MacRae: "There is clearly steady progress."
Get the latest from Defence Coach Calum MacRae as he shares his verdict on 2019-20 and looks ahead to the new campaign, starting with Saturday's season opener against Ospreys at BT Murrayfield.
What was your verdict on the 2019-20 season?
“When you face a disappointment, and we’ve had two in three weeks with Ulster and Bordeaux, there tends to be a fixation on it. But I think it’s really important to reflect on the season more as a whole rather than just those two games.
“I think there is clearly steady progress. We’re getting to play-offs consistently now, and I think our game is evolving. Particularly from year one when we came in, I see a real evolution: firstly in making us hard to beat, and then our try-scoring record speaks for itself.
“I think we’ve got a real balance to our game, certainly more this season. Part of being able to win the big games is to adapt your game, and I think we are doing that so that we are harder to play against.
“In my previous role with the Sevens we had a season in which we missed out on competitions by the skin of our teeth. It was hugely frustrating, but I knew deep down we were very, very close to turning the corner.
“I’ve got the same feeling as I did with the Sevens boys. There is disappointment, but I fully believe that we’re not far away.
Should we expect progress next season when it will be so disrupted by Nations Cup and Six Nations?
“We get hit relatively hard, as do Glasgow, relative to the other teams. I think Cockers has done a great job with recruitment to try and make us as competitive as possible. During the World Cup a lot of guys stood up who were waiting for their opportunities.
“We got the results last season during the international windows, and if you want to make play-offs that’s critical. There were factors such as Grant Gilchrist coming back: he gave absolutely everything and was outstanding in how he conducted himself. He was as hungry as anyone playing for the shirt.
“It will be tough, but ultimately that is something Cockers will deal with around recruitment, within the constraints in place on that. A big factor we all hold our breath on is injuries. A lot of our pack go away and tend to get beaten up. So in some of those collisions you are holding your breath, especially if it’s a guy who has come off the bench and could potentially come back and play for you and give you a shot in the arm by bolstering the squad.
“It is not going to be easy but ultimately we will prepare the team that we think can win the game as best we can, because that is something we are in control of. Apart from that, those are challenges that Richard as head coach will be managing first and foremost.”
Are you confident that the squad will move on from the disappointment of Ulster and Bordeaux?
“I would hope so. We reviewed those games, and it’s the same as everything in life: the more you invest in something, when you come up short it’s really hard to take, and you could see that from the reaction of the players. It’s just about dusting ourselves off and banking the really good stuff that we’ve done.”
“In the Ulster game we wandered off the page at times in relation to our game strategy and let them back into the game through lapses in our concentration. Bordeaux was slightly different. Yes, we came up short, and we had a really poor start to the game, but I was really proud of the way we fought back against arguably the top team in France - I thought our game management was spot on.
“If there are external factors where guys need help individually, on the psychology side, that’s something we have looked at. I’m aware that that stuff is ongoing.”
What are your thoughts on Ospreys who struggled in last season's Championship?
“The league table doesn’t lie. We were top of the Conference because we consistently performed.
“The Ospreys are going through a bit of change and there is a rebuild going on there at the moment, with Toby Booth coming in. They’ve also got a new attack coach in Brock James.
“Their DNA as a team will remain the same, they’ll want to play an open game. We’re well aware of the challenges they’ll pose to our defence.
“There’s no doubting the quality they have in their squad. You only have to look at the number of internationals and Lions they have in their ranks to know that you have to pitch up and be on your game to give yourself a chance against them.”
Who are you looking at to step up during the international windows?
“The poster boy for that at Edinburgh just now would probably be Luke Crosbie. Charlie Shiel would also be another one and we’ve seen recently what he’s capable of.
“Charlie is a very dangerous, attacking nine. He’s scored some outstanding tries, which have often been to finish teams off in the last 20-25 minutes of games.
“Luke Crosbie was absolutely outstanding for us last season during the international periods and during the World Cup. It’s guys like Luke who we will be looking to in terms of really kicking on and drawing on their experience from last season. When guys like Charlie and Luke get their opportunities, it’s really important that they take them.
“In the back line, probably guys like George Taylor. He’s been in there for a couple of seasons now and he’s turned a few heads with his performances.”