Whether born here or not, Scotland's players must be committed
GAVIN Henson is not only a talented rugby player but evidently a young man of strong views also; and so he has been raising a bit of a stushie down in Wales.
Nevertheless, this isn't a bad time to re-open the debate about eligibility here in Scotland. This for two reasons. First, nobody has been flown in from Australia or New Zealand this year in order to be catapulted into the Scotland side; and second, all those candidates for a place in the national side whose eligibility depends on a grandparent are now playing their club rugby here in Scotland and demonstrating their commitment to the Scottish game. Hugo Southwell and Dan Parks have both been here for more than a couple of seasons now, and Ben MacDougall, last season's controversial import, is playing pretty well and with great determination for the Borders. If Frank Hadden chooses to pick any of these players, then the cap will have been earned, not, as it were, gifted.
Jim Telfer remarks in his autobiography that he can see no difference between a player born in New Zealand and one born and bred in England, if both qualify to play for our country through a grandparent, and adds, rather neatly, that he has seen more pipe bands in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa than he has ever seen in England. These are fair points, though one might offer an answer to the second one: to the effect that, while it is quite likely that the grandson of a Scot living in England will grow up supporting Scotland against everybody, it's extremely improbable that the same will be the case with a young New Zealander. The Anglo-Scot may have from childhood the ambition to play rugby for Scotland, but the young New Zealander will have wanted to become an All Black, and opted for Scotland only when it was clear that he wasn't going to be picked for New Zealand. This doesn't mean of course that he won't do his damnedest if he does find himself sporting the thistle rather than the silver fern. Not many players in the last few years have given more to Scotland than Martin Leslie did.
The grievance arises when an imported player is picked for Scotland without having proved himself here - and that requirement should apply to Anglos as well as Kiwis. Jim admits now that Brendan Laney's "introduction to the national squad, just days after he had arrived in the country for the first time, was, in hindsight, premature". Most of us didn't require hindsight to come to that conclusion; it was glaringly obvious. The sad thing is that if that introduction had been delayed a few months till after Laney had shown what he could do for Edinburgh, his cap career might have been more successful. First accepted, then admired, finally revered, by the Edinburgh support, he often played marvellously well for his club, but never quite reproduced that form for Scotland; and this may have been in part because he never escaped the feeling that his selection was resented.
As to the actual qualifications for eligibility, they're probably never going to satisfy everybody. My own feeling is that a single grandparent is one too few, but as long as possession of the single grandparent is the qualification laid down by the International Board, we would be foolish to deny ourselves anyone who qualifies on that basis. The only additional criterion should be that the player has proved himself here.
Meanwhile, at lower levels the game goes on, often as entertaining for spectators as ever. My own club, Selkirk, are playing some marvellously imaginative and inventive rugby this season in the second division. Lacking size up front, they are not going to be challenging for promotion, but last Saturday they scored 46 points against Murrayfield Wanderers, playing with the style one associates with good French clubs at their most flamboyant. The Wanderers are admittedly at the bottom of the league, but they had taken 30 points off Kelso the previous week, while Selkirk had been thumped by Dundee HSFP. Murrayfield were met by stiff defence and by enterprising attacks from deep, tries being scored after seven or eight players had handled, while the young Selkirk backs' willingness to look for space rather than contact, and their ability to off-load were examples of modern rugby at its most enjoyable. After the game one senior member was muttering about the number of dropped passes. There were a few indeed, but then many more passes were being made (most of them successfully) than we used to see in a month of matches a few years ago.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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