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Solly 'excited' about his Everest

Thu, 21 Feb 2013 12:44
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It is a massive, massive challenge
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For Alan Solomons it is akin to climbing a rugby Everest, but the Southern Kings coach is 'excited' about the massive challenge ahead.

On the eve of his team's debut in Super Rugby, Solomons took time out to chat to this website about the obstacles they have had to overcome to turn this Southern Cape franchise into a competitive unit for the long season ahead.

It is a far cry from his previous coaching stints, when Solomons was involved in successful campaigns with both the Springboks (a 17-Test winning streak) and the Stormers (1999 Super Rugby semifinalists).

Back in the 1990s, when he burst onto the coaching stage, he worked with well-established teams, with a rich history of success.

The Kings, apart from all the boardroom drama that accompanied their entry into Super Rugby, do not have much of a recent track record - other than a couple of First Division (second tier provincial competition in South Africa) titles in the last two years.

"In the Super Rugby that I was involved in, in the past - it started out when I was assistant to Harry Viljoen with the Western Stormers - [the feeder union] Western Province had been involved in the Super 10 and that sort of stuff beforehand," Solomons told this website in an exclusive interview.

"In 1997 we [Western Province] just played Currie Cup rugby, we were not involved in Super Rugby," he said of a season when the SA teams in the Super 12 then were Natal, Gauteng Lions, Free State and Northern Transvaal.

"In 1998 we got back in. However, it was a union who had competed and performed well in the upper echelons of South African rugby for a very long time," he said of WP, one of the traditional powerhouse unions in SA.

"That [1998] was a difficult year for us, because it was our first year back after the break [the Western Stormers finished ninth].

"In 1999 we did very well [the Stormers were beaten semifinalists] and 2000 we did very well [the Stormers finished one point outside the play-offs].

"The difference was that we had a union who had been playing Premier Division Currie Cup rugby - in stark contrast none of the unions associated with the Kings had been playing Currie Cup rugby or had any association with Super Rugby.

"Back then, the Stormers came off the background of an established and successful Currie Cup team and had played Super Rugby before.

"Obviously we were more ready and had a deeper infrastructure - that is in contrast to the situation we've got [at the Kings now].

"While we've been building the team since 2010 [in the First Division], none of these unions - Eastern Province, South Western Districts and Border - had taken any part in Super Rugby.

"By 2010 there had been no real professional rugby here [in the Southern Kings region]. They were not in the Currie Cup [Premier Division] and they were not linked to a Super Rugby team.

"We have been building structures, in order to compete at Super Rugby level."

Solomons explained that things were complicated by the fact that it was really only in August last year that there was absolute confirmation that the Kings were going to play Super Rugby.

"The recruitment is challenging and it is a much more difficult task than the Stormers [back in the 1990s]," he said, adding: "I don't think it is comparable."

Solomons, who has had some big challenges in his coaching career, is not daunted by the enormity of the mountain he and his team will have to climb.

"It is exciting, it is a massive, massive challenge," he said, adding: "It has been a challenge for all concerned in establishing the Kings, right from the word go.

"We have fought hard to meet each challenge.

"Cheeky [Watson] got it going with the game against the British and Irish Lions in 2009. We rose to that challenge and gave a good account of ourselves.

"We then kicked off in 2010, by starting to build structures.

"We got the Academy, run by Robbie Kempson. It is great to see that 95 percent from the guys in the academy comes from the Eastern Cape.

"Of those blokes [in the academy] 65 percent are of colour, which is great to see, because it is the cradle of black rugby.

"We've had a reasonable amount of success in Division One, winning it twice and being runners-up once.

"There has been massive challenges along the way, but we've met those challenges.

"This is a much bigger one now, because we are playing top flight rugby."

By Jan de Koning

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