Bill Lothian: Scotland XV a reflection on Capital punishment

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Edinburgh’s lowest representation in a Scotland rugby team for a Six Nations match since 2001 offers further evidence today of the damaging turn of events at what should be one of the game’s powerhouses.

When interim coach Scott Johnson unveiled his hand for Saturday’s trip to Italy, only Matt Scott and Greig Laidlaw got the nod for a starting berth. Capital involvement hasn’t been so low since Ireland paid a September visit to Murrayfield more than 12 seasons ago due to an original fixture being postponed on account of the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Captain Greig Laidlaw is one of only two Edinburgh players in Scotland's team to face Italy this weekend ' centre Matt Scott, below, being the other

Captain Greig Laidlaw is one of only two Edinburgh players in Scotland's team to face Italy this weekend ' centre Matt Scott, below, being the other

Much more worrying than such bald statistics is the fact that it must be recognised that Edinburgh, through performances in the PRO12 and Heineken Cup, have hardly thrown up personnel battering down the door demanding to be picked.

In many ways, team members have got what they deserved but, in some respects, too, the situation reflects the terrible turmoil engulfing the oval ball game in this country and the way the sport’s rulers have sold a great rugby city embarrassingly short.

The writing was maybe on the wall when Edinburgh visited Ulster this season with only Dougie Fife having been born in Scotland.

Could it be, then, that Capital players are victims of a culture of importing talent that is counter-productive to the national interest with the team nicknamed “Edinburgh Free State” due to the preponderance of South Africans.

Picture by JANE BARLOW. 13th November 2012. Rugby. Scotland held a training session on the back pitches at Murrayfield, Edinburgh, ahead of their 2012 EMC Test match against South Africa this weekend. Pictured is Matt Scott.

Picture by JANE BARLOW. 13th November 2012. Rugby. Scotland held a training session on the back pitches at Murrayfield, Edinburgh, ahead of their 2012 EMC Test match against South Africa this weekend. Pictured is Matt Scott.

From producing successive Lions captains in Fin Calder (1989) and Gavin Hastings (1993), Edinburgh have now been deemed sub-standard when it comes to stocking Scotland teams. Are Glasgow, with nine representatives, really four-and-a-half times better?

Instead of building on tradition and passion, eyes have been directed abroad and a policy of attracting foreign-reared players either through ancestry or qualifying them on a three-year residency is now taking its toll.

Among those hit hardest has been Geoff Cross, the Edinburgh prop who has made one league start this season while a South African, one of 24 ‘foreign individuals’ signed by the SRU owners, takes the starting spot.

Despite this, Cross finds himself among the replacements for Rome having to be ready to enter the fray at a moment’s notice. All of this would be inconsequential in the grand scheme were it not for the fact that Edinburgh – and Glasgow – were specifically set up and centrally-run by the governing body as a means of keeping players in Scotland.

It was also accepted, too, that they would provide opportunities for Scots to propel themselves into Test rugby.

One problem with “project” signings is that, were they not to measure up, a blazered official might have to lose face so chances are they will be pushed hard and given the benefit of any doubt.

Nobody expects Edinburgh to have a divine right to produce internationalists and it has to be acknowledged that one of Scotland’s best recent performances came on tour against South Africa last summer when again there were only a couple of Capital starters.

But rugby means so much in the city through the schools network and the number of followers who still turn out at the likes of Meggetland, Myreside, Malleny Park, Goldenacre, Raeburn Place and others that it is inconceivable the game is being best served by neglecting those links.

Part of the problem goes back to when central control was established and, rather than win round doubters of the district system at the expense of performance clubs, the authorities decided anyone who wasn’t with them was against.

The result? Golf courses etc are busy on Saturday afternoons with “rugby men” who refused to be bullied into supporting what they regarded as artificial creations rather than grow the game from grassroots upwards.

Back to the latest team and once again it appears there is change for change’s sake, obstinacy and a whole lot of crossing fingers and hoping for the best.

“If they (the backs) stay together and get a bit of runs under the belt they are going to be dynamic,” said coach Johnson.

The clamour to have Kelly Brown restored has been ignored; Dave Denton, the one player able to generate go-forward against England often from static possession, has been axed and – guess what – there is a sixth different back row in as many games.

The talk is of consistency ... while being seen to make it up on the hoof.

Johnson expresses satisfaction that there is a pressure group now operating on social media demanding change.

“I don’t think it is a bad thing that we are looking at ourselves. For a long time we have not had consistent success.

“If there are questions being asked with the right intent then that is for the good of the game and the organisation.”

Trouble is, followers have been saying for years that a game being constructed from the top down has to one day collapse.

Also, with private investment being deemed too high a price to pay for giving up control, there is not enough to spend on grassroots development.

It follows then that Edinburgh, as a true heartland along with the Borders, is first to suffer and the Scottish flagship will be hit accordingly.

Scotland team to face Italy in Rome oN Saturday: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow); Tommy Seymour (Glasgow); Alex Dunbar (Glasgow); Matt Scott (Edinburgh); Sean Lamont (Glasgow); Duncan Weir (Glasgow); Greig Laidlaw (c) (Edinburgh); Roddy Grant (Glasgow); Scott Lawson (Newcastle); Moray Low (Glasgow); Richie Gray (Castres); Jim Hamilton (Montpellier); Ryan Wilson (Glasgow); Chris Fusaro (Glasgow); Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier).

Subs: Ross Ford (Edinburgh); Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh); Geoff Cross (Edinburgh); Tim Swinson (Glasgow); David Denton (Edinburgh); Chris Cusiter (Glasgow).