Edinburgh deserved their last-second win last week, because, at a disadvantage, down to 14 men, they stuck to it, playing with great determination and some skill. Glasgow, on the other hand, played as if victory was bound to fall into their lap.
It did admittedly almost do so. If Finn Russell’s delicate diagonal hadn’t taken a wicked bounce in the in-goal area, the ball, thereby eluding Lee Jones, they would have been out of sight.
Nevertheless the manner in which they played cost them the game.
One might add that Edinburgh’s ability to survive the early dismissal of their prop Simon Berghan and go on to win has made some of those who said Scotland beat Australia so handsomely only because Australia were down to fourteen men for 43 minutes look pretty silly.
The normally reliable – and very skilful – Peter Horne had the kind of really poor match even very good players have occasionally; Owen Farrell had a comparably bad one in Saracens’ home match against Clermont Auvergne. In Horne’s case, both decision-making and execution were a-gley. It was a surprise that, when Dave Rennie brought Finn Russell on, Horne stayed on the field, moving to 12 with Alex Dunbar coming off.
Glasgow also messed up couple of five-metre scrums just before the interval, going for a pushover try and ineptly losing control of the ball – a ball that I imagine the backs were longing for to create a cushion at an important time.
Still, Edinburgh’s win adds a bit of spice to this afternoon’s return fixture at Scotstoun. It’s impossible to believe that Glasgow will approach the game in a complacent frame of mind. Nor will they need to be reminded that they have lost their last three matches.
As for Edinburgh, another win would suggest that Richard Cockerill has indeed worked a transformation.
This has been the best year for Scotland on the international front for a generation. The Six Nations was satisfying, even if three Murrayfield wins couldn’t quite wipe out the memory of yet another disaster at Twickenham. In the summer we beat Australia in Sydney preparatory to that thumping at Murrayfield, and achieved both these victories in the absence of Stuart Hogg.
Then we ran the All Blacks closer than any Scotland team has done for almost 30 years and, if the referee had seen the New Zealand captain Kieran Read illegally knock the ball out of Jonny Gray’s hands just short of the try-line – as clear an example of a professional foul as can be – well, who knows what the outcome might have been?
Be that as it may, Scotland now stand fifth in the World rankings, which is remarkable when you think of where we were not so long ago, and, importantly, there has been a seamless transition from Vern Cotter to Gregor Townsend as national coach.
It wouldn’t be appropriate – and would be tasteless – to offer that traditional vainglorious Scottish toast – “Wha’s like us?” – but at least any rugby fan who ventures to propose it this Hogmanay won’t be doing so in an ironical or self-mocking spirit.
The results have indeed been good and the style of play exhilarating. Scotland supporters of, say, 30 and under, have never had it this good.
Still, the Six Nations will be every bit as hard as the autumn internationals, harder indeed for we have to go to Cardiff and Dublin. Winning one of these games is surely essential, every bit as essential as beating England at Murrayfield.
It’s foolish to offer predictions, at least till we know who will be fit and who teams may be missing. Still, tempting fate in conversation the other day, I suggested that after two years in charge of England, Eddie Jones may be coming to the end of his honeymoon period.
This is not just because England were somewhat lacklustre in the autumn, it’s also because I have the suspicion that his magic may be wearing off – as magic so often does. “Wishful thinking”, you say; and I fear you may be right.
France are our other guests at Murrayfield and the news that Guy Noves has been sacked as coach and replaced by Jacques Brunel just five or six weeks before the tournament kicks off, doesn’t suggest that France will have an unruffled preparation. Brunel has been doing well as coach of Bordeaux-Begles – but Guy Noves was the most successful French club coach of modern times. One wouldn’t count Brunel’s failure with Italy against him – every coach has failed there since the Five Nations became Six.
Nevertheless, he’s been about for a long time, having been an assistant French coach a dozen years ago. He’s not exactly a new broom.
In any case, the essential problem of French rugby is like the essential problem of English football: the big clubs rule and are indifferent to the success or failure of the national team.