On Monday morning I attended a press launch for the Glengoyne Auld Enemies Dinner.
The event is one which will commemorate the rich history and unique competition of the Calcutta Cup, celebrating one of the oldest rivalries in sport. Former Scotland back-rower, and competitor in Scotland’s memorable victory over England in 2000, Stuart Reid felt it important to help set up this event. Perhaps more significantly, though, he and those at Glengoyne Whisky felt it important to align this event with some prominent charities.
On the eve of Scotland and England’s opening match in the RBS Six Nations past and present players (including: Jim Telfer, Fin Calder, Scott Hastings, Gary Armstrong, Brian Moore, Matt Dawson and Mike Teague) will join under the banner of the Auld Enemies dinner, but also under those of Help for Heroes and the Bill McLaren Foundation.
As we were told at the launch the two charities, one aimed at rehabilitating wounded servicemen and women, the other aimed at gifting rugby opportunities to youngsters, were happy to be associated with such an illustrious new event. The panel were in agreement, though, that they were humbled even by association with such noble causes.
The event itself was a formal one, though. I found myself looking on in reverence at those there to represent Help for Heroes. I watched as Stuart Reid, Finlay Calder and Gregor Townsend floated around the room, getting pulled away for chats between stop-offs at the shortbread plate. Cameras tried to catch glimpses of natural conversation- which there was plenty of.
Inevitably talk turned to rugby matters.
Calder in particular did not hold back when talking about the Scotland team at the World Cup. He did attest that “If you went back to the 2003 tournament, when we got through after scrapping for a last-minute try from Tom Smith, and 2007, when it was really close against Italy, they weren’t exactly glorious, so it [failure to reach the quarter-finals] was maybe coming. We went away in eighth place and came back in ninth [in IRB rankings], so it wasn’t a hanging offence, and we had a tough group,” in front of several journalists before following up with ““I couldn’t understand them taking off key players, guys playing the best rugby of their lives. Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford and Euan Murray I’d have on for the full monty” with Townsend, in earshot, simply smiling.
He conceded to me that this was perhaps still the fashionable thing to do, but was senseless when players were “having the game of their life”.
Calder is a man who is still very passionate about rugby. I could tell this as he ambushed me just when I thought it was safe to take my first sip of coffee. We spoke about what he thought of the fantastic wins at the weekend and he was full of praise for the young stand-offs Weir and Leonard. He finds the young Glasgow 10 “impressive” and by the third time he cracked the joke “Harry Leonard: he’s about 12 isn’t he?!” before going on to praise Bradley for consistently selecting him and telling of his promise, you knew he was pleased with the 19-year-old’s work.
Townsend agreed. “Both [Weir and Leonard] have done very well. Obviously this is Duncan’s second season at pro level, but he has made really good progress this year controlling games. Both 10s are learners. They want to get out there, see what they need to work on and actually do the work during the week.
“It’s been great seeing Harry come through as well because he’s only 19-years-old and for his third game at professional level to be a Heineken Cup victory away from home, that is going to give him a lot of confidence. Both of them know they are at the beginning of their career so there is still a lot to work on but it is really great from a coach’s point of view that we’ve got good young Scottish players standing up.”
In fact everyone at the event was impressed with Leonard. He is one of those nice surprises: a young player that comes out of obscurity to perform, thankfully, without too much media pressure or the pressure of lauding peers. So is Townsend leaving Edinburgh be, to nurture this talent until the right time for him to get his hands on him?
“We work fairly closely. I’m in Edinburgh one day a week and then Glasgow one day a week talking with Harry about his game and then Duncan. I have gone through with Duncan every match he has played at a professional level. It is an integrated process. Obviously their coaches at Edinburgh and Glasgow work with them much more than us and if they believe that they should be selected then great, but it is fantastic to see we’ve got more options coming through in key positions.”
In Glasgow this is predominantly the case. So many new contracts have been handed out for that very reason. In the Glasgow versus Bath game in particular the youngsters were at the fore. Someone asked me via Twitter after that game if Simon Taylor, in his battles with that young Warrior back-row, looked good enough to pip those to a Scotland recall. I doubted it, particularly after Lineen chose to heavily praise Harley and Wilson after the game. Nonetheless, I put this to Townsend: was there scope for recalls?
“That is an interesting question, that. If players are coming back in to help the development of other young Scottish players –obviously if they are Scottish qualified -then we’ll look at that as well. With the question of bringing in players we’ve got to make sure the balance is right, and they’re not keeping someone out but helping them on, particularly in areas where we’ve got strength. Back-row is certainly a position we’ve got a lot of strength.
“[Bringing older, experienced guys in to work with youngsters] depends on who’s available. What has been shown over the last couple of months is that young players have stepped up. You’ve got Rob Harley who was in this situation a year ago when Glasgow had a couple of injuries and he took his chance and has now proven himself to be one of the best players in the Glasgow squad, captaining them and leading the tackle count in the Pro12.
“Opportunities are there for young players and they are there for experienced players as well, but it is hard to look at a global picture. It is case by case.”
And with that everyone left, looking to the past but wandering into a future which felt slightly more secure. There was just enough time to grab another word with Calder who now wanted to speak about club rugby and back-rowers in that field.
He certainly has views: he reckons that the Club split has shown that eight teams look stronger than all others and that the league should be shortened further to that number, rather than a ten-team Premiership next season. He would also agree that there should be expanded participation in the B&I Cup. After all, Melrose and Ayr did very well in that competition at the weekend.
When he found out I played for Heriot’s he also wanted to make sure I knew he was a fan of Scotland 7s star Struan Dewar and then asked how destructive break-away Michael Maltman was getting on at Moseley. Good, I thought. See you when we play Stew Mel? Ok, sure.
He is aware of young rugby players and he passionately believes in bringing Scottish rugby forward. It is a good sign, then, that both he and Scotland Attack Coach Townsend like what they have seen in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Hopefully both teams, and both young 10s, prove them right in Round 2 of the Heineken Cup.