Pick your poison. Play the Six Nations in misery behind closed doors again, or play Scotland’s games in Newcastle.
Writing in the London Telegraph, former Scotland and British and Irish Lions head coach Sir Ian McGeechan thinks Scotland (and Wales) should take their Six Nations games across the border rather than play at an empty Murrayfield again.
The current restrictions in Scotland and Wales (and Ireland and France) seems set to hit the championship for a second year in a row. Even if Omicron doesn’t blow through, there’s apparently “fresh” variants looming.
At the moment, there are no restrictions on crowd numbers in England. Rather than take the hit of revenues for home games for a second successive season, Wales (where no fans are allowed at all at present) are apparently actively considering going across the border.
St James Park the obvious alternative?
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 1, 2022
Scotland is of course restricted to just 500 fans at least until January 17, with no guarantees of a return to normal then. Scottish Rugby has some hard thinking to do, and not a lot of time to do it.
Newcastle’s St James Park was a rollicking venue for full houses in two Scotland games at the World Cup of 2015, and it would appear to be the obvious alternative.
Scottish Rugby lost £20 million last year on the three empty Murrayfield games. This year there are just two home matches, but they’re full-fat ones, England and France.
TV money is in the bag – as is the CVC investment cash – but just as they were hoping to emerge from the crippling Covid costs, this would be brutal for the Murrayfield hierarchy.
Saudi-funded Newcastle United would want a pretty penny, even if they could fit it all in around their perennially struggling team. Ticketing for a full house while still refunding those already sold would be excessive. All at – probably – two weeks’ notice for the Calcutta Cup game?
The political element
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) February 25, 2017
There’s also the issue of Scottish Rugby seriously pissing off the Scottish Government. They don’t want a mass movement of potentially infected people going to and fro down the A1 (although they probably couldn’t stop it).
Who really cares about that, you might say? But Murrayfield has done a very careful job – largely via the workings of former chief operating officer Dominic McKay – of keeping Holyrood onside for various activities over the years (and successive administrations). They’d be detonating decades-worth of lobbying all in one blow.
And if you’ve been to Murrayfield recently, you know the old spiky pile is looking a bit shabby in places. It’s not really up to the standards of a modern 21st century stadium. Dating from 1994 (without any major renovations) is actually quite old in top stadia terms these days.
Scottish Rugby is NOT going to pay for the level of refurbishment needed all by themselves this time (nor should they). Guess who they’ll probably need for at least part of costs?
2021 was one of the best, but most miserable
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) December 31, 2021
Although regular readers may doubt it, there is some joy in my life. One is working at rugby internationals; yes, even when Scotland get humped. Admittedly, it did take last year’s silent Six Nations and November’s return of fans to make me fully acknowledge this.
Last year’s Six Nations was one of the most exciting ever played, but it was also an utter misery. Two games at Murrayfield that would have been all-time classics in front of a full house passed off with barely a shrug.
The wins in London and Paris were still special. But how much more would they have been if the stands had been full?
All that written, to me, in practical and political terms, I really don’t think there’s any alternative. The echoing sounds of misheard lineout calls and the frankly pathetic piped noises through the sound system are what we’re going to get.
If these variants turn out to be a perennial seasonal disorder, then we have another discussion to make. Maybe about playing the championship – and even the sport, praise be – when the weather is halfway nice.
Until then, I don’t see a viable alternative to slamming the doors again.
Why didn’t rugby snare David Ojabo?
Next chapter…🖤 Thank you God pic.twitter.com/NZU1qx2doS
— KingJabo👑 (@DavidOjabo) January 4, 2022
This week David Ojabo, the Nigerian-born, Scottish-raised super-athlete, declared that he was entering the NFL draft.
David (21) has just had a sensational season with the University of Michigan Wolverines as one of the best young linebackers in the sport.
There’s general agreement that he’ll be drafted in the first round of April’s draft of the year’s top prospects. Some projections have him going in the top 10. This is downright astonishing for someone who has been playing the sport for barely four years.
David grew up in Aberdeen, where his Dad Victor was an oil engineer. He still considers Scotland as home (check out his twitter header). David’s sports as a kid were soccer and basketball, and he left for the US aged 17 to pursue a career in basketball.
But the coaches at Blair Academy in New Jersey saw this 6ft 5in, nearly 18 stone specimen could run 100 metres in 10.8 seconds. They quickly surmised he was perfect for American Football.
What a No 8 he would have been
What I want to know is, where were Aberdeen’s – or Scotland’s – rugby scouts? A player of David’s size and pace would be utterly devastating – probably at No 8 – in all areas.
Maybe he had no interest in our game, which would be fair enough. But it sounds as if he was convinced fairly easily to switch to playing American Football, which is at least as physical as rugby.
Hopefully David lands with a good NFL team. His potential is limitless given he how quickly he’s developed from a standing start.
But what a chance missed for us.