WITH the national team’s World Cup shellacking by Ireland still fresh in the memory, Scottish rugby fans could be forgiven for witnessing recent club victories over Irish opposition and hoping it represents a gradual bridging of the gap between the two nations.
This season’s United Rugby Championship is still in its infancy but already Glasgow have recorded wins over Leinster and Ulster, while Edinburgh have got the better of Connacht (although, in the interests of transparency, it should also be noted that Warriors lost away to Connacht, just as their rivals did against Leinster).
This weekend’s fixtures will give another indication of the state of the fluctuating relationship between the Celtic cousins, with Glasgow set to take on reigning URC champions Munster on Friday and Edinburgh up against Ulster the following day.
Two away victories would be welcomed across the country, although anyone hoping it will have any significant influence on Scotland’s chances of landing an elusive Six Nations win over Ireland next spring will likely be left disappointed.
Nigel Carolan’s background is in Irish development rugby, overseeing Connacht’s academy before coaching Ireland’s under-20s. And Glasgow’s attack coach believes the key to his country’s success lies in an integrated approach from top to bottom.
“What’s happened in Irish rugby has been building over the last 10 years and it’s not just the national team or the professional teams – it’s the whole pathway,” said the Irishman. “It’s an area that they’ve invested in from grassroots right up to the top of the tree. Everyone has bought into it so they’re all aligned in player development.
“The four provinces all work to a similar model and all now play in a slightly similar way which is effective at the moment. They changed their game style after the 2019 World Cup and looked at things in a different way, putting the onus back on players to make decisions. It’s something that’s bearing fruit for them but it’s all down to that alignment down the pathway. That’s where the gold is at the moment for Irish rugby.
“It can only be a good thing if Glasgow and Edinburgh are playing rugby that complements the national team. I think we [Scottish rugby] are closing the gap but we need everyone lined up, not just the two professional teams. Right through the pathway is where the gold is.”
In the short-term, Carolan’s focus is trained on the trip to Cork to take on a Munster side smarting from recent losses to Ulster and Leinster. Glasgow’s bonus-point victory over Ulster sees them sitting proudly atop the URC standings but that could change quickly should complacency set in.
“We’re top of the table so we’re pleased with that,” added Carolan. “And when you come in on a Monday it’s always nice to do so with five points in the bag from the weekend. But you can’t just sit back and say, ‘well done’.
“We commend the lads and acknowledge the wins but we highlight more the opportunities missed and how we can continue to grow and get better.
“Against Ulster it was maybe the first time from an attack perspective that we’ve seen a little bit more of our flow. We strung more phases together and asked more questions. That’s pleasing. It’s starting to build but we’re not there yet.”
The sight of George Horne running lengths of the Scotstoun pitch on Monday afternoon gave hope that the scrum-half – and possibly also Huw Jones – could return this weekend from injury.
“[George] is getting close,” confirmed Carolan. “It could be later in the week before we know but he’s back running again and full of energy. Huw is getting close too.”
One player almost certain to figure is Kyle Rowe whose form, Carolan believes, ought to earn him a Scotland recall.
“Kyle has been a revelation for us since he came in,” he added. “He’s such a cool head with a quiet demeanour. He’s like a silent assassin.
“He goes about his business, he’s good under the high ball, he’s a finisher, his work rate is phenomenal and he’s got footwork and passing. He’s been a really good acquisition for us this season.
“At the moment it’s working to Glasgow’s benefit and I can’t see how or why he couldn’t be involved with Scotland either in the Six Nations. He’s such a good pro, an international-quality winger. And I think he’s only going to get better.”