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1872 Cup: An entertaining second episode, but few clues for Scotland coach Gregor Townsend

Geoiirge Taylor dives in for Glasgow's second try.
Geoiirge Taylor dives in for Glasgow's second try.

In terms of entertainment, the second 1872 Cup match at Scotstoun was “The Sopranos” if the first Murrayfield game was accurately compared in quality to “El Dorado” or “Triangle”.

Five tries, three yellow cards, a missed conversion at the end proving pivotal? This was much better than 64 pointless minutes and a try-conceding blunder.

There were even a couple of really bizarre plot twists, with the already-legendary “ScotRail horn” and a miscommunication of the competition rules.

Was there anything to influence national coach Gregor Townsend, who names his Six Nations squad this week? With covid slicing into the schedule, these two games are all the recent evidence he has to go on.

Fagerson doesn’t nail down the Scotland 8 jersey

Matt Fagerson was prominent with a try during Glasgow’s best spell.

The one position in the Scotland team that doesn’t have a proper solution at the moment is No 8. The man in possession is Glasgow’s Matt Fagerson.

Matt hasn’t yet played a lights-out game for Scotland yet to properly nail down the jersey. It’s still early days for him and he’s been unlucky with injury.

He was the leading carrier on either side with 14 in the Murrayfield game. At Scotstoun he was very good when Glasgow were – especially in that crucial 20 minute spell after half-time.

But a trio of handling errors – while carrying – will attract attention. The choice between Matt and the alternative is whether the Scots want the extra lineout option a Blade Thomson provides, or a carrier. Putting the ball on the ground doesn’t help his case.

No room for Richie with Scotland?

Glasgow successfully countered Edinburgh’s scrum dominance from the first game but managed to maintain their hold over the lineout.

Zander Fagerson seemed to be the source of the early scrum pressure on Edinburgh. Some people seem to be worried about Rory Sutherland, but I can’t think why. He was rock solid against Sale just before Christmas.

The best lock of the two games was Richie Gray. He was an absolute pain in the backside to Edinburgh again on Saturday with rock-solid lineout takes on the Warriors’ ball – including the one for Turner’s try – and another steal.

However it’s hard to see the national team partnership of Richie’s younger brother Jonny and team-mate Scott Cummings being split up by Gregor Townsend, and Sam Skinner is likely to be preferred for his versatility off the bench.

Did anyone play their way in?

Gregor Townsend may like Eddie Jones name a smaller squad for the Six Nations to lessen the pressure on the pro teams. But with France absolutely insisting on strict, closed bubbles for the entirety of the championship, his hands may be tied. We all know what comes first in the pecking order.

I didn’t see Magnus Bradbury really put his hand up for a recall after being left out in the Autumn. There are some  who want to see Mark Bennett recalled to add some spark to the national team backline. But those defensive howlers against Sale will have defence coach Steve Tandy nervous, I imagine.

Huw Jones may have played his way into a bench seat. Lee Jones has returned well after a long absence, but there’s a huge cab rank for the wing slots.

You CAN win with kids

21-year-old Ross Thompson was man of the match.

Pro team – and national team – coaches throughout history have all proclaimed they want to give youth its chance. They almost never do unless absolutely forced to.

The odd thing is that when expediency demands a quicker promotion from academy ranks, it invariably is a positive experience. Better that that sometimes; remember John Barclay, Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Jonny Gray, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie.

Danny Wilson can be forgiven for a certain reticence in putting young players in given they’ve literally had no rugby this season with the pandemic. But Ross Thompson was excellent at 10 in his first 80 minutes of 2020-21.

He misjudged a couple of kicks downwind on that surface, but Hogg regularly did that, so he’s in good company. I’d like to see them get him on something more than the Chris Paterson weights programme, but he tackled bravely and effectively.

Rufus McLean was lively, and although Ollie Smith got pancaked by Eroni Sau for Edinburgh’s third try, they and others should all get plenty chances in the next few months. It’s not as if the “regulars” have been doing any better, after all.

Those crazy moments

Nic Groom was dreaming of home near half-time.

Trains on the rail line that fringes the north of Scotstoun often sound their horns as they pass during games, but never before has it actually affected play.

Hearing the siren, Nic Groom seemed to be momentarily transported back to his native South Africa where a horn is often used to signal time has expired. Given the freezing temperature, the driving rain and the fact he’s been playing here for two years, it’s hard to see where his confusion started.

He booted the ball out of play with thirty seconds left, Glasgow took the lineout and won a penalty and it was 10-9 rather than 10-6 at half-time. In a game that finished 23-22, it was significant.

Equally at the end, leading by a point with time up, Glasgow continued to play in search of more points despite the audible screams from the sideline to kick the ball to touch.

Apparently the players thought they had to win by four to win the 1872 Cup, as an aggregate score is in play if the teams had a win each. Only there WILL apparently be a third game – as yet unscheduled – so the risk was unnecessary.

No-one seemed to have told the Warriors players this, however. You couldn’t make it up.

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