Bill Lothian: Recent events see sting being taken out of tale

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Asked what represented the greatest challenge for a statesman, former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan memorably replied: “Events, my dear boy, events.”

Such a phrase came to mind when pouring over a new book entitled “Southern Comfort,” the story of Borders Rugby.

Author Neil Drysdale’s trick is to celebrate the history of the sport in the one area of our country where it truly matters, yet set his treatise largely against the background of recent events leading naturally to a chapter offering, for me, a definitive version of why Scottish rugby finds itself on life support, albeit with signs of a stronger pulse and which can be summed up as follows: Jim Telfer was an awesome coach but as a Director of Rugby? Ahem  . . .

At least that was until last weekend when, representing the districts espoused by Telfer over clubs, Edinburgh and Glasgow rose up to provide Heineken Cup boosts with opening-day wins.

At professional level scalps have been scarce and until there is consistency we should treat with caution Edinburgh’s success at London Irish and Glasgow’s home triumph over Bath, welcome though they were at a time when serious questions are beginning to be asked about automatic qualification with Scotland officially now poor relations in terms of summer Southern Hemisphere tour invites compared to other home nations.

What is undeniable is that the Borderers have paid the highest price for professionalism and have been entitled to ask: “why weaken the strong to strengthen the weak?” Among those interviewed is Gary Parker, ex-Melrose and now Biggar coach, who says: “If we had gone down the club route I personally think we would be talking about live Scottish games being screened on Sky at the moment.”

Drysdale delves deeper to declare of clubs: “The majority were either too frightened or too complacent to threaten the sort of breakaway from the SRU which was mooted.”

It is impossible to discuss Borders rugby without reference to politics – remember how clubs there would infuriate with a collective approach to all matters including a Scottish Cup? – but there is so much that has been unearthed or recalled to admire.

Notably can-do spirit evident in how Hawick, having won the first Cup, arranged an open-top bus trip at the shortest notice and spread the word from the town’s church pulpits the following morning.

Such innovation made the Borders great and has been lacking throughout the game since professionalism brought with it suffocating central control – until last weekend when suddenly Edinburgh and Glasgow became much more attractive to the type of outside investment that is so badly needed.

* Southern Comfort – The History of Borders Rugby by Neil Drysdale is published by Birlinn at £16.99.

Names must be put right

THE club rugby season has been enjoyable and there is time to reflect on a more crowd-friendly product.

At one Premiership ground this season the team lines in the programme differed from the actual players taking the field yet an announcer remarked: “There are no guarantees ****** will be wearing the numbers listed in the programme but I suspect you will recognise them nonetheless.”

At least that club had a public address. Elsewhere, I’ve found supporters left to assume a mistake when an Aryan male bore stark resemblance to a South Sea Islander named in his position on the team sheet!

In his autobiography, Alan Tait tells how, having set his heart on pro rugby league, a career was delayed because a St Helens scout turned up to watch him unaware programme numbers didn’t correspond to the reality. Tait eventually joined Widnes.

With player contracts to be gained surely more care must be taken.