Allan Massie: Repairs needed at Glasgow as inter-city rivals rise

Glasgow's Tim Swinson is tackled by Rob Evans of Scarlets during the Guinness Pro14 semi-final. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Glasgow's Tim Swinson is tackled by Rob Evans of Scarlets during the Guinness Pro14 semi-final. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Impossible to pretend that Glasgow’s defeat last week wasn’t very disappointing. Things went wrong from the start with Ryan Wilson’s hot-headed concession of a penalty straight from the kick-off. Wilson is a fine player and, by all accounts, a good and respected leader, but this was daft and irresponsible.

A minute or so later Glasgow were seven points down, and, though they played some good rugby immediately afterwards, the Scarlets were always the better side.

There were too many lapses in concentration, and too many missed first-time tackles. Peter Horne’s careless miss of an easy conversion which would have put Glasgow only seven points behind with two or three minutes to go, and offered the chance of improbably taking the tie into extra time, summed up Glasgow’s performance.

To cap it all we have the Scarlets’ complaints about the artificial pitch and grass burns suffered by their players. It’s usually the losing side that complains about the pitch, as indeed about the referee. Maybe something needs to be done about it. On the other hand no one apparently has raised these concerns before, perhaps because precious few matches are played in Glasgow after several days of hot sun.

It’s clear that, on the see-saw of reputations, Edinburgh have gone up and Glasgow down, and the same may be said of their coaches. There were some doubts when Richard Cockerill was given the Edinburgh job, none at all when Dave Rennie got the Glasgow one. Now Cockerill has had a promising first season in which Edinburgh have improved and shown signs of becoming battle-hardened, while Glasgow seem to have gone backwards.

Of course it’s easy to exaggerate a coach’s influence, just as it is with football managers. Nevertheless, Rennie is likely to be exposed to close scrutiny and perhaps harsher criticism in his second season. There will be some to say, perhaps unfairly, that it was still Gregor Townsend’s team which shone so brightly in the league last autumn, and Rennie’s which fell away in the spring. As against that one might observe that Callum Gibbins, whom Rennie, pictured, brought from New Zealand, was outstanding in the autumn, much less effective when he came back after being off injured for a couple of months.

More pertinent perhaps was Glasgow’s evident need of another powerful ball-carrying back-row man. Still, it’s clear that some sort of reconstruction work is going to be needed at Scotstoun, if Glasgow aren’t to suffer a loss of well-earned esteem.

Though Sam Johnson, Nick Grigg and Peter Horne have all played well, at times anyway, in midfield, I think they have missed the regular presence of Alex Dunbar in attack as well as, very obviously, in defence. The trouble, sadly, is that he has scarcely been able to play even a couple of consecutive games for two seasons now.

Injuries have come in various forms, which makes one fear that he may have been asking too much of his body. Well, he is now out of Scotland’s summer tour, on account of a damaged hamstring. This may be a blessing in disguise. A quiet and restful summer may be what he most needs.

Still the revolving door lets Mark Bennett in, another whose career has stalled largely on account of injury. It’s not so long since one thought that Dunbar at 12 and Bennett at 13 would be as settled a centre partnership as Ireland’s Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll were for years.

Clubs have of course to change their line-up frequently, partly because of the number of games they play, partly to keep squad members happy, but the best international teams nearly always have a settled midfield. Ireland indeed seem to be achieving this again, with Sexton, Henshaw and Ringrose.Vern Cotter and Gregor Townsend have both been frustrated in any attempt to get this. Duncan Taylor, like Dunbar and indeed Bennett, has been absent, injured, more often than present, fit.

Of course summer tours, like the one Scotland are about to embark on, are by their nature experimental, this year’s more obviously so than some others, in view of the number of senior players being given a few weeks’ rest, in view of the demands to be made by the coming season which will culminate in the World Cup in Japan. So, while the teams for matches against Canada, the USA and Argentina won’t be exactly Scotland A , they may be more like that than like the full, or best, Scotland XV.

This being so, it will be neither surprising nor disgraceful if they lose at least one of these matches. Canada have always been tough opposition at home, the USA are improving (though we have been saying this for almost 20 years now), and even a closer to full strength Scotland team than this summer’s one has always found it devilish hard to win in Argentina.

That said, the tour will be a success if three or four of the younger, scarcely tried players show themselves ready for international rugby.