We have all over the years criticised the powers-that-be at Murrayfield, sometimes with good reason, sometimes without. We should also be ready to praise them, and the news that one of Scotland’s World Cup warm-up matches next summer will be against Georgia in Tbilisi is to be praised. Some countries speak of the need for the Tier One nations to encourage the emerging ones, but most give only lip-service to the idea. Well, last summer Scotland played a Test in Fiji, against that talented rugby nation starved of home internationals against the Six Nations countries or the Big Three of the Southern Hemisphere. Fiji, one might add, would surely have a higher ranking if they had the chance to play more home games. Instead their Tests against Tier One countries are away matches – and we know how hard it is to win away from home. Now Scotland are giving the improving Georgians a home game. Eddie Jones may have imported the Georgian pack to give his England one scrum practice before this year’s Calcutta Cup, but England have never deigned to go to Tbilisi; nor, I fear, are they likely to do so in the near future.
Never mind. The RFU and Eddie Jones do have their moments of humility. They have just selected Brad Shields from the Hurricanes for their tour of South Africa. His English qualification is a good one , though he hasn’t yet played any club rugby in England, but this isn’t my point, which is that he is a New Zealander who has opted for England because he has given up any hope of being an All Black. So Eddie Jones is tacitly admitting that a player not considered good enough to be an All Black is better than almost all English flankers
Some of us are entitled to be amused by this, given the way that English journalists have sneered at Scotland’s selection of John Hardie and other Antipodeans. We may be less amused to see the name of Cameron Redpath, pictured right, in Jones’s squad for South Africa. Young Redpath plays for Sale Sharks, but as the son of Melrose’s Bryan, former Scotland captain, now coach of our under-20s, we can’t but think he is about to pull on the wrong jersey. Still it’s the young man’s choice. He has lived in England most of his life, though I think he was born in France when “Basil” was playing for Narbonne – which would have given him a three-way choice. Meanwhile the topsy-turvy nature of qualification rules is illustrated by the sons of that redoubtable Scotland prop, George Graham, with the elder Gary apparently choosing to be English, the younger Guy in Scotland’s under-20 squad for the Junior World Cup.
Topsy-turvy might be a fair description of last Saturday’s Munster-Edinburgh match at Thomond Park, if only because Edinburgh dominated the game but contrived to lose it. A botched lineout gave Munster one try, an outrageous piece of skill from Simon Zebo another, while Edinburgh scored one excellent try, but mucked up several chances of scoring more, on one occasion by ignoring a three-to-one advantage in the Munster 22. I suppose a fair summary would be that the game showed how far Edinburgh have come since Richard Cockerill became their coach – and how far they still have to go. Munster were very ordinary in a strangely subdued Thomond Park, but one always felt that they knew how to win this sort of game and Edinburgh don’t yet.
Leinster are surely favourites to beat Racing 92 in today’s European Champions Cup final. They have been the most complete club side in the northern hemisphere this year, and it is very hard to spot any weakness in their team. Racing on the other hand have been very in-and-out. Though they stand second in the Top 14 they haven’t often sparkled. Sparkle is of course often missing from finals. Leinster can sparkle like nobody else, but they can play a very conservative game too, and often indeed do so. Nobody is better than Leinster at retaining possession. They are happy to play dull one-pass take-the tackle – recycle – one pass etc rugby, till they spot the moment to be ambitious. So they frustrate the opposition, and frustrated teams – not only French ones – concede penalties. Still anything can happen in a final.
Talking of finals, I am puzzled – even baffled- by the decision that next year’s Guinness Pro14 final will be played at Celtic Park.
Why on earth should rugby hire the ground of the richest football club in Scotland? And why indeed go to a football ground at all? This year’s final is at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, as was last year’s, 2016’s at Murrayfield. What’s wrong with Wales (or indeed with Italy)? Don’t the Welsh fans deserve a final? Don’t they want one?