Edinburgh: Duncan Hodge looks to breathe life into under-performing side

Duncan Hodge
Duncan Hodge will take charge of his first match as Edinburgh head coach against Treviso on Friday

These are turbulent times for Edinburgh - a run of three defeats in their last four Pro 12 matches - or, put another way, seven in their last eight when including the tail-end of last season.

Alan Solomons has gone as head coach and in his place comes Duncan Hodge, an assistant for the last nine months and now the top man, in the interim at least.

Hodge took charge of Edinburgh for the first time last weekend in the loss to Connacht. Friday, against Treviso, is his first home game in a stadium he graced for his country.

As an international fly-half, Hodge faced Italian opponents just once, a 23-19 victory more than 15 years ago. He scored 18 points that day - five penalties and one drop goal - and, as he looks out on the same Murrayfield pitch where it all happened back then, he could probably tell you the location of each kick.

Life has moved on. The Italians are coming again, but this time Hodge will be up in the coach's box instead of down on the field with the number 10 on his back.

"Anybody who played with me will tell you that I was pretty nervous when I played," Hodge says. "I'll be the same on Friday.

"It doesn't mean that I won't be confident in how the guys will perform, but as a coach, there is always that bit of unknown and sometimes it can be a scary thought."

Treviso, one place below Edinburgh in 11th but level on points with Hodge's team, have a wretched record on the road and shouldn't cause too many problems, but that's presuming Edinburgh front-up and that's a high-risk presumption.

Hodge is feeling his way into his job as head coach. He has ideas, but he also has precious little time in which to enforce them.

Alan Solomons
Alan Solomons left his role as Edinburgh head coach after starting the season with three defeats in four matches

He also has to do it against a backdrop of a confidence-zapped dressing-room and a dwindling, disillusioned support. He has to pick up the pieces post-Solomons - and there are many, many pieces.

"We're hard on ourselves," he says. "But we need to be harder on ourselves. At no point in my life have I had it all my own way.

"We deserve the criticism we have had. No-one's denying that.

"The challenge is to accept the criticism and get on with doing something about it.

"I don't think the guys are playing anywhere near their potential. We accept that. I accept responsibility for that as well. I've been here nine months.

"We're not hiding away from it. We think there is a lot more to come from these players."

'No lack of hunger'

Edinburgh have played a one-dimensional brand of rugby over the last three years, a forwards-dominated game that got them nowhere near the top four of the Pro 12. They haven't made the top six in any of those years.

Their perceived strength was in the forcefulness, organisation and intensity of their pack. Even those assets have been deeply questionable since the beginning of this season.

Edinburgh concede too many points and miss too many tackles. Where previously they were decent at defending their own line - if wholly predictable in attacking the opposition's - they have now lost that quality.

In their last two games, they have conceded eight tries and have missed 45 tackles. It's the stuff of no-hopers and the reason that Solomons has left the building.

"In the last few weeks, we have had positive bits of play, but we haven't been nearly as consistent as we need to be," Hodge continues.

"Historically, we have had an excellent set-piece and an excellent defence, but those areas haven't been consistent. There's no lack of commitment or intent. We talked about all of this during the week.

Duncan Hodge
Hodge had two spells with Edinburgh as a player

"There's no lack of hunger to fix things, but we'll find out more when we play Treviso. It's a chance to address some of the doubters and some of the questions.

"We've played well for 20 minutes here and 30 minutes there, but we haven't sustained it for 80 minutes.

"Is it a mental thing? Possibly. That goes back to confidence. If we don't believe in ourselves to put a team away over 80 minutes and be relentless then we have to sort it."

Hodge has made changes for Friday night. There is a youthful look to his squad. Scottish youth.

Blair Kinghorn, 19, comes in at full-back. Damian Hoyland, 22, and Chris Dean, 22, are with him in the backline.

Both props, Rory Sutherland and Ewan McQuillin, are 24, relative pups in front-row terms.

Magnus Bradbury, 21, continues in the back-row. On the bench, there is a 20-year-old prop, Murray McCallum, and a 21-year-old lock, Lewis Carmichael.

"We have good young players here," says Hodge. "We have to find a way of fitting them in. We want people to come and watch us.

"More than anything, I want the players to be the best they can be."

Hodge doesn't know what's going to happen down the line. He doesn't know if he's going to get the job full-time or not. Frankly, it's not high up in his thoughts.

With a losing run like Edinburgh's, all he can think about is arresting it and reversing it. Treviso provides an opportunity for this troubled club to start the job of turning itself around. It's long overdue.

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