‘I’ve never seen a Garryowen from your own 22,” someone at Philiphaugh remarked to me last Saturday as we watched an intermittently lively Selkirk beat a Kelso team who had the greater share of possession, but couldn’t really be said to have enjoyed it. The comment rather surprised me because these days it’s quite usual to see the ball booted from the 22 into the midfield rather than into touch. And I suppose the high kick down the middle may be correctly regarded as a Garryowen.
Some of us oldies sigh or groan when the ball is kicked out of defence downfield rather than into touch. The response is understandable. It has always seemed the safe option to put the ball out of play. It’s true, of course, that, at the professional or leading amateur level, you will probably surrender possession at the line-out, but at least you do so with your defensive structure in place. On the other hand, the downfield kick, especially when sent into the middle, risks inviting a dangerous counter-attack and, sometimes, the invitation is gratefully accepted. As against that, keeping the ball in play by kicking downfield rather than into touch opens the possibility of a turnover and counter-attack if the chase is good. In short, what gets old-timers groaning and moaning may be a sensible attacking option. Sometimes anyway.
Last season, Glasgow were badly beaten up front in important matches by, for example, Exeter, Montpellier and Leinster in the Champions Cup and by Scarlets in the Pro14 semi-final. So there has, I would guess, been some apprehension among supporters at the failure to recruit any powerful beast over the summer. This week however, the club co-captain, Ryan Wilson, while acknowledging that things had too often gone wrong up front last year, expressed his confidence that the same players could put things right this season. Well, the Glasgow forwards certainly dominated the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last week, completely snuffing out the opposition in the second half. But I don’t know what this proves. While it is certainly remarkable to see a Scottish pack dominant against a South African one – indeed something that, once upon a time, few of us would ever have expected to witness – it’s also true that The Cheetahs are a flighty bunch who don’t seem to revel in the close-quarter stuff.
Glasgow should maintain their 100 per cent season record against the Southern Kings today in the second leg of their South African tour. Dave Rennie seemed to express his confidence by giving Johnny Gray a day off and restricting Callum Gibbins to bench duty where he will be sitting alongside Rob Harley, who has also been in outstanding form this month. It’s good to see Huw Jones fit again. I think after this game his appearances for Glasgow will be catching up with those he had made for Scotland. On the other hand, the news that Stuart Hogg will be out for ten to 12 weeks takes some of the gloss off Glasgow’s fine start. It will mean missing the opening rounds of the Champions Cup, just the sort of games in which Hogg’s explosive ability to create something out of what looks like nothing can be invaluable. With Finn Russell now in Paris and Hogg on the injury list, Glasgow’s ability to do the unexpected and brilliant is just that bit less, quite a big bit, actually.
Edinburgh got a win against Connacht last week, which was a relief after two narrow defeats. I don’t know what they can hope for a from a visit to Dublin. Leinster seemed to be getting into their stride last week and a cynic, looking at the Edinburgh team that has been named, might say that Richard Cockerill isn’t expecting too much from the match. The cynic might, of course, be wrong, as cynics so often are.
Meanwhile, at both clubs the jockeying for the No 9 jersey goes on. It would be interesting to know how Dave Rennie rates Ali Price, George Horne and the Australian import Nick Frisby. It wouldn’t surprise me if young Horne had just got his nose in front, but Ali Price looked very good, in commanding form and coming back to his best, against The Cheetahs.
Back at Murrayfield, I guess that Henry Pyrgos would be first choice to start any big game, but the surprising thing to me is that Sean Kennedy now appears to be next in line, surprising because, last season, when Sam Hidalgo-Clyne was still at Edinburgh, Kennedy sometimes seemed a forgotten man, while Nathan Fowles ended the season flying high, in excellent form and first choice 9 ahead of Hidalgo-Clyne. Well, there are usually games of snakes-and-ladders for scrum-halves.