It was his misfortune to be an international class scrum-half when Scotland had first Roy Laidlaw and then Gary Armstrong in the No.9 jersey, otherwise he would have earned many more than his three caps.
Indeed in the days before tactical substitutions, he sat on the bench more than 40 times for Scotland. I know how deeply the 58-year-old is being mourned in his hometown of Hawick and the outpouring of tributes to him in Ireland show how greatly he was valued as part of the Munster community for whom he was an outstanding coach.
As George Graham said yesterday, “another one of the greats from the Borders is gone too early.”
It almost seems sacrilegious to now write about World Rugby’s latest wheeze, but what is going to happen to our sport in three years’ time is going to be utterly transformational, though I must sound a warning to Scottish rugby about the new biennial tournament that will feature all the Six Nations and the four Southern Hemisphere sides in SANZAAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, plus two invitational nations).
The tournament will replace the summer tours and autumn tests in July and November from 2026 and thank goodness it will not interfere with World Cups and the tours by the British and Irish Lions.
I welcome the idea in principle as I frequently say there should be many more games at the international level. The involvement of the International Rugby Players group in developing the project reassures me about the worry of burnout for those taking part, and my main concern now is who is going to get the television rights.
I have long been of the opinion that every Scotland match should be available on free-to-air television, so can one of our main broadcasters step up and grab the rights? They will not be cheap but if the games can only be seen on satellite channels or livestream then the professed aim of World Rugby to grow the game internationally will not be achieved.
I noticed several things from the self-satisfied press release put out by World Rugby. First of all, they don’t yet have a name or branding for the tournament which I suspect will end up being called the Global Championship or something equally bland. And for what trophy will they contend? We already have the William Webb Ellis trophy at the World Cup so could I suggest World Rugby has a competition or a poll to find a name?
World Rugby stress that the two invitational sides will be selected “to join the Southern Hemisphere group,” adding that “a transparent selection process will be managed by SANZAAR, supported by World Rugby and the International Rugby Players, to determine these two invitational unions.”
Aye right – one place is booked for Japan, and rightly so, while I would expect the USA to be the other given the potentially huge audience that might engender.
I like the idea that there will be a Second Division tournament, that will feature teams “from Europe and the rest of the world, with Six Nations Rugby and SANZAAR actively involved in cementing the link between the two divisions,” as World Rugby stated.
There’s the possible problem – say Scotland, Wales or Italy was to finish bottom of the top division. Would relegation be countenanced by their unions? Hence the weasel words in the press release – “the two competitions will pave the way for promotion and relegation MATCHES (my emphasis)” which means to me that there might just be play-offs to decide whether a side goes down or stays up.
The Scottish Rugby Union has been well warned – as a nation we must now up our game so that Scotland is never in the relegation zone.
The World Cup in France will be hugely informative as to how the new tournament might go. In the current world rankings, Japan are ranked 10th and to me, knowing the developing state of the sport there as I wrote last week, that makes them a shoo-in for the top division. But look who is below them – Italy are 14th with Samoa and Fiji ahead of them at 12 and 13 respectively and Tonga just behind at 15.
We have Tonga and Romania in our Pool B in France so we simply cannot slip up against them while if Samoa were to spring a surprise in Pool D against England, Argentine or Japan, then that would make a strong case for them to be a top division side, though personally I’d love to see Fiji there for entertainment reasons.
The USA did blow it against Portugal and failed to make the World Cup, but they are scheduled to host the ultimate championship in 2031, so as I have suggested, they will be somehow shoehorned into the new tournament.
Heaven forfend that Russia (world-ranked 25) or China (world-ranked 82) ever get going in rugby union on a serious basis or they could best us all with their vast human resources.
There’s a lot of talking and organising to be done before 2026, so let’s make sure Scotland are prepared.