IT’S a measure of how things are that pretty well everyone here, except for diehard Edinburgh supporters, will be hoping that Glasgow not only beat Edinburgh today, but score four tries and secure a bonus point in doing so.
This is partly, if not chiefly, because we would like to see them finish in the top two of the league and thus secure a home semi-final tie. If they were to do that and then go on to win the title, this would give a considerable boost to the game here. But it’s also because Gregor Townsend and his assistants, Shade Munro and Matt Taylor, seem to be doing an awful lot of things right, while many are decidedly unhappy with both the policy being pursued, and the results obtained, by Alan Solomons at Edinburgh. The news that yet another South African, Anton Bresler, has been signed will cheer few though, admittedly, he is coming to replace a departing South African Izak van der Westhuizen. Some have taken against Solomons as many Manchester United fans did against David Moyes. However, the SRU being more reasonable than United’s American owners, one assumes Solomons will be given the chance to show next season that his team is indeed improving as he says it is.
Glasgow have beaten Munster away and Ulster at home in the last two weeks. That is remarkable itself. Even more so is the comprehensive nature of the victories. To score three tries against each of these opponents and come away disappointed not to have got a bonus point by scoring a fourth, well, that’s not a state of mind often recently experienced here.
It is usual enough of course for team spirit to be good when you are winning. All the same, Townsend & Co seem to have managed to instil the sort of club togetherness which enables players to accept not only the principle, but also the reality, of rotation. After the Munster game, I thought “well, Munster were missing Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahoney”. Then I realised that Glasgow were without Stuart Hogg and that I really couldn’t say what Glasgow’s best starting XV would be. I’m not sure that anyone could, not even Gregor Townsend himself.
One of the most pleasing features of their game has been the development of some of the younger players. Jonny Gray has been remarkable, with his work-rate phenomenal and skills impressive. He poses a problem for the national selectors. He may already be the best lock available to them but he is still very young and has had a long and hard season, missing few matches. Do they take him on what is likely to be an arduous summer tour, in which four internationals will be played in four countries, or do they decide that the young man would benefit from having a few weeks away from rugby? Next season, next year indeed, will be very demanding. By the time of the World Cup in autumn 2015, Gray is likely to be an essential member of our starting XV. So the question is how best to manage him between now and then.
Finn Russell played outstandingly well at stand-off against Ulster. He looks to have that unteachable quality, composure, and the ability to read and control a game. It’s early days yet for him, and one is wary of counting chickens. But he is out of the egg, even if not yet fully-fledged, and one dares tempt fate by saying he looks the real thing. He also has a simple and natural-seeming goal-kicking technique, of the kind that looks unlikely to go wrong.
Suddenly, we seem to have what we haven’t had for a long time – a glut of centre three-quarters. Matt Scott and Alex Dunbar’s partnership was one of the few bright spots in our disappointing Six Nations campaign. But now Glasgow have Peter Horne fit again. He both passes beautifully and has the ability to side-step through massed defences, while young Mark Bennett looks better every time I watch him.
It’s tempting fate again, but it does look as if we might be able to field a really exciting back division for the first time since 1999. Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Tim Visser as the back three, two out of those four centres and a half-back partnership of Finn Russell and Chris Cusiter. The prospect makes the mouth water.
One of the most pleasing features of the second half of this season has been Cusiter’s renaissance. After years when he seemed no sooner to have recovered from one injury than he sustained another, he has had a run of games and is playing better than for a long time. Better, because he has experience to draw on and his judgement has improved correspondingly, than when he went to New Zealand as a very young Lion in 2005. He didn’t make the Test side then, but was a key member of the Wednesday team which, under Iain McGeechan’s guidance, provided the only light in an otherwise dismal tour. It’s a pity that Cusiter is leaving Glasgow to join Sale, where the head coach is, of course, Bryan Redpath, but, having played in France for Perpignan, it’s understandable that he should wish to experience the English Premiership, too.