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THE BREAKDOWN, STEVE SCOTT: Ruaridh McConnachie’s still a long way from a Scotland cap, but his eligibility shouldn’t anger anyone

Ruaridh McConnochie playing for Bath against Toulon last weekend.
Ruaridh McConnochie playing for Bath against Toulon last weekend.

Should Ruaridh McConnochie really have a chance to be the first man to play for Scotland and England at rugby for 130 years?

There will be many twitching already after the rangy Bath wing was named in Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations squad. Because this the first case for all that time between the Auld Enemies.

Capped twice by Eddie Jones in 2019, McConnochie – son of Perth-born financier Rennie McConnochie – has completed the three year ‘cooling-off’ period under World Rugby’s new regulations. He can now pursue the other part of his dual eligibility.

The first time in 130 years

Ironically, the last time someone played for both Scotland and England, the SRU demanded a change to the rules to stop it happening again. That was in 1892, when James Marsh was capped for England three years after his two caps for Scotland.

And it held fairly firmly – at least among the home unions – for 130 years.

Like most, I feel that WR’s new regulation introduced last year should have been restricted to the nations for whom it was really intended – the Pacific Islands.

There are complex issues around Fijian, Tongan and Samoan heritage, not to mention the massive contribution of those communities to our sport. An exception deserved to be made, in my view.

But it’s difficult to see where the line could actually be drawn. And there is an argument that asserts the worldwide diaspora of Scots and Irish in particular makes for pretty much the same situation as the Island nations.

So it’s complicated. And the rule is carte blanche across all nations. Therefore not using it when there’s a way to improve the team, for idealistic reasons or some holier-than-thou form of nativism, would just be plain daft.

McConnochie still has a really difficult route to get his – historic – Scotland cap. He’s probably in the squad due to Darcy Graham’s injury, and it’s not really a competition if the Hawick flier is fit.

Darcy played over 90% of the minutes for Scotland in 2022 – far and away the most of any player. He is a proven finisher and gamebreaker.

Darcy was in spectacular form when he was hurt. He’ll likely be back after the second bye week of the championship.

Some quality still ahead of him

Still ahead of McConnochie in the selection queue – in my view – are Duhan van der Merwe, Blair Kinghorn, Sean Maitland and Kyle Steyn.

Van der Merwe is also coming back from injury, and I think that’s why McConnochie is there. Insurance, basically.

But Gregor Townsend sees it as purely selection. And while he’s national head coach he’s every right to pick the players he wants.

Indeed, he’d not be doing his job to make Scotland as good as they can be if he didn’t pick players he think can improve his squad, using the eligibility regulations as far as they’ll go.

Scotland’s player pool is so limited that we can’t afford to do anything else. I wholly concur that Scottish Rugby (Murrayfield and the game in general) needs to be developing far more players. The dearth of fly-halves at the moment is particularly acute.

But even an improvement there does nothing to change the present situation. We need to pick the best players available, no matter how they’re available.

Eddie’s strategy shows the thinking of top coaches

Gregor Townsend isn’t going to France after the World Cup – well, not yet.

Nor is he lined up to succeed new England head coach Steve Borthwick at Leicester.

Gregor was quizzed on this at his squad announcement on Tuesday and said he wouldn’t be discussing his future until after the Six Nations.

He sounded hopeful that he might even stay on with Scotland. He did indicate he intended to stay a coach rather than take some broader role.

I have nothing that contradicts Gregor’s position. But I think a far more accurate representation of a top coach’s job strategy was illustrated by the fallout from Eddie Jones’ return to Australia this week.

Less than a month after being axed by England, Eddie is back with the Wallabies. They unceremoniously ousted Dave Rennie to make room for him. On a five year deal, to boot!

Good old Eddie, he always finds a way to fall on his feet.

A freedom to seek security

And according to a story in the London Telegraph, Jones had informal chats to Rugby Australia bigwigs about his future plans several times in the last 18 months. These including a dinner in Richmond, just a brisk walk from Twickenham, in November.

On the face of it, it seems subterfugey in the extreme. But really, I don’t see much wrong with Eddie – or Gregor if he’s had similar discussions – future planning in such a way.

After all, it’s their life, their career, their security. The RFU were pretty happy with Eddie doing all those consultancy jobs elsewhere when he was head coach. They also didn’t stipulate a ‘gardening leave’ clause when he was fired.

The axe can come at any time. Ask Eddie, Wayne Pivac and now Dave Rennie, whom we’re quite fond of in Scotland.

It’s only right coaches have the freedom to seek job security where they can find it.