Can Scottish sides keep it going?
December 15, 2009
Edinburgh's Chris Paterson scraps against Munster © PA Photos
Take a peek at the Magners League table. Now, rub the disbelief out of your eyes, pinch yourself to ensure you aren't dreaming and look again. It's true.
The two Scottish pro-teams, Edinburgh and Glasgow, are sitting proudly atop of the Magners League in first and second places. Both teams are stuck on 23 points after eight rounds and Glasgow have their noses in front of their rivals on account of a marginally better points differential.
This is great news for Scottish fans who are more accustomed to see their sides languishing at the ugly end of the table. Glasgow and Edinburgh have never occupied the top two slots past the first couple of weeks of the season yet there they are with the league almost at the half way stage.
The 1872 Cup, which is played between the two cities in two legs over the holiday season, now has some added spice. If one team can win both matches they will probably grab top spot in the league while undermining their rivals' campaign.
It's the first year of end-of-season playoffs and both Scottish teams have given themselves a fighting chance of making one of the four places although, with seventh placed Ulster just one bonus point win away from top spot, there is little to choose between the teams in the Magners.
They say that the league table never lies but the reality is that the Magners is being economical with the truth. Under the stewardship of Tony McGahan Munster are finally giving the league the respect it deserves but the Cardiff Blues have just 3 wins from eight starts which suggests that they are not.
Until it is taken seriously by all the big teams the Magners League will only tell part if the story. Without relegation to act as a poke in the ribs, clubs still field weakened sides before the international window and immediately after it. Leinster rested 17 players for a recent trip to the Dragons.
For a more accurate guide to exactly how well the Scottish teams are doing you need to look at the Heineken Cup and that tells a rather different story. Glasgow and Edinburgh both boast one win from three in the tournament everyone wants to win.
Second top of the Magners lost to second bottom of the Guinness when Bath beat Edinburgh at the weekend. Bath are a better team that their lowly league position suggests but Edinburgh probably lack the strength in depth to justify second top of the Magners all the same.
Earlier on in this tournament Edinburgh were royally spanked by Stade in Paris and won only narrowly against Ulster at home. Their chances of progressing to the knock out stage are very slim.
Glasgow have found a rich vein of form especially with the return of Max Evans and beat Gloucester with something to spare last time out. Their young forward pack has been a revelation and if Sean Lineen can keep it together you will hear a lot more about it. But for all their youthful vigour Glasgow lost their opening two European games against the Dragons and Biarritz so their chances of a quarterfinal place are almost non-existent.
With 10 league weekend's still to go in the Magners before the playoff places are decided, Scotland will do well to get one team in the playoff places never mind two. The big four in the Magners, Cardiff, Ospreys, Munster and Leinster, still have budgets and squads that dwarf their Scottish rivals who are currently punching above their weight.
Long may it continue, but you have to worry that Edinburgh and Glasgow will get themselves knocked off the top spots long before the season's end.