they head to the Stade André Moga in the southern Bordeaux suburb of Bègles, the smaller of the club’s two home grounds, but they can expect a passionate atmosphere even though their opponents have opted to rest several of their star players.

“Last season, Bordeaux weren’t in the position they are this season, ostensibly weren’t one of the French teams competing in Europe,” Solomons said.

There’s a little bit of wriggle room at half-back, there’s not much in the pack that I see, but we appreciate that this is a big, big challenge for us

Alan Solomons

“As things have turned out now, if you look at their results, they smashed Clermont and they smashed Castres, who were in the finals last year, so they’re riding as one of the top teams in France at this point in terms of their form and present performances.

“That presents a massive challenge – that’s the way we’ve got to look at the whole thing. We’ve got to look at it in a positive way and say this is an exciting challenge for us, first of all to go to France to play them on their home ground when they are absolutely riding high in peak form. It’s a massive challenge for us.

“We’ve got the challenge of playing one of the top teams in France, playing them at home, and having a difficult travel itinerary.

“This is a massive French club. They’ve got some really good players with massive strength in depth. They’ve got a lot of pace out wide. They’ve got [former Sharks lock] Jandré Marais, who is a guy I would have said would play for South Africa – absolutely no doubt in my mind he would have been a Springbok.”

After a winning start to the PRO12 campaign against Munster last month, Edinburgh went four games without a win before last weekend’s 24-10 victory over Newport Gwent Dragons.

But they were rocked by a serious lower leg injury to number 8 Cornell du Preez in the first half further depleting their numbers in the back row with Scotland international Dave Denton still a couple of weeks away from a possible return.

They may have climbed to third in the Top 14 with a 59-7 win over Castres last week, but Bordeaux-Bègles coach Rafa Ibañez has opted to leave out club captain Matt Clarkin and flying Fijian wing/full-back Metui Talebula, Solomons doesn’t have the same luxury with so many players out injured.

“In certain things, we are limited,” he added. “We have two hookers at the moment available to us. Stuart McInally and Neil Cochrane are not ready yet, George Turner’s not ready either.

“I wouldn’t play young Jake Kerr, as good a player as I think he is, I don’t think it’s right. I think he’s going to be a terrific player – he’s not got the experience at such a key position. So we only have two hookers.

“We only have four loose forwards, because we have Hamish Watson, Tomás Leonardi, Mike Coman and Roddy Grant. That’s it, so there are no choices there.

“In terms of the props [and locks], it’s fairly settled there – I don’t think in the context of the 23 we have a lot of room for manoeuvrability.

“There’s a little bit of wriggle room at half-back, there’s not much in the pack that I see, but we appreciate that this is a big, big challenge for us.”

For all the hours Edinburgh have spent studying recent videos of the Girondins cutting loose against Clermont Auvergne and Castres, they may not get the test they expect on Friday night.

The Challenge Cup – Europe’s second tier competition – has never appealed to head coaches of French clubs who would rather keep their biggest assets for the league which, unlike winning the Challenge Cup, brings the possibility of qualification for the Champions Cup.

Despite it being a home game at the start of a new campaign, for third-place Bordeaux-Bègles their focus is elsewhere. As a result, there is a notable difference in opinion over the use of young players.

Ibañez is content to make use of his U23 players and try out some new ideas, including naming 20-year-old scrum-half Baptiste Serin as captain whereas Solomons has a self-imposed reluctance to throw Scotland U20 players attached to the club in at the deep end.

“You’ve got to consider the development of the players and make sure you develop them correctly and you slot them into the team at the appropriate moments,” he said.

“My big concern will always be the player welfare in terms of their development. You’ve got to consider we’re playing one of the top sides in France at the moment with a difficult trip ahead of us, and we’ve got another A game coming up on 27 October.”

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