1872 Cup clash gives Richie Gray the chance to play his way into the Scotland squad for Twickenham
Playing at half-past seven on a bleak January evening when the pitch is frozen and the thermometer still falling can’t be much fun, especially for the poor chaps stuck out on the wing or at full-back. Anyone who relished the prospect of playing that night would be a fairly remarkable character. Looking at the forecast for Glasgow as I write this on Friday morning, the prospect for Saturday’s re-arranged match at quarter-past five looks more agreeable, temperature around 5 or 6 and a bit breezy with perhaps a spot of light rain – nothing to deter spectators if they weren’t already forbidden to turn up.
Still after weeks of depressing news, this has been a rather better one for even the merry band of glass-more-than-half-empty followers of Scottish rugby. Edinburgh fans may even be rubbing their hands, not only to keep the circulation going. There was first the announcement that Jamie Ritchie has now, like Hamish Watson, signed a new contract . Both were in demand elsewhere. The departure of one would have been depressing. If both had sought new pastures the outlook for the club would have been wretched. It would have seemed as if nothing could prevent the Scottish clubs from entering a long period of decline.
What’s needed now is for Magnus Bradbury to become the player he has always promised to be, and Edinburgh would have a home-made back row as good as any club in the Pro14.
Edinburgh are not only keeping hold of Watson and Ritchie. They have also recruited James Lang and Glen Young from Harlequins. Lang looked pretty good in the November Nations Cup. Less has been seen of Young since his under-20 international days, but he’s a Jed-Forest boy and Jethart folk are not known to be shrinking violets. He is a late-ish developer, 26 now, still however younger than the great Finlay Calder was when he was translated from being a very good club player to an outstanding international one, captain of both Scotland and the Lions.
Things have not been so busy at the other end of the M8, but the return of Duncan Weir to his home club is unquestionably good news. He may not have Finn Russell’s imagination and flair – but who does? – or Adam Hastings’ sense of adventure - but he may be just the sort of steadying influence Glasgow are in need of, while also mentoring young Ross Thompson who will be making his first start for the club against Edinburgh. It’s also good to have a fly-half who remembers that a drop goal is a comparatively easy way of scoring points.
For both clubs the rest of this strange season looks like being, first, a holding one and then a time for re-building. The Six Nations, assuming the tournament goes ahead as scheduled, will of course deprive both of perhaps ten of the coaches’ preferred starting XV. One supposes that Gregor Townsend already has a clear idea of his preferred XV and replacements for the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham. Even so, this match at Scotstoun gives a number of players the chance to invite Gregor to think again.
In the first game Richie Gray and Scott Cummings dominated the lineout. Another such performance might see the elder Gray getting a bench place at Twickenham. On the other hand both Edinburgh locks, Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis, who is returning after being out, injured, since October, may have something to say about that.
The next two weeks should have been European Cup matches, but these are now off. Edinburgh are due to be away to Zebre on the 23rd. It is doubtful if that fixture will be fulfilled. So for almost all the players, it seems likely that this will be their last match before the Six Nations.
Meanwhile, the English Premiership has chosen not to switch games from later dates to fill the gap caused by the abandonment of these two rounds of European competition. So it looks as if, bizarre as it may seem, when the two teams line up to sing the anthems in an empty Twickenham, none of 30 thirty players will have had a match for at least three weeks. On the English side none of their Saracens, bar Billy Vunipola, will have played for almost two months. That goes for Scotland’s Sean Maitland too of course. That said, Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe, his rivals for a place on the wing at Twickenham, are listed as injured and missing from Edinburgh’s team-sheet at Scotstoun. Even the immediate future is murky and It might be wise to conclude that none of us knows anything.
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