By Alan Dymock
AS BUTTER fizzes and browns at his feet, Southern Kings’ Alan Solomons has opted to hop out of the Super Rugby frying pan for a more certain future.
The former Springboks assistant and erstwhile Ulster head coach is looking after the relatively new but knobbled Kings franchise, however they are a game down in their bid to remain a Super Rugby team after losing a first-leg match of the relegation/promotion playoff against the Golden Lions.
If they lose their second leg to the Johannesburg team after losing 26-19 in the first, the Kings enter the torturous stasis that comes from seceding one of the precious Super Rugby spots to a rival. If they lose, the Kings will spend the next twelve months watching the Lions play in the top professional competition in the Southern Hemisphere while several of their own players and resources fade away, caught in limbo with no league to contest.
Solomons has already planned his escape from the purgatory, though. The Kings may still win away from home by the eight points needed to keep their Super status, but it is unlikely. Anyway, win, lose or draw, the coach is off to Scotland to take charge of Edinburgh Rugby.
Scotland is a much less volatile place to be for someone who has spent a season being battered and chipped like a wind-chime fastened to a helicopter blade. There is no relegation in the RaboDirect Pro12, Heineken Cup qualification is assured (at least in the last year of the competitions current agreement), the fan base is not nearly as potentially vitriolic as an upset Eastern Cape support, a disappointing season will not mean instant axing and his new team have great attacking potential.
His is a somewhat rushed introduction to Scottish rugby, especially compared to that of future national head coach Vern Cotter who has a whole year to um and ah about which baseball cap to wear at his first Scotland press conference in 2014. Nevertheless, Solomons will have little time to make an impression before the first ball is kicked-off for his reign. Edinburgh have made signings without him, and they have made very few that will change the side’s inherent style. Another big winger in Nikki Walker joins Tim Visser and Greig Laidlaw loses international-quality competition for the scrum-half berth with Richie Rees away. The impressive Greig Tonks gets a bit of resistance from incoming full-back Jack Cuthbert. Alasdair Dickinson jumps into the spot vacated by Allan Jacobsen. Aleki Lutui comes in to join several hookers at the club.
Mixing this up to change Edinburgh drastically would be a test of Solomons’ skills, but a free-running Edinburgh got to the semis of the Heineken the season before last, so perhaps he is happy to work with what he has. The important thing is simply that he removes himself from the intense heat of South Africa and embarks upon a potentially rewarding new venture.
He has the second-leg of the promotion/relegation scrap to burn through first, then he heads for Scotland. From there he can put his scorched feet under a desk at Murrayfield and see if he can spice things up for a side that have the attacking weapons and the sponsorship to succeed, but who also have an abysmal season fresh in their memory and need to be shaken up.
Solomons is jumping out of the frying pan, but with this new Scottish challenge he is missing the fire and heading straight for the spice rack.