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Edinburgh v Ulster: Coach Alan Solomons has instilled new belief in capital side

By Michael Sadlier

The plan had always been to try and make hay while a certain World Cup was on and, so far, Alan Solomons' notion has been coming together pretty well.

And we might have known that something was afoot after former Ulster coach Solomons' charges turned Romania over in a pre-season friendly before then doing likewise with Neil Doak's men. And all this ahead of the serious stuff getting under way.

So, three games in and the Scottish capital's side have found the winning habit with only the Scarlets ahead of them in the table thanks to a marginally better points differential.

Of course the World Cup has made a difference, though Edinburgh have certainly not escaped in this regard with around eight players away on duty, but the firm guiding hand of Solomons has played a part.

The South African has been methodically plotting the side's departure from being, fundamentally, no-hopers towards the gradual emergence of a squad possessing some consistency and confidence.

Though still very much overshadowed by current PRO12 champions Glasgow Warriors, and the impressive body of work they have produced under Gregor Townsend, Scotland's 'other side' have been quietly building themselves their own reputation.

Making last season's European Challenge Cup final, where they narrowly lost to Gloucester, was quite a coup and was testament to the work which has been done by Solomons, though making it to this season's PRO12 final shoot-out at Murrayfield still seems a somewhat unlikely outcome.

Solomons has sought strength in depth throughout the squad along with a discernible structure to their play. And they have made no secret of how important it is to rack up the wins at this point of the season.

Out-half Phil Burleigh has revealed: "With the World Cup, we have targeted the start of the season.

"We've got a long road ahead and I think we need to target a few more games while the World Cup is on." The squad's current confidence is evident.

And after tonight, Edinburgh have trips to Zebre and Connacht to contend with, which could be tricky enough as the Italians will have their World Cup players back while the western province have hardly been disrupted anyway.

But, as for tonight, there is little doubt that Solomons will want payback for last season's corresponding fixture when Ulster somehow held on with 13 men to win. Edinburgh had ample opportunity to win back in February and the one that got away will doubtless have been drilled into them by the South African.

The Scots' coach has made three changes to the side which, last time, saw off the Ospreys with Nathan Fowles coming in at scrum-half to hook up with Burleigh while, in the pack, there are two tweaks to the back row as Hamish Watson is at openside flanker and Nasi Manu at No.8 after a spell out with injury.

Of the sides' pre-season encounter, Edinburgh coach Solomons said: "We showed, in August, that if we deliver a good performance we can win the game.

"And I think that's important for us from a confidence perspective. It's really important that we keep the momentum going because the more we're able to do that, the better that is for us."

Belfast Telegraph


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