CAN the Glasgow model work for Scotland? It was good enough to take the club side to the Pro12 final, but can it stand the test of international rugby? That is one of the big questions that is going to be answered this weekend.
The model in question is that you have a huge squad with hardly any first-choice players. Every position is covered by at least two, and often three, of roughly equal standing. Wholesale changes between games are standard. When it comes to the big, crunch games, the coach has the luxury of picking on his judgment of current form, not on reputation – hence Finn Russell displacing both Duncan Weir and Ruaridh Jackson from the stand-off berth and Peter Murchie staying in the team to the end even though Stuart Hogg was back in the frame.
It seems to have been working at Scotland level too, says Murchie. “Being on tour with two different squads shows how much depth we have in the various positions. We can name two separate squads and we are still winning,” he said.
“We got results in the first two weeks with one squad and pretty much a separate team came in for the Argentina game with limited preparation time and got a really good win against a tough team that has been together for a long time.
“The guys really dug out the result. On 60 minutes we were a good few points down and showed real character to come back. It was not just about character, though, there was a really good try and some good attacking play; it was a step up in performance. To come back from that positon, get the win and hold it gives us confidence going into this weekend. It is three in a row and winning is a habit.”
The win in Argentina was achieved with a side showing 11 changes to the starting XV from the one that beat Canada and this weekend there are going to be even more changes with Blair Cowan and Kieran Low going home while Euan Murray has come the other way and joined the rest of the squad in South Africa. That’s three before the coaches think about form.
It is a place with mixed memories for Murchie. While he was delighted to have won his debut cap in the equivalent fixture last year, the match itself was an object lesson in frustration as Scotland dominated for an hour and ran up a 17-6 lead only to let it slip in the final quarter.
“We can look back at how we approached the game last year and we need to do the same again,” he said. “If we get to that 60-minute mark and are ahead, though, we need to keep playing and pushing and hopefully get a result. We got ourselves into a great position to win the game and it was gutting that we let it slip through our fingers.”
Tim Swinson, the lock who will be at the heart of the forward battle, felt what it was like to dominate the Springboks before they wrestled control back when it really mattered and also made his cap debut in that game.
“You are playing one of the top teams in the world and that is what you have to focus on. You are playing a big Test match, and have to look at what got you there,” he said. “There were a couple of tries at the end which were definitely soft and did not go with the way the game had gone before.
“Their pack is quite a force in world rugby but these days their backs are a bit more varied, which is good for them, not so good for everyone else. Fortunately for me I can really do well in the physical game as well as the faster one.”
Maybe you need the odd superstar to really make the breakthrough into the major league but for this game, both sides are having to practise the Glasgow squad rotation method, but only one side is used to it.