The Pro12 final was a wonderful advertisement for the game and for the quality of the league itself. Connacht were outstanding and the brilliant audacity of their play made the disappointment of Glasgow’s defeat in Galway the previous week that much easier to bear. The poor relations of Irish rugby are now champions, and one wonders if Robbie Henshaw is regretting his decision taken a few months ago to transfer from Connacht to Leinster. Perhaps not. The Ireland coach, Joe Schmidt, still doesn’t seem that impressed by Connacht. There were only two Connacht players, one of them Henshaw, in his original selection of the squad to tour South Africa, though, on account of injuries, two more have been added since.
Connacht’s achievement might serve as a wake-up call to Edinburgh Rugby. Edinburgh have had another mediocre season, and there are many who think that their South African coach Alan Solomons is lucky not to have been shown the door. It’s not merely that Edinburgh still languish in the lower half of the league table. It’s that they have usually played very dull rugby. Perhaps the prospect of a move from the empty cavern of Murrayfield to Myreside will stimulate them. Perhaps some of their young players will add the sparkle that is badly needed. The four Pro12 semi-finalists all play enterprising rugby; Edinburgh don’t.
In this context, the future of the South African-based centre Hew Jones, recently called up for Scotland’s tour of Japan, is interesting. His selection wasn’t a great surprise; one had heard that he was on the SRU radar. But what of his future? Is he going to cut his links with South Africa and settle here? If so, will he be assigned to Edinburgh? He was born in Edinburgh. So his Scottish eligibility is not in question, even though his surname and the spelling of his Christian name suggest Welsh ancestry, and he was educated in England before choosing to go to university in South Africa. Glasgow are well stocked with centres; Edinburgh aren’t.
Meanwhile, the breakdown of the SRU’s deal with London Scottish is both disappointing and puzzling. We all know that with only two pro clubs in Scotland there is a bit of a log-jam regarding the development of young players. So the idea of the SRU supplying London Scottish with players who might benefit more from experience in the professional set-up of the English championship than from turning out from time to time for amateur or semi-pro Scottish Premiership clubs seemed a good idea. It’s not clear why it hasn’t worked out. From London Scottish one hears that too many of the players supplied were too young or weren’t good enough; from Murrayfield that the set-up in Richmond was insufficiently professional. Both complaints may be justified. Both surely could have been addressed. It doesn’t to the outsider seem sensible to abandon a good idea merely because it hasn’t immediately worked out. With good will on both sides improvements can usually be made. And if the good will has evaporated, whose fault is that?
Since Mark Dodson became the SRU chief executive, there has been much to admire and approve of. The tie-up with London Scottish also seemed praiseworthy. Now its sudden ending is sadly reminiscent of the inconsistency which bedevilled the early years of professionalism here: the cutting of the four regions to two (which for a little gave us Glasgow Caledonian and Edinburgh Reivers), then the revival of the Borders Reivers as a third pro team, followed soon by the abrupt decision to scrap it again.
One recognises that finance is still a problem – financial considerations very nearly had the SRU pulling out of the IRB World Sevens circuit a year ago. Nevertheless the tie-up with London Scottish looked like a comparatively cheap way of broadening the very narrow base of Scottish professional rugby. Pulling out of it looks like a blunder, and a very inconsiderate one too, for it has seemingly left London Scottish in the position of having only half a squad of players signed for next season.
This season seems to have gone on for ever, and with summer tours it’s not over yet. The results in the World Cup and the Six Nations made it Scotland’s best for at least ten years, arguably since 1999. Vern Cotter now has the makings of a good side. Nevertheless our Six Nations record was still in debit: won 2, lost 3. So we have some way to go, and, as I have often remarked, in international and club rugby, we still have to run very hard not to fall behind our competitors.