Mike Blair and Johnnie Beattie on way out of Edinburgh and Glasgow
SCOTLAND scrum-half Mike Blair and No 8 Johnnie Beattie will both leave Scottish rugby this summer as Edinburgh and Glasgow re-shape their squads for next season.
Glasgow forward Beattie has agreed a deal to join Montpellier in France next season, while the future of Blair, who recently won back the Scotland No 9 jersey from long-time rival Chris Cusiter, remains uncertain. Rory Lawson is leaving Gloucester and he is believed to be in talks with a number of clubs as he strives to improve his Test prospects and renew pressure on Blair and Cusiter with Scotland, but Kingsholm will not be Blair’s new destination.
Scotland’s most-capped scrum-half, who turns 31 next month, was reportedly close to signing for Ulster when his contract last expired but was persuaded to stay at Edinburgh. He was offered a new contract this year but has turned it down and is looking to move on. Coach Michael Bradley’s re-shaping of Edinburgh has stepped up with South African prop WP Nel from Free State Cheetahs and Northampton utility back Greig Tonks joining 17 of their existing players in pledging their futures to the club. Former Wales prop John Yapp, Dimitri Basilaia, the Georgian back row, and a possible scrum-half replacement for Blair are all understood to have agreed terms, but Edinburgh are awaiting final confirmation.
Glasgow have re-signed 15 current players and added four new faces in former All Black flanker Angus Macdonald, Tongan No 8 Viliami Ma’afu, Newcastle lock Tim Swinson and Scotland wing Sean Lamont. Macdonald or Ma’afu could fill the gap left by Beattie but Glasgow are hoping Scotland flanker John Barclay will remain alongside Rob Harley, Ryan Wilson and Chris Fusaro in a very strong back row.
Edinburgh coach Bradley said: “We won’t comment on any potential signings until we have the deal completed, and that is our consistent comment. There are reasons for that, particularly the fact that, if players are known to be going out, then they are in a weaker position when looking for contracts at other clubs, so it’s disappointing when information comes out that any club is involved in a possible contract.”
What Bradley was more open to discussing, however, was his side’s struggles through the Six Nations window.
Like Scotland, they have failed to win a game since the beginning of February but Bradley is hoping that the final match in a block of five without the club’s internationalists, against the Dragons at Murrayfield tomorrow night, could finally bring the taste of victory and spark momentum ahead of Edinburgh’s home Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse in a fortnight.
“The results have been disappointing,” acknowledged Bradley. “Performances have been a lot better than results, but when you’re in the results business you have to put your hand up and say it’s not good enough. We have to get a win and make a statement that, when some of our resources are diverted to the national team, we can still step up to the plate.”
Edinburgh host the first European quarter-final to be staged in Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday 7 April (3pm) and have sold more than 25,000 tickets already. But, while their performances in the pool stages and wins over Racing Metro, London Irish and Cardiff undoubtedly earned them their moment in the sun, Edinburgh’s form outside of those games has not inspired confidence of them stretching their run.
Having lost their last six league games, Edinburgh now lie 11th in the RaboDirect PRO12 table, just four points above Aironi, who face Glasgow at Firhill tomorrow night. Bradley accepted that it might reflect the club’s relative lack of strength in depth, with 17 players this week unavailable through injury and international duty.
The fit internationals should return next week, which means some fringe players involved tomorrow night have one last chance to grab place in the Heineken squad. Centre Matt Scott has returned from his Six Nations adventure, where he was a late call-up to the Scotland squad in Ireland and came off the bench for his Test debut, and he links up with former Currie teammates Dougie Fife at outside centre and Tom Brown on the right wing, which frees Chris Paterson to return to his accustomed full-back berth.
Harry Leonard also resumes at stand-off after scoring the try against Italy that secured the Scotland U20s’ sole win of the shadow Six Nations. Jack Gilding returns at tighthead prop and Edinburgh make an intriguing switch in the back row, with skipper Roddy Grant at blindside flanker and Stuart McInally, a talented blindside and No 8, given a run on the openside. Bradley explained: “We wanted to have a look at Stuart at seven. This could be a tactical switch we might look at in the Toulouse game, so we’ll try it out here.”
The Dragons’ 25-man squad includes Welsh Grand Slam winner Luke Charteris but not RBS Player of the Six Nations Dan Lydiate, nor their other Grand Slam stars. Back row Andrew Coombs and Pat Leach are back from injury and Newport club player Hywel Stoddart could make his debut off the bench.
Bradley added: “At no point have we lost sight of the importance of this week’s game as an opportunity to address our position in the RaboDirect PRO12.There are other elements at stake – the chance to rally support or gain a winning momentum – however, this week, there is just one single objective.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 4 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind direction: North east