EDNBURGH'S European Challenge Cup defeat to Bordeaux-Begles on Saturday finally brought the curtain down on the Scottish professional club season – which started way back in August 2019 and endured a five-and-a-half month coronavirus-break between early March and late August of this year – and it is hard to escape the feeling that the timing of the lengthy lay-off and consequent financial squeeze has been more damaging to Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors’ momentum than for their rivals. 

Glasgow already looked like a team stuck in reverse when lockdown arrived, labouring away joylessly under a lame-duck head coach in Dave Rennie, who had already committed to taking on the Australian national team job this summer. The re-allocation of Danny Wilson from Scotland forwards coach to take over the Warriors for the 2020-21 campaign hardly set pulses racing, although he has won over a fair number of doubters with his thoughtful common-sense since taking up the reins. The problem is that he has no scope to refresh and replenish the side.  

This lack of funds to invest in new blood means that the next two seasons (at least) will be patch-up jobs, filling the gaps left by the recent departures of big names such as Jonny Gray, DTH van der Merwe and Stuart Hogg, and covering over the cracks of several players who are now well past their sell-by date.

Warriors still have the barebones of a team that can be a handful in the PRO14, but there must be serious doubt as to whether they have the depth and force of personality to be serious contenders in the league, let alone in Europe. 

For Edinburgh, the situation is even more frustrating because they were a team on a very definite upward trajectory before COVID-19 came along and upset everything. Their record of one win from four matches since the easing of lockdown is hardly catastrophic given the opposition, but you fear for their ability to be competitive over the whole season given the glaring lack of depth in key areas – most obviously at stand-off where Jaco van der Walt is understudied by two academy boys in Nathan Chamberlain and teenager Cameron Scott. 

Head coach Richard Cockerill is not a man for mincing his words and he gave a clear indication of how much faith he has in the youngsters to play the pivotal role at this level when he opted to go with full-back Blair Kinghorn as back-up 10 at the weekend. 

“At this point the reality is that unless there is an injury to Jaco I'm unlikely to use one of the younger 10s to come off the bench because they're not quite ready yet at this level,” Cockerill explained. 

“We've got to make do with that, but if you want to compete, I'm not sure there are many teams that are playing at the level we're playing where their genuine second choice is an academy player. 

“That's just the world we live in. At this point I don't see any budget being available for extra players.” 

With South African-born van der Walt passing the three-year residency requirement in November, it is not just conceivable but highly likely that he and Kinghorn will be off on international duty for long chunks of this season. Chamberlain is going to have to sink or swim at some point in the near future, and while his form for Scotland Under-20s during the last Six Nations gives every indication that he has got what it takes, the whole situation is far from ideal for a team which had looked ready to become a genuine force in both the PRO14 and Europe. 

For Cockerill, it must be doubly frustrating because he had signed Jono Lance to come in as the second senior stand-off in his squad (replacing the highly-paid but rarely used New Zealander Simon Hickey), and by the time the Australian’s visa was refused it had been decreed by Murrayfield that all recruitment was on hold as part of a £14million cost-cutting exercise. 

Of course, Edinburgh and Glasgow are not alone in feeling the pinch of this pandemic, but both were at pivotal stages in their development, and compared 

to the other leading European rugby nations – England, France, Ireland and Wales – there is not the same level of playing resources below pro level in Scotland which can be leant on when recruitment from abroad is not an option. 

We are about to find out if Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors are castles built on sand, overly reliant on project players from the southern hemisphere because of an academy/development programme which focusses in on a small number of exceptional prospects whilst failing to provide a route for rough diamonds and late developers to reach their full potential.  

There are a few notable exceptions, such as Rory Sutherland at Edinburgh and Grant Stewart at Glasgow, who flourish despite the system – but it is a numbers game and in Scotland the number of players coming through the system and being given the opportunity to reach the highest level has been far too low for far too long.