Allan Massie: Solving the Edinburgh Rugby problem

After Greig Laidlaw put Edinburgh in the lead against Munster, the team disappointed. Picture: Ian Rutherford

After Greig Laidlaw put Edinburgh in the lead against Munster, the team disappointed. Picture: Ian Rutherford


SOMETIMES it seems you have only to say things are going better for events to make you look a fool. Last Saturday I wrote that Edinburgh’s coaches had successfully tightened up their defence, and then their team concedes six tries to Munster.

I also said Edinburgh seemed to have rid themselves of the bad habit of conceding a score immediately after they had scored themselves. So what happened? Greig Laidlaw kicked a penalty to put Edinburgh 3-0 up, Paul O’Connell collected his fly-half’s restart unchallenged, and a couple of phases later Munster scored a try.

All in all it was a pretty desperate performance by Edinburgh, who were completely overwhelmed in the second half when Munster played some splendid old-fashioned rugby, moving the ball wide at pace in the style one used to associate with French teams. Their adventurous and intelligent play, with runners hitting the line at a variety of angles, showed up the complete absence of flair in Edinburgh’s play. Indeed the Edinburgh back division looked sadly short of pace, even in pursuit of box-kicks.

Neither of the halves kicked well from hand, but some of their kicks probably weren’t half as bad as the lack of urgency in the chase made them seem.

If Edinburgh were desperately disappointing, Glasgow, despite losing, had in many respects the better of the game against Toulon. Certainly, in poor conditions, they played most of the rugby, and it was good to see Stuart Hogg back in sparkling form – looking by some way the most dangerous runner on the field.

Glasgow lost partly because they were under pressure in the scrum for most of the match, partly because they made too many bad decisions, and partly because of poor execution, Duncan Weir’s putting a penalty into touch-in-goal rather than five metres from the try-line being only the most conspicuous of them. In extenuation he had only come on to the field a few minutes previously.

People talk of the need for a strong bench, and this is reasonable, but Ruaridh Jackson, despite dropping a straightforward high ball because he was looking at what to do with it before making the catch, had been playing with a good deal of enterprise and skill, and it might have been better to leave him on the pitch.

Comparing the Heineken campaigns of the Scottish and Irish clubs, one has to ask just what it is that the Irish are doing right, and have indeed been doing right for years, and we aren’t. I daresay everyone at Murrayfield would like to know the answer to this puzzle.

It’s of little comfort that the Welsh clubs have been no more successful than Edinburgh and Glasgow, especially since their national team nevertheless manages to win the Championship. Wales may not start as favourites this year, since they have to go to Twickenham, but they will still be the team to beat. Their national team has strong self-belief, just as Munster, Leinster and Ulster have. One may say that over the years the Irish provinces have recruited foreigners more judiciously than the Scottish clubs – and Ulster surely wouldn’t have beaten Leicester at Welford Road but for Ruan Pienaar – but they also have a lot of formidably good young home-bred players.

Talking of recruitment, it is disappointing to learn that Nathan Hines will be playing for Sale next season rather than returning to Edinburgh, for even at the age of 37, he is precisely the sort of battle-hardened and worldly-wise forward Edinburgh need. They have good young locks, Grant Gilchrist and Ollie Atkins, who would have benefited hugely from playing – and preparing for play – alongside Hines.

Edinburgh and the SRU have surely missed a trick by letting him slip away to England. One can only assume that Alan Solomons didn’t want him, or didn’t want him enough. Yet Nathan Hines as club captain for a couple of seasons might have been the making of Edinburgh, as important to them as Paul O’Connell is to Munster or Johann Muller to Ulster.

But there are strange things going on at the club, none more so than the decision to let Ross Rennie go on loan to Bristol. Here he is, fit again and back in Scott Johnson’s Scotland squad, but off to play in the second tier of English professional rugby. The reasoning is hard to fathom, all the more so because Edinburgh are likely to be missing him after the Six Nations when grounds are, we hope, firm at last, and there are league matches which Edinburgh must win if they are to finish in the top six of the Rabo League – something that looks like being essential now that qualification to play in the Heineken will apparently no longer be automatic for the two Scottish clubs. As Yul Brynner sang in The King And I, “it’s a puzzlement” – and by no means the only one at Murrayfield these days.




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