Edinburgh pour more fuel on a raging fire

Cornell Du Preez is a project signing
Cornell Du Preez is a project signing
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Scottish Rugby is once again ablaze with controversy today as Edinburgh prepare to welcome three more non-native players eligible to pull on the dark blue jersey under the “grandparent” rule.

The arrival of Alan Dell, a prop capped at South African schools level, and every age-group, along with New Zealand reared Simon Berghan, a prop, and compatriot Neil McLennan, an outside back, is not likely to be as contentious as the so-called “project” signings, where players stay in the country long enough to be eligible under residency rules.

Nevertheless, opinions are running deep and nobody is following developments more closely than those who came close to Scotland caps as unused replacements without actually getting over the whitewash.

One of those is Craig Redpath, called up as a standby for the 1990 Grand Slam decider against England and only a hamstring pull away from the status that comes with becoming an international rugby player.

It never happened for Craig and he is still immersed in the game, having moved from Melrose some time ago to Ayrshire, where he helps coach Marr FP.

Redpath appears to have had no problem dealing with the hand fate dealt him on that March afternoon 24 years ago, but wrestles with the policy being laid down by Murrayfield.

“It’s a double edged sword,” he said. “I can see Edinburgh trying to get (better) results ... but where is the young talent being given an opportunity to develop?

“Whether it is a policy best for the SRU’s image I am not 100 per cent sure and I’m not convinced it is the thing to do in terms of encouraging youngsters.

“Then I remember that every other country, particularly New Zealand, are doing it [capping players under ancestry and residency].

“Also, there is an argument that says if you are not good enough then we can go and get somebody who is.

“People want a successful Scotland team and the culture they are adopting is everywhere.

“One thing I know is that if Scotland win, nobody will care how the players got here.”

Rob Cunningham sat on a subs’ bench for Scotland so many times without being capped – “it’s either 13 or 14,” he said. He has forgotten the exact number.

However, one season he does remember being on stand-by is 1984 when Scotland won the grand slam ... before things started to go pear shaped at the start of the pro era 12 years later.

“I didn’t feel too disappointed at not getting on during the Grand Slam because there was a real feeling of being a squad working for each other.

“I understood, too, that the player I understudied, Colin Deans, was really special. So no arguments from me there.

“But what I cannot understand is why there is not a supply line of players from the Borders today,” says Cunningham, ex-Forrester, Boroughmuir and Bath, who also coached Saracens, Richmond and Bristol.

He added: “That to me is the biggest mistake (of the pro era). The Borders has always been our strength. What should have happened was the creation of a franchise out of one club in the Borders and they could have been challenged by others in the region for their European place each year.

“I was on the Scotland tour to Australia in 1992 when Scotland won a Test in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time and we learned a lot from players over there, but we have to develop our own.

“I once worked in the English system because nobody asked me from Scotland and helped develop players at around 18 or 19-years-old.

“There was planning way down the line.

“By comparison Scottish rugby is a bit rudderless and the target of winning the World Cup next year is laughable.

“If I was an investor I wouldn’t be putting my money there because it is so ridiculous to think that way.

“Not when we don’t seem to be channelling anybody through from the Borders.”

Meanwhile, messrs Dell, McLennan and Berghan will arrive shortly and can start preparing a World Cup bid along with others similarly qualified and through ancestry or eventually able to represent the thistle under the “project” effect.

Potential “project caps” are WP Nel and Cornell Du Preez at Edinburgh with Glasgow’s Josh Strauss, Tyrone Holmes and Mike Cusack coming into this category.

Southern Hemisphere ancestry qualifiers are: Grayson Hart, Ollie Atkins, James Hilterbrand, Alex Toolis and Ben Toolis (Edinburgh); Glasgow have Sean Maitland, Byron McGuigan, Tim Swinson and Ryan Wilson, the latter two being from south of the border.

Kieran Low of London Irish was capped during the Autumn under the “granny” rule.