Scotland trio's game-time may give us some clues - as do last weekend's European results

On the face of it, the qualifiers for the knock-out stage of the European Champions Cup made it again clear that Irish rugby is in a healthier state than rugby here in Scotland.
Rufus McLean during a Glasgow Warriors training session at Scotstoun.Rufus McLean during a Glasgow Warriors training session at Scotstoun.
Rufus McLean during a Glasgow Warriors training session at Scotstoun.

Glasgow failed to get through and will now take their place along with Edinburgh in the lower-level Challenge Cup, while all four Irish provinces will be in the Champions one. All the same, first impressions can be misleading. Glasgow failed to qualify when they lost narrowly to La Rochelle. Connacht qualified because their match with Toulouse was called off because of Covid in the French camp and they were consequently awarded a 28-0 win. Connacht have come a long way in the last ten years and are tough opponents for anyone, especially in Galway, but even their greatest admirers wouldn’t give them much of a chance of winning in Toulouse, let alone by that sort of score. Still, good luck to them. Meanwhile Edinburgh, whose results last season meant that they hadn’t qualified for even the early stage of the Champions Cup ran riot against Brive who may, one suspects, on account of their struggle to survive in the Top 14, have been less than whole-heartedly committed to the European competition.

Glasgow, as it happens, play Connacht in the URC league today. Even though Gregor Townsend has released a few players from the Scotland squad (as he has also done for Edinburgh who play the Ospreys in Swansea) Glasgow are somewhat more weakened by international calls than Connacht, especially up front where they are without both Fagerson brothers, Rory Darge and George Turner – that is, half of what has recently been the first-choice pack.

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What we should read into these releases as a hint of the Scotland side that will defend the Calcutta Cup next Saturday is anybody’s guess. Who, for instance, is going to wear the 14 jersey, given that Darcy Graham will play for Edinburgh today and Kyle Steyn for Glasgow? Does the release of Magnus Bradbury, who will start on the blindside flank for Edinburgh, mean that he hasn’t perhaps done quite enough for his club to have ensured the number 8 starting place against England?

Kyle Steyn during a Scotland Rugby training session at the Oriam.Kyle Steyn during a Scotland Rugby training session at the Oriam.
Kyle Steyn during a Scotland Rugby training session at the Oriam.

Meanwhile most of the England-based players in the Scotland squad have, as international rules permit, been recalled by their clubs this weekend. One of two of them a least may be in need of a match – Camron Redpath, who has played so little rugby this season, Jonny Gray, who is returning from injury, and Rory Sutherland, back after a brief suspension, for instance. In contrast the agreement between the RFU and the English Premiership means that there is no requirement for Eddie Jones to make England players available to their clubs. It’s doubtful if this gives England any advantage next week, but Gregor and the rest of us will be looking anxiously for any report of injuries to players such as Stuart Hogg and Duhan van der Merwe. Injuries of course happen as often in training, and in any case the fact that Gregor doesn’t have full control of players from English or, indeed, French clubs is the price we pay for the SRU’s failures in developing and managing the professional game in Scotland over the last quarter-century. If you can’t retain your star players as Ireland does, you have no one to blame but yourselves.

Meanwhile the 30-strong Scotland under-20 Six Nations squad was announced this week, and makes for interesting reading. A good many as usual are based south of the Border, some at university there, three from Ealing Trailfinders, which does rather raise the eyebrow. Fourteen of the squad are survivors from last season when all matches were, on account of Covid, played in Cardiff, twelve played in the semi-pro Super6 last summer, and to some extent their performance will be seen as an opportunity to judge the success of that still controversial tournament. One is the captain Rhys Tait, now also contracted to Glasgow. Though his Super6 club was Boroughmuir Bears, he is a Hawick lad, just like Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham and Rory Sutherland. Though Hawick no longer dominate the club game in Scotland as they did in the days of players like Jim Renwick, Alan Tomes, Colin Deans and Tony Stanger , the town remains a great rugby nursery. Bill McLaren would have been proud to see a Terie captaining Scotland at full international and age-group level. That’s good news. It is also good news that the under-20 internationals, the first next Friday, will be shown on BBC iPlayer.

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