Allan Massie: Edinburgh and Glasgow European results heartening - but Ireland still show us up

Over the years there have been more disappointing European weekends than happy ones. So last week’s tally – one victory, one narrow defeat – was better than most, especially encouraging when one considers the quality of the opposition.

Henry Pyrgos of Edinburgh Rugby, right, and Ramiro Moyano of Edinburgh Rugby celebrate on the final whistle during the Heineken Challenge Cup match between Saracens and Edinburgh Rugby.
Henry Pyrgos of Edinburgh Rugby, right, and Ramiro Moyano of Edinburgh Rugby celebrate on the final whistle during the Heineken Challenge Cup match between Saracens and Edinburgh Rugby.

Saracens may not be quite as strong as they were two or three years ago, but they are still sitting near the top of the English Premiership. So for Edinburgh to go to StoneX Stadium and win is quite an achievement. If Saracens were missing a few of their first choice XV, notably their captain Owen Farrell, Edinburgh were without Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn, Jamie Ritchie and Bill Mata. There is more strength in depth than there used to be.

Glasgow picked up a losing bonus point against La Rochelle – not bad, considering that La Rochelle are recognized as one of the two or three hardest teams to beat on their home ground.

All the same enthusiasm should be tempered. This was a fair weekend for us. Ireland’s was miles better. All four Irish provinces won their matches. One takes a Leinster victory for granted, but for Connacht to thrash Stade Francais, Ulster to win away to Clermont Auvergne, and, especially Munster, with, six or seven youngsters owing to Covid issues in their team to beat Wasps away 35-14 demonstrates the current strength in depth of Irish rugby.

It’s worth dwelling on this, however painful it may be. Scotland and Ireland were in much the same position when the game went professional, now a quarter of a century back. Today Ireland are streets ahead of us, with a record and a strength in depth that we can only wonder at and envy. No doubt Ireland has some advantages we lack: more public and political support, a television station – RTE – that gives full coverage to the game, for instance. But, whatever the reason, the judgement is inescapable. The IRFU has done a much better job of developing the game than the SRU has. All the press releases from Murrayfield proudly announcing new or continuing commercial deals can’t disguise this truth.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

The new omicron Covid variant is already disrupting the early stages of the European Cups and will sadly continue to do so for some time, Leinster having had to cede their away match against Montpellier being the latest casualty. Still, what one had thought the somewhat unsatisfactory structure of the preliminary rounds, which sees 16 of 24 clubs going through to the first knock-out stage, may actually be justified. In what has been the regular format, eight out of 24 went through to the quarter-finals .

Glasgow have managed to field all but one of the XV that started against La Rochelle for their match against Exeter. This consistency is rare, and surely to be welcomed. Exeter are now familiar foes and have usually had the measure of Glasgow. But they haven’t been quite a their best this season- so far anyway.

Morale at Scotstoun should have been boosted by the news that Ali Price has extended his contract. He might so easily, now that he has established himself as one of the top half-dozen scrum-halves in the Six Nations countries, have chosen to move elsewhere – for a wider experience and (of course) more money. But, even though coaches may tell us that the departure of a star is an opportunity for someone else, and even though this is indeed true, the fact remains that a club which habitually loses its star players to richer and more glamorous clubs, is condemned to be among the also rans. We have known this to be the case in football for a long time; it is evidently the way things are in professional rugby too.

Ross Thompson, Glasgow’s promising and already accomplished young fly-half, will surely benefit from Price’s loyalty to the club. As a No 10 he is perhaps more in the Johnny Sexton style, rather than the Finn Russell one, but he impresses with almost every match. He has good judgement for one so young, is rarely flustered and varies his game very nicely. It’s a measure of his ability that he is being picked for big games ahead of Duncan Weir. I suppose Adam Hastings is still first reserve to Finn Russell. It would be no surprise if it isn’t long before Ross Thompson nudges ahead of him.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

A message from the Editor: Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers. If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.