Allan Massie: Thrills and possible spills in prospect

Devin Toner is Leinster's major weapon at lineouts. Picture: SNS.
Devin Toner is Leinster's major weapon at lineouts. Picture: SNS.
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Everyone knows how important it is to make a good start in European Cup competitions. Edinburgh managed that last week; Glasgow didn’t. Edinburgh have recently been a better cup side than league one.

I suppose their comfortable win over London Irish will have pleased Richard Cockerill, though he will recognise that it was somewhat devalued by their opponents’ decision to field a team that was some way below strength. It’s understandable that London Irish, down at the foot of the Aviva Premiership table, already have the avoidance of relegation as their main aim. Nevertheless, if you take part in a cup competition, it’s a bit insulting not to field the strongest side you have available; it suggests you aren’t taking the cups seriously..

This isn’t a charge that can be levied against Edinburgh’s opponents today. Krasny Yar may not be a club many of us have heard of, but they beat Stade Francais last week. Russian rugby is coming on fast, and if Edinburgh return from Moscow with a couple of points, they will have done very well indeed.

If the first weekend is important, the second one is vital if you have already suffered a defeat. Glasgow ran the English champions Exeter very close down in Devon last week, but came away without even a losing bonus point. So if they don’t beat Leinster at Scotstoun, their hope of reaching the knock-out stage will already look forlorn.

That said, they can take encouragement from the reflection that they were in with a good chance of winning at Exeter until the last few minutes of the match, without being at their best.

They were out-muscled in the end, Exeter being as good as any team in Europe close to the opposition’s try-line, and, with the supply of good ball drying up, Glasgow’s backs made too many mistakes, Finn Russell mishandling and kicking inaccurately more than once.

As against that he created both Glasgow’s tries. It’s actually not too difficult for a stand-off to appear to have a sound safe game; he just doesn’t have to try anything enterprising .

The greatest of Lions’ coaches, Carwyn James, liked players who were ready to risk making mistakes; those who weren’t achieved little. Well, Glasgow have another risk taker, Stuart Hogg, back today. So there should be some fun.

Leinster are as tough a proposition as can be. They were excellent against Montpellier in Dublin last week, and on paper they are stronger today with Jonny Sexton and Sean O’Brien available again.

They are a complete team because they can play in more than one style. They will certainly seek to dominate in the set scrum, and will be well aware that Glasgow’s young front-row is not – yet anyway – among the more formidable, and given to 
conceding too many 
penalties.

Then Leinster have Devin Toner to secure their own line-out ball and the only difference between the lofty Toner and a lighthouse is that a lighthouse can’t soar into the air. In midfield Robbie Henshaw has been in terrific form whether at 12 or 13; Glasgow may miss Alex Dunbar today.

Still Glasgow are a very hard team to beat at Scotstoun and if the weather is fine this should be a game to delight everyone who likes adventurous rugby.

Meanwhile the SRU have launched their “Scottish Qualified Programme”, essentially an attempt to identify players with Scottish qualifications who are not resident in Scotland, 
cultivate them and bind them to us.

While some of us may nostalgically look back to 1984 when we won a Five Nations Grand Slam with an almost entirely home-bred and home-domiciled team, 11 of the side that clinched the title in a nail-biting match against France while actually playing for Borders clubs. We know perfectly well that even in the heyday of amateurism, selectors were always looking beyond the Cheviots in search of players with Scottish ancestry.

There was a time even when players might represent more than one country, with little interval between switching, as it were, nationalities.

So, for example, Doug Keller, a powerful back-row forward, toured the northern hemisphere with the 1947-48 Wallabies, remained behind to finish his medical training at a London hospital, and won half a dozen or so caps for Scotland, even captaining the side in 1949.

The fact is there are lots of players qualified to play for more than one country, perhaps even more now than ever.

If we had been more alert in the late 1990s we might even have caught England’s World Cup-winning star Jason Robinson , whose mother was Scottish; but England got in first.

In any England, Scotland or Wales XV, there are likely to be a few players who might legitimately have been wearing a jersey of a different colour.

It makes sense to cultivate prospects, and this doesn’t imply that any less effort is made to spot and bring on native or home-based talent.