Chances of European success show exactly where Scotland is in rugby's pecking order

We need to be pragmatic about chances of success – but not despondent

Readers of this column over the years may be weary of my frequent remark that Scottish Rugby has to run very hard to hold our ground and not fall further behind our rivals.

Yet this is how it is, and for my part grow just as weary when I read others complaining of the failure of the national team to win the Six Nations, the Pro clubs to win cups and the age-group sides to win matches. No doubt this is disappointing and it is reasonable to complain sometimes – we may all agree that we should have beaten Italy a few weeks ago, at the same time acknowledging that this is a good Italian team which the previous week had been very unlucky not to beat France away from home.

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Writing this before Glasgow play Harlequins in London, it is quite possible that our interest in the two European Cups may end this weekend. It may not of course. Glasgow may have won at The Stoop; they are capable of doing. Likewise, Edinburgh may win at home against Bayonne. But, whatever the results this weekend, you have only to look at the quality of the opposition in both competitions to realise that it would be remarkable if either Scottish team was to lift the cup.

Cameron Redpath is one a handful of Scottish players with a realistic chance of winning the Champions Cup.Cameron Redpath is one a handful of Scottish players with a realistic chance of winning the Champions Cup.
Cameron Redpath is one a handful of Scottish players with a realistic chance of winning the Champions Cup.

It has always been like this. Way back in the amateur days, Scotland won the Grand Slam in 1925 and had to wait 49 years to win another one. Now competition is stiffer than ever before. Slip one step down the ladder and you are in trouble. Consider Wales, one of the greatest rugby nations, whitewashed in the Six Nations this season, now with no team in the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup and only one – the Ospreys – in the Challenge Cup. There are six English clubs in the Champions Cup, but only one – either Exeter or Bath is guaranteed a place in the quarter-final. Neither of them may get beyond that stage, but it’s fair to say that if any Scots pick up a Champions Cup medal, it’s more likely to be Blair Kinghorn with Toulouse or Finn Russell and Cameron Redpath for Bath.

Some may argue that Glasgow and Edinburgh are under-achievers, partly because they both regularly field more internationalists than their opponents. This is quite fair comment, though others may argue that over the years competition for a place in the Scotland team has been less intense than in France, England and recently Ireland. How many Scots would be in a Lions Test XV if one was to be selected this summer. I won’t hazard a guess – we can all play that game – but Scots would surely be outnumbered by Irish ones and probably by English players too. Yet Scotland’s record over the last five years has been better than England's or that of Wales, even though the World Cups have been disappointing for a long time now. It is reasonable for us to hope for success, but not to expect it.,

There is justified concern about our record in age-group rugby, general agreement that there has been something wrong, or at least inadequate, in the development of the next generation of players. One of the failings are probably unavoidable. We draw from a small pool. Watching the under-20s and under-18s this season, I have been impressed by the ability of several young players but we have always drawn from a small pool and our teams are usually over-powered and often over-skilled.

Yet too much shouldn’t be made of this. In the first place international careers are much longer than they used to be and if you get two or three from any one year’s crop you are doing quite well. The real problem probably is the transition from age-group to adult rugby because there is no obviously satisfactory next stage of sufficiently demanding development here, the well-intentioned Super Rugby experiment having failed and been abandoned, while the previous practice of having pro players assigned to the amateur clubs suited neither the clubs or the players.

Still one becomes despondent, only if one expects too much. Looking on the bright side, Glasgow and Edinburgh are much stronger clubs than they were a few years ago – whatever their European results may be this month and – despite losing three of the five Six Nations matches, two of which should have been won, this remains the best Scotland team of since we won the last Five Nations title in 1999.

There are problems but no need for despondency. Next year – who knows?



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