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THE BREAKDOWN, STEVE SCOTT: Warriors fans still need assurance

21/05/19
GLASGOW WARRIORS TRAINING
SCOTSTOUN STADIUM - GLASGOW
The Glasgow Warriors team huddle
21/05/19 GLASGOW WARRIORS TRAINING SCOTSTOUN STADIUM - GLASGOW The Glasgow Warriors team huddle

You will be familiar with the current dynamic of the supporters of Scotland’s two pro teams if you’re a parent.

One of the two siblings is moaning about the other getting preferential treatment.

The truth is, of course, that there is no such thing, at least consciously. But so sensitive are the little darlings that every extra chip on the plate moves immediately to the shoulder as evidence of a conspiracy.

It’s an unavoidable circumstance of both clubs having the same parent, of course. Murrayfield is the Bank of Mum and Dad for both Edinburgh and Glasgow, so equal treatment comes under great scrutiny.

In times passed, there was often not even a attempt to hide an imbalance. When Gregor Townsend was head coach of Glasgow, he got all the toys to play with while Edinburgh had to make do with books and a selection box.

The result was the Glasgow Warriors became a success both on the field and especially at the box office. The sellout streak at Scotstoun was the result.

Nowadays, Murrayfield have done a much better job at balancing the ledger. Edinburgh get a better pick of the best young talent – while Glasgow get the Fagersons, Horne and Hastings, Edinburgh have been given Jamie Ritchie, Kinghorn and Darcy and others.

But in Glasgow they fear that the balance has gone entirely the other way. Witness the current situation where Edinburgh have their squad signed, sealed and announced for the re-start, whilst the Warriors fans are still waiting for the signings that will, replace a swathe of departures and retirements.

This week’s announcement that Andrew Davidson and Marshall Sykes, both at Scotstoun – Davidson was full-time player, Sykes an Academy attachment – were headed to Edinburgh has Warriors fans bordering on apopleptic.

Both are second rows, and Glasgow are somewhat short of them with Tim Swinson and Jonny Gray gone to England, and Leone Nakarawa was supposed to follow them, until his re-signing was belatedly revealed. What’s going on?

Just before he left, erstwhile Warriors head coach Dave Rennie said there were a number of signings to be announced, and, in all likeliehood, they’ve probably been confirmed for months.

A clue came in the revelations of George Turner’s contract extension and the moves by Davidson and Sykes this week. Both press releases indicated that these terms had been agreed and signed prior to lockdown in March.

Why point that out? Because it’s a way around the fact that Scotland’s pro players are furloughed at the moment, and technically can’t be signing anything.

The same thing is going on as players return to reconditioning at Murrayfield this week as “an invitation to train”, language that HMRC are apparently cool with. Obviously, none of the players are ever going to decline the invitation.

So why not just reveal who they’ve they’ve signed? I have no idea, to be honest. Scottish Rugby’s communications strategy – such as it is – during the lockdown has been a complete mystery to me, but one would suspect, in Glasgow’s case, Turner’s re-signing is the first in a drip feed of announcements coming over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, of course, the Warriors have done nothing with their teasing but annoy their fans, who are already upset at rising ricket prices at Scotstoun. And of course, it has perpetuated the conspiracy theory that Edinburgh are getting favourable treatment.

That’s a dangerous perception for Scottish Rugby, though.

Glasgow has been a big success story all-round, a competitive, popular team selling out 7600 seats week-on-week in what is not remotely a rugby city. They got nearly 50,000 at Celtic Park for the PRO14 final as well.

Murrayfield want 7600 sell-outs in Edinburgh, too, and so a new stadium is being build on the back pitches in the belief that getting out of the cavernous big stadium into a more intimate and atmospheric arena will work like it seems to have done at Scotstoun.

The theory goes that Edinburgh IS a rugby city, so it HAS to have an audience of at least that size. To me, that’s a dangerous assumption.

It’s something the SRU tried before, with the third team in the Borders. A guaranteed audience in the rugby heartland, we were assured. How could it fail?

Only it did. There is plenty revisionism still going on about that team but I remember widespread hostility to the Reivers due to the old traditions, and the simple lack of an audience. There are 120,000 people in the Borders, but they are well spread out and already had the kind of rugby they like.

Starting something new and fresh elsewhere, not even in accepted rugby territory, like Aberdeen, would have worked better. The proof of that is surely in the success of Glasgow.

But it’s not bombproof forever. Even if the Warriors fans’ sense of injustice is wrong, it still needs to be partly indulged.

It’s possible Edinburgh’s potential might already be realised – they have a good team right now and crowds are up, but not massively.

Scottish professional rugby has a success story already in the Warriors. They shouldn’t neglect it one iota, even if it’s just keeping up appearances.

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