You can get from Scotstoun to Murrayfield in less than an hour (on the M9 rather than M8!) but the distance between Scotland’s two professional teams could not be more obvious than the events of this week.
Glasgow go to Zebre with 24 players from their squad (and academy) unavailable for selection, and come back with a 5 try bonus point win; Edinburgh go to Munster with 10 non-Scots in the starting XV, suffer a try-less defeat, and then announce the non-renewal of their coach’s contract.
Why are the fortunes of the two teams in such contrast?
Glasgow has an identity, a passion, a team ethos, that players and fans buy into collectively, that seems to empower & embolden everyone in their squad. Whatever the reasons for his removal from the team, Sean Lineen deserves a lot of credit for that, and Gregor Townsend has enhanced it further this year. There is a Glasgow core to the team – led by Al Kellock, but with boys for whom it means a lot to play for the jersey surrounding him – Gordon Reid, Pat McArthur, Jon Welsh, Rob Harley and perhaps most symbolically of all, James Eddie.
Eddie, you remember was without a contract 18 months ago. He was rescued from the scrapheap with a 12 month 7’s deal, and showed such desire in that environment, that he won back his Glasgow contract and his enthusiasm this year in 17 appearances for the team (11 as sub) is evident to all. Besides that Glasgow core, Lineen did a good job scouting potential in England – Peter Murchie (London Welsh), Ryan Wilson (Moseley) and Henry Pyrgos (Loughborough) all came North without much of a reputation but with raw potential that has been polished patiently and this season has matured into near-international class.
Glasgow’s imports have been limited but classy – DTH Van Der Merwe has scored tries for fun since he first arrived, and would grace any professional team; Josh Strauss, Niko Matawalu and Sean Maitland have brought exceptional skill and leadership to the cause, as well as something different.
On the home front, Sunday’s team that beat Zebre featured Rory Lamont, Byron McGuigan, Scott Wight, Jon Welsh, Fraser Thomson, Finn Russell, Sean Kennedy, Ed Kalman, Fraser Brown, and Nick Campbell. All of whom have played regularly for clubs in Premier 1 or B&I cup action in recent weeks, and all of whom were battle ready when their chance came at the weekend. Maybe the fact that Gregor Townsend regularly turns up at club games to watch his squad members perform in front of 3 men and a dog helps them to know he values them & motivates them to see it’s not far from Bridgehaugh or Millbrae on sleety Saturday afternoon to Pro 12 action on the TV.
In contrast it’s hard to see what Edinburgh are about this season.
Of their Summer signings, Tonks & Nel appear to have been a success, but the value of the others is questionable: Atiga, Penn, Francis, Rees, Yapp, Titterell, Westhuizen, Parker and Basilia – none of them have set the heather on fire the way Niko or Josh have at Glasgow.
Of their young players, Dougie Fife, Grant Gilchrist and Robin Hislop may have enhanced their reputations, but many of them appear to have lost confidence or failed to kick on this year: Brown, Jones, Leonard, Hunter, Black, Walker, McInally.
What are Edinburgh trying to do?
If it’s developing players for the Scotland XV, then it’s a poor return. Visser, Laidlaw and Scott were the only 3 playing on Saturday who have graduated from Murrayfield since Andy Robinson left for the national team. If it’s success in Europe or the RaboDirect Pro12, then there are big question marks over the motivation and ability of their signings – something has gone wrong with their scouting.
So what now for Edinburgh? Michael Bradley leaving at the end of the season means changes are coming in the coaching department. They need to bring in people who will create a similar passion & energy in playing for Edinburgh, that has developed in the culture created in the West. Craig Chalmers has read the signals and headed south for professional experience. Peter Wright would bring passion, but he appears to have been ruled out by the hierarchy as well.
In all honesty I doubt they will risk any club coach from the Scottish game, although a case could be made for either Ally Donaldson or George Graham. Personally, I would like to see Simon Cross involved in the coaching group. He was around the Edinburgh squad for years as a committed player and club captain, he has built a team at Edinburgh Accies of young players who want to play for the club, and he strides around a park like an army general with clear authority, confidence and vision. There’s little chance he would be given the head coach job, and it would probably be too much, too soon for him in any case. But what if they appointed Simon Cross and Chris Paterson to the coaching team, with an Andy Robinson type-figure above them to manage it? An experienced coach-manager developing coaches for whom playing for Edinburgh means something? It’s unlikely Robinson would come back, but Dean Ryan might just have got a taste for Murrayfield on Saturday.
Or why not return to the grand old man of Scottish Premier 1, Ian Rankin, and ask him to oversee the developing of exciting young Scottish coaching talent in a professional environment? At least then we could see some purpose to Edinburgh, rather than just a collection of waifs and strays from many different nations, all in need of a job and ending up in Edinburgh because no one else wanted them.