Allan Massie: BBC Scotland's lack of interest in Scottish rugby is deplorable - but what is the SRU doing about it?

A press release from the United Rugby Championship proudly informs me that last weekend’s matches attracted a TV audience of more than a million viewers.

BBC Scotland cameras have been conspicuous by their absence during the opening weeks of the United Rugby Championship. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

“The return to Free-to-Air coverage in the UK and Ireland has been well received with both RTE and BBC Wales recording peak audiences of 308,000 and 267,000 respectively.”

There was of course no mention of BBC Scotland. BBC Scotland is not, it seems, interested in covering Scottish Rugby. Edinburgh were playing in Italy, but Glasgow were at home to the Sharks, playing before a full house of around 8000 spectators,. Anyone elsewhere could watch the game only on a subscription channel. That’s fine for enthusiasts. It does nothing to attract new followers.

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It should be noted that, according to the URC’s figures, more than half the million viewers they boast of were watching on Free-to-Air, more than a quarter of a million on BBC Wales. How many would have watched Glasgow on BBC Scotland if it had been possible to do so?

What is the SRU doing about this? Are those in the offices at Murrayfield content that there is no Free-to-Air TV coverage of matches at Scotstoun and the new mini-Murrayfield with its sponsor’s not very attractive name? Perhaps they are. After all, Murrayfield is sold out for next month’s matches against South Africa and Australia and there will be more full houses for the Six Nations in the Spring. They may even complacently conclude that there is no urgent need to attract more fans, even a new generation of them.

Surely this isn’t so. Surely they have been lobbying BBC Scotland. I accept that it’s difficult, but if BBC Wales and, from this week, BBC Northern Ireland transmit live Rugby, BBC Scotland’s lack of interest in doing so is deplorable. In fact, if the Scottish clubs home matches in the first two rounds of the URC had been transmitted Free-to-Air, the enterprising and exciting way Edinburgh played on the first weekend, Glasgow on the second, couldn’t have failed to stimulate interest and arouse enthusiasm.

Glasgow were brilliant for 50 minutes last week, then rather went to sleep. Edinburgh lost in Italy to a last-minute drop-goal, but, having scored four tries, just as Glasgow had done when losing in Belfast in the first round, came away with two points. Winning away is rarely easy, but, from the point of view of league position, getting bonus points away from home is very important.

The first weeks suggest that we are suddenly rich in half-backs, especially when you consider that Ali Price, who deservedly supplanted Conor Murray as the Lions first choice, hasn’t yet played for Glasgow. At fly-half Ross Thompson has confirmed the very good impression he made in his first season. Duncan Weir, having recovered from a head knock in Belfast, is back on the bench.

As for Edinburgh, it would be ridiculous to offer any judgement on the new coaching regime after only two matches, but there is certainly more sense of adventure and a readiness to spread the ball. As a player Mike Blair was always looking to make things happen and I think he may be instilling that attitude in his team.

The great Carwyn James, coach of the 1971 Lions who won the series in New Zealand, once wrote: “The boring, unthinking coach continually preaches about mistakes. The creative coach expects his players to make mistakes.”

Not too many, of course, you may say, but the truth is that a player who is afraid to make mistakes (because he is afraid of his coach?), will very rarely make anything worthwhile happen. I have the impression that Edinburgh are now less afraid of making mistakes, and, in consequence, playing more daringly and scoring more tries. There were days last season when it seemed that the only way they might ever score a try was by mauling over the line from a few metres out. Of course, that’s worth the same as a length-of-the field try. Perhaps seven points should be awarded for a try that starts in your own 22, six for one that starts between your 22 and the half-way line.

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