IT TURNS out that Murrayfield is not the only stadium with a troublesome surface. Newport Gwent Dragons have postponed this afternoon’s match against Edinburgh after a pitch inspection yesterday morning declared that the surface at Rodney Parade was unplayable.
That decision only adds to the backlog of league matches for the two Scottish professional teams. Glasgow and Edinburgh have to find a spare weekend to play the second of the 1872 Cup derby matches against each other, the Warriors have a postponed game against Treviso to squeeze in and now Edinburgh have to find another spot for the visit to the Dragons.
Glasgow are still in action, playing host to Connacht at Scotstoun, and last year the Six Nations was the making of Gregor’s Townsend’s team who strung together five wins from six matches when short-handed due to international call ups. They will do well to emulate that this time out as Glasgow provided a whopping 12 players to Scotland for yesterday’s Calcutta Cup, five forwards and five backs in the starting XV, plus two on the bench.
Four of Scotland’s starters were plucked from Edinburgh’s ranks and they also provided another two players for bench duty in the shape of props Geoff Cross and Alasdair Dickinson, just half Glasgow’s overall numbers. It says something about the depth of Glasgow’s squad that they still look competitive, even if they have had to borrow Lee Jones from Edinburgh and beg Ayr for the use of canny scrum-half Murray McConnell, who sits on the bench.
“We won five matches in a row last season during the Six Nations and all of them with a bonus point,” said coach Townsend, “so we will struggle to improve on that this year! Last season players like Mark Bennett and Alex Dunbar got a chance to shine and now they find themselves with a regular place in the Glasgow side and starting for Scotland. It is the same this year, it’s an opportunity for players to put their hands up. We have Richie Vernon starting his first game at outside centre and I remember saying in pre-season that I thought he had the skill set to play in the backs.
“We have three away matches so it will be tough, Cardiff and the Dragons have already beaten us this year, but I think we have a strong team out on Sunday.”
Today’s match also sees Rory Hughes make his debut on the wing and the Scottish selectors will keep a weather eye on Ed Kalman. The big tighthead prop doesn’t do too much around the field but he probably holds up his side of the scrum better than most.
It will be doubly difficult for Glasgow who are effectively fielding a second XV because Connacht traditionally lose almost no one to the Ireland squad. The visitors will bring pretty much their strongest side to Glasgow which, lest anyone has forgotten, beat Toulouse in the South of France just a matter of months back.
Had they played today, Edinburgh would have been led on to the field by Kiwi flanker Mike Coman, who was injured in British and Irish Cup action not long after arriving and was due to make his first start today.
Leadership, or rather the lack of it, is yet another thing on Scotland interim coach Scott Johnson’s ever-increasing list of things to ponder. Edinburgh have taken what, for them, is fast becoming the traditional route of looking abroad for a solution. Two of their recent signings, centre Adries Strauss and Coman, captained their respective clubs in South Africa and New Zealand, which perhaps says something about the lack of home-bred leaders.
“No, not at all,” counters the Kiwi Coman. “I’ve come across here and obviously it is one of the things that they think I bring to the team but you can’t talk about a lack of leadership when you have people like Roddy Grant in the team who has played over 100 times for the club. I am really enjoying my time in Scottish rugby although it is different to back home. It’s a more confrontational style of play but there is a high standard and the players are skilful. I think the weather restricts teams from using the back line so much.”
Sadly for Coman, his leadership opportunity will have to wait and one other high-profile Edinburgh import will also feel thwarted today. Carl Bezuidenhout was scheduled to make his first start for the club in the No.10 shirt before the heavens opened in Newport. His only two appearances in Edinburgh colours have been off the bench at full-back in the Heineken Cup matches against Perpignan and Munster.
The South African will eventually get a chance to show what he can do in the stand-off role but, in the meantime, he’ll need to take care crossing the road because the jersey seems to be jinxed. Three of his four recent predecessors have fallen victim to long-term injury including, Piers Francis, Gregor Hunter and now Greig Tonks, whose shoulder injury, sustained in the Scotland A match against England Saxons, will keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Bezuidenhout is one of seven players currently on Edinburgh’s books who can fill the playmaker’s role and that doesn’t include Tony Fenner, who came and went without a single minute of live action and pretty much no one noticing.
When Bezuidenhout eventually get his opportunity at ten for Alan Solomon’s side, he will hope to make a bigger splash than Fenner managed. It shouldn’t be difficult.