Predictable problems for Scottish rugby in 2014

Comings, goings and too much stuck in the mud, forecasts Iain Morrison

Comings, goings and too much stuck in the mud, forecasts Iain Morrison

THE calendar year 2013 was a disaster off the field as Scottish rugby was beset by scandals, including the suspension of a player for taking performance-enhancing drugs, accusations of assault levelled at four Glasgow professionals and a sexual abuse conviction for one former Scottish international.

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The attendance for the Edinburgh leg of the 1872 Cup derby was the lowest for three years and the reasons were pretty obvious. At £25 for a walk-up adult ticket, it cost far too much and offered far too little. The pesky worms that are disfiguring Murrayfield’s playing surface may be partly to blame but the lowly levels of skill on display were matched by the equally modest ambition shown by the pro teams. Heaven help us when England arrive for the Six Nations.

On a more positive note, Scotland won two matches in the Six Nations for the first time since 2006, but that tells its own story, and the Scottish Rugby Union has conceded that all is not rosy in the garden by announcing a slew of plans to make our game more competitive right across the slate.

It needs to be properly funded and it needs to be approved by the clubs at the annual general meeting, but at least and at last it’s a start. The first step on the road to finding a cure is an admission that you have a problem.

That was 2013. Here are my predictions for 2014 with the warning that I forecast a French Grand Slam 12 months ago and Les Bleus finished bottom of the table with exactly one win… over Scotland.

1 The French will not finish bottom of the Six Nations again. Italy will. The Azzurri’s deep-seated problems make Scotland’s troubles look like small potatoes. If France find a stand-off they should win the tournament although no one will take the Grand Slam.

2 Sir Clive Woodward will make a return to the RFU, although he is more likely to take Rob Andrew’s role as performance director (once he is assured that the national squad are part of his remit) than Stuart Lancaster’s position as head coach. Why else has the knight of the realm been kicking Lancaster in print all year?

3 Richie Gray will rediscover his mojo and take his place in Scotland’s second row alongside his “little” brother Jonny in at least one of Scotland’s 12 upcoming Tests. Cue “Two Shades of Gray” headlines.

4 This year’s Heineken Cup will be won by Clermont… and this year I mean it!

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5 Edinburgh and Glasgow will miss out on the RaboDirect play-offs but London Scottish will make the Championship semi-finals in England. Edinburgh will bring their stand-off Lee Millar back north and look out for the Exiles’ new Nigerian-born, Zimbabwean-raised, Scottish qualified centre Dante Mama.

6 The Welsh will quit the RaboDirect, dropping the Scots, Irish and Italians in the soup and the whole thing will end up in court. One year later they will be back, as if nothing had happened, asking to re-enlist.

7 Jonny Sexton will quit Racing Metro where he has looked about as comfortable as a tighthead in a tutu. It’s not just about the money as the Irish stand-off must have realised while witnessing his team unravel about him.

8 England will beat Wales at Twickenham with something to spare to exact some sort of revenge for last season’s defeat in Cardiff but Stuart Lancaster’s lack of depth in the backs will be exposed on the road.

9 The All Blacks will lose a match next year – maybe more than one.

10 The Heineken Cup shambles will continue with next season’s tournament devoid of the English clubs and with several French big hitters fielding weakened sides.

Let’s hope 2014 will be an altogether happier one for Scottish rugby.