The Corpse is Twitching

Scottish rugby has been the sick man of Europe for the last few years.  The dismal Six Nations results, the awful rugger, the demise of the Borders, the piddling attendances and the lack of playing numbers – the feeling that Scotland will be passed out by Italy has been coming for a while now.  Sure, each of the other Six Nations have endured fallow patches, but none are as sustainedly concerning as Scotland’s.

The recent World Cup only appeared to confirm this.  The Scottish pack manned up fairly impressively, and refused to let the big, brutish fellows from Argentina and England bully them, but Lordy, their attacking play would have disgraced a half-time rugby minis match.  The simple act of passing a ball across a pitch at chest height appeared to be beyond them.  Following that, the news that leading light and poster boy Richie Gray was off to Sale – Sale! – next season was another body-blow Scottish rugby could ill afford.

But if Scottish rugby is dying, then at least there’s a twitch in it yet.  Glasgow and Edinburgh have surprised with their results in the Heineken Cup, while Glasgow are also going well in the Pro12, currently sitting in third place.  Indeed, Edinburgh have a real chance of qualifying for the HEC quarter finals – they sit on 13 points after three wins, jointly top with Cardiff, having slayed the Blues in the Scottish capital in Round Four.  Glasgow’s chances of qualification are slim, as they have the small matter of Leinster to contend with, but have nonethless performed admirably with two wins and a draw so far.  They were, admittedly, drubbed in the RDS, but these things can happen.

So where has it all gone (sort of) right?  In Embra’s case, they have one thing that Scottish rugby has lacked for eons – a genuinely threatening outside back.  Flying Dutchman Tim Visser has 13 tries already this season, three of which have come in the Heineken Cup.  He’s a similar sort of player to George North, a big, strong, quick wing, who uses his long go-go-gadget arms to great effect; he has one of the best fends in the game.  He gives them a focal point for their attack, which has plundered ten tries in four HEC games so far.

A cursory glance at the Rabo Pro12 points scorers table reveals a  Duncan Weir of Glasgae comfortably in the top spot and Embra’s Greig Laidlaw in fourth.  Weir is only 20 and a bit funny looking for a fly-half (let’s just say he’s in the Andy Goode mould of physique) but he has been racking up points at a solid rate.  Ruaraidh Jackson is now back from injury and on his case, but this can only be positive news.  Further good news for Glasgae has been the return of one Lamont (Rory) from Toulon, and imminent return of the other.  It at least partly offsets the desertion of Max Evans and Richie Gray.  For Edinburgh yesterday there was more good news, with two promising 10s, Harry Leonard and Gregor Hunter, signing new contracts.

The question is: can these good results (and positive vibes) be transferred to international level?  Predicting a Scottish revival is a risky business: the Guardian boldly predicted they’d finish second in last year’s Six Nations and ended up looking rather foolish.  The trouble is, they simply cannot score tries, and have a tendency to freeze on the big stage (see last year’s non-performance at home to Wales).  It’s instructive to note that Edinburgh’s match-winning try against Cardiff in the Heineken Cup was created by a scorching break by Nick de Luca.  de Luca has long been touted as the solution to their ills but we are still waiting to see him produce a performance of note at international level.  Unfortunately, Visser doesn’t qualify until the summer tour, so that rarest of breeds, the Scottish try, may not be spotted for a while yet.

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