Allan Massie: Exeter is an ideal home for Jonny Gray and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
English club should prove a good career move for Scottish duo
R ugby returns in England this weekend though we have to wait another week before the Guinness Pro14 resumes to bring last season to an end – however odd that sounds – with an inter-city match at Murrayfield. No spectators are likely to be allowed but at least and at last there will be live rugby on the screen. One must hope that all goes well and that Nicola Sturgeon keeps yellow and red cards stowed away in her handbag.
There is of course Scottish interest in the English Premiership, notably at Exeter where Stuart Hogg and Sam Skinner have been joined by Jonny Gray and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. They have arrived there by rather different routes. Jonny has been at Glasgow since 2012 and has made more than 100 appearances for the club; also, of course, 59 for Scotland. Yet he is still only 26 and a number of locks have played their best rugby after the age of 30 – Paul O’Connell and Alun Wyn Jones for instance.
Exeter first tried to entice him south three years ago,and I would think Rob Baxter is a happy man to have landed his catch. The change may be just what Jonny needs at this stage in his career and I reckon that Exeter is the ideal English club for him. Glasgow will undoubtedly miss him, but Scotland may benefit.
Sam Hidalgo-Clyne has been signed as a replacement for the Australian Nic White who has returned home in the hope of reviving his international career.
Career revival is what Sam himself is in search of. It is some time ago now since, playing for Edinburgh, he looked like the next best thing and eventually, one thought , Greig Laidlaw’s most likely successor. He was in Vern Cotter’s 2015 World Cup squad, as the number three scrum-half, behind Laidlaw and Henry Pyrgos. Since then his career has drifted. He lost form, and perhaps confidence, as Edinburgh struggled, and moved to Wales to play for Scarlets. There was competition for the No 9 jersey and he never quite made it his own. Since then there have been only short-term contracts – for Harlequins, Racing 94 (during last year’s World Cup) and Lyon.
He is still only 27. So it would be absurd to say that he is entering the last-chance saloon, and being picked by such a good judge as Rob Baxter must surely give his confidence a boost.
As far as a return to the Scotland team is concerned, he is obviously some way behind the incumbents, Ali Price and George Horne, probably behind Henry Pyrgos too,while younger players, Charlie Shiel at Edinburgh and Glasgow’s tender-aged Jamie Dobie, look more like the future than he does.
Of course Exeter will be quite content if he doesn’t catch Gregor Townsend’s eye. A scrum-half of international class whose club season is not interrupted by calls from his national team suits coaches and club owners splendidly.
Nic White was just that sort of No 9 for Exeter. He very much ran the show too, and this should suit Hidalgo-Clyne, for in his Edinburgh days he always seemed eager to assert himself, always ready to make darting breaks and employ his powerful left foot to put the opposition under pressure.
Exeter should suit him and not only because any scrum-half would be happy to play behind the Exeter pack. It’s a great opportunity and I trust he will get the run of games which he has been denied since leaving Murrayfield.
Iain Laughland, who has just died at the age of 84 , was one of the best of Scottish midfield backs in the quarter-century after the Second World War. He won 31 caps, mostly in the centre, half a dozen or so at stand-off, and I don’t think he was ever dropped. Playing all his club rugby in England (though he had been at school in Edinburgh and done his National Service in the Seaforths), he may have been less appreciated here than he deserved. But he was very consistent, resolute in defence, and held his place at a pretty good time for Scottish rugby, one in which more matches were won than lost and there were a good many draws too. A great Sevens player, he was also invited to captain the Lions in 1966, but injury prevented him from accepting.
Curiously, and perhaps unfairly, my clearest memory is of two attempted drop-goals which went wrong. In both cases the mishit kick created a try, one scored by Arthur Smith against South Africa, the other by Ronnie Thomson against France. That try in the last minutes of play won the match, as indeed a drop-goal would have done. Laughland was also in a team that held the Calcutta Cup for three seasons, with two victories at Murrayfield and a draw at Twickenham in the intervening season.
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