If Leinster need Champions Cup title to avoid 'failures' tag can same be said for Scotland in Six Nations?

Two more talented teams than previous generations with nothing to show for it

Leinster are such a brilliant – and competent – team, contributing at least two-thirds of the Ireland Test squad, that it comes as a bit of a shock to be told thet they are underachievers.. “Jings”, a Scot might say, we’d be happy to be under-achieving like that. After all, if it is now five years since they last won the European Champions Cup, losing indeed in the last two finals. Neither Glasgow nor Edinburgh has got that far ever. Still, some words from Bernard Jackman, former Leinster and Ireland hooker, have had me thinking.

“The frustrating thing is that they’ve probably been the most consistent team in Europe for most of the past five years, playing some of the best rugby – till May. They’re a better team than previous generations, but have nothing to show for it. That’s the fear for them: if they don’t start converting their talent into European trophies, it will be a failure..”

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It was that last sentence that stopped me in my tracks. I’d been musing on a jealous anti-Leinster piece, remarking among other things they had shown a lack of respect for the URC League by sending a callow inexperienced squad to South Africa for two matches in a fortnight, so that their top-squad could be rested ahead of their Champions Cup semi-final against Northampton Saints in Dublin this afternoon. I might have gone on to talk about a lack of respect for the South African public who might have been eager to see the top Irish club and even perhaps bought tickets in advance. Indeed, yes, a clear case of “sod the public”.

Leinster's Ross Byrne reacts on the final whistle after losing the Champions Cup final to La Rochelle last year. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)Leinster's Ross Byrne reacts on the final whistle after losing the Champions Cup final to La Rochelle last year. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Leinster's Ross Byrne reacts on the final whistle after losing the Champions Cup final to La Rochelle last year. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

But I was made to pause by Jackman’s words. They had a somewhat familiar ring: a better team than previous generations but with nothing to show for it... If they don’t start converting their talent, it will be a failure…

Well, you will see where I’m going. I am accustomed to saying that about the present Scotland team and indeed squad that is – and has been for a few years – the best of this century. Well, I hold to that opinion. Nevertheless Scotland has not won the Six Nations and performed disappointingly in two World Cups. Of course, since there are now Cups for every international, Scottish captains have collected a few and of course have kept hold of the most venerable of them – the Calcutta Cup, something which allows many of us to feel that no year is that bad when the Calcutta Cup is kept at Murrayfield. Still it’s sad to think that Finn Russell may end his career with no Six Nations title – less than his talent deserves.

Yet, still brooding on the suggestion that the present outstanding Leister team may have “nothing to show” – no Champions Cup – for it, I think of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Good sides at present, but with little in the way of trophies to show for it. Perhaps Glasgow will win the URC Cup this year. Both are stuffed with international players – just as Leinster are. Glasgow can field a XV with at least thirteen current international players, Edinburgh with at least 10. Neither clubs has as much reserve strength as Leinster, but few have as much. Both are having a fair season, but surely this should be the case every year. Yet it isn’t.

One can of course turn the coin over and say, as I have indeed often insisted in this column, that, given the failure of the SRU’s youth development programmes, given level of public support – Ireland’s second province Munster can attract a crowd bigger than Glasgow’s and Edinburgh’s combined – it’s a remarkable achievement to reach and maintain our present level. There’s nothing new in our present Scotland side’s “not quite able to reach the top” status. Three Grand Slams in the old amateurs days; few than 60 players would have taken part in these twelve matches – 1926, 1984, 1990. And no championship since the Five Nations became Six. An awful lot of very fine players missed out on anything but one-match triumphs. Still, it irks one to be lagging well behind Ireland, for neither Edinburgh or Glasgow to have a record comparable to Leinster’s or Munster’s.



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