Month: December 2007

Who Dares Wins

Unless you lose. Not that we endorse wanton gambling or anything, but James at the Rugby Blog has been in touch to say that they’re running an offer in conjunction with Betfair offering you good deals on Six Nations betting. So if you think that Marcus Di Rollo will win the most Man of the Match awards or you think Chunk will be the leading try-scorer of the Six Nations, why not follow this link and put your money where your mouth is? There are prizes and everything.

Also I should probably mention the sterling performances put in by our pro-teams last weekend. When Biarritz fluked a result against Glasgow I felt almost as gutted as when the Argies knocked us out of RWC ’07 – only at least the Argies deserved to beat us. So that’s the performance we asked for in my last post – even Sean Lineen thought they had won in the interview he gave afterwards on the radio. John Barclay also made me reconsider my choice at 7 in the fantasy XV I posted a while back. Meanwhile Edinburgh made Leinster look like, well, Ireland, and got the win that we asked for too. Robinson seems to have put a bit of steel in the Edinburgh team, and I like it. All I need now is some snow and it’s a merry Christmas.

In other unexpected news (“cruelly” ignored on the Rugby Club yesterday) Frank Hadden got a new contract for 12 months or more, presumably any extension depending on what’s happening with the SRU this time next year rather than if he’s been any good or not. Brian Ashton got a similar deal from the RFU, which was a less certain outcome – though probably the right one. Give them both a chance at a complete World Cup cycle – all the 6 Nations are going through upheaval of one sort or another, hell Scotland are practically the most settled team, and injuries have taken care of a couple of players who were treading water perhaps forcing Hadden into a more adventurous selection policy. So Hadden, Ashton – I wonder if Betfair will give you the odds on who lasts the longest?

‘Mon the boys

Here’s to the Scottish teams doing well this weekend. This means a win for Edinburgh on the Saturday against Leinster, and a decent game (bonus point) for Glasgow on Friday. If Parks kicks his touch and Biarritz forget to turn up again though, it could be the shock of the tournament. Both games are on Sky (red button Friday night for Glasgow, or you can watch Nikki Walker make Ulster look bad again) so if you can’t make it to Biarritz (ahem) or Murrayfield then watch it on the TV! If you prefer not to watch Edinburgh vs Leinster, Chris Cusiter is due to start for Perpignan alongside big Nathan (and Percy) in the match against London Irish, also on Sky Sports red button.

Player Watch: No appearances tonight for Jason White or Rory Lamont in Sale’s win over Bayonne. So Rory was unable to extend his 7 tries in 6 games streak – I suppose from St Andre’s point of view, why play him at full-back when he’s a try machine on the wing? However Scott Lawson finally got a wee run in Sale colours, and though wasn’t able to do much he made a few good tackles and his line-out throws were spot on.

Also thanks to our first commenters on the blog, here’s to many more!

More XV Nonsense, and welcome Al

Just out of interest, I compiled a team of the players in the training squad who are not compatible with a Fortress Scotland type policy. Though it has a glut of 6s and not much else in the back row, in most other areas it looks ok:

FORWARDS
A Dickinson (Gloucester), S Lawson (Sale), E Murray (Northampton), N Hines (Perpignan), S Murray (Montauban), A Strokosch (Gloucester), S Taylor (Stade Francais), J White (Sale)

BACKS
C Cusiter (Perpignan), C Paterson (Gloucester),R Dewey (Ulster), M Di Rollo (Toulouse), S Lamont (Northampton), N Walker (Ospreys), R Lamont (Sale)

BENCH / NOT USED
R Lawson (Gloucester), G Ross (Saracens), S Danielli (Ulster), J Hamilton (Leicester), S MacLeod (Llanelli)

Also I’d like you all to welcome my good buddy Al, who will contribute the occasional piece as the season goes on. The idea for this blog was germinated between ourselves on a walk through the streets of Paris after Scotland’s defeat to Argentina. And finally there’s a guide to the silly nicknames we use for players, not all of which are in popular circulation. So for your ease of reading you can find this at the top.

Don’t forget Edinburgh & Glasgow are both on the telly (Sky Sports on Friday night and Sunday) this weekend, some chat will be forthcoming afterwards!

Crystal Ball or Crystal Meths?

World Cup 2007 – phew, what a tournament! The scrummage was intense, the rivalry between two passionate set of combatants, the immense handling skills – all to the backing track of rousing renditions of national anthems. Yup, getting to and fro the bar in Le Glasgow Bar the night before the Scotland v Italy match was a sight to behold and some of the handling skill on display was immense – 4 pints, 2 nips and a bag of crisps all expertly carried by one brave soul through the heaving masses. Awe-inspiring. Then there was some rugby too.

Somewhere in a Paris bar in the aftermath of Scotland’s defeat to the fantastic Pumas this blog was dreamt up – the bastard love-child of too much red wine and a sober realisation that, for us, RWC ’07 was over. I have a fuzzy memory of making a commitment to write regularly and passionately about all things rugby related, and also to produce a ‘tour-de-force’ argument vaunting the merits of Dan Parks (it’s still my intention – honest guv’!). Alas, like so many of Scotland’s free-flowing attacking movements, my promise has not been fulfilled and it has taken until now to chip in (sorry Rory!).

Scotland’s announced a new training squad on Wednesday 5th December in preparation for the upcoming 6 Nations. A lot of familiar faces (White, Paterson, Parks), chances for some that thought maybe their chance was gone (World-Class Phil) and a couple of new faces (Low and Rennie sounds like a folk outfit!). There was also Di Ohno…sorry, I meant Di Rollo. Overall impressions are that this was a fairly predictable collection of players that have been put together and this is probably a good thing. Teams need consistency, to grow to understand each other’s games and gain a proper appreciation of what each other can do (and can’t do – note to Godman: that means no long throws on your 22).

So, using my renowned psychic powers, I have come up with the XV that I think will possibly, if the stars are aligned correctly, start Scotland’s first 6 Nations game against France (Murrayfield, 3pm, 3rd February 2008).

Backs:
15 Paterson – Mr Reliable, kicks goals for fun. Needs to add more to the rest of his game but as long as continues to be the kicker Wilkinson dreams of being then he is first pick for me.
14 Evans – not seen much (ok, anything) of Evans this season but led to believe he has been playing well for a Glasgow side that have a chance of challenging for Magners glory.
13 Webster – big fan of Malkovich, adds a dynamism that is lacking from the team – big question is where to play him, adds a threat centre field but suffers from butter-fingers at the crucial moment. Has the ability to get the crowd on their feet and Scotland need some flair.
12 Dewey – young, big and could be a big player for Scotland in the future. Looking at the long term development of the game the likes of Dewey need to be given time on the field at international level.
11 R Lamont – providing he can stop using his head as a trampoline, he could be a big player in the next 6 Nations. His up’n’unders scare the living daylights out of some full-backs, just needs to cut out silly errors and gain some game savvy – again game time at this level is important.
10 Parks – the most important ass-patter in Scottish Rugby. The sort of player you want to choke with one hand and give an ass-pat with the other. Can control a game with his tactical kicking but has no pace and gives nothing creative with ball in hand. Still an essential player for Scotland though.
9 Cusiter – almost went for Blair here but think Scotland need more creativity at the breakdown and Cusiter is able to pick holes in defences – experience of French rugby with Perpignan should help also.

Forwards:
8 Hogg – adds experience and a sense of composure to the forwards, also a threat with the ball in hand going forward.
7 Barclay – another young ‘un but needs time at this level. Adds bulk to the team and, like Dewey, could go onto become and important player for Scotland.
6 White – El Capitan, immense for Scotland for a number of years now, inspirational 2 years ago in the 6 Nations and for a long time the only world class player we had (sorry Phil!). Have to say at RWC ’07 I wasn’t convinced by his leadership, choices were fine most of the time but needs to do more to motivate the players on the pitch – especially in games where he isn’t breaking opponents into little bits.
5 Hines – the nastiest man in a Scotland shirt, would use his Gran as a weapon if he thought it would gain a couple of metres. For me a must start – even if he’s only on the pitch 70 minutes!
4 Hamilton – adds bulk, and lots of it. Scotland showed at the World Cup that they can operate fairly well behind a big pack and it’s important the likes of Hamilton are in the team to even up the odds in the scrum be a big hitter in the loose.
3 Low – like Evans I haven’t seen him play this season but is another one who I have heard good things about. Every selection needs a surprise choice – this is mine!
2 Ford – think he is pretty accurate at the lineout but a question over how he stands up in the scrum, Hall (if fit) could take this place.
1 Jacobsen – Meant to be playing ok and deserves another chance in a Scotland top.

So there we have it, my XV for the first game v France. Will be interesting to see what the line-up will actually be – only 2 months to wait! Will be interested to hear what other peoples XV would be, so leave a post and let us know what you think…

Al

Potential Scotland XV

Frank Hadden announced his training squad yesterday, so here’s my team based on that. A few notes – this is the squad I would pick today based on current form, based on what I have seen/read/heard (so there may be a slight Edinburgh bias until I get a chance to see Glasgow on TV at the weekend) and injuries not an issue!

1 Gavin Kerr (Edinburgh), maybe? Findhorn’s own Moray Low will be pressuring for a spot in the front row soon though.
2 R Ford (Edinburgh) His line-out throwing seems to have regressed, but if he can sort that he offers more going forward than the other candidates.
3 E Murray (Northampton) Learning at the feet of Tom Smith seems to be a worthwhile trade-off for first division rugby.
4 N Hines (Perpignan) Bit of grunt up front, nuff said. His twin Jim Hamilton will be pushing him though.
5 S Murray (Montauban) Saw a clip of Montauban scoring tries, and Murray was popping up everywhere. Perhaps he is enjoying himself over there?
6 J White (Sale) Lost a bit of form during the World Cup, but competition for places at Sale should keep him sharp.
7 R Rennie (Edinburgh) Outstanding young player has really shone in the last few weeks. A proper open-side, not involved in the recent drubbing at Leicester. This weekend will be a test, but he will continue to improve under Andy Robinson’s tutelage.
8 A Hogg (Edinburgh) Give him a shot in his preferred position. Or if not, let one of the young tykes (Callam, Beattie, Brown) have a go.
9 C Cusiter (Perpignan) Based on the spirit showed off the bench in the World Cup. Even if he wouldn’t let me buy him a drink in Le Glasgow (sensible chap, that beer was crazy). Blair is playing well again for Edinburgh though, so as usual it’s mostly a toss-up between the two.
10 C Paterson (Gloucester) If they’re prepared to give him a chance, shouldn’t we be? And he has to be in for his kicking.
11 S Webster (Edinburgh) This was one of the trickier ones, but let Malkovich and his dancing shoes into the game with De Luca and Rory Lamont and we might have some real penetration. Failing that stick Mossy in here and play Parks or Godman at 10.
12 A Henderson (Glasgow) I had high hopes for Rob Dewey, but he is having an off time at Ulster (like their whole team) and Henderson is usually consistent.
13 N De Luca (Edinburgh) Another young form player who has to be blooded sometime. Could he be the answer to the 13 problem at long last, unlike his similarly monikered compatriot now bench-warming at Toulouse?
14 N Walker (Ospreys) His international performances have been poop, but surely eventually his Opsprey’s form will translate? With Sean Lamont underperforming since 2006 (and injured), this could be Walker’s chance. If not, the likes of Thom Evans are waiting in the wings.
15 R Lamont (Sale) Too much of an attacking threat not to be in the team. Sorry, Hugo.

16 D Hall (Glasgow) or maybe Scott Lawson. Or maybe Fergus Thomson, who has played more games than both of them.
17 A Jacobsen (Edinburgh) A few barnstorming games from Edinburgh show how much Chunk missed going to the World Cup.
18 J Hamilton (Leicester) The seemingly aborted move to Edinburgh would have been nice, but he still offers valuable beef to the pack wherever he plays his club rugby.
19 S Taylor (Stade Francais) Needs to find his hunger again. The same could be said of S Lamont, also not present!
20 M Blair (Edinburgh) Come 6 Nations time, may actually be the front runner again.
21 D Parks (Glasgow) I actually felt sorry for moving Parko to the bench. How times have changed.
22 H Southwell (Edinburgh) HUUUUUUGOOOOOOO. I actually heard someone other than myself shout this once. The grass-roots movement starts here.

Agree? Disagree? Who’s in your 22?

How do you solve a problem like Murray-a (field)?

Murrayfield

“I’ve watched enough games involving their sides, to wonder what they actually bring to the event, because Murrayfield is like a morgue. Edinburgh and Glasgow have achieved very little over the years, and if there was any move to set up a British league in the future I don’t think that anyone would be rushing to sign up the Scottish sides.” Jonathan Davies, quoted in the Sunday Times

Okay, so he has a point – the Scottish pro sides have woefully under-performed in comparison to their Celtic brethren in recent years. Although setting up a league without the Scots would restrict his ability to mispronounce Malcolm Changleng’s name at every opportunity.

Name-calling and the non-sequitur of his opening sentence aside, the Scottish pro teams remain occasionally competitive (Glasgow beating Cardiff, Edinburgh’s away win at Ulster this weekend), and hold mid table positions in the Magners League without ever really challenging for honours. Couple that with the potential of their respective set-ups and various blends of youth and experience (Lineen with his southern hemisphere muscle, Robinson with Edinburgh’s at times fearless vitality) and it seems clear that the thing that would really help is a decent crowd to watch it all, the famed 16th man that the likes of Munster, Ulster or Llanelli can bring off the bench to help push their side over the line.

Consider Simon Taylor’s decision to move to Stade Francais into a back row that already has Remy Martin, Sergio Parisse and Mauro Bergamasco. Only now getting a game due to injuries to the others, Taylor still chose this over staying at Murrayfield, surrounded by political infighting and poor crowds. You feel the fact that Stade can sell nearly 80,000 tickets for a league game against Toulouse while Edinburgh struggle to get 4,000 for a similar fixture, at home to the Frenchmen in the Heineken Cup, may have had something to do with it. (Although this was a pretty good crowd for Edinburgh, you wonder what would happen if 80,000 people actually tried to turn up at Murrayfield for an Edinburgh match. They’d probably turn them away).

I don’t think getting rid of Edinburgh and Glasgow is the answer to getting well-supported teams. I feel it would create one or two powerful “super” clubs (ala the Old Firm) from the Premier League who the rest of Edinburgh or the Borders (and to a lesser extent Glasgow) would more than likely refuse to get behind, splitting along parochial lines, which was a problem highlighted in the demise of the Borders. Surely city based teams with no fixed club-based allegiance are the only way forward in Scotland, but they should work with the Premier League clubs, sharing players, coaches etc and Andy Robinson certainly seems to be trying to take steps to build such bridges where the SRU have tried and failed. Perhaps his credentials at club level with Bath give him credibility the SRU cannot muster.

Variously – and only in relation to club games it seems, as the atmosphere is fine on international days – Murrayfield is described as a tomb, a mausoleum, a coffin. The SRU somewhat wistfully try to convince us it’s a castle. But never a cauldron, like the Stade Geoffrey Guichard in St Etienne that managed such a ferocious atmosphere with only 30,000 people – a stadium incidentally designed like an English football ground. But Glasgow play at a smaller football ground, and they suffer from similar problems so it can’t just be that the stadium is crap. Indeed the problem may be that Murrayfield is far from crap – it boasts world-class facilities, already paid for by the SRU. Why pay out more money (that they don’t have) to move permanently?

Okay then, how about a temporary move?

It seems if Munster and the Crusaders can remain highly successful whilst still farming out the odd home game to Cork or Nelson (the Crusaders have even touted hosting games in Melbourne in the past) then surely Edinburgh or Glasgow could spread the game in their own respective catchment areas to try and build a fan-base, and perhaps prove to the SRU that there is support for the game in other areas. It worked for internationals held in Aberdeen and Perth, would it work for club games? There has been a lot in the press this weekend regarding Scotland’s poor attendances, with various solutions offered. Netherdale has been touted by Allan Massie as somewhere with the facilities to host an Edinburgh game that is closer to Edinburgh than Cork is to Limerick. And the people of the Borders might even turn up en masse just to spite the SRU for closing down their own poorly supported pro team, the Reivers.

I live in the North of Scotland, so a trip to Edinburgh every weekend is tricky for a man without a car or a bottomless wallet, but I go to matches when I am in Edinburgh, I went to France and watch as much as I can on TV. I am a Scotland rugby supporter, but feel powerless in this instance other than badgering my Edinburgh-based friends to go along. So I’ll watch the STV show on a Sunday, I’ll keep on posting and I’ll keep on saving up to go to New Zealand in 2011. But if you get the chance to go along and watch, why don’t you?

Apologies for the appalling pun in the title. I was going to try and shoehorn Brian Moore in to make it Moore-ia, so you should think yourself lucky.

UPDATE: Just noticed this on the Edinburgh website – I wonder if Robinson has been on at them, or if this is part of a new strategy:

“Nevertheless it proved to be a productive weekend for everyone involved in rugby in the Scottish capital and, we will regularly promote the local club games involving our players as we strive to strengthen the bond between Edinburgh Rugby Club and the rugby clubs of Edinburgh.”