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THE BREAKDOWN, STEVE SCOTT: Returning old heroes is great, but development of future stars is the real point of the pro teams

(L to R) Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray left Scotland for big money deals elsewhere.
(L to R) Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray left Scotland for big money deals elsewhere.

Duncan Weir is on his way back to Scotstoun.

The Warriors fans in the East Stand “Massive” (it’s ironic) can dust off their song for Dunky – to the tune of “Yellow Submarine” – `we all dream of a team of Duncan Weirs’.

Glasgow are in sore need of a reliable, veteran 10 and there’s few as solid as Dunky. Plus he’s following – sorry to go all Lion King on you – the “circle of life” of the elite Scottish professional rugby player.

A short career in a violent sport

The promising youngster works his way through age group, clubs and academy, and makes a quick impact in the PRO14.

He thereafter gets called into Scotland training and is swiftly capped. A couple of contract extensions with Edinburgh or Glasgow take him into his mid-20s.

Then it’s time to cash in and get more money playing in England’s Gallagher Premiership or France’s Top14.

This is a short career in a violent, physical sport where the cleaver of career-ending injury hangs over every player. They’ve every right – in fact a duty to their partners and family – to maximise their reward.

So our player goes to England or France and plays out one or maybe two three-year contracts. Then he comes back home to the bosom of the Scottish rugby family to finish his playing days on a tidy deal.

There’s exceptions to this pattern, of course. Some don’t come back until it’s time to coach, like Kelly Brown. Some don’t come back at all like Greig Laidlaw, currently off in Japan after his French adventure – although Greig may still come home when that deal ends.

A comforting symmetry

Duncan Weir playing for Worcester last week.

You also like the comforting symmetry involved; the veteran returning for the mentor/exemplar role among those coming up. Glasgow no doubt hope and expect Weir to fulfil this, while bringing his steady hand and boot to the Warriors’ first team.

The Scottish pattern is very different to our friends in Ireland and Wales. There, money is laid aside to stop the “cash-in” spell in England or France. In Wales there’s even a rule – conveniently ignored on occasion – stating players don’t get considered for the national team if they play “abroad”.

Ireland pays properly big money to its best players without blackmailing them with the national jersey. It’s worked out well, only Jonny Sexton escaping for a brief spell at Racing in Paris.

Even then, Sexton quickly retreated back to the loving arms of the IRFU, where he’s not asked to play anything other than Ireland and Leinster’s Heineken Cup games.

Scotland simply can’t pay the big money to keep the likes of Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Jonny Gray or more recently Duhan van der Merwe playing here. And really, neither should they.

The case of Duhan van der Merwe

Edinburgh’s Duhan van der Merwe scored 31 tries in three seasons with the club.

The announcement of Van der Merwe’s departure for Worcester brought an almost hysterical reaction from some. The inference was the wing had simply waited for his residency to be complete and his cap before high-tailing it out of Scotland on the first bus south.

In truth, the player had actually signed two year-long extensions at Edinburgh during his time there. He’d repaid the faith shown in bringing him from Montpellier, in one of those coaching hunches that worked out spectacularly well.

Van der Merwe was never a “project” player, recruited with the intention of serving residency before becoming a Scotland cap. He was an athlete who turned into an international rugby player, thanks to the coaching of Richard Cockerill, Calum MacRae and Duncan Hodge.

The idea that it was simply the caps – and therefore exposure to the genius coaching of Gregor Townsend – that suddenly made him attractive to Worcester is nonsense. Anyone who saw him at Edinburgh after just a few games saw the international potential. Worcester and other clubs did as well.

According to Cockerill, Edinburgh made a “robust” offer to van der Merwe. Worcester offered much more, just like Exeter did to Hoggy and Jonny, and like Racing did to Finn.

Hamish Watson bucked the trend last week by staying at Edinburgh, but his situation was slightly different.

The back rower is 29, this was probably his last big contract, and his family were already settled. It’s very likely he accepted less money to stay at Edinburgh than was on offer from – reportedly – Racing 92.

What are Edinburgh Rugby and the Glasgow Warriors actually for?

Promising Glasgow 10 Ross Thompson.

But do we want to keep all our top stars like Wales and Ireland do, no matter the cost? I’d say no, as the primary purpose for me of Edinburgh and Glasgow existing is developing young Scottish players for the elite game and ultimately for Scotland.

It’s nice if they’re competitive in the PRO14 and Europe, of course. But the developmental aspect is far more important, even it means the players occasionally exit for more cash, and we have spells where the pro teams struggle, like now.

If anything, the “returning hero” aspect of this pro career pattern needs to be nipped in the bud. Glasgow brought too many old favourites back under Dave Rennie, blocking the development of young players, and the result is largely what you see at the Warriors this season, in my opinion.

Weir returning is a very good deal for Glasgow, on balance. Just don’t miss the chance to see if young 10 Ross Thompson could be the next man up.

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