Edinburgh’s quick fix of imports could place club’s future at risk
EDINBURGH this week announced another new signing, the South African lock Isak van der Westhuizen. By my calculations this means that Michael Bradley has now added nine new players to his squad, only one of whom, full-back or centre Greig Tonks , from Northampton, is at present qualified to play for Scotland.
I say “at present” because the South African prop WP Nel, would qualify by residence if he stays here for three years. Several of the other signings have already played international rugby for their country of origin.
It was obvious that Bradley needed to strengthen his squad, and do so immediately. Edinburgh’s miserable record in the league contrasted sharply with their splendid run in the Heineken. The difference was that they played most of their league matches without their current international players.
An Edinburgh XV with Lee Jones, Nick De Luca, Greig Laidlaw, Mike Blair, Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, David Denton and Ross Rennie was evidently much stronger than one without them.
Edinburgh have some good young Scottish players coming through: Tom Brown (now in the Scotland squad for the summer internationals), Harry Leonard, Grant Gilchrist, for instance, but their lack of reserve strength was undeniable. So Bradley has done the sensible thing in trying to boost it by recruiting experienced players from other countries.
Yet, given that we have only two professional teams, getting the right balance between imports and home-grown players is very difficult. Some, I suspect, will think that Bradley has gone too far, and that the signing of so many incomers – some of whom, such as Welsh pair John Yapp and Richie Rees, may have their best days behind them – is going to slam the door in the face of young Scots. We may be getting a short-term fix at the expense of the future. There are, for instance, now two non-Scottish scrum-halves, Rees and Chris Leck, ahead of Alex Black.
Integrating a rather large number of new players into a club is not easy. It’s likely that some won’t fit. In any case, the ability to nurture club spirit is essential. One has the impression that Sean Lineen managed to do this with Glasgow, and one consequence was that Glasgow performed consistently better in the league than Edinburgh, even when missing players through international calls and injury. The consistently high level of performance shown by young forwards such as Pat MacArthur, Rob Harley, Ryan Wilson and Chris Fusaro enabled Glasgow to win close matches even during the World Cup and Six Nations.
As a Munsterman, Bradley undoubtedly knows the importance of developing a club ethos. Munster have not hesitated to bring in overseas players when it was thought necessary, but all have had to fit in to the Munster way of doing things.
The same may be said of the South African imports who have contributed to Ulster’s success this season. Edinburgh have developed a distinctive style of play, very evident in their Heineken matches. It’s a style that has met with success and won the admiration – if the somewhat surprised admiration – of southern pundits such as Stuart Barnes. Will this flood of imports change things, or will the incomers buy into the Edinburgh style of play?
Meanwhile some other southern pundits, among them Brian Moore, are wondering why the Irish provinces do better than the Ireland XV. In one sense this is an odd question to be putting, because over the last few seasons Ireland have been pretty good, winning the Grand Slam in 2009 and a couple of Triple Crowns – a rather better record then England’s, one should say.
On the other hand, their World Cup was disappointing – even though they produced an outstanding performance in beating Australia. Then, though, they ended this season with a miserable display at Twickenham, and came within a few seconds of beating Wales in the first weekend of the Six Nations – it was only Stephen Ferris’s silly and unnecessary tip-tackle that allowed Wales to snatch the victory that set them on the way to their Grand Slam.
Nevertheless Moore’s conclusion is fair enough: that Ireland’s front five, and especially the front row, aren’t quite good enough. At some point soon Ireland are going to have to cope with the passing of Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, their two most important players of the last decade. They have lots of good young players coming through, but perhaps no-one of that class. Who knows? We may even beat them at Murrayfield next spring. It’s about time that we did.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
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