Month: September 2008

Friday Night Lights – Except for viewers in Scotland

Chris Paterson returns to full-back tonight while Super Hugoooooo is playing at centre for injury-riddled Edinburgh vs the Llanelli Scarlets, who have lost on trips to Murrayfield the last six times. Given Edinburgh’s recent form, the chance of the Welshmen overturning that record tonight seems plausible, but we’ll hope that is not the case. At this rate Andy Robinson will be borrowing back-row players from Glasgow before long, and rueing Simon Taylor’s departure before he took over. Ross Rennie can’t get back to fitness quickly enough.

Those self-same Warriors from the Weege travel to the Sportsground to face Connacht, a match they will be hoping to win now that Dan Parks has his record and can concentrate on playing rugby again. If the reliance on kicking is a sign of things to come under the new ELVs, Parks may find himself singing Flower of Scotland again before long. Which will delight and frustrate us in equal measure, I’m sure.

Both kickoffs are 7.30pm and you’ll get some coverage on Sportsound, BBC Radio Scotland (available online) from 8pm. You might also get a chance to catch Nikki Walker in action on BBCw, as the Ospreys take on title holders Leinster.

Scotland Pre-Autumn Training Squad

It’s a biggie, so expect it to be well culled before the final playing squad of 30-odd is announced. Still, they should be able to have lots of probables versus possibles games and injure each other sufficiently before November rolls around.

Backs: Mike Blair (Edinburgh), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh), Chris Cusiter (Perpignan), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Rob Dewey (Ulster), Max Evans (Glasgow), Thom Evans (Glasgow), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Andrew Henderson (Glasgow), Stephen Jones (Newcastle), Rory Lamont (Sale), Sean Lamont (Northampton), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Calum MacRae (Edinburgh), Mark McMillan (Glasgow), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow), Dan Parks (Glasgow), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Gordon Ross (Saracens), Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh), Nikki Walker (Ospreys), Simon Webster (Edinburgh).

Forwards: John Barclay (Glasgow), Johnnie Beattie (Glasgow), Kelly Brown (Glasgow), Dave Callam (Edinburgh), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Dougie Hall (Glasgow), Craig Hamilton (Edinburgh), Jim Hamilton (Edinburgh), Nathan Hines (Perpignan), Allister Hogg (Edinburgh), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow), Gavin Kerr (Edinburgh), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Moray Low (Glasgow), Scott MacLeod (Scarlets), Euan Murray (Northampton), Scott Murray (Montauban), Matt Mustchin (Edinburgh), Ross Rennie (Edinburgh), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais), Fergus Thomson (Glasgow), Dan Turner (Glasgow), Jason White (Sale).

Pick two teams out of that? Or even one team? That task awaits Hadden and his new coaches.

Woops – apocalypse

So what happened at the weekend then? Due to prior commitments to liver destruction at a friend’s wedding I didn’t catch much of the action and I’m fairly sure Al missed it too, that is if he made it home without falling into the river. However from the sound of things the Edinburgh scoreline pretty much speaks for itself. Andy Robinson will have to work hard to turn his team around, as Leinster are only going to get stronger with the addition of Rocky Elsom and others before the teams meet again in the Heineken Cup group stages. Edinburgh’s physios will need to work overtime to restore their pack to its full strength, although hope will be sparked in the news that new signing Jim Hamilton came through his first game back (playing for Watsonians). Glasgow only lost narrowly,so arguably they have less to worry about however their team was mostly at full strength, and failed to close out the game. Parks got a bit flaky as soon as the Magners League points record hove into view, but he did at least claim it, and should be congratulated for that.

In other news, Sean Lamont claimed a try for Northampton even though they lost (and Euan Murray was sin-binned) and Simon Taylor played at 5 again for Stade, where he seemed to be largely reduced to the role of roving ruck guardian rather than actually getting any ball in hand. And the ELVs produced a lot of kicking, or so it seemed based on the highlights I saw. The new ITV highlights show is good value though (Sundays ITV4 6.30pm), with plenty of match action and not too much banter – which let’s face it Sky’s The Rugby Club already does pretty well. More good news came in the discovery that S4C now offers an English commentary on its rugby coverage so no more watching in Welsh for Scottish rugby fans. I suppose it’s a bit of a moot point though, as there is not scheduled to be another Edinburgh or Glasgow match on BBCw or S4C this year.

I’ve also updated the About Us page to include some onformation on the sort of people we’d like to help expand and grow the blog into a bigger and better resource for Scottish Rugby fans, so if you think you might be able to help, have a look.

Another Lawson at Gloucester

Scotland hooker Scott Lawson has moved from Sale to Gloucester to join the growing contingent of Scots there under the tutelage of Dean Ryan and Basil Redpath. Gloucester coach Dean Ryan said “our forward pack is a competitive area and Scott will only add to the depth we can select from. It is a great opportunity for both parties and I am really looking forward to seeing it progress over the coming months.”

Some might question the decision to move after only one season to a squad that already contains Olivier Azam and Andy Titterell at hooker, but if Lawson can prove that he can out-throw Titterell or out-scrum Azam (less likely) – or at least do both reasonably well in one game, then there’s no reason he can’t find a place in the squad on a regular basis.

Scott who?

Good News: Glasgow beat the Dragons, in what is often referred to as “one for the purists” – a fairly unexciting match played in appalling weather. Still, Dan Parks kicked his goals and marshalled Glasgow to a decent away win against a Dragons side who had talked themselves up a bit in the pre-season. Mark McMillan had a shocking start to his second stint at Glasgow with a couple of dodgy passes, but felt his way into the game and was reassuringly solid by the end. Fa’atau and Stortoni looked sharp in attack and there was some solid defending all round in the Glasgow 22. Not really a day for the (Scottish) Evans boys, as although both had a few decent moments it was a bit too wet underfoot for any of their twinkly dancing feet.

Bad News: Edinburgh were outmuscled by Heineken Cup champs Munster. Didn’t catch much of the game save on the radio, but it sounded like they were hindered by poor set-piece and not actually playing until the last few minutes. Ordinarily it would be no bad thing, but we’re starting to expect more from Edinburgh, especially in front of record number of season ticket holders who will be hoping their newfound faith is to be rewarded. After De Luca had a try knocked off they got a bonus point out of it though, due to Mossy’s boot. I’m hoping he will not be relied upon too much as the season goes on.

Other News: Former Border Reiver (and single Scotland cap) Scott Gray put in a storming performance for Premiership returnees Northampton Saints on Sunday, in a game that also saw Sean Lamont’s return to rugby after almost 10 months out. Lamont made a few good runs, looked good under the high ball but in fairness didn’t get much to do in a slightly disjionted game – seems to be the pattern created by the ELVs where an unbalanced line-out becomes a bit of a risk unless you are Munster/Leicester. Northampton is also turning into a bit of a Scot-prop factory with oldest man in the Premiership Tom Smith still toiling ably away, followed by proteges Euan Murray and the oft-overlooked Barry Stewart. Back to Gray though, who put himself about in true Stroker/White style, hammering anything that moved and contributing to a few nice wee moves as required. Hopefully his season will continue in this vein and we’ll be looking at another potential Scotland back row champ. Speaking of which, I’ve a funny feeling I spotted (scrumcap-less) Simon Taylor playing in the second row for Stade’s win against Perpignan (Hines and Cusiter both on from the start). Anyone catch the game on Eurosport able to confirm – I turned over to watch Andy Murray!

An ill-informed look at what lies ahead…

So no sooner has season stopped than it’s up and running again.  A thankfully drama-free summer for Scottish Rugby and the focus (albeit a very limited focus from the nations media) has at least been on developments on the pitch and not in the boardroom.  Not that there has been much going on.  The big name transfers that have been ongoing in the rest of rugby seem to have largely passed by Scottish rugby, with incoming players not being prepared to play for the packet of sweets and a ‘See You Jimmy’ wig being offered by Edinburgh and Glasgow.  Regardless, the Scottish teams have attempted to build on the previous promising seasons and here are my quick thoughts on both:

EDINBURGH – Probably made the biggest signing of the summer by rescuing Chris Paterson from his miserable spell in England (well, it is England so you can kind of understand him being miserable!).  The addition of Jim Hamilton will also add considerable bulk to the forwards (all 19+ stones) so Robinson will no doubt be hopeful that he now has a side ready to kick on.  Last season turned into a sterling effort as Robinson’s impact started to show through in the later half of the season and Edinburgh will be realistically looking to claim their first ever Magners League championship.  They are certainly equipped with some exciting youngsters with a year’s experience under their belts and if they can get a strong start to the season, then come the end of it I think they’ll be there or thereabouts.

As for Europe there is a real opportunity that they could at last qualify from the group stage.  All 4 teams will fancy their chances but Wasps, Leinster and Castres will not be looking forward to a trip to Murrayfield.  Edinburgh are outsiders to qualify but a strong home record coupled with a slice of luck away from home could well see them become the first Scottish side to reach the later stages of Europe’s premier competition.

Predictions

Magners League – chance of the title but more likely a top 3 finish – 3rd

Heineken Cup – Mmmmmm, not sure….ach, early season optimism, 2nd in group.

Glasgow – a fairly quiet summer over in the West Coast.  The arrival of Mark McMillan from Wasps could be a major signing for our Weegie brethren who will hope that he can fill the scrum-half position which has been a troublesome area for some time.  If he can form a relationship with Dan ‘Parko’ Parks then Glasgow may then have attacking verve to trouble opposition defences.  Lineen had a decent season with Glasgow last year and, like Edinburgh, I’m sure he’ll be looking to kick on again and push harder for success in the League.  I don’t think they have the same depth as Edinburgh but Glasgow will certainly be pushing the top teams hard, and with some luck could still be in with a shout come the last run of games.

With regards to Europe I suspect 3rd in the group will be as good as it gets.  Toulouse and Bath will be hot favourites for top slot with the Dragons and Glasgow fighting it out for best of the rest.  I’m sure Glasgow will run both Toulouse and Bath close at home – indeed a sneaky win against either is possible – but away from home they might struggle, difficult to see them getting anything from trips to France or the West Country.  Still, they won’t be whipping boys and if you keep it close enough who knows what can happen.

Predictions

Magners League – outside bet for Championship glory, likely to push the top teams though so I’m going to say an improvement on last year and predict 4th.

Heineken Cup – Strong displays but not enough cutting edge will see Glasgow come 4th in my opinion.

So, there we go.  Told you it was ill informed.  Let us know what you think…enjoy the new season!

Al

Match of the Day?

It’s not quite in name at least, but it looks like the campaign for a Match of the Day for Rugby has finally scored some points, with the announcement of a highlights show to be screened on ITV4 (and repeated at an unsocial hour on ITV1) on Sundays at 6.30pm. ITV have recently acquired the rights to Guinness Premiership highlights previously held by the BBC, and the programme will be fronted by sometime BBC touchline/holiday reporter and double glazing salesman Craig Doyle. Quite what happened to our own little Scotsport version complete with handheld footage from your local rugby pitch, Doddie Weir’s trousers and the odd bit of pro-team action, we’ll never know.

Also announced was the news that several regulars from Edinburgh’s squad last season – plus a couple of newly minted pros – will be living it up in the Premier League until such time as they regain form or fitness, having not been registered as part of Edinburgh’s playing squad for the season. Big surprise on the list is Ross Rennie (injury), who presumably will be re-instated when he recovers. Roland Reid has also been left off.

And the SRU have announced that anyone buying an Autumn test ticket will be eligible for a free ticket for the Boxing Day derby between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Which is nice of them.

Your Rugby Season Starts Here

Scheduled matches to kick off the Magners League this coming Friday involving our favourite pro-teams:

Edinburgh vs Munster – this one’s on Setanta but why not pop along to the match if you’re in Edinburgh. Season ticket sales have been going well so the atmosphere should be well up on what we’ve had in the past. Buoyed most likely by Andy Robinson’s no nonsense approach, a solid (if unstarry) squad and outreach to the local clubs, this is a season in which Edinburgh have to keep improving into genuine challengers for honours. The Heineken Cup final is at “The Castle” this year, and with our pro sides (let’s face it) unlikely to be weakened by too many Lions removals it could be a good chance to do something sneaky. Munster can be slow starters, so a good home win would be the first step.

Dragons vs Glasgow – our cousins in the principality are being kind to us and showing this one on BBC Wales (Sky channel 991 for viewers in Scotland). Traditionally whipping boys just above Connacht – and our lot – they’ve recruited a fair bit in the off-season. It’s a sign of the changing times that the Magners is starting to look like the Premiership in that most teams could be able to beat most others on any given day. Still, Glasgow will be looking to cement their end of last season form (and ignore some of their pre-this-season form) and grab an early away win. It’s the away form that has dogged them and if they could improve that to go with their strong home performances they could be battling with Edinburgh for the highest Scottish finish.

We hope you’ll come along and rant with the rest of us as we follow the upcoming season, which culminates in the 2009 Lions Tour to South Africa, still arguably the special event in World Rugby besides the World Cup. Hopefully we’ll get a Scot or two on the plane…