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THE BREAKDOWN, STEVE SCOTT: Sean Lineen, the ‘exception’ that wholly justifies the rules

Sean Lineen played, coached and filled multiple roles in Scottish rugby over 30 years.

“Exception. Rule.” tweeted one of the unreconstructed when I playfully paid tribute to Sean Lineen on his – I fear – premature retirement after 30 years with Scottish Rugby.

Lineen was of course the first of the “mercenaries”, the original “Kilted Kiwi” who was capped due to distant familial connections, in his case a grandad from Stornoway.

He’s certainly been the most loyal, staying for three decades and filling at times it seems any available role to advance the cause of Scottish rugby.

Quite apart from the playing side – 29 caps, a place in the Pantheon as a 1990 Grand Slam hero – Sean has been an innovator, enabler and wise counsel for three decades. He turned Boroughmuir into a club power, then built the foundations and the culture to turn Glasgow Warriors into the outstanding organisation – on and off the field – they are now.

A brilliant coach and administrator

Sean coached brilliantly at all levels, most recently building a callow Under-20 side into a unit that is already producing quality pro players.

He scoured the world for talent for Scotland the pro teams. Sean mentored scores of coaches and hundreds of players. He helped establish the Super6 and dragged it to being a success, certainly in the first two iterations.

Best of all Sean has always been a sounding board. Not just for senior people within Murrayfield but for journalists who want an honest and sound appraisal of a line they’re pursuing or just a pint and a natter.

That made a lot of us very loyal to him. When he was moved from the head coaching post at Glasgow to accommodate Gregor Townsend in 2012, some of us were downright furious.

But if Sean felt slighted or stabbed in the back, he never demonstrated it. He just got on with doing the job he was given and trying to make Scottish rugby (lower case ‘r’) better.

Ten years on, in retrospect it seems like the right decision was made – the game at the top level in this country is stronger than ever, and he’s played a massive role in that.

That’s the one caveat as he leaves Murrayfield – amicably, although with Sean, you suspect it would never be anything else. He’s always seemed to have been a voice of reason within the halls at EH12.

Lineen and the other ‘incomers’

But foremost Sean has been an exemplar of the contribution that can be made by players or officials who are not purely “native”.

Regulars will know that I find this stance to be perverse and self-defeating. Scotland has a small player base in rugby and we must maximise all who are – or become – eligible under the rules. It’s not as if every other rugby nation doesn’t do the same – with the exception of Argentina.

But even if 90% of the “incomers” – I hate how this debate so often sounds like racism – stop just for their cap and a cup of coffee, having just one contributor like Sean Lineen justifies them all, in my view.

A wide-open contest for once

Although frequently wrong eventually, usually before the festive 1872 Cup clashes between Scotland’s two pro teams I have a fair idea who I think is going to win.

This year? No chance.

But for odd blip – both of them, oddly, in Treviso – the two teams have been playing some excellent rugby. They both had impressive wins over former European champions from the Gallagher Premiership in the past fortnight.

In addition, the clear evidence is that the teams are converging stylistically as well. This may be entirely intentional, with the dark overlord of it all being Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend.

But Mike Blair has opened Edinburgh’s game way beyond the station-to-station structure of Richard Cockerill’s era. Glasgow under Danny Wilson appear to have built a monster pack that can go toe-to-toe with anyone.

Both can still play the old way too. Edinburgh reverted to Cockers-ball in dreadful conditions at Saracens, Glasgow have been chucking it about as is their tradition as well as sticking it up the jumper.

Bradbury’s chance against Dempsey

For Scotland considerations, what should we be looking for? Well, No 8 still seems to be a position of some conjecture.

Matt Fagerson is currently in possession but doesn’t play there for Glasgow, because they have possibly the best player of this current season on either team, Australian Jack Dempsey.

Like surely everyone who has that name after the original, Dempsey is a hard man. But he adds pace, agility and directness to that. If he were Scots, he’d be a perfect fit with Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson.

Bill Mata is the only major player on either team out with a long-term injury (fingers crossed that stays the same until well into February). That means that surely Magnus Bradbury’s going to get the chance for Edinburgh.

The lack of crowds for the two matches over the next two weeks is disappointing. We were likely to get 30,000 at Murrayfield in particular. But as an effect on the game itself it won’t make much of a difference.

It’ll be back to resembling those Blues vs Reds trials we used to have prior to every Six Nations. The last of those was in 1998 at Myreside at the behest of Jim Telfer. I’ve always remembered it as it was the last match I covered where I got the score wrong.

So who wins what? I’ll shamelessly go with home advantage for both games. I think Glasgow will retain the Cup on aggregate as they have a more reliable goalkicker in Ross Thompson.

Amazingly, it was only a year ago that the young Warriors 10 was first chucked in at the deep end for the second leg.

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