On the face of it, Scottish rugby has enjoyed one of its more productive weeks, with the transfers of Simon Danielli from Bath to the Borders, and Ben MacDougall from Australian rugby league to Edinburgh. But while the two backs' moves appear to be models of the central-contract system, they are only a small step in the Celtic unions' masterplan of getting their players home. Money still talks, and the Celts do not have enough of it.
Danielli's somewhat unusual switch to the land of his birth - the 11-cap wing twiddled his thumbs in the English West Country while the Scottish Rugby Union decided which team to place him with - was completed on Thursday. MacDougall, a 27-year-old Scottish-qualified centre from Melbourne Storm, was unveiled on Friday. But the Scotland training squad of 46 players contains 12 based in England and one in Wales. The "Fortress Scotland" scheme of their coach, Matt Williams, has largely been stymied while the SRU service a debt of almost £20 million.
Ireland are regarded as Eur-ope's market leaders in centralisation, which is de rigueur in the southern hemisphere. The national coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, was able to phase in his Test players' start to the Celtic League season - the captain, Brian O'Driscoll,was one of several who returned to action only this weekend. There was consternation in some of the provinces, but they do not have a legal leg to stand on.
In Wales, things are different. The national side's new captain is Gareth Thomas, but he is playing his club rugby in France. The Welsh regions are only partly under WRU control, so a transfer market lives on, and Thomas, Stephen Jones and Gareth Llewellyn have plumped for big- euro deals with Toulouse, Montferrand and Narbonne.
In England and France, where central contracts are dirty words, clubs such as Bath view the international set-up as an annoying distraction. Danielli, born in Edinburgh and schooled at Cheltenham College and Oxford, acknow-ledges the clash of loyalties. "It makes sense to have a fully integrated central-contracting system," he said. "I was away with Scotland for half of last year. If I was a coach in the Premiership, I'd rather have someone up-and-coming in my side, or someone from overseas that you're going to get a full season out of."
Danielli saw the writing on the wall during the summer, when Bath's Australian coach, John Connolly, shook up his wing resources. Wylie Human went to Northampton; in June, Bath signed Joe "Mad Dog" Maddock from Canterbury in New Zealand, and agreed a contract extension with Brendon Daniel. In August they added a South African, Frikkie Welsh. Alex Crockett, Andrew Higgins and the emerging Kieron Lewitt completed Connolly's hand, and the lines of communication to the SRU were opened.
It was reported that the Borders had "beaten off the challenge of Edinburgh for Danielli", but it wasn't quite like that. "I'd been led to believe Simon was heading our way," said Jim McKenzie, Edinburgh's chief executive, in the knowledge that Ian McGeechan, the SRU's direc-tor of rugby, calls the tune.
Edinburgh have two international wings, Chris Paterson and Simon Webster; likewise Glasgow, with Sean Lamont and Rory Kerr. So McGeechan directed Danielli into the grateful arms of the Borders coach, Steve Bates. "This is... part of the overall drive to strengthen Scottish rugby," said Bates, who is English.
Danielli's understanding is that Bath will keep paying him, and claim reimbursement from the SRU, but he does not expect to be coming back. "The primary goal for Scotland is that I get games," he said.
Meanwhile, player release continues to spark conflict. "We have very good relations with clubs in England," said Williams, overlooking the spat with Newcastle when the Falcons held Stuart Grimes and Craig Hamilton back from Scotland training; itself a protest to do with compensation for an injured Scotland player, Andrew Mower.
In the drive for cash, Scotland and Wales have arranged Tests in the first week of November, which the clubs say is outside the agreed international window. Sir Clive Woodward remon-strated about lack of access to players, but England do at least have all their playing eggs, bar Dan Luger, in one basket - the Zurich Premiership.
As a matter of interest, by way of preparation for the November internationals, Ireland have no squad sessions this month, Scotland have two Mondays and Wales have two get-togethers of a day and a half each. England meet up for two sets of two days. For all Woodward's complaints, the world champions are not so badly off after all.Reuse content