The arguments rage in pro-rugby about consistency of selection. Does anyone actually know what Edinburgh’s first XV actually is? Despite similar rotation at Glasgow the debate is never heard because the team is winning.
But what about at club level? Does consistency of selection matter?
Ayr coach Kenny Murray suggested this week it was the key to winning Premier 1. It may be possible to test that theory at this stage, because all clubs have now reached the half way point (some are a little further on). Near the top of the table sit Ayr (with 5 players having played all their league games) Gala (8) Currie (4) and Melrose (5). Near the bottom are Aberdeen Grammar SFP (4) Stirling Co (4) Boroughmuir (2) and Dundee HSFP (2). An alternative way to measure consistency would be to look at the number of players who have been given a starting place. Gala have started just 24 players. Melrose 23. In contrast 30 different players have started for Boroughmuir and 29 for Stirling Co.
I was back at Bridgehaugh on Saturday for Stirling v Heriots. Stirling looked like a team ready for a break from league duty – they lacked intensity, relied on Edwards and Archibald kicking for position, and were inconsistent in their forward application. Some times a player is most noticed when he is not there – in this case, Sean Kennedy. Young Stevie Gillies at 9 for County was tidy, and did the basics well, but Kennedy really does have a threat about him that keeps his team on their toes and the opposition on the back foot.
Interestingly Heriots gave first starts of the season to 3 players on Saturday – Nick Alston, Cammie Ferguson & Joe Naya. They also changed their half-backs again, with Graham Wilson reverting back to 9, and Ruaridh Carmichael starting at 10, but they really tried to play their pace men, Penn, Goudie, and Learmonth off Ferguson at 12.
As with other games I’ve seen this season they looked very promising but it didn’t quite click. Once Phil Smith gets their 9, 10, and 12 settled, someone will suffer a big defeat. Their discipline was very impressive. They conceded few penalties and Jason Hill & Fraser Brown continue to make good hard yards. In the end the game finished 23-21 with 3 tries each but it was Heriots’ discipline and Wilson’s boot that ultimately made the difference.
Looking round at the rest of Premier 1 for clues to the value of consistency some interesting statistics have caught my eye. Aberdeen GSFP have had 5 different players start at 10. Boroughmuir have only had one player (Jamie Swanson) start every game in their pack. Dundee HSFP have had 7 different combinations in their back row and only one combination has played 2 games in a row together. Stirling have struggled even more to put a consistent back row out with 8 different players getting starts. For me the most intriguing team of all is Edinburgh Accies. They’ve given more players a starting place than any other team (30) yet a consistent core to their pack (Campbell, Drennan, Teague and Reid) together with the same 10 all season (Ruaridh Bonner) has allowed them to integrate a whole raft of youngsters and still gain a healthy mid table position.
Among some very impressive coaches in Premier 1 this season, Simon Cross perhaps looks the most all round promising. Finally it’s great to see some players who’ve been plagued with injuries getting really consistent personal game time this season – Callum Forrester, Fraser Brown, James Johnstone.
It might be too late for Forrester, but consistent fitness could yet open a door to the pro game for either Brown or Johnstone.