Ex­iles pro­vide strength in depth and help home-based play­ers to flour­ish

The Scotsman - - Weekend Sport - al­lan Massie

Back in the am­a­teur days when we had Scot­land tri­als be­fore the Five Na­tions, the teams were usu­ally Scot­land v The Rest or Blues v Whites. If andy Robin­son chose to have such a match now – which he won’t – he might make it be­tween Ex­iles and home-based Scots. There is no cer­tainty that the home side, drawn from Ed­in­burgh and Glas­gow, would win. Not sur­pris­ing when you think that the Ex­iles might line up as fol­lows: South­well; R La­mont, S La­mont, Hen­der­son, Danielli; Parks, R Law­son; Dick­in­son, S Law­son, Mur­ray, Hines, J Hamil­ton; Strokosch, Tay­lor, Brown. Only andy Hen­der­son and Simon Tay­lor are not likely to fea­ture in the squad for the au­tumn in­ter­na­tion­als, and Tay­lor might well do so if he expressed a will­ing­ness to re­turn.

Only Italy of our Six Na­tions ri­vals are in a com­pa­ra­ble po­si­tion. With a very few ex­cep­tions all the play­ers in the French, English, Ir­ish and Welsh squads will be drawn from clubs in their home coun­try. Seven years ago, when the aus­tralian Matt Wil­liams be­came the Scot­land coach, he spoke of his in­ten­tion to build a Fortress Scot­land with an en­tirely home-based team. That wasn’t wholly un­re­al­is­tic, if only be­cause we had three pro­fes­sional teams then. Even so, it was never achieved. Now such an aim would look ridicu­lous.

It would also be un­de­sir­able. all the 15 play­ers in that Ex­iles line-up have at some stage of their ca­reer been at­tached to ei­ther Ed­in­burgh or Glas­gow. Sup­pose they still were. The two Scot­tish clubs would prob­a­bly be stronger, but Scot­tish rugby, as a whole, would be weaker. There would be a log-jam, with fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties for young play­ers, whose devel­op­ment would there­fore be slower than is de­sir­able. So it is, for ex­am­ple, ar­guably a good thing that Dan Parks has moved from Glas­gow to cardiff. If he had re­mained with Glas­gow, Sean Li­neen would have been tempted to play him in all the most im­por­tant matches. Op­por­tu­ni­ties for Ruar­idh Jack­son and Dun­can Weir would have been limited. In his ab­sence they must be thrown in to sink or, one hopes, swim. So there has to be some move­ment out if young play­ers are to come in and move up.

This is one way of look­ing at it, and is fair enough. On the other hand, as Rob Mof­fat pointed out ear­lier this week, the pro­fes­sional sea­son is now a very long and de­mand­ing one, and all clubs need large and strong squads. In­deed, given the num­ber of matches played and the cer­tainty than a num­ber of play­ers will be in­jured at any given time, it’s clear that clubs re­ally need to have two first XVs. By that I mean that they re­quire two play­ers in each po­si­tion good enough to be first choice.

It is worth dwelling on the num­ber of matches. There are now 12 clubs in the Mag­n­ers League. That means 22 games, with the pos­si­bil­ity of one or two more if you reach the play-offs. Then there are six Heineken cup matches and, again, one hopes, more if you qual­ify for the knock-out stage. There are eight in­ter­na­tional matches, three in the au­tumn, and five in the spring. any play­ers se­lected for all, or most, of these, need time off to re­cu­per­ate at some point. (There are Scot­land a games too.) If you reckon that no one should play more than 22 full matches, or the equiv­a­lent, the need for strength in depth is ob­vi­ous.

One can feel only sym­pa­thy for Rob Mof­fat and Sean Li­neen. Their task is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. They have to jug­gle se­lec­tion, en­sur­ing that too much is not de­manded of their stars who re­quire to be rested from time to time. They have to give their young play­ers like alex Blair, Lee Jones, Stu­art McI­nally and Dun­can Weir, enough op­por­tu­ni­ties to de­velop their game at the top level. and they have to win matches and es­tab­lish what is called a cul­ture of suc­cess. More­over, they will lose some of their bright­est young­sters, in­clud­ing three of those men­tioned above, to the Scot­land Seven for the com­mon­wealth Games, and prob­a­bly to the squad for the IRB Sevens cir­cuit.

Ev­ery team se­lec­tion be­comes a mat­ter of fine judg­ment and bal­anc­ing. For ex­am­ple it will al­ways be tempt­ing not to change a team that has just won a match. Yet the coaches know that even a win­ning team needs to be re­freshed from time to time. They also know that with, say, the Heineken cup in mind, they have to have play­ers whom they may think of as re­serves match-fit in case a first-choice player is in­jured.

To cap it all, they have to sat­isfy a pub­lic that is both scep­ti­cal and hun­gry for suc­cess, and they know that their clubs re­main the poor re­la­tions in the Mag­n­ers League, with home crowds well be­low those of their Welsh and Ir­ish ri­vals. There must be days when they wish that some of the ex­iles hadn’t cho­sen to seek pas­tures new – even if in the long run their de­ci­sion to do so makes sense.

But you have to feel for Sean Li­neen es­pe­cially. Last sea­son his team was built around Dan Parks and the back-row of kelly Brown, Johnny Beat­tie and John Bar­clay. Now Parks is in cardiff, and of the “killer Bs”, Brown has gone to Sara­cens, Beat­tie is in­jured and will miss the first half of the sea­son, and only Bar­clay re­mains. Back to square one.

Pic­ture: Ian Ge­orge­son

glas­gow’s back row unit of, from left, John Bar­clay, John Beat­tie, and Kelly Brown has been bro­ken up

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