Ruaridh Jackson kicks for goal
Why are Glasgow Warriors so good and Edinburgh so bad?
By Hamish Macdonell
THE stats speak for themselves: Glasgow – played four won four, top of the league, and selling out every home game. Edinburgh – played four, won one, bottom of the league, struggling with poor attendances, low morale and plummeting confidence.
Glasgow’s win on Friday night was impressive, not just because the team won again away from home but in the tries they scored: they were sharp, clinical and well delivered. But the Warriors management know they should have left Italy with a bonus point as well, having scored three tries in the first hour. Not only could they not score the crucial fourth in the final quarter but actually managed to concede two in the process, the first Glasgow have let in all season.
This is actually part of the reason behind Glasgow’s success. The team is built on terrifically tenacious defence. There are other reasons for Glasgow’s success too. Head coach Gregor Townsend has amassed a really competitive squad and he seems to rotate everything, including his choice of kicker, to keep all the players keen and not entirely sure if they are the number one choice in their position or not. But Townsend has done more than that too. Anyone coaching grassroots rugby in Scotland will know of the SRU’s key themes and, apparently, Townsend was behind this too, deciding what the core aims of rugby coaching should be (for instance placement of the ball after the tackle) and moving to get it inculcated right through rugby in Scotland from the minis up.
It is now clear that Townsend has a vision of how modern rugby should be played and Glasgow are doing it, and doing it well. It does involve solid defence but it also involves terrific work at the ruck, both in possession and in opposition.
A classic feature of Glasgow’s play for the last two seasons has been the team’s ability to really contest opposition ruck ball. Often this involves counter rucking, hard and fast, to sweep the opposition back and give them, at best, poor back-foot ball. Glasgow have a good combination of fiery, front-foot forwards, like Josh Strauss and Rob Harley and speedy backs like DTH Van der Merwe and Stuart Hogg. But, if the victory on Friday can be attributed to the contribution of one man, it would be Sean Maitland.
Maitland doesn’t score nearly as many tries as other back three players but he has such fabulous control over the basic skills that he sets up so many. The two he set up on Friday exemplified this.
For the first, he took a terrific line outside the ten channel, not to get the ball from Ruaridh Jackson at fly half but to get the inside ball from Alex Dunbar at 12. His speed took him clear and, with just the full back to beat, many others would have backed themselves to get to the line but not Maitland, he just drew the fullback and put in an inch perfect pass to Byron McGuigan who scored.
For the second, again Maitland found himself through the line but this time he had two defenders in front of him so he put through a delightful grubber – while going at speed – which sat up nicely for McGuigan to score once again.
Maitland is a great addition to Glasgow’s squad and an example of how wisely Glasgow have invested in talent, far better, it must be said, than Edinburgh.
Edinburgh under Alan Solomons have decided to try to become solid, defensive and, it has to be said, boring. Being boring and winning is one thing but being boring and losing is quite another. Unfortunately, that is where Edinburgh are at the moment. The game plan seems to be: if you have the ball in your own half, kick it away and wait for the opposition to make a mistake. Then, only run it if you are in the opposition 22. Otherwise, rely on South African brute strength over guile. It might work in the long run but it sure isn’t working yet.
There have been times, and Friday’s night’s loss to the Scarlets showed this several times, when Edinburgh could have run the ball from their own 22. Indeed, they may well have had an overlap to exploit and certainly had the players to do it, but they kicked away the ball, possession and the attacking opportunity.
It’s always worth looking at how the best in the world do it. The All Blacks always play heads up rugby, knowing that an overlap in your own 22 can be just as effective as an overlap in your opponent’s 22: if it’s on, they take it. Glasgow have the confidence to do that: Edinburgh do not.
Edinburgh’s lack of options in the back line is becoming more than a concern: it is becoming the beginning of a crisis. Edinburgh’s lack of fly half options is made almost laughable by the embarrassment of riches that Glasgow have at ten and, instead of bringing in more and more bulky South African forwards, perhaps Solomans would be better employed scouring the world for a decent ten, preferably Scottish qualified.
So it really is a tale of two cities. Glasgow sit on top of the league and are playing very well indeed. Edinburgh are at the bottom and deserve to be there. It would so much better for Scottish rugby if both teams were competitive but that seems unlikely to happen soon. Maybe Edinburgh will improve when Matt Scott comes back at 12, Greig Laidlaw comes back at either nine or ten and Tim Visser is back at 11. But none of them will be able to exert the influence they have done in the past unless Edinburgh relax their rigid game plan.
It hasn’t worked so far and, if it doesn’t start working soon, they will have no option but to ditch it and try something else – and imitating Glasgow might not be a bad place to start.