IT WAS the best of clubs, it was the worst of clubs, it was the pro-team of wisdom, it was the pro-team of foolishness, one set of fans had belief, the other set of fans were incredulous, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
Despite enjoying much the same budget, and a pretty healthy one at that, the divergent paths of Edinburgh and Glasgow have rarely been so obvious as now.
Before last night Glasgow had lost two of their last 11 matches, Edinburgh had won two of theirs. The west coast franchise secured their place in the RaboDirect Pro12 play-offs while Edinburgh finished well down the rankings, rubbing shoulders with Connacht, who are under-funded and largely unloved but still punch well above their weight, not an accusation that can be thrown at Edinburgh. Alan Solomons’ side resemble heavyweights who have taken one blow too many, staggering around the ring punch drunk mumbling, “I coulda been a contender”.
So they could have. Edinburgh have a very decent starting XV and they can perform admirably when they put their collective mind to it. They have beaten Munster and Leinster this season just to prove it, but they don’t bring their number one game nearly often enough.
Edinburgh won seven matches under Michael Bradley last season and, for all of Solomons’ claims of “progress”, they have won… seven matches under the South African (unless Hell froze over and Leinster lost last night).
Given their roster, Edinburgh should be highly competitive. Here are a few reasons why Glasgow’s miles better.
CONTINUITY OF COACHES
Since March, 2006, Glasgow Warriors have had two bosses: Sean Lineen and Gregor Townsend, both locals, while Edinburgh have been through more coaches than Brian Soutar. By my reckoning Edinburgh have seen off eight head coaches in the same time Glasgow have had two, even if several were more of the caretaker variety rather than a full-time appointment: Lynn Howells, Henry Edwards (CT), Andy Robinson, Rob Moffat, Nick Scrivener (CT), Michael Bradley, Steve Scott (CT) and Alan Solomons.
The constant chopping and changing cannot help any side settle. One coach brings in players he likes, only to have those players fall from favour when he leaves and the next man does the exact same thing. Everyone who comes in tries to stamp their mark on the club. It’s understandable but, in terms of long-term planning and club morale, all the chopping and changing is a disaster. Local coaches also mean that Glasgow snap up the best of the young Scottish talent.
This is the crux of it. Between them Sean Lineen and Al Kellock initiated a hard-working, hard-to-beat culture that is at the root of every successful side. A club needs a culture of honesty and hard work combined with a lack of egos and that is precisely what Glasgow’s long-standing skipper demands of his colleagues. Glasgow have an enviable close-knit club culture that has been carefully constructed over many years.
Not until Edinburgh’s senior players forge the culture in the shape and form they want, rather than what someone else dictates, will it grow into something strong enough to depend upon when times are tough.
Despite leaking four tries to Edinburgh in the recently rescheduled derby match, ahead of the final round of matches Glasgow had conceded just 22 tries all season, the best record in the league. Edinburgh’s players have convened behind the posts on 55 occasions, the second worst record in the RaboDirect after Treviso. Defence wins matches and Edinburgh’s is porous.
Glasgow have some depth to their squad, Edinburgh almost none. DTH van der Merwe is injured but Tommy Seymour steps into the gap. Ryan Wilson drops out but Rob Harley fills his boots. Ryan Grant needs a break, Gordon Reid drops anchor. Alex Dunbar is missing, Mark Bennett shines. All season long Townsend has chopped and changed his team but, apart from a mid-season blip, the squad continues to win matches.
Edinburgh’s older heads are on their last legs but that is at least partly because Solomons has no faith in some of his younger, less-experienced squad players. Alex Allan played two games off the bench while Rob McAlpine started just one match and, at 23 years old, the lock is no longer in kindergarten. They were the lucky ones.
Hooker Alun Walker started two league matches last season and none this. Flanker Hamish Watson started five Rabo matches last time out, none this season. Solomons does not appear to trust his youngsters to rise to the Pro12 challenge.
Andy Robinson dragged Edinburgh to second whilst inhabiting the giant Murrayfield bowl, but it isn’t ideal. Glasgow have been in Scotstoun for two seasons now and they deliver a very decent experience for a good number of fans, especially when the temporary stands from the sevens are in situ at the business end of the season.
Edinburgh will have to move but, to the shame of the capital city, if there was an obvious option they would have grabbed it by now. The SRU were close to shaking hands with George Watson’s College, who own Myreside, the most appropriate facility in Edinburgh, but Meggetland may offer fewer complications vis-a-vis competing school demands.
Can we ask yet again why Edinburgh City Council/SRU did not spend that little bit extra on Meggetland when the old ground was redeveloped several years back?
You can’t begin to play rugby without a decent one and by my reckoning Glasgow boast the best six stand-offs in Scotland, thanks largely to local coaches who snap up the best Scottish talent.
In no particular order, Scott Wight, Finn Russell, Ruaridh Jackson, Duncan Weir, Peter Horne and Stuart Hogg are all better than anyone in Edinburgh’s colours.
To date, Edinburgh have side-stepped the problem by getting Greig Laidlaw to run the show from No.9. What will they do now he is gone?
Both teams have whistled up more than their fair share of turkeys but Glasgow’s policy of going for quality over quantity has generally paid dividends. Which of Edinburgh’s imports has had the same impact of Josh Strauss, Niko Matawalu and Sean Maitland on the Warriors? Cornell du Preez got off to a good start although he has faded since, WP Nel is effective about the field but he concedes too many scrum penalties and all too many of Solomons’ other foreign signings have been marinaded in ordinary.
Solomons’ entire strategy is based upon foreigners making Edinburgh into a winning team, but what if his imports simply aren’t up to it?
Top football clubs will do almost anything to prevent a top player from joining a rival club, but Glasgow have a history of recruiting some of Edinburgh’s best players over the years, including Dougie Hall, Ryan Grant and, only recently, Alex Allan. You wonder how the respective clubs might have fared had Al Kellock turned down Lineen’s offer to move from Edinburgh back to Glasgow all those years ago.