Before we focus completely on ‘The Italian Job’ (yeah, you’re gonna be reading that headline. A lot!) perhaps I should look at the recent developments at Glasgow and Edinburgh. Development is in fact the key word here because, as we acknowledge that this season has been very poor for Scottish rugby, I am forced to ask “will at least one of Scotland’s pro sides be turned into a development team?”
In recent days it has come to light that Max Evans is to be joined in the Scottish exodus by Richie Vernon. Both men, it could be argued, are looking for a higher level of rugby than the Warriors can currently provide (I will give both men enough credit to say that I don’t think money was the real and only reason they have opted to go). Glasgow, then, are left to negotiate with the players they do have as well as out of contract outsiders.
Like Edinburgh, though, they must do this with one arm behind their back as squad size is cut next season to 32, despite it being a World Cup year, and the budget for both teams either being the same or a bit of it chipped away.
In this respect Glasgow would seem to have more money to play with next year as Edinburgh have opted to re-sign an expensive commodity in British Lion Ross Ford while Glasgow let an expensive/exciting player in Max Evans go.
However this could also tell us a bit about the mentality of either side. Edinburgh have looked for a marquee name while Glasgow, particularly in the last couple of seasons, have brought in youngsters. Will the SRU then give each of these teams a remit for next season much to this effect?
If we take sentimentality out of this then Edinburgh, despite being smaller and considered less ‘metropolitan’, would be internationally regarded as Scotland’s first city. An international brand. It is also where the SRU are (perhaps why the SRU insist today to keep Edinburgh in the vacuous ‘home of Scottish rugby’, Murrayfield?). So if money is such an issue for our governing body and both pro teams are too expensive to run as they are now perhaps it could transpire that Glasgow are turned into a developing side like Connacht or the Newport-Gwent Dragons.
With both of these sides the young uninvolved players with potential that will never be used by the big teams are sent to these regions to get game time. To evolve.
This has worked to a degree and both teams have marginally improved over the last 4 seasons. They have cultivated their own underdog spirits and have created some good players by giving them game time. Just look at the Irish international hooker Cronin, his prop Hagan and winger Fionn Carr. One is off to Leinster, the other is touted to replace Buckley at Munster and the other has played on the wing for Ireland. The Dragons, meanwhile, have gotten caps for journeyman winger Aled Brew and have developed exciting prospects Faletau and Dan Lydiate.
This, of course, would be met with disdain by Glasgow fans. Only a year ago Glasgow were in the playoffs duelling the Ospreys. In reality, though, it could be economically unviable to sustain two ‘competitive’ pro teams. If one team brought on youngsters, nurturing and blooding them before sending them off to France, England or the larger teams in the Magners League, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing for Scottish Rugby. Marquee names and stars fighting for honours at one team, wonderkids and old-timers playing and evolving at the other.
As I write this, however, I see that 21-year-old full-back Tom Brown has signed for Edinburgh where he challenges old heads Chris Patterson and Jim Thompson (although both could be at the WC). Would it not make sense to send him to full-back short Glasgow who have two other young guys he could wrest a spot from?
In this sense, then, the question may not be “will they” but “should they make one side a development team?”
As it goes right now, both teams can’t be competitive. Maybe next season we’ll see one of the teams advertising for players on Inside Running, a website appealing for international players, like a developing Italian Magners League side, as the other signs more famous names? Who kens. Most likely thing will stay exactly the same. No one likes changes. Particularly the boys at EH12.