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Defeat offers steep learning curve for young Scots

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John Beattie | 15:07 UK time, Monday, 20 September 2010

You simply can't beat experience, as Glasgow and Edinburgh are finding out.

I was in the bank this morning and a young Spanish student, speaking in broken English, was trying to open an account with a very rude teller telling him he didn't have the correct "letter of introduction".

The confused student left the building, I followed him and told him to just go and see his course secretary and ask for one.

I asked him what course he was studying. "International banking and corporate finance," he told me with a smile.

If he'd been experience he'd have argued, asked to see the manager and got an account opened. I know which bank won't be in his deals when he's top of some bank in Seville...

In sport, experience is everything: once you've had your back to the wall you know how to get off it.

The best blokes in a rugby team are never the young colts, who can run all day, but the older men who know where and when to run.

When it's all going horrible pear-shaped on the pitch, the players look to the men of experience to get them out of it.

Players like Donncha O'Callaghan of Munster (who spent the last two weeks of his holiday working in Haiti as a Unicef ambassador) or his partner in the second row Paul O'Connell, Brian O'Driscoll from Leinster, Martin Castrogiovanni from Leicester, and Simon Shaw from Wasps.

The list is a long one. A team of 30-year-olds will always know how to beat a team of 20-year-olds.

The great All Black teams had Sean Fitzpatrick knowing to stay on the wing at times despite being a hooker; the Great Lions teams had Fran Cotton, Gareth Edwards, Scott Gibbs, or Lawrence Dallaglio.

In short, the kind of men you would bet on to do the right thing at the right time in big games because they have been there before.

And perhaps that's the problem both Glasgow and Edinburgh have just now.

I think that the natural pool of talent is as good as it has ever been in Scottish rugby with the likes of Richie Vernon, Richie Gray, Roddy Grant, Tim Visser and the rest of the players as good as anyone around.

But they are young; Glasgow's pack averages 23-years-old. Simon Shaw is 37.

And in Glasgow's case you have to raise the dreaded "P" word with the absence of Dan Parks, who might not have been the most glamorous player in the world but sure as heck knew how to close out a game.

And Edinburgh miss the presence of both Ally Hogg and Jim Hamilton up front.

What can they do? Well, as every mother knows, young men grow up very quickly. What is happening to the young players at Glasgow and Edinburgh is that they have been chucked in at the deep end, and dealing with the defeats is all part of the learning process.

Experience can be painful. Glasgow and Edinburgh's players are getting painful lessons at a very, very young age. They will learn from this and improve very quickly.

Now, off to see that bank teller and threaten to take my overdraft elsewhere. It's worked before.


  • Comment number 1.


    As in football Scotland is a backwater as far as rugby is concerned

    Our good young players will go South and experienced international players will chase the money as their careers end.

    The last players of any international pedigree up here that I recall were Todd Blackadder and Edinburgh nearly signing Stephen Larkham although I may be wrong and overlooked some but not many I guess

    The Magners is not a patch on the Premiership and a half dozen European games is not enough

    And I guess the money will not be that great

    I am not a great supporter of Club rugby in Scotland and actually from a selfish point of view I like to see our top players playing down South week in and out against top players it makes them better and improves them for the National team

    Does that make me a hypocrite by cheering on Scotland but prepared to let club rugby in Scotland die

    In short clubs in Scotland pay less, win less,have lower TV exposure and it rains a lot

    Which is why we should all say a wee prayer every night thanking someone that we were ably to get Andy Robinson

    A little of track John but I was excited to go first

  • Comment number 2.

    I think you're right Jon,
    The Lions team of '97 and '09 were similar in terms of talent but the '97 team had a few wise heads that got them over the finishing line in the first two Tests. And the England team that won the World Cup in 2003 had some very painful high profile defeats in 6Ns before they really knew how to put together the run of victories when needed.

  • Comment number 3.

    Who can disagree, John? Experience counts, no question, and the Scottish teams are short of this necessary commodity at this time. Although, you could have also mentioned that Glasgow are still short a couple of very experienced players who are still nursing injuries; one of whom is their outstanding captain. However, overall, point taken!

    Parlane: I disagree with just about every single point you make in your (first) post, and not in small portion either.

  • Comment number 4.


    Thats what the Blog is about, opinions

    "just about every single point"

    What did I get right

  • Comment number 5.

    I could not agree more with John Beattie's take on the two Scottish teams at present, and i will be another 'blogger' to disagree with Parlane.

    The word 'Turn-coat' springs to mind. Anyway....

    Over the past 5yrs or so, there has been a dramatic improvement between the celtic nation teams. Both in the 6 nations competition, and in other test matches e.g Argentina v.s Scotland most recent test.

    Ironically, it has been the English team whom has looked very average and un-exciting. Thus, by concluding that the Guinness premiership is superier is quite frankly ludicris. Most of the Irish, Welsh, and Scottish international player's stay in their own countries and play for one of their own pro teams. Could there perhaps be a relationship there?

    Furthermore, yes, at present, there is not as much money in the magners league as there is in the Guinness premiership. But one must look at the progression of the magners league and in particular the professionalisation of the 2 Scottish sides over the past 5yrs. The league is growing every year, and likewise the money being invested and given to players. Personally i am happy to see the game stay like this. When big money becomes a factor particularly football, it ruins sport, and in particular home grown talent!!!

    So... bring on the cold, wet and windy nights at Firhill and Murrayfield. Because Guinness Premiership - 'We're comin ta get ya'

  • Comment number 6.


    I don't want to hog the blog


    Whilst I am happy to be disagreed with, I take exception to Adamski

    To say that the Guinness premiership is not superior to the Magners league is quite frankly ludicrous.

    Whatever criteria you use






    I agree that Scotland are on the up and that the series win in Argentina proves this, I also agree that most Celtic players stay and play in their country.

    But the other Celtic sides can compete in both Heineken and put out weakened teams in the Magners and still be competitive both Scottish sides pretty much have to be at full strength to compete in either

    3rd or 4Th in the Magners is fine but we have only ever had 1 team qualify to the quarters of the big one so far as I remember.

    And England do look average and un exciting but for every hooker we get to choose from they will get ten

    And its the same for evey position

    And ten times more people will watch it

    And ten times more tv money will be paid for it

    We don't have to like it but it's the way it is

    or am I wrong

  • Comment number 7.

    Experience is not everything. Talent, coaching, insight, fitness and a whole raft of other things also come into play. Friday night will be interesting as Edinburgh are up against Leinster and if the crowd numbers are low then there is the question of "what's the point?"

    Edinburgh and Glasgow need success and need it now if professional rugby is to survive in Scotland. So time is not the side of the pro teams when it comes to learning.

    If professional rugby fails in Scotland and we are left with the infighting clubs to carry the game forward then parlane will not have a lot of opportunities to cheer on his beloved Scotland devoid of great talent.

    If the current crop of young talent playing for Edinburgh and Glasgow is to stand any chance of continuing to compete in the Magners League then they need money. Money comes from the paying public and this concept is something that the SRU has continually failed to grasp. The SRU needs to be more clever at marketing the professional teams to the paying public and that means getting out and about in Edinburgh and Glassgow. Player appearances at local events, radio and local newspaper interviews and stories.

    An example of where the SRU is failing is that this summer Bath launched their new shirt with a shirt signing event in the centre of Bath. Edinburgh launched their new shirt a week later with press conference at Murrayfield. Why did Edinburgh not launch their new shirts at a city centre store with players on hand to sign them. I bet Bath sold more shirts at their event than Edinburgh did at theirs.

    I have watched the rise of Leinster over the last 10 years from virtually nowhere to being the biggest club in the Magners League. How have they achieved that? Clever marketing, and they are still doing it. They have sold over 43,000 tickets for their ML encounter with Munster (they expect a sellout of 50,000). What chance of Edinburgh selling that many for 1872 cup?

    If the SRU don't do something soon then all the experience in the world will not help make our professional teams a success.

  • Comment number 8.

    BTW John, I noticed that in your blog you did not mention one Scottish rugby player amongst the almost current great experienced leaders on the pitch? Was that deliberate or could you not think of any?

  • Comment number 9.

    I really can't agree with you here John, these players you speak of are learing how to lose tight games not win them. You become experienced by learning from the older men in the teams. You become a great player by marrying this experience with outstanding talent.

    In football Alan Hansen once said you don't win anything with kids and people laughed when Man Utd won the league, however they failed to spot the likes of Mark Hughes, Brian McClair and Bryan Robson guiding these kids (who incidentally are now teaching the next crop).

    This is what Scottish rugby needs, one or two old heads just guiding these talented youngsters in the right direction so that in 2-3 years time they instinctively know how to keep a calm head and close out the tight games.

  • Comment number 10.

    Well put Ginger__Warrior.

    I notice that Rob Moffat has gone from "Confidence" through "Belief" to "Faith" in his squad.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think a lot of people have made very vaild points so far with regards the quality of the Magners vs AVIVA Premiership.

    The AP is always going to generate more money and have more support simply because England is a much bigger country than the sum of Celtic components of the Magners League (though if the Italian teams take off this may help.) Parlane you are correct that from this point of view the AP is always going to receive more exposure and thus is more marketable and more attractive to fans.

    I do feel you are wrong on the quality aspect however. Over the last 2 years I have watched many attritional, low quality games in the Premiership - last season's final and the start to this season have actually been a breath of fresh air (you only need to look at some of Jeremy Guscotts Q&A sessions to back this up.) Think back to the dire Final of 2009 for example.

    In terms of the entertainment aspect if its a choice between a Magners game and an AP, I pick the Magners most times (and you can eliminate the bias aspect - I am a Scot but our teams are on TV so rarely that I don't think this counts!!)

    And if you measure in terms of success - 3 of the last 5 HC winners have come from the Magners, 5 of the 8 semi-finalists in the last 2 years have been from the Magners. What can the AP offer up - 1 winner in the last 5 years, no semi-finalist last year.

    But you are correct Parlane - Scottish club rugby is a backwater, in the Magners we are effectively a sideshow compared to main events that are the Irish and Welsh teams.

    Which leads us back to John's orginal are 100% correct John! Glasgow and Edinburgh are really suffering from a lack of experienced players. This translates into a lack of success and a dwindling of our already low fan base. Philip makes a good point re how poorly the Scottish clubs market their product. Maybe if this is improved then we can generate more sponsorship, interest and perhaps attract a Jerry Collins to play for Edinburgh or Glasgow.

    At the very least we might stand a better chance of keeping hold of our more experienced Scottish players....

  • Comment number 12.

    I have to say that I agree with John. Young, inexperienced sides will always struggle when they come up against teams with the older stalwarts. I agree that this is an area where the Scots sides are struggling and hence the reason why they can do well in the Magners, but struggle in the HC.

    However, it is not the be-all and end-all. Here in Wales, both the Ospreys and the Blues have had the mixture of experience and youth in their sides, but neither side has yet made the impact that they should in the HC (i.e. they have not yet won the tournament). However, the gulf between Ospreys and Blues when compared to the other Welsh regions (Scarlets and Dragons) does back up John's assertion. The Scarlets and Dragons both have very young sides (mainly due to finances, or lack-of) and hence they have struggled in recent years. However, just like Glasgow and Edinburgh, they have the ability to beat anyone on their day, but lack the strength in depth or the fortitude to keep doing it every week.

    However, even in Wales, Blues and Ospreys still have a lot to learn in regard to their fortitude and ability to close out games. Both should have progressed at least to the final of the HC in recent years, but fell at earlier hurdles due the above listed deficiencies.

    Where the Scottish regions could learn from Blues and Ospreys is in how they market themselves. Neither Blues or Ospreys have regular huge crowds (apart from the HC games and the derbies), but they get their finances because of how effectively both market themselves. It is no coincidence that Ospreys have the best selling shirt-sales in the Magners League and the second-best shirt-sales in the UK. Blues are not far behind. A walk around most areas in South Wales (even in Scarlets and Dragons catchment areas) will see a large number of people walking around wearing either Ospreys or Blues jerseys.

    Granted, the Welsh regions get a lot more support from their Union than do the Scottish regions from theirs, but I don't believe either of the Scottish regions help themselves on that front. Whenever I have visited Glasgow and Edinburgh, it is rare to see either regions jerseys being worn by the man-on-the-street except perhaps on a match day.

    Remember, the Welsh regions are just as young as the Scottish ones, but I would say the Welsh regions are already well-known and recognised all over the rugby-playing world, whereas teh Scottish regions are not.

    Personally, I see a steady improvement in Scottish rugby over the last few years and let's be honest, if the national side is doing well then the feel-good factor does filter down to the regions AND the clubs. What Scottish rugby really needs is a successful international campaign this season and carried on into the World Cup next year, and then for the SRU to follow that up by employing people who REALLY know how to market the product.

    Rugby is and always will be far behind football in Scotland, but it is not an insurmountable hurdle. As I recall, prior to regionalisation in Scotland, the premier clubs (Hawick, Gala, Kelso etc etc) all used to attract very healthy crowd numbers.

    On a final note, one of the contributing factors of low attendance with the Welsh regions is that all 4 can be seen Live on TV every weekend. Does Scotland have that problem ?

    BTW John, Leinster were beaten by Treviso last weekend remember. They may be vulnerable to another defeat this weekend so try not to be so pessimistic !!

  • Comment number 13.

    Jester21 - In Scotland they do not have regions, they used to have districts and now they have two professional teams. I wouldn't call them clubs because that is not what they are - yet.

    The SRU own both Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors and provide them with annual budgets to operate.

    To answer Jester21's question. Until this season home games were not shown live, except for the 2 Edinburgh v Glasgow games so this was not a problem. I think that being broadcast live on a minor channel may actually help crowd numbers but only if the SRU step up their other marketing efforts to attract local people to go along.

    I am not convinced that one strong year for the national side will make that much difference. Consistent success on the pitch for both Edinburgh and Glasgow over a long period is what is needed and that cannot wait for the young ones to gain their experience and become old hands at losing.

    I've just read the Edinburgh team to face Leinster. Edinburgh need a new coach.

  • Comment number 14.

    This is going to be a tough season, but it is also a building season.

    I'm sick of building seasons frankly but it is better for the SRU to get out of debt ASAP and then hopefully lean, payroll-shedding squads will be a distant memory.

    We need players to get excited about and to see more of Jackson, Samson, Gregor and that chappy who played a winner at flyhalf for Edinburgh last season.

    I tried looking him up on the Edinburgh website, then remembered that he was a club player who never actually got a professional contract, meaning I think, that he played and marshalled a significant Edinburgh win for free.

    A disgrace and Edinburgh should have offered him a deal.

    I would like to see Edinburgh move Mike Blair and Phil Godman on. They are good players but I feel they are holding the club back. I'm also not sure if they would truly thrive elsewhere, it may be that they are holding back better players who want it more. They are both frustratingly inconsistent, and a turnover of players would bring the new crop up. If this has to be a building season, then we should make the most of it.

    BTW Is Visser looking for a Scotland cap at some point? He is a quality player, and I wouldn't put up a fight against the idea.

    Anyway, good luck Edinburgh and Glasgow.

  • Comment number 15.

    This is a very interesting debate, however one which may carry on for some time for years to come.

    The product of professional rugby in Scotland is improving slowly but surely. However, the league/divisonal clubs also need to improve their players and become more professional in their approach to the game. Money incentives seem to be the only way the game at this level can progress successfully and flourish. As we all know it stems at grass roots level, and getting more youngsters involved in rugby and really pushing the sport. Unfortunately football is still the dominant force, and even the SFL struggle to promote the game to it's full potential at grass roots.

    Agreed - Marketing is the answer! Getting Pro clubs into schools etc, and having local schools affiliated with reputable clubs that have the correct infrastructure in place, and can be easily co-ordinated into the SRU's programme would be ideal.

    I know Glasgow have really good prices for their season tickets - especially for the youth. Correct me if i am mistaken, but is an U18 season ticket not £30 and students £90? When you think an SPL football match can set you back £20+, then in comparison, rugby is extremely reasonable in price. I am sure most of you will agree that pound for pound, rugby is better value for money than football will ever be.

    I wouldn't worry too much about Glasgow. Yes they have had 2 hick-ups since Leinster, but on both occassions were very close to winning the games. If Glasgow can rectify these little teething issues i would expect to see performances week in week out like the second half against Leinster where they were almost invincible.

    As for experience, the average age cannot go un-noticed, however, there are a few 'experienced heads' in the team, such as Berni Stortoni (ex Argentinian int), Frederico Aramburu (ex Argentinian int), and Al Kellock (Scot Int) whom will return very shortly and will be there to be called upon.

    In short, i feel that if the product of pro Scottish rugby continually improves, with better results year on year, then interest and support will grow and create more interest/revenue in the game.

  • Comment number 16.

    have to agree with you on Blair and Godman.
    I know it was not your position John, but why can't Blair pass quick ball from the base of a scrum/maul? He must have been scragged at least 3/4 times on friday,
    So frustrating when on the front foot with these talented kids.

  • Comment number 17.

    John losing seven in a row is now a learning experience. Nothing at all has changed on the pitch since last season. Edinburgh's new executive officers are ruining everthing built up over the past few years. Glasgow are at least trying, Edinburgh currently are in self destruct mode on and off the park. Craig Docherty will be facing some hard questions on friday night and I will be asking for my ST money back as Edinburgh are not supplying the goods promised on their season ticket promotion.

  • Comment number 18.

    Good article John. Very true that the current squads lack enough old heads to notice things during game and use experience to change momentum. In Glasgow there is only really Stortoni and then you are struggling. Morrison is 28 I think but hardly a stalwart like a Simon Shaw.

    Having watched the Edinburgh and Glasgow games I don't think there is much to worry about display wise. The Connacht defeat was bitter one to swallow but they have been a different team so far from one smashed by 60 points by Edinburgh. Thought Gray and Vernon were immense and most skillful players on park against Dragons. They are ready for Scotland and the rest are on the learning curve like they were but on track.

    Anyone know how Hogg, Taylor and Brown are getting on so far ?

  • Comment number 19.

    A welcome return to your normal high standards of article John. Good to see.

    I couldn't agree more with your article but it highlights the problems that Scotland has only having two top level sides. With only two sides you'll constantly be trading off giving your young players a chance to show themselves and allowing the experienced players to add the nouse to the team.

    This is a problem that can only be solved by introducing more regions, but does the SRU have the money for this? and, given the less than stellar gates in Scottish regional rugby, is there the public interest?

  • Comment number 20.

    Scotland doesn't have rugby regions. Last time I looked Edinburgh and Glasgow were cities.

    In the bad old days, the level below the national set-up comprised Districts and the annual strammash was called the Inter-District Championship.

    Only the Welsh have regions, and the Irish have provinces.

    Regional rugby is something that the SRU AGM voted against this year and now National 3 (division 6 in the grand scheme of things) teams are finding it a bit difficult to get to Orkney.

  • Comment number 21.


    having read all the previous posts I may not have got too excited going first but instead posted an in depth deep hitting and factually correct literal piece of genius (bit too far I know)

    Good decisions at crucial times win games

    Not by individuals but by 5 or 6 experienced players

    The all blacks embraced this in the 2007 World Cup ( yes I know quarter finals but bear with me)

    They regularly held meetings with the management and key leaders not just the captain but leaders in the front row back row and a couple in the backs who would take charge in game situations

    This led to a game plan and consistency through out the team even when key changes or injuries took place

    And this is the norm for them now

    McCaw in charge but several players could step up and do his job

    Here in Scotland we have very few players to have played at the very highest level or under the best coaches and certainly don't have more than a couple in each team

  • Comment number 22.


    looks like my original post got repeated

    Must have been really good or something

    I agree that experience will not win games but when narrow can close them out

    You still need the dynamism and explosiveness's that the youth bring

    Look at Sam Tompkins all legs and bum fluff but scares the hell out of seasoned internationals, different code I know but class

    But without your Neil Backs or Calders or Taits you can forget it

    John the true answer is you need good desicion makers and good players whatever age

    So it's not one or the other

    To prove it would you back against the U 20 All Blacks losing to a full Italy Team

    Probably get a tought time in the forwards but get parity or better in the loose play

    Cause of the coaching and conditioning and the lifestyle choices

    We could have players playing 30 years in Scotland and called experienced but I would not be confident that they could match up

  • Comment number 23.

    Excuse my ignorance, but if the Scottish teams are not regions, then what are they ?

    Granted, Glasgow and Edinburgh are both city-based teams, but until a few years ago you also had the Borders playing in the Magners, and that area certainly was not a city !!

    I also agree that it was travesty that Borders were dismantled (rather the same as I think the loss of the Celtic Warriors in Wales was a travesty).

    Whilst I understand the SRU felt it could not afford to keep funding the Borders, times change. The WRU felt that only 4 regions were viable in Wales, but noises are now coming out that maybe that was a wrong assessment as the repeated calls for another regions to be set-up in North Wales bears out.

    I agree with LastKingOfScotland that the fact you only have two teams in Scotland causes a problem for Scottish players coming through as there are limited opportunities for those coming through to get to the highest level. Little wonder then that so many Scottish players find themselves playing in England and Wales. If a Scottish team then employs an overseas player (for their experience) that limits the options of up-and-coming Scottish players even further.

    Again, it is all about marketing. Good marketing may get an apathetic Scottish population enthused about following the Scottish teams. The apathy is sadly endemic as shown by recent British-based World Cups that have happened whereby Scottish internationals were very pooryl supported. It seems to me that the Scottish population only gets enthused enough to follow Scotland when it is a 6 nations game....and of the ones I have attended in Edinburgh it seems to me that most of the attendees come from the Border regions rather than either of the Scottish cities.

    If the marketing is failing to get Scots to follow the national side, then what hope have Edinburgh and Glasgow ? Maybe that is the issue. Disenfranchised people from the Borders regions just have no appetite for supporting the city-based teams ?

    I'll re-emphasise that the real issue here is one of marketing. First at the SRU and then at Edinburgh & Glasgow. There's a lot of money sloshing around in rugby playing areas of Scotland that is not being tapped into.

  • Comment number 24.

    Nice one Jester

    Surely part of the problem is pricing for tickets. It seems to me that for many years the SRU and indeed the welsh regions talk a great deal about business and marketing but whenever I see magners games on the telly all I see are empty seats. That looks to me like someone, somewhere isn't doing their job very well at all.

    As for SRU pricing... well thats been off for many years

  • Comment number 25.

    On the plane to Delhi on Saturday...

    Parlane - I quite like the Magners league, a lot more British Lions and internationalists are on display it feels like. BACKWATER - I like being Scottish, I like it a is bad and we win a few games.

    MAtthew, yup it's not all down to experience but it helps

    Adamski - Firhill for thrills

    Philip - Al Kellock great on pitch, same with Jacobsen and Mike Blair and Chris Paterson plus Parks when he is on fire

    Ginger_Warrior - we aren't that far apart in thought, it is a great experience for the young players and it will be very good for them

    Digitman - I think Mike Blair can pass quick, often a scrum half being scrapped is because he doesn't get protection and sometimes they run a few paces to keep a defence interested so that it doesn't fly up and banjo the back line

    Plus, I don't think SRU could afford new teams and creating more teams would make them less experienced rather than more

  • Comment number 26.

    John, I'm not sure I agree a team of experienced 30 year olds will always beat a team of 20 year olds. 2010 World Cup 2nd round game England V Germany springs to mind and then quarter final Argentina v Germany. I could go on but I won't!

  • Comment number 27.

    I agree in the main that the tendency is always to look to the old heads. However, I think that this is explained by the fact that to still be playing at the top level at an advanced age, you have to have all those 'big game' skills in your locker to show the coach you have a competitive advantage over the young guns with their endless ability to run. Understanding of the game means the old boys know not to be caught in areas where they canot use their greater knowledge against the athletic ability of the young ones.

    It would be interesting to ask those old boys like Shaw, whether when they were young they still looked at the old boys for help or realised they were good enough to do it themselves and backed themselves to do it.


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