EDINBURGH gained a much-needed and, in the end, commendable win against the Dragons at Rodney Parade.
That said, it was a pretty poor match. In the first half especially, both teams seemed to prefer that their opponents should have the ball, although the Dragons’ kicking from hand was marginally less awful than Edinburgh’s.
Grayson Hart’s obsession with the box-kick might have been excusable if he had kicked well, but he didn’t. I don’t think Edinburgh had a single three-quarter movement in the first half, certainly not one that saw the ball reach the wings.
Conditions were poor, but the Dragons showed that the ball could be moved wide and, once at least, came very close to scoring, being checked only by a fine piece of defensive work from young Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.
The scrum-half did enough to justify Alan Solomons’ decision to play him on the wing. It was just a pity he didn’t see more of the ball.
Edinburgh did score two good tries, one created, the other scored, by Matt Scott. His eye for space and running ability made Edinburgh’s reluctance to move the ball wide even less comprehensible.
One reason for their failure to do so was their preference for attempting a driving maul from the lineout rather than moving the ball quickly away from the set piece. Few of the mauls were effective. Conversely, however, David Denton twice got himself into a position which enabled him – legally – to disrupt the Dragons’ mauling.
This Edinburgh team is evidently at a crossroads. Some good things have been done.
There has been, generally, a marked improvement in their defence. But all the comings and goings must be disruptive. The latest to depart is the stand-off Harry Leonard, off to Leeds Carnegie in the English championship. One assumes that there is a ready-made replacement lined up, and hopes this will be either Ruaridh Jackson or Tom Heathcote and not yet another Southern Hemisphere import. That would make Leonard’s departure deplorable, just when he is coming to maturity.
The door out of Edinburgh seems to be revolving fast, and most of those leaving are Scots. Greig Laidlaw and Geoff Cross are heading for the Aviva Premiership. Ross Rennie, Stuart McInally and Lee Jones are all now out on loan, and seem unlikely to be called back. None of the imports, not even Cornel du Preez, seems markedly better, if better at all, than the Scots whose places they have taken. Solomons has consistently preferred Willem Nel to Cross at tighthead. Nel is qualifying for Scotland by residence, and some seem to assume he will walk straight into the Scotland side.
He does a lot of good things, but on Thursday he collapsed like a sack of potatoes in scrum after scrum. He was penalised at least three times. No doubt the Dragons’ loosehead was a sinner too. A less indulgent referee would surely have given both ten minutes in the bin.
Edinburgh have two young and more than promising home-reared scrum-halves in Hidalgo-Clyne and Sean Kennedy, but both are apparently behind Hart in the pecking-order. Hart is of course Scottish-qualified and has indeed already played for our A team, but he is not discernibly better than the other two.
Kennedy has been given ten minutes at the end of the last two matches, which is fairly futile.
Alan Solomons will be judged on results next season, and this is fair enough. But he won’t be judged only on results. He will, quite rightly, be judged also on his success in developing native talent. Achieving a respectable position in the top six of the league, or, even better, in the top four, and meeting with success in the second tier of the new European cup competitions, would all be welcome. Yet if this is done with a side half of whose members are foreigners, its value for the future of Scottish rugby would be questionable.
So it will be interesting to see who is added to the squad this summer to replace the Scottish internationalists who have departed or will not be recalled from the clubs where they are at present on loan.
Meanwhile, we have the Heineken quarter-finals to delight us this weekend, even though, yet again, without either of our clubs involved.
Leicester go to the Stade Marcel Michelin where the new Scotland coach Vern Cotter’s Clermont-Auvergne haven’t been beaten since 2009. They are on a remarkable 74-game winning run. No doubt it will end sometime, but one rather hopes not in the last weeks of Cotter’s reign. If he can make Murrayfield the same impregnable fortress, he will be worth whatever the SRU is paying him. Our three home Six Nations matches next year against Ireland, Italy and Wales are all winnable, and that must be the aim, for chances of victory at Twickenham and the Stade de France are slim. Indeed, given the strength of Stuart Lancaster’s young England team, those of us who were already middle-aged when Scotland last claimed victory at Twickenham in 1983 are wondering if we will live long enough to taste victory there again.