Allan Massie: High time Scots rugby regained respect
ONE OF the features of this summer’s Tests is that almost everybody seems to have been willing the West Indies to do well. (It will be different when the South Africans arrive for their Test series.)
I was at Lord’s for the Sunday of the first Test and it was evident that people were delighted by the fine stand between Shiv Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels, and disappointed when both got out before reaching the century each deserved. This was not only because their stand ensured that we saw a whole day’s cricket – as we had feared we mightn’t; it was also because cricket-lovers really want to see the West Indians doing well again.
It struck me afterwards that West Indian cricket and Scottish rugby are in a rather similar position. During this year’s Six Nations one had the impression that lots of people were hoping to see Scotland win matches – as long as it wasn’t against their own country. TV commentators and print journalists were quick to praise the style in which Scotland were playing and seemed disappointed that it wasn’t bringing results. In short, there was a lot of good will, just as there is for Darren Sammy’s West Indies side.
One has to say that it’s a bit humiliating. In both cases it shows just how steep the decline has been. For more than 20 years the West Indies with their array of fast bowlers and destructive batsmen inspired admiration rather than affection – admiration and fear. Scottish rugby was never in that position. Nevertheless, in the 1980s and ’90s it attracted respect rather than the pity which inspires expressions of goodwill. Successful teams, like the West Indies when Viv Richards was captain or the All Blacks today, might echo the Roman emperor who said, “oderint dum metuant” – let them hate, provided they fear. But nobody hates Andy Robinson’s team, and nobody fears them either.
It would be good to think that this summer tour will be a turning-point. Sadly, it requires a good deal of optimism to suppose this likely. On Tuesday we play Australia. The Wallabies won’t be at anything like full strength, and their team will be drawn from only three of their five professional sides. The match is being played in Newcastle, not Sydney or Brisbane. Newcastle is a Rugby League stronghold and it is only a slight exaggeration to say it is out in the sticks. Scotland are being treated rather as we treat countries like Canada or Tonga when we choose to play them at Pittodrie or McDiarmid Park rather than at Murrayfield. Worse still for our self-esteem, the Australians are regarding it as a warm-up game before their three-Test series against Wales.
Victory is essential if we are to start to regain respect rather than receiving sympathy. But even victory will be devalued, because it wouldn’t have been achieved against a full-strength Australian side. Yet, despite the Wallabies being under-strength, they will be good and the odds are heavily against us. We are playing in unfamiliar conditions on the other side of the world, without a warm-up game, and for several of the team it will be their first match for a month – or even more. Our preparation can be no more adequate than that which the West Indian cricketers were allowed before the Lord’s Test.
Then, a match against New South Wales, scheduled for June 10, having been cancelled, we go on to play Fiji and Samoa on successive Saturdays. There was a time when northern hemisphere countries could take the South Sea Islanders fairly lightly. Sure, they were powerful, and had marvellous ball-skills and running ability, but their set-piece tended to be poor and they were usually ill-organised. This is no longer the case. The Fijian and Samoan players who will face Scotland are now professionals, most of them plying their trade in New Zealand or Europe. The days when they played with naïve spontaneity are gone. They are tough and battle-hardened, and, playing at home, probably in high temperatures with which they are familiar and we are not, they will be very hard to beat.
This tour may be the making of some of our younger players, but nobody should doubt that it is a very hard assignment. There will be injuries – such as have already deprived Andy Robinson of first-choice players – and it is quite likely that all the members of the squad will have to be called on. Frankly it would be no great surprise if we lost all three matches, which would take our current losing run to ten, with New Zealand first up in the autumn. Breaking a sequence of defeats is a tough undertaking anywhere anytime, as the West Indian cricketers have found and are still finding. If we win one of the three internationals, that will be satisfactory. If we win two, it will be very good. If we were to win all three, it would be marvellous – and not far short of a miracle – just as it will be if the West Indies beat England at Edgbaston next week.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: East
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east