Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


The Honest Pundit

Jonny Gray - pic © Al Ross
Jonny Gray - pic © Al Ross

There are two types of pundits. The honest ones and there’s the rest. The trick is trying to spot which is which these days. Sponsors and media organisations are locked in a never ending battle for more clicks and more traffic and the fighting only intensifies during tournaments like the Six Nations. Lord help us when we get to the World Cup.

We interviewed John Beattie for the podcast back in 2017 and spoke to him about his time as a pundit back in the 1990s before he made the switch to commentating. “There’s a combat between pundits to be the most controversial,” he told us, “whether its radio, whether it’s football, whether it’s boxing who can say the most outrageous thing and what happens is you get caught in this spiral of saying things you don’t probably mean especially when you’re talking about people you know and I ended up writing and also saying some really stupid things about people I did know and immediately regretting it”.

Nothing much has changed in the time since Beattie gave up punditry for the commentary box and if anything the advent of social media has only intensified matters. We are not immune from this ourselves. This writer is guilty of posting tongue in cheek tweets for clicks and traffic and one of our number is still being mercilessly trolled online for his forthright views on booing kickers. However, we are, in essence, a fan blog and so we perhaps do have a right over-exaggerate and poke the opposition bear from time to time. But we are honest about it.

The difficulty is separating out the honest pundits from the rest amongst the storm of clickbait headlines, viral videos and podcast clips all vying for our attention on social media.

In traditional newspapers and online websites the clue is often within the article. The interviewee is a former player turned “brand ambassador” speaking at the launch of new drink, watch or car. The article will usually name the brand and the interviewee will be under pressure to say something controversial in order to generate maximum coverage. No one can blame the former player for earning an extra buck off the back of their name and you can’t begrudge journalists for putting the quote in print in order to generate sales, traffic and ad revenue. But that controversial opinion is often not an honest one.

The man paraphrased at the start of this article is always wheeled out at some point over the course of the Six Nations. Jim Telfer. Always good for a wee anti-English barb and guaranteed to get people talking. When Jim Telfer starts talking people listen. So they should. Telfer is an honest pundit.

When he is wheeled out it’s never as a result of self-interest to promote bags of this or bags of that. That is not to say there isn’t a motive behind what he says or that he even believes 100% in what he is saying. But there is no self interest in any comments made.

This week Jamie Lyall, former writer for this blog, interviewed Telfer for Rugby Pass. “The Gray brothers, Gilchrist or Toolis – there’s none you would class as hard men” ran the headline. In the article itself Telfer describes Jonny Gray as a “workmanlike journeyman” and accused Blair Kinghorn of not being “very physical” and shirking a tackle on Gael Fickou in the France game.

This writer very much doubts that Telfer actually believes the things he said but then why say them? He’s nothing to promote. No reason to generate clicks or traffic or ad revenue. But even in his mid 80’s Telfer is still a shrewd operator. He has been Scotland’s wet works specialist ever since he retired. The man to put a rocket up the arse of players not pulling their weight or fulfilling their potential. The man to put it amongst the opposition fans and players all the time with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. No doubt sometimes it is unsanctioned and a response to an interview request from a journalist but at other times you get the feeling that some of Telfer’s “interventions” had been sanctioned although like all good wet works specialists the “client” will be impossible to trace.

Telfer’s most recent intervention was the subject of a listener’s “Hands In The Ruck” on this week’s podcast and although we discussed it briefly we didn’t respond to the main point made which is that asking Jim Telfer to critique the modern game “is like asking a telegraph operator to fix your broadband”. The listener argued that Telfer’s criticisms were framed in terms of how lacking the players were and offered no way to redress. A far cry from the “growth mindset” that Townsend is trying to instil within his squad.

Those are all fair points. But here’s the thing. Telfer delivered one of the great speeches on “growth mindset” and it’s the speech paraphrased at the start of the article:

“There are two types of rugby players boys. There’s honest ones, and there’s the rest.

The honest player gets up in the morning and looks himself in the f*****g mirror, and sets his standard. Sets his stall out, and says I’m going to get better. I’m going to get better. I’m going to get better.

He doesn’t complain about the food, or the beds, or the referees. Or all these sorts of things.

These are just peripheral things that weak players have always complained about. The dishonest player.

If I tell a player he’s too high, or he’s not tight enough, he’s too f*****g high. He’s not tight enough. And that’s it. I’m the judge, and not the player.

And we accept that, and we do something about it.

I’ve coached Lions teams before, and we’ve complained and carped and this that and the next thing.

And I liken it a bit to the British and the Irish going abroad on holiday.

The first thing they look for is an English pub, the second thing they look is a pint of Guinness
and the third thing they look for is a fish and chip shop. The only thing they accept is the sun. They don’t take on anything that’s good or decent of different abroad.

If we do that we’re sunk!

We don’t go back bitchin’. We don’t go back carpin’, Oh we’ve done it this way at Twickenham or Cardiff Arms parks or Lansdowne Road or Murrayfield!

No, no these days are past.

What’s accepted over there is not accepted over here. It’s not accepted by us — me and you.
So from now on the page is turned. Were in a new book, different attitudes. We’re honest with ourselves.

And in many respects in the forward play, and let’s be f*****g honest, we’ve been second best.
We can match them! But only if we get it right here (points to his head) and right here (points to his heart).”

Telfer claims that “hardness” cannot be coached or taught. He’s right. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be drawn out of players through other means. Say, for example, by getting a former well-respected coach to have a dig at the players in public and then sticking the article on the dressing room door and challenging players to prove him wrong. We must hope that the Scotland players take heed of what Telfer has said.

23 Responses

  1. As this is the 20th anniversary of the ‘99 5 Nations Champs how appropriate would it be to get Jim to present the match ball on Saturday as per Doddie prior to the All Blacks game – a chance for the Murrayfield crowd to show their appreciation to the true legend of Scottish rugby

  2. Get Telfer into the changing rooms before the match. Send the boys out with “GET F***ING INTAE THEM” ringing in their ears.

  3. Cammy, this is one of the best articles I’ve ever read posted on this blog. Exactly why I think that would probably take me longer than your article to explain. Suffice to say, excellent, moving and inspiring piece of work. Well done.

  4. I have nothing but admiration for Creamy, he coached me as a young player and latterly coached my son too – he’s done it all, GS, Championships, Lions, Club rugby all of it.

    When he talks about the mental aspect of the sport we should listen – but he’s decades out of date on so much of it now. Players dont fight now, they channel their aggression elsewhere – they are taught from the age of 5 to do this. Creamy could still not come to terms with u18s who were unhappy at scrapping but more than happy to melt a big crash ball centre – it’s barely a part of amateur rugby now never mind the pro game with dozens of cameras on you.

    He’s a man of his time, a time when rugby was violent and men did their talking on the pitch.

    If I wanted a man to wind up a pack with 20mins to go i’d call for Creamy, but I really cant be ersed reading some of his tedious tropes now.

    1. That’s interesting. In the Rugby Pass article he was actually saying it’s not about fighting. It’s about playing hard and he named Kieran Reed as a player who plays hard and never has to resort to fighting. I think we have that in Watson, McInally, Brown and more recently Ritchie but we don’t see it consistently from the others

  5. Thanks all for the kind feedback… FF I’ve accidentally deleted your comment on the World League. I was trying to move it to Podcast post as that’s the best place for it as we discussed it this week.

    1. No worries, I think there is a note somewhere but may need to clear that up as we do get asked a lot. Naturally, it is to prevent the usual spam but most links to relevant tweets/articles will get approval.

      1. We regularly check spam and bin folders to make sure the right things get through. If we do delete anything it’s because it violates our comments policies, or because someone has persistently violated them or because people haven’t provided a real e-mail address in the comments box.

  6. I kinda agree with Telfers take on Kinghorn. He’s missed plenty of tackles. The boy’s a talent but is a bit soft in defence and needs to improve his passing.

    1. Yeah the non tackle he referenced was one that I noticed during the game and wasn’t impressed with.

      1. That same non-tackle Maitland was sauntering behind a ruck without a care in the world. If he’d come into the line it would have been 2 on 3 rather than a straight 2 on 2… or even 2 on 1 1/2 because it was Laidlaw next to Kinghorn.

      2. Hogg was POOPETY POOP at tackling when he started too – he still has issue IMO.

        People forget Kinghorn is still developing and defence is one of the areas he has to focus on.

  7. When Scotland has produced hard players, at least recently, they haven’t picked them.
    Nathan Hines is an interesting example. At the time he played for Scotland we had other hard players. I’m thinking especially of Alasdair Strokosch, but there were a couple of others too.
    If you look em up on Wikipedia it says these guys won a good number of caps (Hines got 77), but my memory is that it took them ages to get into the team and a lot of their caps were earned as replacements. It wasn’t the case that the coaches were trying to build a team around them, although Hines became a stalwart later in his career.

    Perhaps we’ve become so convinced that the mostly middle class ranks of Scottish rugby don’t produce that sort of player that we’ve become conditioned not to value it when we do?

    I dunno.
    There are a few hard men in the current Scottish set up, what we could do with is an Alun Wyn type in the middle row.

    1. Some of the most aggressive and hard players I played with and against were private schoolboys.

      This idea that you drag boys out of the schemes and turn them into rugby players is nonsense – there is a world of difference between being a hard nut in your school or street and on the rugby field.

      It’s a fallacy based on a past that barely existed. Quite apart from the fact that any overt illegal aggression is positively coached out of players – the best you can hope for is gobby players who are really good at grabbing collars.

      Test rugby is played by elite athletes and whilst rugby might still be about imposing your physical dominance over others on the field, there is more to that being a bit handy with your fists at school in first year.

      1. OK, great, but that wasn’t really my point.

        in the era of NINES we had several hard players whom we didn’t pick.

        Do we value them?

        And of course hardness is not about fighting. Lots of very hard athletes don’t even play contact sports.
        Andy Murray?
        Lewis Hamilton?

        It’s about hunger, competitiveness, fearlessness and a sense that you’re just as entitled to win as the bloke opposite you.

  8. Brilliant article and glad that the Blog is prepared to point to excellent relevant articles elsewhere.

    Tactically,Telfer, may be arguably out of date but no-one can argue with his achievments as a coach nor his analysis at the weakness at the heart of this Scottish team.

    Townsend has a legitimate vision on how he wants his Scotland team but is hamstrung by players with the physical and/or psychological ability to bring the gameplan to fruition.
    Telfer as a coach was far more pragmatic in identifying the characteristics of the Scottish game and players and then producing a collective will and over-achievement by players who wouldn’t be fixtures in other national teams.

    We have to face that we currently lack true hard men up front who don’t bend or break. In the past we’ve produced the like of Gordon Brown, Hines and Jim Hamilton in the second row, Deans, Sole, Tom Smith in the front row etc. We’ve maybe one or two core forwards – McInally and Watson – but the rest fall into the journeyman category. Thet may amass caps but will never be among the greats in their position.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion