It seemed disappointing when the inter-city matches for the 1872 Cup were no longer a double-header over Christmas and New Year. Now, with neither Glasgow nor Edinburgh involved in the Guinness Pro12 play-offs, the second leg of the Cup-tie makes for an agreeable end to the season. Glasgow are at home, start with a useful lead and should win, but Edinburgh have tended to raise their game against their domestic rival, and may do so again, no matter how wayward and often, frankly, feeble they have been so often this season.
Both clubs will have players moving on or retiring. Chief among the Glasgow ones is Sean Lamont who is hanging up his often colourful boots, even though he looked good for another season when he scored against Connacht a few weeks ago. Still, he goes back a long way, his first Scotland cap coming against Samoa on a summer tour in 2004 when some of his Glasgow team-mates were playing only mini-rugby. Scotland won 38-3, and the only other member of the squad that day who is still playing professional rugby is Ally Hogg. Three of the XV –Tom Smith, Gordon Bulloch and Scott Murray – were survivors from the 1999 Scotland side that won the last Five Nations title. So Sean spans the generations.
He has been a player who has never given less than his best. We have had faster wings and more skilful ones, but never, surely, a more whole-hearted one. If Tommy Seymour and Tim Visser have both scored more international tries, in fewer matches, than Sean’s 14 in 105 appearances, well, they have had more creative players in midfield to supply them with ammunition. In his two spells with Glasgow, he has scored a try every third match. I expect he will get a bit of action and a huge reception today.
For some today’s game offers the opportunity to bid for a place on this year’s summer tour when we play Italy – in Singapore! – Australia and Fiji. Given that only Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour will be with the Lions, Gregor Townsend will have pretty well a full-strength squad for his first venture as Scotland coach – unless, of course, there are late call-ups for the Lions. Considering the length of the domestic season and the demands made on leading players, some of us may think that a few of them might benefit from time off and a bit of rest and recreation.
It’s not likely to happen. Test matches have to be won, partly for reasons of morale, partly to maintain the impetus engendered by Vern Cotter this year, partly because of the – to me, incomprehensible – IRB rankings. Currently we are ranked fifth in the world, which still seems a bit odd, and not only on account of the Twickenham disaster. I assume that if we lose any of these three Tests our ranking may slip. Last summer’s tour was statistically good; we won both Tests in Japan. It was also useful experience, since the 2019 World Cup will be played there. But in terms of the rugby played it was disappointing. We were pedestrian; all the sparkle came from the Japanese. One hopes for something better in June.
Stuart Hogg’s place has to be filled, perhaps by Sean Maitland. If he plays 15, then there is a vacancy on the wing where the leading candidates would seem to be Lee Jones and Damien Hoyland. Both may travel, with Jones having a good chance to add to the four caps he won when Andy Robinson was the Scotland coach; he’s a much better player now than he was then, one of the few who emerged from the Glasgow-Saracens match in credit, with his reputation enhanced. With Huw Jones and Mark Bennett injured, the first-choice centres will probably be Duncan Taylor and Alex Dunbar, with Peter Horne in reserve. Horne may also understudy Finn Russell, though Duncan Weir who regularly fills that berth has a chance today to show that his recent form is simply too bad to be true, certainly not a fair reflection of his ability. Presumably all three scrum-halves – Greig Laidlaw, Ali Price and Henry Pyrgos will go, and, if the captaincy reverts to Laidlaw, he would presumably be first choice, despite Ali Price’s recent brilliance.
Up front there seems no chance that either Willem Nel or Alasdair Dickinson will be fit. One has to hope that a summer of recuperation will see them available in the autumn. So, one assumes that the scrum will be much as it was in the Six Nations and hopes that the groin injury which is keeping Hamish Watson out of the 1872 Cup will have cleared up. Happily John Hardie is fit to take his place today.