European Challenge Cup: Alan Solomons praises Edinburgh players

Gunners head coach delighted after his side routs Newport Gwent Dragons 45-16 to reach first European final

Alan Solomons praised his players as Edinburgh Rugby produced one of their best performances of the season to reach the European Challenge Cup final with a 45-16 win over Newport Gwent Dragons.

The Gunners boss, who has had his critics since taking over the club at the start of the 2013/14 season, must feel vindicated that his hybrid squad of veteran Scottish internationals, new kids on the block, and wandering southern hemisphere imports have gelled together to win when it matters.

To be the first Scottish team to reach a European final is fantastic for everyone involved…It’s great for Scottish rugby.

Edinburgh head coach Alan Solomons on semi-final win

There have been big wins for Edinburgh at various stages of the season: Munster away, Bordeaux away, Scarlets away, London Irish away.

All four stand out amid a slew of home wins and a few mediocre performances, including Ulster home and away, Munster at home earlier this month, and few would want to remember that drubbing at the Ospreys in September, but the five-try demolition of the Dragons was arguably their most commanding performance since they destroyed rivals Glasgow Warriors at BT Murrayfield in January to land the 1872 Cup against the odds.

While lock Ben Toolis and scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne have become established figures in their respective positions for Edinburgh and gone on to begin their senior Scotland careers this season, few would have expected former Highlanders centre Phil Burleigh to start at outside-half and produce such a magnificent performance in just his third start at 10 for the club.

Solomons did. He called it in his pre-match media briefing on Thursday. Perfectly, in fact, but there is always a sense with him that he won’t take much credit for Edinburgh’s latest achievement that saw Hidalgo-Clyne tear up the record books as he helped himself to 24 points, including a try, while Tim Visser, Dougie Fife, Stuart McInally and Toolis all find their way on to the scoreheet.

“We have had some good games,” Solomons said.

“The 1872 Cup against Glasgow was a big game, and the game away to Bordeaux was big, but this one was massive.

“It’s a knockout and you have one chance.

“I though the boys did really, really well tonight.

“To be the first Scottish team to reach a European final is fantastic for everyone involved.

“We’ve had a tough season and a lot of challenges we’ve had to face a lot as a team.

“We’re a very tight and group and it means a great deal to all of us to make a final.

“It’s great for Scottish rugby.”

Edinburgh’s win means they face a tougher end to their Guinness PRO12 campaign with the final against Gloucester or Exeter Chiefs sandwiched between matches a home match against Zebre and an away trip to Newport Gwent Dragons before Leinster visit BT Murrayfield on the final day of the season.

With injuries to key personnel continuing to blight Edinburgh’s season, Solomons could be forgiven for swapping out most of the starting XV from the Dragons game for the visit of the league’s bottom club with their trip to The Stoop coming a week later.

But unlike their English opposition in that match, Edinburgh won’t the luxury of an escape route to Champions Cup qualification by winning the Challenge Cup and must finish in the PRO12 top six to achieve that – a bonus-point win over Zebre would certainly help that aim.

Whatever he chooses to do, the South African must focus the minds after a disappointing outing against Munster came off the back of impressive wins over Scarlets and London Irish.

“The guys have got to enjoy the night and enjoy the weekend.” Solomons added.

“You’ve always got to enjoy these moments, but come Monday our focus will have to be on Zebre in the league next weekend.

“We’ve got to learn the lesson from Munster when we came off the back of two big wins and were then 15-20 per cent off our game and we paid a price.”

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