Allan Massie

Allan Massie: Glasgow deserve some luck against Saracens

Glasgow players this morning may have reason to either be happy and relaxed or grim and determined, depending on the result at Murrayfield last night. Sticking my neck out I reckon that Edinburgh will have beaten Montpellier, and so their friends in the West can head for Allianz Park in the knowledge that they have already qualified for the Champions Cup quarter-final. So then they can enjoy themselves while –of course – being aware that beating Saracens with a four-try bonus point and denying them a losing one would give them, like Edinburgh, a home quarter-final, improbably as this may seem. On the other hand if Edinburgh have stumbled at the last hurdle in the pool, it’s a very different kettle of fish.

Greig Laidlaw is regarded highly at Clermont Auvergne. Picture: SNS/SRU.

Allan Massie: A must-win assignment for Glasgow Warriors

This is crunch weekend for Glasgow and Edinburgh. Glasgow play Cardiff Blues at Scotstoun, Edinburgh Toulon away. Victory for either club would almost certainly secure a place in the Champions Cup quarter-finals, though Glasgow may need a bonus point to be sure. On the face of it, Glasgow have the easier task. They are at home and Cardiff Blues have no chance of proceeding further in the Cup. Edinburgh’s assignment this weekend is more demanding, even though Toulon are having their worst season for years and, like Cardiff, can’t qualify for the knock-out stages.

Champions Cup
Edinburgh's Grant Gilchrist with Juan Pablo Socino. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS

Gregor Townsend will need Edinburgh’s piano-shifters to call the tune

Ithink it was a French 
journalist who first made the distinction between the piano-players and the piano-shifters, the former being of course the backs, the latter the 
forwards. It was a fair distinction a long time ago when the respective roles of backs and forwards were more distinct than they are now, and it certainly made good sense when one considered the game in France.

Greig Laidlaw patrols the back of the Scotland scrum against Fiji. Picture; Paul Devlin/SNS

Allan Massie: Scotland coach Gregor Townsend spoiled for choice at 9

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow can go into the Champions Cup break feeling reasonably satisfied and confident, both with a good chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals. If they do, the professional game will here will be in a happier state than it has been in the more than 20 years since Rugby Union went professional. Even more remarkably, it looks as if Saracens may be the only English club to escape the pools. That said, they obviously have a better chance of winning the Cup than either of the Scottish clubs.

Englishman Andy Farrell will take over as Ireland coach after the World Cup. Picture: by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Allan Massie: Nationality of coaches is irrelevant in Test rugby

Coaches have been in the news recently. First, Andy Farrell will succeed Joe Schmidt as Ireland’s coach after the World Cup. This should make the 2020 Six Nations England-Ireland match an interesting family affair, with father Andy coaching Ireland and son Owen , one assumes, captaining England.Then there is a rumour that the RFU is considering asking Warren Gatland to be Eddie Jones’ successor when the garrulous Australian moves on. It was long assumed that Gatland’s ambition was to be the next coach for his native New Zealand. So it may be that he would be interested in the Twickenham job only as the next best thing. This is something that presumably wouldn’t commend him to the RFU. If, however, he does land up at Twickenham, he will have been pretty well round the houses as head coach of Ireland, Wales and England, and, twice, of the Lions. Meanwhile the Welsh Rugby Union has already appointed another New Zealander, Wayne Pivac, to take over from Gatland next season.

Luke Morgan will make his Welsh debut. Picture: Getty.

Allan Massie: It’s still odd playing Wales in November

Cardiff hasn’t often been a happy hunting ground for us, though the same could be said of most away venues. The Six Nations match in February was pretty galling, if not quite on the scale of the 51-3 defeat four years previously. That was the day Stuart Hogg was sent off for a rash challenge on Dan Biggar as both leaped to field a high kick and our interim coach, Scott Johnson, didn’t apparently think it might be a good idea to sacrifice a forward in order to have a full complement of backs.

Scotland's Jonny Gray during a training session in St Andrews. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS/SRU

Townsend strikes it lucky as strength in depth gives adequate injury cover

S     ome of his predecessors must be looking at Gregor Townsend with more than a touch of envy. They sometimes struggled to field a XV without at least a couple of players who, whatever their merits , weren’t quite of genuine international class. Now, as we approach the November Tests, Townsend will be without Stuart Hogg, Duncan Taylor, John Barclay, Richie Gray, Mark Bennett, Zander Fagerson and Tim Swinson, all established stars, for the whole month, and Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell, Sean Maitland and David Denton for the first match against Wales. Yet nobody doubts that there is now sufficient strength in depth to enable him to put out a team capable of winning these matches.

Simon Berghan, second left, is penalised for obstruction and Magnus Bradbury's try against Montpellier is chalked off. Picture: SNS/SRU

Allan Massie: Encouraging signs in European defeats

You can win playing rather badly and you can lose playing rather well. Immediately after a match, the former will seem preferable, on the grounds that a win is a win is a win, and indeed we have all quite often felt happy and relieved when Scotland have won a Six Nations game even in utterly undistinguished style. Yet, when things have settled, a defeat in which the performance was good may be more satisfying than that sort of victory. So, despite losing last weekend, neither Edinburgh nor Glasgow had reason to be in sackcloth and ashes mood, even though both have reason to regret mistakes.

Champions Cup
Centres Alex Dunbar (left) and Huw Jones have impressed for Glasgow Warriors. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

Allan Massie: Alex Dunbar and Huw Jones Scotland’s best centre pairing

One can’t pretend that our clubs’ record in what used to be the Heineken and is now the European Champions Cup is impressive. Sadly, this isn’t surprising. As I feel obliged repeatedly to point out in this column, Scottish rugby has always had to make consistent improvement simply to stand still and not fall further behind our competitors.

Rugby union
Henry Pyrgos: Flying high in scrum-half snakes and ladders. Picture: SNS/SRU.

Allan Massie: High kick to the middle may not be so left-field

‘I’ve never seen a Garryowen from your own 22,” someone at Philiphaugh remarked to me last Saturday as we watched an intermittently lively Selkirk beat a Kelso team who had the greater share of possession, but couldn’t really be said to have enjoyed it. The comment rather surprised me because these days it’s quite usual to see the ball booted from the 22 into the midfield rather than into touch. And I suppose the high kick down the middle may be correctly regarded as a Garryowen.

Rugby union
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend doesn't have full control over his players. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS/SRU

Allan Massie: Stars need time off to hit heights on world stage

Ronan O’Gara was this week inducted into World Rugby’s Hall of Fame, the 12th Irishman to receive this honour. Like most honour lists, selection is a bit capricious. Ireland’s full-back and Lions captain, Tom Kiernan, is there, but not Ken Scotland, though Kiernan himself, interviewed on the day he won his 50th Irish cap (a record then), said that Ken Scotland was the greatest full-back he had played against: “it was an honour to be on the same field”.


Allan Massie: Drop goals not just for last seconds of games

So Glasgow, in what was a somewhat careless, even ragged, performance contrived to come away from Galway with a bonus point thanks to Stuart Hogg’s very late drop goal. The drop goal has rather gone out of fashion, so it was good that he remembered it’s still a part of rugby, and worth what is sometimes a rather easy three points. Often it seems as if it is only the rather old-fashioned sort of fly-half – Duncan Weir, for instance – who remembers that it is often possible to score points that way.

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