Allan Massie: Edinburgh and Glasgow need a win before losing key players to Scotland

Edinburgh were truly awful against the Ospreys and they have now lost their last four matches.

Saturday, 10th October 2020, 7:15 am
Huw Jones' switch to full-back is starting to pay dividends for Glasgow Warriors.
Huw Jones' switch to full-back is starting to pay dividends for Glasgow Warriors.

Losing at home to a pretty moderate Ospreys team is hardly the best preparation for a visit to Munster even if Thomond Park will be like a ghost stadium. How different things are in New Zealand where 28,000 tickets have been sold for the Bledisloe Cup match, Dave Rennie’s first as Australian coach. Good luck to him: Australia haven’t won a Test in New Zealand since 2001 when they were coached by Eddie Jones. That’s not as long a wait as ours for a victory at Twickenham, but we play there only every second year while, with the Rugby Championship and often the third Bledisloe match of the season, the Wallabies’ losing record in NZ is even more horrific than Scotland’s at Twickenham. Not that there’s much comfort in the thought.

Edinburgh made so many individual errors that there is no point in talking about their game plan or style of play. Coaches don’t drop passes, miss tackles or give away silly penalties and if the old Prussian Field-Marshal was right when he said no plan survives the first contact with the enemy, it’s equally true that no game-plan is of much use if players make elementary errors.

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Admittedly Edinburgh were without two of their best ball-carriers, Bill Mata and Duhan van der Merwe, while a third, Magnus Bradbury, went off, concussed, very early in the match, and Jamie Ritchie was also missing. One can be certain however that Richard Cockerill won’t have made much of this, any more than he is likely to shrug his shoulders and say “bad day at the office”.

Edinburgh were awful against Ospreys.

In contrast, Munster came from behind to beat the Scarlets in Llanelli. A neutral observer might think it was a game they deserved to lose because their discipline was shocking, the Scarlets’ 27 points all coming from penalties kicked by Leigh Halfpenny.

This should serve as a warning to Glasgow who host the Scarlets at Scotstoun tomorrow night. They gave away rather too many penalties themselves when losing narrowly to Connacht in Galway last weekend. Their defeat was disappointing but not disastrous. Unlike Edinburgh, they played some good rugby. You could say they lost because Connacht’s Jack Carty was a more successful goal-kicker than Adam Hastings, fair comment on a match in which each side scored three tries. All Glasgow’s came from backs: Nick Grigg, Huw Jones and Tommy Seymour.

This may give them some thought. In the first half Hastings several times put a penalty into the corner rather than kicking for goal, and the forwards made repeated efforts to force their way over the line. When at last they let the ball out Hastings made a nice half-break and Grigg scored from his pass. It was a simple enough try, well taken.

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It seems to me a curious feature of the modern game that repeated but unsuccessful attempts by the pack to get over the try-line from close quarters incur very little criticism while trusting your backs to find or create space is regarded as risky. Yet Glasgow’s backs are all proven try-scorers and coach Danny Wilson’s decision to switch Huw Jones from 13 to 15 is already making their backs appear more dangerous than at any time since Stuart Hogg departed for Exeter.

Glasgow’s forwards are good, but they are matched by other packs in the league and it is a rare game in which they are dominant. Behind the scrum on the other hand, they have the ability and pace to penetrate or outflank any defence – either from the set-piece if they are given quick ball or from broken play. This will be even more evident when Sam Johnson is fit to return at inside centre.

Obviously, coming off defeats and with the knowledge that they will soon be deprived of so many players when Gregor Townsend’s Scotland training squad comes together, victory is vital for both clubs. Edinburgh’s task seems the more daunting, but, on paper anyway, with van der Merwe, Jamie Ritchie and Rory Sutherland back, they may appear marginally better equipped than Munster who are missing Peter O’Mahony and J J Hanrahan, while Conor Murray is only on the bench.

Glasgow lose few home matches, though they may feel the lack of their usually vociferous support, and they too are strengthened by the return of their international prop Zander Fagerson, while Richie Gray is down to make his welcome re-appearance from the bench. Looking at the array of talent in the Scarlets back division, it seems odd that they failed to score a try at home to Munster last week. They are captained by twice-time Lion Jonathan Davies, who missed all last season and may still be finding his way back, while the club captain and hooker, the now venerable Ken Owens, sits out the first half or sixty minutes on the bench. This match is an appetising prospect. Let’s hope for a dry ball, no wind and even some late afternoon/ early evening sun.

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