View from the Stand
For months I have been bereft of opportunities to make my regular contributions to the Currie Chieftain’s match programmes or to hold forth on Scottish rugby to the captive audience in the clubhouse after a game. However, in the hope of an eventual prospect of seeing some club rugby in 2021, I have been given the opportunity to make a website contribution to View from the Stand. So, I hope this will represent a welcome return.
Firstly, I should acknowledge the dreadful ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the regulations introduced to try to control it. Both have had a huge impact on the lives of everyone – men, women and children of all ages, occupations, and interests. It has halted all competitive club rugby throughout Scotland and beyond, although in club after club enthusiastic players have continued to train for the love of it and in the hope of club rugby returning at some stage.
The professional and international teams have been given permission to play under strictly controlled conditions; and, excepting some well-publicised Covid incidences, that has maintained rugby continuity at those higher levels. All matches have been played to empty stadiums. However, with the help of TV and Amazon streaming services, fans have been able to watch international and club rugby from the comfort of their own homes, creating a deceptive impression of normality.
As an innovation, a new Autumn Nations Cup was instituted to bring together England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Fiji, France, Georgia and Italy in a two-pool and finals play-off competition. The well-merited winners were England, but the competition was fascinating as a largely new French team emerged as a force to be reckoned with, and Wales became a car crash. Scotland’s performance was mixed. Some good aspects to be welcomed in strong games against Georgia and Italy, but unconvincing performances against France and Ireland that highlighted a lot of work needing to be done. Overall, they finished fourth in the competition salvaging some national pride and leading to an extension of contract for National Coach Gregor Townsend.
As to Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors, both have had underwhelming starts to the season. Edinburgh’s has reflected an aura of competitive losers, although their 15-16 away win against Sale on 19 December could be a sign of better things to come. For Glasgow Warriors (who are now in the middle of a 17-man COVID-19 self-isolation) the start of the season has presented unwelcome results. None more so was their 42-0 away defeat to Exeter Chiefs, which was truly humbling. Exeter are a modern phenomenon and currently at the top of their game. But the match was described as ‘men against boys’, which indicates how the once mighty Warriors have fallen.
Interestingly, this poor result prompted a hugely relevant and deeply critical post-match analysis of the failings of Scottish Rugby (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p091bq30). If you have not listened do make the effort because it will make you think. At the about same time, Alasdair Reid in an excoriating article in the Times newspaper made many of the same points in his own inimitable way (see https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/scottish-clubs-are-victims-of-player-development-failings-fbpjd7cc7).
The gist of both commentaries was that Scottish Rugby is following a flawed player development model and it should be putting much more effort and investment into growing and developing the player base, bottom up from the clubs and schools. Few clubmen will argue with that reasoning because it is that they have been arguing for some years. Whether the arguments will turn heads in Murrayfield is, of course, yet to be seen. However, with a New Year in prospect we can only hope!
From me, ‘it’s nice to be back’ and please accept my best wishes for a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year – despite the Covid-19 constraints.