WHAT is often considered to be the weakness of the Guinness PRO14 as a competition continues to benefit the cause of Celtic rugby as a whole, with the weakened sides that will be fielded this weekend serving their organisations well.
It is in this environment that Irish teams in particular have been able to mobilise limited resources so that the national team and its provinces can be competitive in international competition, while exposing the next generation of players to a level which prepares them for that elite world of Heineken Champions Cup and Test rugby.
A shining example is the emergence of the next generation of one of Scottish rugby’s most famous families. Early last season concerns were being expressed by those close to Adam Hastings that he was getting insufficient opportunity to develop; yet, this weekend last year, with Finn Russell on Scotland duty, he got his first start for Glasgow Warriors in a No.10 jersey. Hastings now looks set to be wearing the navy blue version when Scotland face Wales in Cardiff next weekend.
It cannot wholly compensate for the sheer numbers of homegrown players in the English and French domestic competitions, but what has evolved from Celtic League to PRO12 to PRO14 has proven an effective tournament framework within which player-development can be accommodated – albeit, as Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill pointed out yesterday, different requirements and outlooks can appear to unfairly affect individual fixtures.
“We’ve double figures of players missing. They’ve got seven or eight of the 23 that will play for Italy next week in their squad [but] they’ve got to play on Friday and get to Chicago by next Saturday, which is an interesting call,” Cockerill said of the nucleus of Zebre players who will also be involved when Italy meet Ireland the following weekend.
“It very much evens it up if they’ve got a lot of their first-choice players available to play [but] I think we’ve still got a very good side available. [Jamie] Hodgson and [Callum] Hunter-Hill, [Callum] Atkinson and Mungo Mason, those guys haven’t been involved with us really. Our locks have played 40 minutes between them in the PRO14.
“We’ve got to see where we’re at and how some of our players cope with this, but they’re young Scottish-qualified guys who will hopefully step up to the mark.”
Indeed so and, for all that their coach will be stressing the need to get the right result, their exposure to the professional game can only be beneficial for all concerned.
Zebre F Brummer; M Bellini, G Bisegni, T Castello, G di Giulio; C Canna, G Palazanni; A Lovotti, O Fabiani, D Chistolini, D Sisi, G Biagi, J Bianchi, J Meyer, R Giammarioli. Replacements L Luus, D Rimpelli, G Zilocchi, L Krumov, A Tauyavuca, R Raffaele, T Boni, P Balekana
Edinburgh D Fife; D Graham, J Johnstone, C Dean, D van der Merwe; S Hickey, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, R Ford, S Berghan, J Hodgson, C Hunter-Hill, L Hamilton, L Crosbie, V Mata. Replacements D Cherry, R Sutherland, P Ceccarelli, C Atkinson, M Mason, S Kennedy, J Baggott, J Socino
Source : HeraldScotland