WHEN Edinburgh pitch up in Cork for their first league match of the season on Saturday, at least one of their number will ponder, if only for a fleeting moment, which team he should be in.
Sean Kennedy spent the formative years of his life, from the age of two until he was 11, in Limerick. He was introduced to the game at a little local club and he was, and you suspect remains, a firm Munster supporter.
“I had a thick Limerick accent when I first moved back [to Scotland],” Kennedy confesses. “One year later I was back to being an Alloa boy. When I first came back I had to ‘speak properly’ [and here he adopts BBC English] for these Scottish people, the teachers and whatever.
“Over in Ireland was when I first started playing. It was a little club just like Alloa called St Marys and I think I started out on the wing because I had a bit of gas in those days. We used to go to all the Munster games, especially the big European games, it was a religion over there. ”
If Kennedy is confused over his national affiliation, his club loyalties in Scotland are equally complicated because he has jumped between the two professional teams so often that the Harthill service station could have been his postal address.
Two years ago he was a Glasgow apprentice with a Scotland sevens contract in his pocket. Murrayfield then decided to push him Edinburgh’s way for reasons only they knew. Kennedy had no sooner unpacked the car in the capital than Glasgow had a scrum-half crisis. Chris Cusiter hurt his shoulder, while Niko Matawalu’s arrival was delayed by paperwork. The upshot was that Kennedy re-packed his bags and headed back from whence he came. He made seven appearances for Glasgow last season, only to be sent back east for the final few weeks, where he played in another three matches for Edinburgh. If you’re not confused you’re not concentrating.
The scrum-half is one of the few players to experience both of Scotland’s pro teams, so what is the main difference between east and west? “There is not one thing I could put my finger on,” replies Kennedy before doing pretty much that. “When I was at Glasgow working under Gregor Townsend and Matt Taylor and Shade Munro, it was a really good set-up. The culture that they had was that every game they played was based upon having an outstanding defence, obviously coming from Matty Taylor.”
Might Edinburgh’s new defence coach, Omar Mouneimne, do something similar in the capital?
“Ideally, yeah. It starts with our defence. If you don’t let teams score against you it’s obviously going to be harder for them to win. I read that Glasgow conceded 15 points per match last season, while Edinburgh conceded 23 on average. That’s a big margin in this kind of game.”
After being the surprise pick in Scott Johnson’s Six Nations squad, Kennedy has finally settled in Edinburgh, alongside cousin Grant Gilchrist, and made the step into the professional ranks proper. All he has to do now is separate Greig Laidlaw, sometime skipper, clockwork kicker and the very heartbeat of the team, from his favoured scrum-half shirt. It’s a big ask but Kennedy relishes a challenge.
“I am fully aware that Greig is first choice at the moment but that doesn’t stop me trying to get the starting jersey,” says the 22-year-old.
“At the start of the season, depending on everyone being fit, I may have to bide my time, realistically. If I get the chance to get on I have to show Alan [Solomons, the coach] what I can do. It’s the same in any game. It’s all about taking your chances. If I’m still involved in match squads and Greig is away with Scotland then, obviously, that may be an opportunity for me.
“Watching Greig play at nine for Edinburgh and Scotland, he’s a class player. For me, I can learn a lot by watching him play. He’s really good with me and the young boys like Sam [Hidalgo-Clyne] and Blackie [Alex Black] and the rest. If we’re doing passing after sessions he comes and acts as coach when he could easily just do his own thing and hope we don’t get any better! But he’s more than happy to come and coach which, for a young guy coming through, is really good.
“I don’t think anyone in the squad wants to be number two to anyone else, but that’s what Greig wants, he wants someone to keep him on his toes the same way that I don’t want anyone to go ahead of me. If you think someone is going past you, you’ll do all the extra work in training to make sure the coach keeps you in the squad for the next game.”
Kennedy is a scrapper and, with six scrum-halves in the Edinburgh squad, he’ll need to be. Laidlaw started the two pre-season matches at nine but his young rival offers a lively alternative.
There is something of the young Mike Blair about Kennedy. He shares the older man’s ability to change the tempo of a game with a quick tap penalty or a searing break. He may lack Laidlaw’s canny game management but Kennedy is a far more dangerous animal with the ball in hand. Ultimately, it will be Solomons’ call so Kennedy is doing his best to impress his new coach.
But what impression has the South African made on his new scrum-half?
“What Alan is bringing? Well, he is black and white,” replies Kennedy. “You know exactly what he wants and how he wants it done, which I think is a good thing. He’s very honest. If you speak to him about something he won’t beat about the bush, he’ll tell you exactly what he thinks, whether it’s about selection or how you’ve done in a game.
“Being South African, we knew he would come in and ask for a physical game and I think our pack is well capable of that. It’s just a matter of showing it in a game now. Against Northampton it was a step up from last season, the forwards were much more physical so it’s a step in the right direction.”
It’s a long-term project, but Edinburgh’s rebuilding work starts this week against Munster where one of their ranks will be especially keen to impress the folks back “home”.