Scots yearn for talent Swap Shop
May 4, 2010
The same old issue looks set to continue to give Scotland coach Andy Robinson some sleepless nights in the months and years ahead © Getty Images
Where is Noel Edmonds when you need him? I don't mean that host of "Deal or No Deal" but rather the younger version of the same chap who used to present "Swap Shop" and don't pretend you don't remember! It won't happen but with the countdown to the World Cup underway there are several countries that would like a rugby swap shop of their own to exchange players with their neighbours.
At the top of the Irish priority list is props which is the only position standing, or more likely lying flat on the ground with a couple of hundred kilos of Frenchman laughing in their face, between the "golden generation" and a decent run at New Zealand 2011.
If someone as useful as Fabien Barcella can only make the Biarritz bench then France is the place to look but what would Marc Lievremont want in return? Perhaps he'd settle an openside flanker because Flugence Ouedrago's work at the breakdown is some way short of the very best in the business.
Wales could do with the same, a young openside to replace Martyn Williams who is beginning to look his age, while Martin Johnson would give several limbs for an inside centre who equalled Will Greenwood's obvious intelligence combined with his 360 degree vision. He should look no further than Australia who have the luxury of choosing between Berrick Barnes and Matt Giteau, both men ready-made for the role.
And so to Scotland. For all his heroics in Dublin, Andy Robinson still wakes in a cold sweat in the wee small hours after suffering nightmares about Scotland's dearth of playmakers. Yes, Dan Parks played well in the Six Nations and won three man of the match awards so what is the problem? The problem is that Scotland's backs scored one try between them all Championship (one try in 400 minutes of rugby, you can probably work out the average yourself) and the Aussie has to take at least some of the heat for that miserable statistic. Even then, that one try from Max Evans came courtesy of a Parks' grubber kick in Cardiff. In comparison Italy's back division, a collective not previously noted for slicing the opposition to shreds, managed to score four.
Parks is good at kicking the ball but hopeless when asked to get the best out of a backline, he stands deep and crabs across the field so ushering the defence onto his outside backs who don't stand a chance. In rugby parlance, he doesn't keep the defence honest. His rival Phil Godman plays flat, he attacks the gain line and he isn't afraid to chance his arm. In short, he makes things happen but sadly he can't kick his way out of a wet paper bag. Scotland have hookers and scrumhalves in abundance to swap for one decent playmaker if there are any takers out there?
At least Andy Robinson recognises the problem and, along with the SRU's high performance director Graham Lowe, the coach has started to fast track Scotland's best young playmakers. It was announced recently that Alex Blair (who will join his brothers Mike and David in Edinburgh colours next season) will travel this summer not to the U20 World Championships in Argentina but instead to the Nations Cup in Bucharest. His place in the national U20 squad is filled by the Scotland U19 fly-half Duncan Weir who has already signed pro-forms with Glasgow.
The idea is to promote and hothouse Scotland's best young playmakers so they are ready to step into the Parks/Godman role after the big one in New Zealand next year. The only slight drawback is that Scotland's U20 schedule looks a sight more daunting than the summer planned for the Scotland A squad. In Argentina the youngsters will play: Australia, South Africa and Tonga. In Romania the national A team will face: Georgia, Namibia and Argentina Jaguars (the Pumas' second string). The A Team have a holiday in comparison with the Scotland juniors.
At least the Murrayfield authorities are finally doing something about Scotland's problem position but life was never meant to be simple.
Alex Blair is a superb, instinctive rugby player with a Barry John break and blistering pace but he doesn't know how to control a game and his kicking from hand bounces between poor and patchy. In contrast Duncan Weir is made from the same stuff as Parks, his decision making and execution is good but, less of an athlete than Blair, he poses little enough threat with the ball in hand and, like his mentor at Glasgow, he is happiest playing well behind the game line.
After umpteen years of arguing about the merits of a kicking fly-half (Parks) against the benefits of fielding a running play-maker (Godman) it looks like Scottish rugby is about to start all over again. It's Groundhog Day. We're going to spend the next decade having the same debate all over again, only the names will have changed.
Forget for the moment Scotland swapping a scrum-half for a fly-half, what the country really needs is to swap this tired old argument for a different one altogether. Please?