THE old cliche that good things come in threes was proven to be the case over the weekend when Glasgow beat the Dragons on Thursday night, Scotland defeated Italy on Saturday afternoon, then Edinburgh got the better of the Scarlets on Sunday.

Just as one win after nine Six Nations defeats does not mean that Scotland will automatically go on to bigger and better things, so the positive results for our two teams in the PRO12 comes with no guarantee that they will now embark on winning runs. But, in a claustrophobically competitive league, a narrow win is at times an encouraging sign that a team is becoming more battle-hardened.

If that is a quality that Edinburgh have traditionally lacked for some time, the Warriors certainly had it last season, as was epitomised by their semi-final victory over Ulster. Gregor Townsend’s team still lie a lowly seventh in the table, but if they win the two games in hand they have on most of the teams above them, they will go up into the play-off places. Fifth-placed Edinburgh are one of those teams that would drop down a place as a result.

Speaking last week before travelling with his squad to Newport, Townsend suggested they would “probably have to win upwards of seven” out of their remaining nine regular-season games to ensure a home semi-final in the play-offs. The “probably” is an important qualifier, because if the seven or eight teams still in contention all fail to put in a consistent run of results, that number could well go down by two or three. As it is, with that win in Newport in the bag, the head coach’s target becomes six out of eight - a tough but by no means impossible task.

After their home game against Cardiff on Sunday, the Warriors play both Leinster and Ulster at home then Treviso and Zebre in Italy. They round off their campaign with a visit to the Scarlets, a home match against Zebre, and finally a game in Connacht. Winning three quarters of those fixtures is far from beyond them, provided they rekindle the spark that sputtered out at crucial times in their Champions Cup campaign.

Edinburgh, meanwhile, have six matches left to claim a top-four place, beginning on Friday, when they face Connacht at Murrayfield. Their other fixtures, in order, are away to the Dragons, at home to Zebre, away to Leinster and Munster, then finally at home to Cardiff.

For both Scottish teams, the hardest battle is likely to be with second-placed Leinster, who have a game in hand on leaders Connacht and have lost only three times in the league. That is at least two fewer than anyone else in the competition, with Connacht and Scarlets having the next biggest tally of wins. But for a bonus-point tally of just five, Leinster would already be out in front; as it is, they look good enough to claim one of the home play-off places.

Given the history of the PRO12, it is understandable why Townsend and his fellow-coaches should prize the top-two finish that brings with it a home semi-final. No away team has won a semi, a statistic that has perhaps begun to take on an air of self-fulfilling prophecy.

But Ulster came within an ace of destroying that stat at Scotstoun last spring, and in such a tight league, it looks probable that this season we will finally have our first away winner at the penultimate hurdle.Of course Glasgow and Edinburgh should go all out to secure that home semi, but they need not worry unduly if they only come third or fourth and have to travel for their first play-off games. If they get that far, it will probably be by virtue of already having won a couple of vital away fixtures in the closing weeks of the regular season.


IT MAY be only a few months since the last Rugby World Cup Cup was won, but the fight to win the competition in 2019 starts on Saturday when St Vincent and the Grenadines take on Jamaica. With pleasing symmetry, the referee for the match in Kingstown will be Nigel Owens, whose last Test was at Twickenham, when New Zealand beat Australia in the 2015 final.

It’s no disrespect to the two Caribbean countries in question to suggest that neither will come close to depriving the All Blacks of their crown in four years’ time, but it would be good to think that over the course of the competition we will witness a few upsets such as the one we saw at the weekend when Brazil beat the United States in the Americas Championship. Brazil were 42nd before their 24-23 win in Sao Paulo, the USA 16th.

Given the way in which the quality of the teams falls off steeply from just below that 16th place, it was a remarkable triumph for the Brazilians. They too are unlikely to get anywhere close to claiming the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan four years from now, but their dramatic victory can at least inspire other countries into believing that they too can pull off shock wins against the so-called big teams. Rugby’s world order has been too static for too long.