Zinzan ‘The Mouth’ Brooke flaps his trap..again!

Zinzan Brooke has stated on the BBC website that he hopes that the All Blacks “…beat the hell out of Scotland…“.  Fair enough, he’s a patriotic Kiwi and you’d want him to back his team.  His reason for this rather over the top, and schoolboy-esque, outburst: because those dastardly Scots didn’t play a full strength side at last year’s World Cup pool game and that hurt NZ form.  Now 2 things spring to my mind:

1) As a child Zinzan had a dog, Tuffy, who he loved dearly.  They did everything together, long walks through the stunning New Zealand countryside, warm, cosy nights in front of the log fire and off to watch the local sheep-shearing competition at the weekends.  Alas, Tuffy’s wonderful time with his dear master Zinzan was to end all too early!  One day, whilst running down the road to meet young Master Brooke a milk float came round the corner and not hearing the oncoming vehicle (electric engine…damn them!) poor Tuffy was mortally wounded.  As Zinzan help his dear Tuffy in his arms the driver of the milk float jumped out to see if the dog was ok… and to Zinzan’s horror the driver was wearing a kilt!!!  From that day on he vowed to hate Scottish rugby and all it stands for!

OR/

2)  Zinzan Brooke is a bitter man, yet another sign that some (and only a minority) in the New Zealand rugby fraternity will blame anybody else rather than their own team for underperforming at World Cup after World Cup after World Cup.  Maybe if the likes of Zinzan Brooke spent more time analysing the frailty in the All Black mentality when it comes to Webb Ellis then maybe he’d have less time, and cause, to start pointing the finger of blame at other rugby playing nations!

In summary, and to bastardise an old Stephen Fry comment:

Question – “Please provide a definition of Countryside”
Answer – “Killing Zinzan Brooke

Off on holiday from tomorrow so going to miss the game but I hope Scotland can put up a good show on Saturday and those of you who attend enjoy the game!

Maybe Frank Hadden should put Zinzan’s words up on the dressing room wall! :-)

Over and out.

Al

Scotland Team to play All Blacks…

Scotland today announced their team to line up against the All Blacks this coming Saturday.  Scotland are looking for their first ever victory against New Zealand and Frank Hadden has picked a team with a balance of experience and form players.  A total of 7 changes have been made from the team that won away in Argentina at the beginning of the summer and the likes of Sean Lamont and Jason White return to the starting line up.  The starting line-up for Saturday is:

  • A Jacobsen (Edinburgh)
  • R Ford (Edinburgh)
  • E Murray (Northampton)
  • N Hines (Perpignan)
  • J Hamilton (Edinburgh)
  • J White (Sale Sharks)
  • S Taylor (Stade Francais)
  • J Barclay (Glasgow Warriors)
  • C Paterson (Edinburgh)
  • T Evans (Glasgow Warriors)
  • B Cairns (Edinburgh)
  • N De Luca (Edinburgh)
  • S Lamont (Northampton)
  • P Godman (Edinburgh)
  • M Blair (Edinburgh)

Dan Parks has dropped to the bench with World Class Phil Godman given a starting berth and he will have a huge responsibility to ensure Scotland keep moving forward.  Given the starting line-up it would appear Scotland have gone for an experienced pack who can hopefully combat the aggression and drive of the All Blacks, and most importantly, secure ball for the backs.  Its encouraging to see such an attacking set of backs, and, in my opinion, that is a back unit capable of scoring points…whether they’ll score enough to trouble the All Blacks is the big question!

RORY UPDATE: Here’s our bench:

Replacements: Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Dickinson (Gloucester), Mustchin (Edinburgh), Gray (Northampton), Lawson (Gloucester) or McMillan (Glasgow Warriors), Parks (Glasgow Warriors), Southwell (Edinburgh).

The referee is Wayne Barnes (huzzah) assisted by Dave Pearson (boo) and Paul, um, Dix.

And the New Zealand team is as follows:  Isaia Toeava; Anthony Tuitavake, Richard Kahui, Ma’a Nonu, Joe Rokocoko; Stephen Donald, Piri Weepu; Jamie Mackintosh, Keven Mealamu (capt), John Afoa, Anthony Boric, Ali Williams, Kieran Read, Adam Thomson, Liam Messam.
Replacements: Corey Flynn, Neemia Tialata, Ross Filipo, Richie McCaw, Andy Ellis, Dan Carter, Cory Jane.

Far from the first team, but look at that bench! If Scotland are anywhere close to a result with 15 to go expect them to pour that lot on and still beat us by 40 points. Am also disappointed that Rory Lamont or the big Stroker are nowhere to be seen, having been in better form than SRBlog favourites Hugo Southwell and Big Jason. They didn’t have to pick him just so we can shout Hugooooooooooooo…

Can We Beat The All Blacks?

After the widely derided World Cup ‘B’ Team played against New Zealand on their last visit to Murrayfield, it will be interesting to test our full XV against the might All Blacks. Your fearless Scottish Rugby Blog correspondent will be in attendance. But can we (unlike Scubbsy) man up, and get a result?

Yes We Can:

  • They have lost a few first choice players. Either to the Northern Hemisphere (Chris Jack, Carl Hayman, Luke McAllister et al) and to injury (Andrew Hore). The frightening strength in depth of the pre-World Cup era in depth seems to be absent. After another choke in the World Cup, Kiwi support for Graeme Henry is balanced on a knife edge and depends only, you feel, on the results they get. For the first time, the All Blacks seem almost fallible.
  • We get them first. They will be fresh in the country, getting used to the crappy weather we have made our national speciality. They definitely looked a little rusty against Australia. The big one for them is in four weeks against England. We’re just a warm up. Regardless of what they might say, they won’t be targeting this as a tough match. Let’s hope we can catch them off guard with a decent performance before they gel too well. Our players are mostly match sharp and some (Murray, Barclay, Taylor, Blair, Rory Lamont, Thom Evans) are in pretty good – even great – form.
  • The All Black set piece was looking a little ropey against the Aussies. If Euan Murray can continue his current form perhaps he can reverse the current tales of front row woe that we are used to. Hadden’s choice of second row might of course affect our ability in this area too. My choice would be MacLeod and Taylor, but that is looking less likely. If we can get parity and hold our defence, we have a chance. A slim one, but a chance.
  • Wayne Barnes is the referee. While one hopes that he is not anxious to make amends to the nation of the Long White Cloud for allowing that forward pass, he has been solid all season and is one of the referees who is definitely upholding the new protocols regarding the breakdown. We’ve been playing under them all season. The Kiwis have only had the ANZ Cup and one Bledisloe Cup test to get used to the much stricter refereeing of that area. In particular, flopping over the ball to protect it is an area that could see Richie McCaw either deliver a masterclass (from which John Barclay will learn much) or be penalised off the park.

No We Can’t:

  • It’s the All Blacks, for pete’s sakes. We’ve never beaten them. Ever. Played 27, lost 25, drawn 2. The last draw was in 1983. We haven’t bothered going there on a summer tour since 2000. It’s no fun getting whipped on your summer holiday.
  • The frightening strength in depth only seems to be absent because we haven’t heard of any of them this side of the world. Let’s face it, Stephen Donald would walk into the Scotland XV. He even kicks a bit like Parko. Corey Jane may sound like a girl’s name, but as Al pointed out once, so does Nikki Walker. Whichever back three they play it will be talented, very fast and there on merit. Can we say the same?
  • We’ll probably play Dan Parks. You don’t have to play a kicking game under the new ELVs, but it does seem to happen a fair bit. Ergo Hadden may feel he must play Parks. It’s the fashion. Nevermind the sense that Mike Brewer talks about wanting to score tries. We’ll probably also play some other guys short of match practice or form  (White, Webster, Paterson) ahead of less experienced, in-form players.
  • Scotland have only had a few days to work together. Some of our likely inclusions (Strokosch, Rory Lamont) have been disruptively recalled to their clubs this weekend. Lamont was not picked for Sale yesterday, so he didn’t really need to go. It doesn’t help.
  • Our strength in depth is also frightening, in a different sense. Possible Kiwi frailties in the centre could be countered if we had a few more experienced operators in that area. If he’s given a chance, this test series could be the making of Ben Cairns, not to mention Nick De Luca. These matches would be ideal for giving these guys and Max Evans chance to get experience at test level. But because of the pressure for World Cup seedings (is it really going to happen?) Hadden may opt for the conservative route. Our one area of genuine depth, the back row – is the area where they have Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo.

In short, Scotland will have to play the game of their lives simply to stay in contention. Putting aside the World Cup draw (even as a third seed, we could still end up with a group involving say, Argentina and Ireland which wouldn’t be that scary) there’s nothing to lose, and with a little luck, a little slice of history to gain.

More light…

Further gloom in the scrum half department as McMillan has picked up a training injury too, although he is expected to recover and Lawson may not be as bad as first feared.

Interesting to see NZ have picked Carter and Smith in the centre for the warm up against Oz. Looking at their squad backs, even if they look to blood younger inexperienced players – which they may well do vs Scotland – they will still pose a big threat. Which makes me want to pee my pants a little seeing as I have a ticket.

New Zealand team to face Australia: Mils Muliaina, Hosea Gear, Conrad Smith, Dan Carter, Sitiveni Sivivatu; Stephen Donald, Jimmy Cowan; Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Neemia Tialata, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (capt), Rodney So’oialo.
Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Greg Somerville, Anthony Boric, Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Ma’a Nonu, Isaia Toeava.

Thank goodness for strength in depth

Bad news for Scotland’s squad preparations for the “autumn” (it’s already winter here in the north) internationals came yesterday with announcements that scrum halves Chris Cusiter (thumb), Rory Lawson (ribs) and centre Graeme Morrison would all be unavailable. Luckily Mark McMillan is able to step into the breach – he’s been in form for Glasgow, and it’s good to have a Heineken Cup winner and former U21 captain to call on. It’s a big blow for Cusiter, who always seems like he gets injured just as he is hitting form. Nikki Walker will also join the squad, having been released by the Ospreys. Morrison’s absence leaves the midfield looking a little lightweight – especially considering they may have to face big lads like Nonu and De Villiers running at them – could it be Rob Deweytime again?

Scotland Squad and Lions Coaches Announced

Scott Gray makes a surprise and (if he continues current form) welcome return to the Scotland National squad, while in form Max Evans and Geoff Cross make up the uncapped contingent. No real suprises otherwise but a few points:

  • Good to see Hadden’s picked some genuine 7s.
  • Not too many locks there though – Hamilton and Hines are the only genuine ones, so expect cover from Mutschin or Taylor (vindicated). Scott MacLeod may yet make it, test results/appeal pending (see previous post). No sign of Scott Murray who looked good in Montauban’s near miss against Munster.
  • All the usual suspects in the backs, though it could be Lawson that misses out rather than Cusiter this time
  • They seem to be heading for warm-weather training in Spain. With all the games being played in Novermber (including one practically in the North Sea) would they not be better training in Reykjavik?
  • For me Barclay and Euan Murray are probably the only certs in the forwards, and Blair in the backs. Highly recommended picks would be Godman, Evans and Cairns also but I guess that comes down to Hadden’s tactics. There is plenty of scope for picking a form team rather than a favourites team.
  • My starting (form) XV to face New Zealand would be: Lamont R, Evans T, Cairns, Morrison, Lamont S (maybe Mossy), Godman, Blair, Hogg, Barclay, Strokosch, Taylor, Hines, Murray, Ford, Dickinson. I imagine he’ll play Parks and Mossy in there somewhere though as Godman’s goal kicking may not be reliable enough – kicks could be our only source of points after all…

In other news of the un-surprising nature, most of Wales’ coaching staff were announced as the Lions backroom team plus team doctor and Scotsman James Robson. Gatland, Howley, Edwards and McGeechan certainly sounds bloody good on paper, even if it decimates Wales’ touring party in the summer. But then the Lions squad selection might have done that anyway. Shane Williams, James Hook, Ryan Jones and Martin Williams are all shoe-ins if you ask me. Also, Sky pundit Dick Best advocated Allan “Chunk” Jacobsen as a possible midweek Lion last weekend. The campaign starts now… and there’ll be more Lions preview stuff in the coming weeks.

MacLeod faces second drug test probe

Bit of breaking news: ahead of Frank Hadden’s announcement of his reduced squad to face New Zealand next month, lock Scott MacLeod has thrown his availability into severe doubt with the revelations that he has reportedly failed a second drug test, this time for “higher than permitted levels of testosterone”. MacLeod has insisted he is innocent and awaits the results of testing on his backup B sample. In the mean time he will be suspended from training or playing. Which makes it look even more likely that Hadden could be playing a back rower – or Scott Murray – in the second row come November. With White short of game time and Taylor playing regular first team rugby in that position, it looks like Taylor could be the answer. Unless of course Perpignan were just hiding big Nathan to keep him fresh for the Top 14 and he is fit and healthy…

Weekend Roundup

Glasgow 9-15 Toulose
In the first half this was there for the taking, but by the time the second half got into its stride so did Toulose, With a couple of moments of typical clinical brilliance from Jauzion and Skrela forcing Glasgow to chase the result, and they actually came very close on a couple of occasions. In a country where wings are now either of the “bulky and powerful” or “dancing feet and turning ball over” variety, Thom Evans is starting to look like the real deal in terms of offering genuine pace to beat people with. The Sky commentators kept blabbing on about his 100m time – reputed to be sub 11 seconds – but in fairness on most of the occasions the ball got to him he displayed it to good effect, and was unlucky not to have added to his tally of tries this season. Even David Strettle said he wouldn’t fancy chasing him down. In addition John Barclay showed that after Mike Blair, he should probably be the second name on the team-sheet with a ferocious display of tackling on the pitch – he almost managed to stop Kelleher scoring a try while simultaneously (accidentally) kicking him in the head – and refreshing candour in the press afterwards. Mention should also go to the officials, who once again let a couple of blatant forward passes go.

Stade Francais 37 – 15 Llanelli Scarlets
It’s not often you see a lock kicking, or coming in at first receiver twice in ten minutes, but Simon Taylor showed up well at 5 during another frightening display of skill from Hernandez and Parisse. With Scotland locks Hines and Macleod currently injured, might Taylor find a place there for Scotland in the Autumn?

Ospreys 15 – 9 Perpignan
A grubby little game now beset by accusations of gouging, so the less said the better. Cusiter was given little to work with in terms of go-forward from his pack but still lacked in attack, preferring simply to distribute (this may be the USAP way). He’s obviously practicing for having Dan Carter outside him, but still.

Castres 6 -13 Edinburgh
To be honest this one should have been out of site with a 4-try bonus point by half time, with Mossy and De Luca butchering a couple of chances as Edinburgh – led by Cairns in the midfield – cut Castres apart seemingly at will. The second half saw Castres come back into it and Edinburgh were forced to defend solidly for large periods, never able to regain the sort of posession that had allowed them to dominate the first half. Godman did reasonably well to keep the backs moving with some brilliant passes moving his players on to the ball at pace, and Robertson showed guts and zip on the wing. Webster had a pretty quiet game though, and may be lucky to get in the Scotland team given some of the form other wingers are in (Lamont, Evans). Hoggy showed up well too and should be in with a shout for New Zealand depending on what Hadden decides to do with Simon Taylor. This was the Edinburgh team we remember from last season, and the team that sold all those season tickets for this year. Welcome back, we hope you stick around.

Other games: MIA Bruce Douglas, it turns out, has been at Montpellier all this time. The French team were the latest on the end of a 5 point hiding from resurgent Northampton Saints. Tom Smith still proved he is the man with a last ditch try saving chase – steaming in ahead of Sean Lamont to get there and clear to touch. Rob Dewey got a whole 12 minutes on the pitch in Ulster’s 42-21 kicking from ‘Quins. Rory Lamont displayed power and control as well as some great full-back kicking skills in Sale’s loss to Munster. Still, it was a great game so we can’t complain too much. The Gloucester boys were unlucky not to come away with something in Cardiff in another great game. Al Strokosch showed up well, but I’m not sure if 7 is the best use of his talents – or if it provides the best supply of ball for Gloucester…

Team News for the Weekend:

IN:
Ben Cairns – Edinburgh – will he combine with De Luca on his return and revitalise Edinburgh’s cutting edge?
Dan “Parko” Parks – Glasgow – will he return Glasgow’s cutting edge or boot everything in sight?
Thom Evans – Glasgow – back from plastic surgery (well, he was in a boy band) to show us if his zip and zest belong in a Scotland shirt. Malkovich look out.
Richie Vernon – Glasgow – young back rower gets his first start of the season. Against Toulose.
Rob Deweytime – Ulster – into the squad vs Quins on Saturday but no guarantee his time in the wilderness is over.

OUT:
Hugo Southwell – Edinburgh – drops right out of the 22
Matt Mutschin – Edinburgh – pays the price for his stupid trip on Kearney and ensuing Yellow Card
Kelly Brown – Glasgow – possibly also paying for indiscipline last weekend
Nikki Walker – Ospreys – out for 3 weeks with a hand injury

SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT:
Phil Godman – Edinburgh – hopes to celebrate his 100th appearance for Edinburgh with a victory at Castres
Dan Biggar – Ospreys – with a name like that he should be playing for Scotland. Rumour has it he had a grandfather in the right place.
Rory Lamont – Sale – continues his run at full-back
Jason White – Sale – still on the bench
Tom Smith & Euan Murray – Northampton – still cooking up a storm in the front row
Sean Lamont – Northampton – finding his way back into form with a try last weekend
Rory & Scott Lawson, The big Stroker and Dicko – Gloucester – all exactly where they were last week as Dean Ryan names an unchanged team.

Glasgow vs Toulose – Sky Sports, Friday night 8pm
Harlequins vs Ulster – Sky Sports, Saturday 3pm
Castres vs Edinburgh – Sky Sports (red button) Saturday 5.30pm
Northampton vs Montpellier – Sky Sports Saturday 7.30pm
Sale vs Munster – Sky Sports Sunday 1pm
Cardiff vs Gloucester – Sky Sports, BBC Radio Wales Sunday 3pm

Hadden gets his men… sort of

Frank Hadden has announced that IRB Player of the Year Nominee Mike Blair will continue to captain Scotland for the Autumn Internationals, and that the SRU has also come to some sort of agreement with Premier Rugby over the release of Scotland players based at Guinness Premiership clubs.

While it’s not as much as Hadden wanted (a full two weeks) it’s more than they offered (5 days), and while any players picked for their clubs in the intervening period will have to return to play – in the case of the Gloucester and Northampton boys this may be likely even for an EDF cup tie – at least now Hadden and his new team of coaches can plan accordingly. For once Frank talked a bit of sense when he talked about the structure of the rugby season constantly throwing up club vs country  clashes. If you look at the Southern Hemisphere they go from Super 14 to Tri Nations to Currie Cup/ANZ Cup then Autumn Tours etc rather than having them all run side by side or interwoven with each other like we do. And while I am sure the EDF cup is popular in Wales – giving them as it does another pop at their cousins across the border – the GP teams commit little to it unless they manage to coast to the semi finals. Couldn’t we just get rid of it and have a little breathing space in the season that would make these player release issues less contentious?

Heineken Horror!

I’ll keep this brief as the idea of reliving Saturday’s Edinburgh v Leinster match is putting me off my lunch!

Glorious day, sun splitting the sky, a good Autumn wind and, with Mrs Al off visiting relatives, a free pass to go and do with the day whatever I desire.  For once Edinburgh are playing at home at a time that actually encourages attendance, not only that but a 1.30pm ko ensured that I was out and in the pub in time for the second half of the Scotland v Norway snorefest.   So off to fortress Murrayfield I went and to be honest the signs were good!  For once the ticket arrangements were well organised with separate booth for those of us paying cash so no wait in a long queue.  Into the stadium in time for a pint from the well manned (it’s true!!) booze cabins and an almost tasty burger from the stall – really, trips to Murrayfield rarely go this well.  It’s a case of sit where you like with the ticket I have and I get a seat right under the media boxes and a cracking view for the game ahead, find myself surrounded by Leinster fans but they are in good form.  For the first 15-20 minutes this general vibe of positivity was sustained by a good start from Edinburgh…

Those first 15 minutes or so saw Edinburgh press Leinster back and put real pressure onto the lineout. The Leinster lineout was an abomination at times, with lineout after lineout being stolen at the rear by Edinburgh.  You just knew that Edinburgh needed to make the most of the pressure, but all they got was 3 points from a Godman kick.  Sure enough, no sooner had Edinburgh scored than the wheels came off the Edinburgh wagon in spectacular fashion…

TACKLE: “Most forms of football have a move known as a tackle. In most cases this move is one that prevents an opposing player from carrying out what they intend.

The word is used in some contact sports to describe the act of physically holding or wrestling a player to the ground. In other sports, it simply describes one or more methods of contesting for possession of the ball.”

If you happen to be a member of the Edinburgh squad please take note of the above definition (thanks Wikipedia).  For about 15 minutes Edinburgh’s defence was pathetic.   A total inability to tackle or even put in something resembling a tackle cost Edinburgh the game.  Coupling this with a very high line and one missed tackle meant that Leinster were able to break free and score from long range run-ins.  Time after time this happened.  Granted, Leinster benefitted from one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen on a rugby pitch – the forward pass so far forward the Leinster player was sprinting to Livingston to actually catch it.  Now, the referee was miles away from play so, possibly, can be forgiven, but his line judge was bang in line with it and how he missed it only he will know!  Two moves later Leinster break again, second try and effectively game over.  Gutting as it may have been Edinburgh had no one to blame but themselves.

The second half at least saw some fight from Edinburgh and I’m pretty sure I even saw them put a tackle in.   A wee bit more cutting edge and Edinburgh might have had a chance of recovering, but like the national side, they just seem to lack ideas in the opposition 22.  Fair play to Leinster, they took their chances well but this was a victory they didn’t have to work for.

A couple of final points.  Firstly a word on the Leinster fans, certainly the ones around me, who were great craic and supported their team well – Edinburgh fans could learn from them (i.e. stop sitting on your hands and bein quiet!).  Secondly, praise must be given to Edinburgh for the buy one adult get 4 kids free offer.  Seemed to me a fair number of kids in attendance and hopefully they’ll want to come back; get them young, get them playing and get them passionate for the game. It’s the only way we, as a nation, will get better at this wonderful sport.

Over and out.  Al.

The Heineken Cup starts this weekend

So we wouldn’t be serving you, the Scottish Rugby blog reader (there may only be one of you), correctly if we didn’t give you a run-down on where and when you can catch up with all the Scottish players on show this weekend in the world’s biggest and best club rugby tournament. Last night the junior tournament (without sponsor, so the Challenge Cup thingy as it shall henceforth be known) kicked off with a classy looking Northampton destroying Tana Umaga’s Toulon. Sean Lamont bagged a try, showed up well and the 66% Scottish front row were rampant once again, as was Scott Gray. Perhaps spending a year in the first division learning from Tom Smith could be the best thing that ever happened to Euan Murray. Special mention also to Fitzgerald the Toulon hooker and captain, who also hails from bonny Scotland, although he was mostly outclassed by Dylan “Fists of Fury” Hartley.

Friday

Munster v Montauban: Scott Murray is playing for the visitors who may struggle to win at the revamped Thomond Park. On Sky Sports from 1930 I reckon.
Perpignan vs Treviso: Chris Cusiter, but no Nathan Hines or indeed Dan Carter who is rumoured will start his brief European sojurn vs Leicester in December. Not on the telly.

Saturday

Edinburgh vs Leinster: a must win game for Edinburgh, even at this early stage. The SRU are running a “buy one ticket, get 4 kids in free” offer so if you are in Edinburgh and have 4 kids it could be worth going along. It has the potential to be a cracker. Or a drubbing. Malkovich is back from injury though which may help as Edinburgh field a near full strength back division (minus Ben Cairns). The back row still misses Ross Rennie, but if Connacht can beat a pretty strong Leinster team, then there is always hope. On Sky Sports, ko 1335.
Dragons vs Glasgow: Glasgow have already beaten the Dragons away this season so hopefully they can repeat it. If they play to their strengths they should have no problem but the Dragons have picked up a bit since the teams last met (beating Edinburgh for example). Pity this one’s not on the telly, as it would be nice to see the Evans boys in action, but you can I think get it on BBC Radio Wales. Ko 1430.
Clermont vs Sale: Big Jason and big Rory should be involved in this one (White from the bench) and the heartening news is that following Matthew Tait’s less than impressive start to his Sale career – and injury – Rory Lamont is finally getting a run at the 15 shirt he prefers. On Sky via the Red button, ko 1435
Scarlets vs Harlequins: Scott Macleod’s on the bench for Llanelli, ko 1530 via the red button.
Ulster vs Stade Francais: Hopefully sporting the bitching/utterly tasteless (delete as applicable) new strip, Stade will feature Simon Taylor at 5, his position du jour. Meanwhile, no sign of either Rob Deweytime or Simon “Ice Cream” Danielli (you like those? I just made them up) in Matt William’s Ulster lineup. Sky Sports, ko 1530.
Gloucester vs Biarittz: the Alisdairs Dickinson and Strokosch will both start at 1 and 7 respectively while Rory Lawson is on the bench. Dickinson has looked sharp so far this season, and if Hadden is looking for a mobile prop with good running skills he could do worse. Think Chunk, without the, um, chunk. Strokosch is getting game time in all three back row shirts, which might go in his favour if it came down to a “him or Jason White” type decision for the Scotland 6 shirt but you still want him in the team. Sky Sports, ko 1730.

Sunday

Leicester vs Ospreys: Nikki Walker pops up in his usual position on the wing. Sky Sports ko 1300.

And rest assured, Scotland will feature in the Heineken Cup final this year.

It’s at Murrayfield.

What is going on with Scottish rugby?

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster over the past few weeks, with more ups and downs on the Scottish rugby scene than the Dow Jones. Firstly we saw Edinburgh put in a storming performance to dispatch Llanelli while Glasgow failed to beat Irish development side Connacht.

Then off the pitch there was a similar mix of good news/bad news with the announcement of Mike Blair’s place on the short list for IRB Player of the Year, followed soon after by Frank Hadden having his mammoth training squad shrunk a little by PRL’s refusal to release GP based players.

Blair finds himself in the exalted company of Shane Williams, Ryan Jones, Dan Carter and Sergio Parisse. Carter’s been very hit and miss in the Tri-Nations, and although he did save New Zealand’s blushes on a couple of occasions I would be surprised if he won. Williams had a near-perfect Six Nations and although Wales underperformed in their first test vs the Springboks, he’s the clear bookies favourite. My personal (biased) choice for recognition would be Blair, who has been Scotland’s best player for a few years now (sorry, Mossy fans). Despite Scotland’s relatively poor Six Nations, when given a chance to play his type of rugby in the second Argentina test, he showed what sort of a leader and inspirational player he could be (perhaps in a Lions shirt too?). So much so that one-time rival Chris Cusiter will (only for the moment, one hopes) have to be satisfied with holding down the Perpignan number 9 shirt, where he will soon hook up with a certain Mr D. Carter…

Then last weekend Edinburgh failed to beat the Dragons – who Glasgow defeated away from home on the opening day of the season – while Glasgow got their season moving again by beating the Scarlets in some style. The emergence of the Evans boys as genuine pace merchants is something that should hearten Scottish rugby fans. Glasgow also competed well against favourites Munster the following weekend, with a conversion the difference that cost them a losing bonus point.

Edinburgh have since followed that up with narrow defeat to Matt Williams’ Ulster team and are looking at a pretty sluggish start to the season. It seems they miss Ben Cairns and Malkovich more than we thought would be possible.

Later in the week we’ll take a look at the world’s premier club tournament, the Heineken Cup.