Allan Massie: Super 6 ticked boxes but it’s an opportunity missed

Retiring South Africa winger Bryan Habana. Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Retiring South Africa winger Bryan Habana. Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images
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Response to this week’s news about the SRU’s “Super 6” must surely be “we’ll have to wait and see”. No doubt the members of the panel, chaired by Sir Bill Gammell, who had the task of assessing the twelve bidding clubs, and selecting the Six that will set sail on the uncharted ocean of officially approved semi-pro rugby, will have adhered scrupulously to the criteria they were handed. Nevertheless, it seems wrong – even ridiculous – that three of the “chosen six” are Edinburgh clubs, that there is no Glasgow one, and that Stirling County is the most northerly club selected. For years we have bewailed the narrow base of Scottish rugby. Now Ayr is to be the only Super 6 club more than a drive and a chip from Murrayfield. This is a weird way to grow the game.

It would have been more sensible to my mind to have said that, not only should all four traditional districts be represented, but that there should be no more than one club from any city. As it is, while each of the six selected clubs doubtless came up with a proposal that ticked lots of boxes, the outcome of the process is going to do nothing to stimulate interest in rugby north of the River Tay. This looks to be not only a missed opportunity, but plain daft.

Edinburgh did themselves proud in beating Glasgow last week. Their pack thoroughly mastered Glasgow’s in the set scrum, the line-out and the carrying game. Indeed the Glasgow pack were so outplayed that it was remarkable that the try score was level, all three Glasgow tries featuring Finn Russell’s sublime skill, the first also DTH van der Merwe’s wonderful balance. Now all we need (all!) is for Edinburgh to translate their Murrayfield form to the somewhat inhospitable Thomond Park in Limerick. Whatever happens there this afternoon it’s clear that Richard Cockerill has worked wonders with Edinburgh, and equally clear on the evidence of the last few weeks that Edinburgh have made a mistake in not finding the means of retaining Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.

In which context I would think Cockerill’s suggestion that one of Glasgow’s three scrum-halves should be transferred to Edinburgh is a non-starter. Given that two of the trio – Henry Pyrgos, Ali Price and George Horne – are likely to be in the Scotland squad in the Autumn and Spring, given that scrum-halves rarely play for more than an hour now, and given the possibility of injuries, I would imagine that Dave Rennie would resist any attempt to prise one of his three 9s away.

The end of the season is departure time. Connacht rugby will seem strange without John Muldoon, though teams visiting the Sports Ground in Galway will scarcely regret his absence. He captained Connacht to the Pro12 title – something that few even in the West of Ireland would have thought possible a dozen years ago. His career also offers a lesson: a pro club benefits from having a leader who is not required by the national squad, or who is at a stage of his career when he is only on its fringe. Al Kellock eventually played that role in Glasgow. Obviously it can be filled by an overseas player, Isa Nacewa, another moving on this year, being an example. One wonders if Leinster’s talented youngsters who have flourished this year while Irish internationalists have been absent, would have done so well, come on half so quickly, without Nacewa’s example and influence.

Here Glasgow are saying goodbye to Pat MacArthur and Ryan Grant. MacArthur isn’t a big man as hookers today go, but he has been a splendidly committed and skilful playerwho, in these days of numerous international matches and lavish use of replacements is probably unlucky to have had only a handful of Scotland caps. Ryan Grant looked like being Scotland’s loosehead for years when he was called up to join the Lions in Australia in 2013. A change in the scrum law seemed not to suit him, and his career rather fell away. Still, at his best he was a mighty good rugby player. Ally Hogg, now aged 35, is also hanging up his boots. It’s nine years or so since he played for Scotland. It always astonished me how quickly he fell off the radar. Joining a struggling Newcastle Falcons probably didn’t help, but he had played consistently well, and sometimes outstandingly, while winning 48 Scottish caps. Still he’s been a very important club player, scoring the winning try against Leicester last week to put Newcastle into a play-off position for the first time in ages.

It’s also goodbye to Bryan Habana, master of the interception (as Scotland more than once discovered to the embarrassment of more than one player). There have been lots of brilliant wing three-quarters since Habana, left, was first capped in 2005, none better. 67 tries in 124 internationals, winning the World Cup with South Africa and the Top 14 and European Cup with Toulon – what a record, what a player!