The sad death of Anthony Foley at such a young age when he had so much to look forward to and so much still to give rugby overshadows today’s match in Limerick. Emotion will be intense in Thomond Park, and the game will be difficult for both sides. Just how difficult for Munster was shown when their captain Peter O’Mahony broke down when trying to speak about his friend and mentor Foley at a Press Conference. Munster never need an incentive, especially in Limerick, but this game will be special.
I imagine Glasgow would rather be playing anyone else this week, and yet, apart from the need to win, they have another incentive: to play in such a way as to make this match a fitting tribute to a great rugby man.
Their performance against Leicester last week was exceptional. They started badly, giving away unnecessary penalties and conceding one of these wretched tries from a five-metre driving maul which did so much damage to their European campaign last season. It was the kind of score which made on fear the worst: same old story. Not a bit of it; with Jonny Gray giving an inspiring lead, the Glasgow forwards took the game by the scruff of the neck, like a terrier disposing of a rat. Prompted astutely by Finn Russell and Henry Pyrgos, and with ball-carriers making deep inroads into the Leicester defence, they had the game effectively won by half-time. They were quicker in thought and action. Leicester may not be quite as strong as in years past, but they still sit in fourth place in the Aviva Premiership, and they have never suffered such a heavy defeat in European competition. A long time ago, in the early years of the Heineken Cup Glasgow went to Welford Road and were utterly humiliated; this time it was the Tigers with their tail between their legs. The only disappointment was that Glasgow made less than they should have of their superiority in the second half ,scoring only two interception tries, both delightful. It was a shame that Leonardo Sarto’s side-stepping run after Finn Russell’s alertly taken tap penalty in his own 22, didn’t result in the try it deserved.
It was interesting to read this week that Matt Toomua thought himself lucky to have escaped a red card for his dangerous tackle on Finn Russell. There’s no doubt he got off lightly Only Russell’s ability to break his fall with his elbow prevented him from landing on his head. It’s time that the legislators considered this sort of tackle again. It’s fine to punish it, but the punishments meted out don’t seem to act as a sufficient deterrent. My own view is that any tackle in which the tackled player is lifted and then brought down while the tackler’s feet remain on the ground should be an automatic red card offence. Head injuries are too frequent , and if this sort of tackle is not eradicated from the game, somebody will suffer a broken neck and be incapacitated for life or even killed.
Edinburgh may be looking up after two convincing wins. It’s difficult to be sure because Treviso were very feeble and I didn’t see last weekend’s match in Romania. This afternoon’s game against Harlequins will be a much stiffer test. Duncan Hodge has named what looks close to being his best available team in the continued regrettable absence of Alasdair Dickinson and Duncan Weir. The qualification is there because John Hardie appears in neither the match-day squad nor the list of injured players, which is a bit surprising, no matter how well Hamish Watson has been playing. With Tim Visser on the Harlequins’ wing, Damien Hoyland’s defence may be tested. Edinburgh will do very well if they run Harlequins close, excellently if they snatch a win.
Happy news on the club front is the resurrection of the South of Scotland due to play a Caledonian Select next month. There are still happy memories of the old South team in the Borders and players from all the Border League clubs regarded selection for the South as a great honour – with reason, the South were the only side to defeat the great 1984 Wallabies ‘ Saturday side. I’ve always though the abandonment of the old District Championship to have been a mistake. There may be no appetite for its revival among clubs in Edinburgh and the West, and indeed Melrose have shamefully refused to make any of their players available for next month’s match. But as a bridge between the club game and the professional game, a revived District championship would surely be worthwhile and, if properly promoted, popular.. I can recall Netherdale being filled to capacity for what was a title decider between the South and Edinburgh in season 1988-9.