Back in the amateur era Scottish rugby held a national trial match which pitched the probables in blue against the possibles in white and yesterday saw a re-enactment. The favourites Edinburgh duly won but the underdogs in white were doing a lot more than making up the numbers.
Winger Darcy Graham was probably the find of last season and, if he does nothing else in his rugby life, he will dine out on stories of that Calcutta Cup comeback at Twickenham for years to come. The little speedster scored another scorching brace yesterday, the first and the last tries of the match but, like a good many of his fellow international backs (and both of yesterday’s teams) Graham is a threat with ball in hand, something of a liability without it.
When Scotland fell to Japan in the World Cup, the Hawick man was at least partly responsible for one opposition score and yesterday his defensive frailties were almost as obvious as his undoubted attacking prowess.
DTH van der Merwe ran over the top of him after just eight minutes and Huw Jones had already ripped Edinburgh’s defence wide apart, picking a canny line between Graham and Jamie Ritchie. The winger was also at fault when George Horne, the only person on the pitch smaller than him, targeted the winger to score from short range on 66 minutes.
Nowhere was yesterday’s head-to-head challenge more important than in the battle of the hookers which will determine who wears the No 2 jersey in the Six Nations and may yet decide who captains Scotland.
With Fraser Brown, pictured, throwing in, Glasgow lost their first lineout and another two in the first half alone, one of which led to an amazing break by Duhan van der Merwe and Edinburgh’s opening score. His wayward arrows undermine Brown’s bid to start for Scotland but Edinburgh’s big men compete more aggressively on the opposition throw than Glasgow do and the tactic paid off. Stuart McInally, the Edinburgh hooker, left the field injured on 36 minutes, but not before overcooking one throw himself.
Alongside the hookers were two props hoping to claim the No 3 shirt when Scotland play Ireland in Dublin in little over a month.
WP Nel and Zander Fagerson are at opposite ends of their careers, ten years separating the pair. The youthful Fagerson has work to do because he still has a reputation as someone who collapses the scrum but Nel has lost the scrummaging edge that helped Scotland excel at the 2015 World Cup and he offers less in the loose than his rival who is one of the few genuine ball carriers in the national squad.
All four locks started this game in contention for the trip to Dublin but neither of the winning pair advanced their cause yesterday.
Following that Van der Merwe break in the first half, Ben Toolis threw the worst pass that you can imagine that could have undermined the entire move. His partner Grant Gilchrist is one of those frustrating players who promises more than he delivers. We have seen him play well but it doesn’t happen very often and, on a day he needed to front up, the big lock allowed his Glasgow rival Scott Cummings a soft second half try, again from short-range. Defence is not an optional extra.
And finally there are 11 capped Scotland centres currently playing rugby at the top of the game here or in England and France. You can’t help but feel that some of them were discarded a little too quickly upon the whim of a coach or following a couple of defensive mistakes so it was nice to see one of these forgotten figures lighting up Murrayfield with the best move of the match and showing unexpected pace while doing so.
Matt Scott’s in-to-out break from an attacking Edinburgh lineout just before the hour mark was sublime and thoroughly deserved the try that referee Mike Adamson denied him. He is a long shot for Dublin but Scott may yet line up inside Jones, another in the international wilderness.