Every time you turn on the news these days you are bombarded with the word ‘CHANGE’. The politicians are all screaming it. Travel agents can’t get enough of it. Even the chief exec.’s of Rangers and Celtic seem to be on the streets begging for some spare. So what is set to change in Scottish rugby next season?
The answer to that appears to be the squads of almost every single ‘top level’ team.
Whatever you think of the recruitment policy of the two pro teams, they don’t half bring in some unexpected players. Did anyone really know anything about Tim Visser before he started racking up tries? Could anyone have foretold the arrival (and continual disappointment) of Lome Fa’atau? Indeed, no matter who they bring in it is obvious that both Edinburgh and Glasgow need to strengthen for next season. This is not only to ensure continued improvement and to take a serious stab at the Heineken Cup, but also because both teams will need bigger squads with more Magners League games next season. Treviso and Aironi will ensure that teams will need something different next term.
If, then, Glasgow and Edinburgh increase their squads (something that I’m sure the bean counters within Murrayfield’s vacuous walls must be falling over themselves to arrange) what do they need? Glasgow, it goes without saying, will be hoping to attain a playoff place so that they can convince the head honchos to free up some dough. A star 10 from afar would help pull in punters as well as ensure they can continue to use Evans as a luxury 13 option. Apart from this their pack is set fair, with maybe some back-up options and a fully fit Fergus Thomson, and the back line is settled if unremarkable. Star quality could really push them forward and compliment the competitive kids they are developing.
Edinburgh, on the other hand, need some more experience. Their youngsters have come on leaps and bounds, with Macdonald, Roddy Grant,Newlands, Visser, Turnbull and McKenzie proving they can do a job when they’re needed. But when the team is relying on these guys for most of the season when the likes of Jacobssen, Hamilton and Hogg are unavailable there seems to be a bluntness to Edinburgh, that could possibly explain their phobia of away games. Unfortunately, then, when Edinburgh sign club youngsters like Lee Jones, Stuart McInally, Fraser Brown and Lewis Niven most of them will likely see no rugby. It is almost like Edinburgh are filling squad spaces for the sake of it, while Glasgow’s youngsters seem more competitive. Sure we need to develop Scottish talent, but with so many making up a squad, will they last the pace next season?
This type of recruitment, then, will have a knock-on effect on Premier 1. With many youngsters (Jones, McInally, Brown, Niven, Fusaro and Dunbar) all leaving their clubs to sign pro contracts, it is unlikely they will be drafted back to their initial clubs. However, many coaches and pundits are now talking about removing themselves from ‘signing’ and supporting Academy players because they are fed up with the unpredictable levels of involvement from players controlled by coaches who will pull them out to rest or because they need to do more weights.
Such a sea-change is significant for the league. As teams strive to be more competitive and be part of 3 or 4 teams in the British and Irish Cup or to be in the top half of a proposed SPL-style mid-season split involving 14 teams from Prem 1 and 2, recruitment policies will change. Teams will look at the success of sides like Currie and Ayr, who supplement their teams with at least 3 foreigners in key position to help youngsters. While teams like Watsonians and Boroughmuir might opt to get the cheque book out to recover from disappointing seasons, and teams like Heriot’s who traditionally snap up youngsters change tact and pursue experienced Scottish players. Other sides may suffer.
Melrose will almost certainly be in the B&I Cup next season, and will look to other borders sides to expand their squad. While Hawick may get by with what they’ve got through passion and renewed belief, teams like Selkirk, without Dunbar, Jones or departing head coach Kevin Barrie, could struggle.
Of course not every team will employ a foreigner to guide their side, some won’t be able to afford it, but there are only so many players in Scotland. It is a strange problem when the pro teams are looking to youth, and the amateurs are looking for foreign relief. Change, ironically, comes with a price…