Expectations high as pro teams need to repay SRU investment

THE opening weekend of action in the RaboDirect PRO12 did not bring the dream start that Scottish rugby hoped for and a call for swift and significant improvement has come from the players themselves.

A summer of spending – new investment in the playing squads and in the Glasgow Warriors’ new ground at Scotstoun, has sucked over £3 million out of the SRU’s finances on top of the near-£10m already invested in the professional game. In return, new SRU chief executive Mark Dodson expects teams to contest for silverware and bring new fans to the pro game.

That money cannot be translated into wins overnight but Edinburgh had enough quality with their internationalists back in the side to overcome a Munster team missing their Test core at Murrayfield on Saturday night. They were rusty, and that was inevitable with six key performers playing their first match of the season but, despite improved physicality, flashes of brilliance and three fine tries finished by Tim Visser there was a lack of consistency to their play – which the Irishmen seized upon to claim a 23-18 victory.

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Glasgow showed even less in their lacklustre defeat to an Ulster side also missing a handful of key internationalists, taking an age to find a rhythm at Ravenhill. When they finally did and were on the verge of a comeback at 15-10 down, they shot themselves in the foot with daft errors to lose 18-10 and leave without even a bonus point.

Visser admitted that it was difficult to know how much to savour a rare hat-trick amid the emotions of a defeat. He said: “We dominated up front, were winning the physical battles around the field and were scoring tries which was brilliant. But that doesn’t tell the whole story of the game because we were losing ball at crucial moments and leaked a few easy tries, which also didn’t tell the story of the game because I thought we were quite good in defence.

“I have very mixed feelings. There is a lot of good stuff to take away but we have to hold on to the ball to win games like this. It’s happened before. We’ve done it a few times, where we’ve scored a few tries and not won the game, and it’s hugely frustrating. We have to move on to next week and there are a lot of positives to take, and we have to take them. But we’re in a completely different season this year. We have made some massive signings and have our whole team together at the start of the season, which we didn’t have last year.

“[Coach] Michael Bradley said this at the end of the game as well, that last year we’d have said ‘tough game, we need on to work on this, but this year that’s just not good enough’.

“The team that was put out there needs to put games like that away. We are finally winning the upfront battles not just in the scrum but in the phase play, and you can win games if you dominate physically against Munster, Leinster and in big games, and we did that, but then didn’t hold on to the ball.

“But, at the same time, that’s an easy fix. Keep hold of the ball, no stupid off-loads, a few things in the rucks and we’re flying. There is massive potential that we need to take advantage of.”

Glasgow are in a different place, with new coaches in Gregor Townsend and Matt Taylor, introducing new ideas in attack and defence, and there is an inevitability about that taking time to bed in.

The Warriors won only once in their four September games last season and went on to reach the league semi-finals, but Townsend knows that that was during a World Cup and that he has greater resources than did Lineen.

“I was particularly disappointed with our discipline,” he said. “When you concede 16 penalties you are going to struggle in a game like that because it gives easy field position to the opposition.

“After a couple of penalties you’re risking a yellow card and it was unfortunate for Tommy Seymour that he was the one to go off, but it is tough at this level of rugby to defend with 14 players.

“Then the interception came just when we were coming back into the game and looking better in attack in the second half. That was very disappointing. I was pleased with the effort the boys put in even after that interception to get back to within five points – they were working hard and attacking on the 22 when another intercept came – and you could say that those little turning points didn’t fall our way, but we must be better in our discipline and set-piece. The way we want to play is going to the fourth and fifth phase when the defence is struggling – you saw a great finish when we got quick ball, and well played to Tommy [Seymour] going back to Ravenhill.

“We competed well at the tackle area, our low tackling was excellent and the way we attacked in the second half once we generated go-forward ball and held our depth was good, but you can’t play without the ball and if you keep giving the opposition penalties. Ulster are an impressive team and we know they will get better as this was only the first game of the season and they have a lot key players to come back, but we’ll get better too.”