Dreigiauing the Bottom of the Barrel

Don’t forget, Edinburgh vs Dragons is on BBC2 Wales (channel 991 on Sky Digital if memory serves) tonight from 7pm. Edinburgh are fielding a pretty decent team (including Rennie, De Luca and Godman) that should be in with a shout of getting a win, although the Dragons are looking for their double over Edinburgh this season, having won at Murrayfield in October when Andy Robinson was only weeks into the job.

In other news, it turns out Gregor “Toony” Townsend has begun to coach the Edinburgh backs one day a week, in particular focusing on imparting his 82 caps worth of knowledge to the Edinburgh standoffs Blair, Godman and Warnock. More positive news coming out of the Edinburgh camp. Although I can hear Al choking on his lunch from here. Let’s just forget about the national team for a week and hopefully we’ll be rewarded with a victory tonight!

Also diminutive ball-ferret Donnie Macfadyen makes a long-awaited comeback for Glasgow vs Ospreys tonight in a game refereed by a Mr J Kaplan (with the Super 14 trialling the ELVs, I suppose all the officials currently north of the equator are kept here even in the off weeks to avoid confusion). Here’s hoping there are soon three dedicated open-sides for the Scotland selectors to choose from – all the best to Donnie and the Glasgow boys tonight.

Apologies for the appalling pun in the title, but you’d expect nothing less from us by now.

UPDATE WITH TONIGHT’S RUGBY RESULTS:

Dragons 10 – 10 Edinburgh
Not the most stunning of games, but the wind was pretty appalling. The Dragons failed to capitalise on the wind advantage in the second half and put Edinburgh away, but Edinburgh possibly should have made more of chances in the first half. Cairns scored a good try and World Class Phil was as sparky as the weather allowed, but worryingly Nick De Luca may have picked up an ankle sprain which led to his substitution on the first half.

Glasgow 9 – 6 Ospreys
Caught the end of this on Internet radio, Glasgow sounded like they were putting up a good fight (Moray Low especially) exciting finish although again not much of a try fest, and again very poor weather. Macfadyen made it through 62 minutes before coming off for John Barclay, and the crowd sounded in good form too. However I was a little concerned at all the BBC Scotland reports of Moray Walker and Edinburgh playing the Llanelli Dragons. Come on, guys.

Scotland Rugby Player doesn’t fail doping test, fills in form wrong

News is just breaking that a Scotland Rugby Union player has failed a drugs test of some sort. As if things weren’t bad enough… anyway we’ll avoid unhealthy (and possibly actionable) speculation and bring you more news as we get it, so keep an eye out!

UPDATE: The BBC are reporting that a player has been retrospectively cleared following some sort of form-filling mix up. So we can all put our toys back in the pram now, it just seems like a bureaucratic bungle rather than anything malicious.

UPDATE: Apparently the player involved is Scott Macleod (who is asthmatic) the incident revolves around special dispensation (a T.U.E, or Therapeutic Use Exemption) to use different types of inhaler, and it has already been cleared up to the satisfaction of UK Sport and an independent judicial committee.

Of TV Shows and Computer Games. Oh, and Rugby.

Ireland 34-13 Scotland

Okay, so first things first. Scotland were pretty poor on Super Saturday. You all saw it, so there’s not much point in spending the rest of my afternoon telling you what you already know. Feel free to get it off your chest in the comments section below. Italy looked more like scoring tries with their backs moves than Scotland, and they were on the end of a thumping by the continuing resurgence of Wales. Make no mistake, barring a fluke (as it would have to be) against England in two weeks – a game your fearless SRBlog correspondents will be attending, so you don’t have to – the Italy game will be the wooden spoon decider. And we’ll probably lose it. Scotland had a solid 20 minutes of possession and territory at the start of the Ireland game, several clear cut scoring opportunities to get our Six Nations back on track and yet came away with nothing. Ireland were in our 22 once or twice and came away with the points, setting up the lead they built on in the second half. And that’s the difference. Well, that and Geordan Murphy – if O’ Sullivan doesn’t pick him at full-back against Wales on that form, Ireland will be in worse shape than we are, direction-wise.

There were a few positives. Al Strokosch had a great game, and should get another chance at 6 whether Jason White is fit or not. They both play week-in, week-out against the England back row in the GP but Strokosch is currently the one playing well against them. Ross Rennie came off the bench and made a nuisance of himself at the breakdown, winning two penalties rather than giving them away (unlike his rash and bearded contemporary Mr Hines, who to be fair put in a lot of work otherwise). Our lineout showed signs of a return to form in both attack and defence, and the scrum didn’t get shunted about as much as I had feared. And for the first time, Chunk wasn’t our best attacking player. Sorry, Chunk. There were way fewer skills errors – in the backs the ball was moved around with intent – 94 completed passes in the first half, the stats told us.

But that’s just it. It moved around, and mostly side to side. For 20 minutes. Simon Malkovich Webster broke the try duck late in the game, but we never really looked like scoring more. We know Rory Lamont can score tries – he was on an average of one a game for Sale before the Six Nations kicked off, and on the wing too. Nikki Walker has 4 this season for Ospreys, and DeLuca 4 for Edinburgh. So why can’t they do it for Scotland? (DeLuca’s one is easy, he hasn’t been thrown a decent pass yet.) Even Frank Hadden couldn’t explain why in his post match interview – but should he not be the one with the answers?

Okay, so maybe the coaches have shored up the basic handling errors somewhat, and given the team a more suitable style, but the lapses in concentration were worrying, dissipating any momentum and gifting away points at key moments. Would they concentrate a little more if they thought their places in the 22, not just the starting XV were under threat? Compare them to the Scotland A team, coached by messrs Robinson and Lineen who ran in 10 tries by playing offloading rugby (roll on the Churchill Cup). In the PC game Battlefield 2, your commander has a catchphrase he barks at you every five minutes: “start fighting, or I’ll find someone who can.” While big Nathan might take that a little too literally, it seems to be working with regard to Warren Gatland’s ruthless rotation policy – like season one of Spooks, not even the stars are safe.

And on a day when even Brian Ashton was seen punching the air, and Nick Mallett punching walls, would Frank Hadden inject a little more passion if he, too, was under threat?

Board the rafts, head out of exile, Scotland set sail for the Emerald Isle….

Ireland v Scotland, Croke Park (Dublin), 5pm, Saturday 23rd February

On the day that Fidel Castro decided to retire his Marxist Beard, and spark jubilation amongst the exiled Cubans in Florida, so I also decided to take myself out of my self-imposed rugby exile and started building myself up for the next round of 6 Nations matches. The Scotland side in this championship has born an uncanny resemblance to so many of the flimsy rafts that, over the last few years, have set sail from Cuba to a new life in the US of A. Like these makeshift rafts the Scotland side have been rudderless, fragile and far too easily overwhelmed by the waves of opposition attack.

This tournament has brought nothing but heartbreak for those in the dark blue but the time has come to look to the future and hopefully the shoots of progress can be demonstrated against the Irish at Croke Park this coming Saturday. The team need to learn the lessons from the French and Welsh games (don’t drop the ball would be a marked improvement) and look to try and attack the Irish at every opportunity. Scotland today announced their team (well nearly all of it) and on first appearances it appears far more mobile:

1. Allan Jacobsen
2. Ross Ford
3. Euan Murray
4. Nathan Hines
5. Scott MacLeod
6. Alasdair Strokosh
7. TBC
8. TBC

9. Mike Blair (C)
10. Chris Paterson
11. Rory Lamont
12. Andy Henderson
13. Simon Webster
14. Nikki Walker
15 Hugoooooooooo Southwell

The likes of Dan Parks, Jim Hamilton and Nick De Luca have dropped to the bench whilst Jason White, who has been off form, is out with a head injury but not a poke in the eye…wink wink, nudge nudge). Both 7 and 8 have yet to be decided on as the coaches wait on fitness test for John Barclay. Some points of note:

The Pack – much more mobile than the last couple of games. The addition of MacLeod and Strokosch will take some of the weight out the pack but should make it a much more mobile unit. Strokosch has been in good form for Gloucester and his appetite to carry the ball over the gain line should prove invaluable. With White having been off form hopefully Strokosch can be the man to put in the big hits. Because of the reduced size in the pack hopefully we will see something more dynamic from the forwards who have disappointed all tournament. The lineout will also need to greatly improve because unless Scotland can secure good possession from set pieces the team will continue to struggle as an attacking force.

7 & 8 – Who will fill these positions? The coaching staff are waiting on the fitness of John Barclay so that suggests that if passed fit then he will start at 7. That leaves 3 players fighting it out for the
remaining position in the starting XV; Ally Hogg, Kelly Brown and Ross Rennie. My gut instinct is to go with Ally Hogg, he’s big, he’s fairly mobile, he’s experienced and will at least show passion for the job. I
think Kelly Brown is probably out of the running as he was poor (as was the whole team) against Wales so that leaves Hogg and Rennie. As a back row that would certainly be interesting and a damn site more attacking than what we’ve had in the last two games.

Mike Blair – Blair has been handed the starting berth at 9 and has also been named captain in Jason Whites absence. This is an interesting choice as I would have preferred someone more vocal like Nathan Hines as el Capitan (ok, generally only on the pitch for 70 minutes but certainly a leader!). Blair has been unspectacular and my preference would be for a change in this position. I feel that as good a player as Blair can be he is not attacking enough and the evidence of this tournament supports this. His persistent slowing down of ball and his apparent inability to choose the right pass will mean that the pressure is on him to perform. Another bad performance may see more vocal calls for Cusiter’s inclusion in the next starting XV.

The Backs – Some very interesting decisions here. Rory Lamont (the housewives favourite) has been moved out to the wing and this could be an inspired decision – but it will depend on the ball getting that far. If the ball can reach Lamont (and Walker for that matter) in anything resembling room he has the ability to beat his man. Defensively he is sound so it may help shore up Scotland in the wide areas. Webster in at centre is demonstrative of a Scotland side set up to attack, he’ll get on the ball in the game and he’ll need to be in the frame of mind to try and find the gaps in the Ireland defence. The same can be said of Paterson who’s game time at 10 has been limited but this, at least, guarantee’s his ability to spot a gap will be utilised to the full. Nick de Luca has dropped out which is a shame but his confidence is shot so maybe the chance to be the impact player off the bench would suit him better.

It is apparent from this team that Scotland have looked at the teams succeeding in the tournament so far (France and Wales) and realised that a loose, almost off-the-cuff, method of playing is paying dividends. Do Scotland have the players to do this? On paper yes, they can run and basic errors are down to concentration so there is no reason that Scotland can’t play free flowing rugby. It can’t be any worse than what has gone before. In saying all this the focus really switches onto Hadden. He’s putting out a team that is set up to, finally, attack and throw the rugby ball about. His insistence on keeping it tight seems to have waned but is this the act of a desperate man? Possibly, certainly his tenure as Scotland coach has never looked so weak and this could be his last act to save both Scotland’s tournament and his job. He’s answered some of his critics with this team but he now needs to demonstrate he has the ability to motivate his players and squeeze a good performance out of a group which has been horribly mis-firing.

Finally a quick note of the officials. Its a Franco-Welsh affair with the ref and TMO from France (Ref: Christophe Berdos, TMO: Romain Poite) and the line being Welsh (Nigel Owens, Hugh Watkins). Hopefully the TMO takes his glasses and a copy of the rules with him.

So, will Saturday see a revolutionary Scotland performance or will it turn into another Bay of Pigs? Who knows, that’s the fun (the pain!) of watching this Scotland team but all I want is performance full of heart….and a try or two would be nice!! Enjoy the game.

Over and Out.

Dean Ryan’s Express

So, Chris Paterson just played over 50 minutes at stand-off for Gloucester. As I type this, he came off the pictch seemingly to be replaced by a streaker. Mossy missed two conversions (that with hindsight would have sealed victory), fluffed a couple of restarts – the commentators review said his performance was “mixed”. Not the ideal preparation for the man who we hope will fire our attacking ambitions against Ireland next weekend – he was given his chance, and didn’t shower himself in glory. What, Chris Paterson missed kicks? But then so did Phil Godman in Edinburgh’s narrow loss to Munster, and he wasn’t known for his kicking in the first place – though it seems vastly improved. Do we dare take the same risks at international level?

Mossy will probably get the nod, and it’s probably about time he was given a shot, even if it’s not clear that he is ready for all that the role of international 10 will demand of him. Godman may also not be ready. But can they really offer us less in attack than Parks? Southwell still offers a good tactical kicking option, with Paterson or Godman able to cover the fullback’s space when that’s going on. So at least one of them should be brought in, if you ask me. Meanwhile on the same Cherry and Whites team as CP, you have Alisdair Strokosch and Rory Lawson, Scotsmen in the form of their lives, who will probably not even get slots in the starting 22.

“Stroker” has the problem of playing in Jason White’s position. But White has looked off-colour thus far, and if the Scotland team were truly picked on form it would be hard to argue against giving the ex-Edinburgh man his chance at the 6 shirt. He offers power going forward, enthusiasm for the workload and crunching, crowd-pleasing tackles – sound familiar? Of the other possible occupants (if you were to bench the current captain), neither is a natural 6 – indeed Hogg seems to be coming on to a bit of form at 8, his preferred position, so I would argue he should stay there, and make it a coin-toss between Brown and Strokosch at 6.

Rory Lawson finds himself in another of Scotland’s few areas of genuine depth, scrum half. Al (and my dad) may disagree with me, but Mike Blair has done little wrong thus far in the tournament. Mind you, he hasn’t done anything truly brilliant either – on a par with his team mates. For me Blair still offers a better attacking threat than Cusiter with ball in hand, and the number of try saving tackles he has made for club and country proves him sure in defence too. Still if you wanted a cross between Cusiter and Blair – nuggety defence, a good break, barking at the forwards and swift distribution to boot, for me Lawson might be the go-to guy. (Might it may be time to retire the scrum-half as terrier metaphor? Bill McLaren, we salute you.)

So basically it seems to come down to the old question regarding selection – change for changes sake? Bring in the young guns all at once, or drip feed them into the team to build their experience but keep some steady heads? Which approach will keep the media, the bosses or the supporters yearning for a sense of direction at bay the longest? Does it mean we will have to wait for Nick De Luca to settle in (or be dropped) before Rennie, or Cairns, or Beattie or Evans get their turn in a Scotland shirt? Lievremont picked almost a whole team of tyros for France, and said “go out and play”. The guys I just mentioned, as well as Lawson or Strokosch, would certainly fit into an old Frank Hadden team, the ones that just went out and played, freeing the shackles of the overly prescriptive Williams era. You could argue that what you do is blood them all early on in an easy game, then drip feed the seasoned pros back into the team as the tournament goes on. It seems to be working for France, to get the results that every coach needs to ensure he has the time to oversee his own masterplan to fruition in time for the next World Cup or Six Nations, the building blocks of coaching careers. But for Scotland there are no longer any easy games in the Six Nations. And that’s the final question:

Does Frank Hadden have his own masterplan?

UPDATE: check out Gloucester Rugby for a report on the game.

The Laziness of the Long-Distance Runner

I know I was supposed to post something meaningful this week, but I haven’t got round to it yet. Hopefully I’ll have something over the weekend.

In the meantime here’s the rugby you might like to catch on TV over the weekend:

First up, something called the Super 14 kicked off today, and while we don’t usually hold with playing rugby in pyjamas, it’s usually quite fun. Tonight gives us a chance to see Al’s “favourite” 10 after Gregor Townsend, Freddie Michalak, in action for the his new team the Sharks against the Western Force, who will no doubt be fielding several players with Scottish names. New Zealand fans may well agree that Michalak will fit right in to the “lateral” passing of the Super 14… (Sky Sports Xtra from 5pm).

Tonight sees a return to action for the Scottish pro-teams, and you can catch them both on the TV if you’re not attending in person. Edinburgh are fielding a strong team including Ally Hogg, Gav Kerr and Hugooooo and featuring flanker Roland Reid returning to his old position on the wing against visiting Munster and new signing Doug Howlett. Hopefully SRBlog favourite Nick DeLuca will get a run off the bench to try and rediscover his club form ahead of team selection for Ireland next weekend (Setanta Sports 2, from 7.20pm). Glasgow travel to Llanelli to play an under-performing Scarlets team and try and transfer some of their European form to Magner’s league position (BBC2 Wales, Channel 991 on Sky, access through the Red Button because of snooker).

There’s even some Frenchies throwing it about on Eurosport 2 tonight too, if you have a lot of free time/videotapes…

Don’t forget, avid rugby hunters amongst you in the UK with Sky can press the following “magic” combination to view all the rugby showing, well, everywhere: Press “Tv Guide” > “Yellow” > “5” > “Blue”.

Mad Al II – Return to Blunderdome!

Scotland’s 6 Nations campaign staggered further into the abyss on Saturday when Scotland crashed to a decent, but not outstanding, Welsh side. Scotland had arrived in the Welsh capital eager to make amends for last weeks horror show against the French but instead compounded the misery by turning in an abject display that was a throwback to the dark days of the Matt Williams era (shudder!). Scotland will undoubtedly point to Shane Williams second “try”as an important turning point in the match, but Scotland did not deserve anything from the game and the 30 – 15 final score was a fair reflection of the domination that the Welsh had all afternoon.

The Resurrection Of The Paterson…

Keeping in line with Rory’s Episcopal writings Chris Paterson has risen from his resting place on the subs bench to take his place in the Scotland starting XV for the game against Wales. Paterson has come in at 15 and Kelly Brown (8) has come in to replace David Callum who has dropped out the squad entirely. Ally Hogg has been called into the subs bench and will no doubt be looking to make a big impact if (when?) he gets on the pitch. The rest of the first XV have remained unchanged and means that Dan Parks and Nick De Luca, neither of whom set the heather alight on Sunday, will face up to the Welsh.

Here is a look at the starting XV for the game down in Cardiff on Saturday (2pm kick-off):

1) Allan Jacobsen – Scotlands main attacking drive from the forwards against France. Having a good season for Edinburgh and encouraging to see that being carried into the international arena.
2) Ross Ford – Coped ok on Sunday but is he able to cope in the scrum with the strongest nations? Will be interesting to see how he holds up against the Welsh.
3) Euan Murray – Big, powerful but not a real threat at the lineout.
4) Nathan Hines – The aggressive drive for Scotland but never really fired against France. If he can up his game Scotland can prosper.
5) Jim Hamilton – Another big player and helped stabilise the Scottish scrum, very noticeable when he went off. Question marks over his effectiveness in the lineout (compared to say Scott Murray).
6) Jason White (C) – a big game for Jason. Was disappointing against the French and question mark remains over his ability to lead when the going gets tough. He needs to demonstrate his ability to put the big hits in and make the metres up otherwise his place is surely at risk.
7) John Barclay – one of the brighter spots on Sunday and will look to take the game to the Welsh. Expect him to be a big player on Saturday.
8 ) Kelly Brown – looked good when he came on and has been in fine form this season.

9) Mike Blair – Hmmmm, wasn’t amazing on Sunday and thought Cusiter may have got the nod. His form for his club has been good but he needs to move the ball quicker.
10) Dan Parks – Still a fan but this suddenly becomes a big game for Scotland’s #1 ass-patter. Another stinker will put him under huge pressure but if he can do the basics well and kick Scotland into good position he could become a very large thorn in Wales side. His passing needs to improve though.
11) Simon Webster – struggled in a Scotland shirt lately but in a thankless role of Scotland winger starved of service.
12) Andy Henderson – dodged a bullet, twice, when neither carded nor cited for his ‘head-butt’ on Traille. He will no doubt want to make a positive impression against Wales and will look to make some hard yards, which unlike head-butting, is something he does well.
13) Nick de Luca – had a shocking start to his international career but came onto a game as the match progressed. Glad he is back in the team and hopefully being in an atmosphere where the pressure will be off him he will have a chance to show just what he is capable off. By the end of this 6 Nations he may prove to be a permanent fixture at 13.
14) Nikki Walker – probably had his best game in a Scotland shirt in the France match. A couple of very good runs and looked a handful for the French. If he can take that form into the Wales game he has the potential to be explosive and surely the opportunity to get one over so many of his team mates will spur him on. Will be a valuable source of intel on the opposition.
15) Chris ‘The Prodigal Son’ Paterson – having been dropped Paterson will have it all to prove. As Rory mentioned in another section Paterson looked as sharp as he has in a awful long time and 15 may yet prove to be the best place for him as he will be able to run the ball and he can beat his men. Could this be the game that Paterson cements his status as a modern legend of the Scotland game? Bold prediction but I expect him to score a try and maintain his kicking prowess.

On paper it is another fairly strong Scotland squad and I don’t think they will be able to play as badly again as they did on Sunday. Wales had a superb result against England but it is important to remember that for 40 minutes of that match the Welsh were abysmal and to a certain degree the English shot themselves in the foot. In saying all that, the Welsh crowd will expect a win against Scotland and they will go in big favourites and rightfully so. It promises to be a fascinating battle with 2 very distinct styles of play coming up against each other. I imagine Scotland will try to keep it tight, utilise Parks kicking from hand and play for territory while the Welsh will play the usual high tempo game based on running and moving the ball out wide – just like France… A big area for Scotland will be the lineout, a notoriously weak area for the Welsh, where they failed to apply any real pressure against the French. The kicking of Dan Parks only becomes a weapon if the Scots can pressure the Welsh lineout and either force bad ball or, even better, a turnover. If Scotland dominate in the set pieces they will likely go on and win the game but if they struggle as in the second half against the French then Scotland could be in for a very long afternoon.

In my pre-tournament piece I predicted Scotland would win against France and lose to Wales. Obviously I got the France game horribly wrong but I suspect I may be closer to the mark against Wales. That’s not to say that I don’t think Scotland can win, they have a good chance of doing damage against the Welsh but Wales are on a high and will be out to impress against Scotland…

Actually, sod all that, I’m an optimist, Scotland to win by 10 points in a hugely inspiring and disciplined display of aggressive rugby!

God loves an optimist…

Over and out.

What Would Jesus Do?

…to the Scotland team ahead of the game against Wales on Saturday? Al made a comment as we watched the game that God was not a Scotsman, due to the bad luck that compounded our errors into the troubling performance we saw last Sunday. Worryingly after Saturday’s matches, it appears he may be actually be a Welshman, or at least a close friend of St David… Religious ravings aside, is wholesale change to the team the answer to salvaging some sort of campaign? Although Parks upped his game considerably in the World Cup, I think it’s time to give Mossy or World Class Phil (kicked 5 out of 7 for the A team in their romp over Italy A) a run at 10. Paterson may not be getting the game time at Gloucester, but something down there must be working, as he’s looked sharper and faster than I’ve seen him in a while even in the limited outings he gets. Consider the solo try he scored in the mud for Gloucester – where has that zip been for Scotland? In his kicking boot perhaps…

Parks should not be dropped because he played poorly (we’d have to drop most of them then), but because he is not offering the options to the back division that they need to score tries. Nikki Walker played pretty well with what he got in his best performance yet, but with Scotland he is working in a one metre-wide channel along the touchline. Perhaps it’s an idea to rest Jason White too. Everyone raves about him as a captain, but his play seems to be suffering a bit. Callam was not terrible, but Hogg must be in the team, and not just because he spoke to Al and I when we were fairly drunk. Having said that, I would leave De Luca in the team and not “Tait” him – he will, I suspect, have learnt a lot from Sunday’s trial by fire. Most of them can only get better from here. With that in mind, here is the XV I would field next week:

Murray, Ford, Jacobsen, Hines, Macleod, Strokosch, Barclay, Hogg
Notes: You could bring back Scott Murray instead of Macleod, or Al Kellock. Chunk was our best attacking back on Sunday! If it was complete reshuffle time you could look at Ross Rennie, but I thought Barclay showed up well in defence. Or you could move Big Jason into the second row alongside Hines, which is crazy talk mid-tournament but in the abstract, not such a terrible idea.

Blair, Paterson, Webster, Henderson, De Luca, Walker, Southwell
Notes: an other alternative is 10. Godman, 11. Paterson with Webster on the Bench. If Webster can’t hold on to the ball, Thom Evan’s hour may be fast approaching.

Bench: Thomson, Kerr, Hamilton, White, Cusiter, Parks, AN Other (maybe Danielli or Evans but more likely to be Macrae)

And the captain? Blair or Hines, but assuming Frank was crazy/ballsy enough to pick this team he’d give the armband to Paterson. Blair would keep the pace up, Hines the attitude. Which would you prefer from your Scotland team?

Doom, Gloom and Fear of the Wooden Spoon…

Ouch! Scotland games must come with a health warning in future as Sunday’s debacle against the French has left a very severely bruised ego. I was confident going into the game that Scotland would have too much for the French and come out better in this Auld Alliance battle. Shows what I know about rugby! Scotland failed to get out of first gear and were punished heavily for it. When ‘Chunk’ is your greatest attacking threat you know you are in trouble (no disrespect to Chunk who was in fine form). Very few Scotland players could leave Murrayfield with anything other than a distinct sense of shame and deja vu as, yet again, when expected to produce, they turn in a abject display.Before going into slightly more depth about Scotland, a word on France. Was impressed with the French in patches and think they will fancy their chances of topping the group – indeed they may now feel the Grand Slam is a possibility. There was flair in bucket-loads and they have some devastating finishing power. Yes, they got the luck of the bounce (and the ref) but players need to put themselves into position to take advantage of any luck that comes their way and the French did that in deadly fashion. Also, great support from the travelling hordes who I’m sure enjoyed the Scottish hospitality – on and off the pitch.

Now to Scotland and some thoughts:

Scrum – as soon as Hamilton went off it crumbled. In the first half they pushed the French about, won the ball against the head, and made the most of their 7kg (or thereabout) weight advantage per man. Second half, Scotland strap on the flip-flops and crumble in the scrum. A unmitigated disaster and a total mess – in military terms it was FUBAR. Major work needs to be done before Saturday, at least though we ain’t playing the English forwards who would murder us in the scrum.

Dan Parks – as schizophrenic a performance as you will ever see. Great drop goal and 2 great kicks into the corners, but also a missed penalty, a kick-off straight into touch and an attempt to kick a ball clear that my grandmother (94 and with a bad hip) would have done a better job with.

Andy Henderson – getting his 50th cap and lucky to not be punished of the day or cited after. Showed passion but allowed the French to get to him and his game suffered.

Jason White – another disappointing display from White. He’s not vocal enough to be captain when the team is struggling. If he plays well he is able to lead by example but when the crap hits the fan he provides little leadership. I think his game suffers with the responsibility and a review is needed of his captaincy.

I really could go on and on. Why are our basic skills so bad? Catching a rugby ball should be a basic skill for a club player yet our international representatives treat the ball like its on fire. Again too many tackles missed and we got bullied around the breakdown. Very disappointing.

A final couple of points on Sunday. Alain Rolland (the Rat?) was, in my opinion, poor. The lead up to the first try included a pass that was so forward it wouldn’t have been out of place in Sunday’s Super Bowl. He was about 10 feet away yet missed it. The line judge also needs to look at himself as he should have a had a perfect view of both the lob forward and also Traille pulling back Andy Henderson. Generally felt the refereeing was fairly poor and at present the standard of refereeing at international seems to be on the slide. Bring back Jim Fleming. Finally, a note on the home support who were back to the usual quiet unsupportive best. The loudest the home support got was moaning at Dan Parks. If the guy is having a shocker how about trying to support him rather than moan? It was a frustrating performance but if the players needed inspiration they got none from those in the stands.

Onwards and upwards then. Wales on Saturday and I still think we can get something out of the game. De Luca needs to retain his place, the pressure will be off and I think you’ll see more of him away from home. Frank Hadden needs to just let the players play their own game, no tactics to stop the Welsh lets just attack them from the kick off. Scotland can still go on and have a good tournament, the players I had so much hope in haven’t become poor overnight, they just need to keep it simple and keep it going forward.

Sunday was hard to take but I’ll be cheering on the guys on Saturday and I’m sure they will get the backing from the full country! Good luck Scotland!

It was the bounce of the ball

My esteemed colleague Al (Scottish Rugby Blog’s own “bad cop”) will no doubt chime in with a hatchet piece at some point in the week, and it will take me a while to digest the slapping we took on Sunday – not to mention the beer on Saturday night – but for now I will say this: rugby balls have been the same shape for a good number of years now. Surely professional rugby players should be able to account for this when running headlong towards it? And if not, surely it wouldn’t be the most strenuous of coaching sessions to take 30 seconds to point out to them that it looks like an egg, and may behave accordingly?