Month: December 2008

Edinburgh and Glasgow Teams for Boxing Day Derby

It should be an interesting one, with a number of match-ups featuring the incumbent in the national jersey against his closest rival. For example, Barclay/Rennie, De Luca/Morrison, Godman/Parks or Ford/Hall. And a Scottish team is guaranteed victory, huzzah!

Edinburgh

Hugo Southwell, John Houston, Ben Cairns, Nick De Luca, Simon Webster, Phil Godman, Mike Blair (capt), Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Gavin Kerr, Craig Hamilton, Jim Hamilton, Scott Newlands, Ross Rennie, Allister Hogg.
Replacements:
Andrew Kelly, Geoff Cross/Kyle Traynor, Matt Mustchin, Alan MacDonald, Greig Laidlaw, David Blair, Jim Thompson.

Glasgow Warriors

Bernardo Stortoni, Hefin O’Hare, Max Evans, Graeme Morrison, Thom Evans, Dan Parks, Colin Gregor, Justin Va’a, Dougie Hall, Ed Kalman, Tim Barker, Alastair Kellock (capt), Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements:
Fergus Thomson, Moray Low, Dan Turner, Richie Vernon, Sam Pinder, Andrew Henderson, Ruaridh Jackson.

Make Us An Offer We Can’t Refuse

The Italian Rugby Federation has agreed that it will put forward a proposal for either 4 clubs or 2 select XVs – the more likely option – to join the Magner’s League. While in principle this will be great for Italian rugby (and delight those of our Italian readers with a hankering for all things Mossy) it does create increasing congestion in an already long rugby season. However, the Borders were until fairly recently part of the Magners League fixture list, so you could look at it as the net addition of just one team. This is why I believe two extra teams is the most sensible option in terms of both the fixture list, length of season and added expense of travel to Italy for away games. Another good idea would be to get rid of the EDF Energy Cup which should free up the schedules a bit, or perhaps relegate it to a development/under 21s tournament. None of the big clubs really seem to pay attention to it anyway, unless they happen to find themselves in the final.

The blog may be offline briefly in the next few days as we upgrade our software, but I doubt you’ll notice, such is the efficiency of our technical staff/size of our readership. If we can find a pub to watch it in (not being in Edinburgh on Boxing Day), I’ll be back with a report on the derby match between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Hoepfully it’ll be a spectacle for the neutral in front of a record crowd. Stranger things have happened.

Until then all at Scottish Rugby Blog HQ wish you a very happy Christmas and New Year.

Rory and Al

Scotland’s Six Nations Dates, Times and Officials

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A little dry, I know. but here they are. Grand Slam decider anyone?

8 February, 3pm Scotland vs Wales

Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Touch judges: Chris White (England), Rob Debney (England)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)

14 February 3pm France vs Scotland

Stade de France, Paris
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Touch judges: Wayne Barnes (England), Tim Hayes (Wales)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)

28 February, 3pm Scotland vs Italy

Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Touch judges: George Clancy (Ireland), Romain Poite (France)
Television match official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)

14 March, 5pm Scotland vs Ireland

Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Touch judges: Wayne Barnes (England), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Television match official: Hugh Watkins (Wales)

21 March, 3.30pm England vs Scotland

Twickenham, London
Referee: Joel Jutge (France)
Touch judges: Christophe Berdos (France), Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Television match official: Carlo Damasco (Italy)

This last one is subject to Joel Jutge passing a fitness test. Scots whistle-blower Peter Allan will man the touch line for England vs Italy and Ireland vs England, whilst David Changleng will do the same for Ireland vs France and Italy vs Wales. Which should please Jonathan Davies no end.

A Splash in the Pool

Castres’ surprise but merited victory over Leinster last night throws a glimmer of hope to those of us Edinburgh fans who like to live fairly removed from the plane of reality. If Edinburgh get a five point victory away at Wasps tomorrow, they would jump to second in the group. If Leinster continue to nosedive when Edinburgh face them in Dublin, with a home tie against Castres who they have already beaten, Edinburgh could in fact finish well in the group which might bode well for seedings next year.

The more likely occurence is that starting tomorrow, Wasps suddenly materialise as a team, grab a stranglehold on the group and go through to the knockout stages after a showdown for the group with Leinster at Twickers. After all, that’s what everyone is telling us is going to happen…

Player News – Rory Lamont and more

Rory Lamont will be out of the Six Nations while he recovers from ankle surgery made necessary after ligament damage sustained playing for Sale against Montauban. This is a real shame as he was in a rich vein of form, and it may well affect his outside chances of a Lions berth – while it solidifies the odds that Chris Paterson will fill the 15 shirt where he has been playing reasonably well for Edinburgh so far.

UPDATE: It seems the patented Rory Lamont Helicopter™ is to blame. Quoted on the BBC Website Rory says:

“I seem to spin through a lot of contact and it puts a lot of force through your body when you’re spinning. I guess I just open my body up for injuries with that style of play.”

We wish the flying Chinook of Scottish Rugby well with his recovery.

Ross Rennie’s citing has delayed the team picked to face Wasps (update to follow as I hear), but Andy Robinson has largely stuck with the side that played all the rugby at Murrayfield last weekend but got none of the points. Meanwhile Andy Robinson has revealed that they tried to lure Rocky Elsom last year to play in Edinburgh before he opted for Leinster and may look overseas again next year for a new signing. I’m all for Edinburgh expanding their squad, but a balance has to be found between bringing in world-class experience and keeping improving back rowers like Ross Rennie and Alan Macdonald out of the team. Darryl Gibson was less than a success on the pitch for Glasgow (though reputed to have been very influential off the pitch) whereas Todd Blackadder is probably the benchmark for a successful import. Oh, and we did have a world-class back row at Edinburgh – but Simon Taylor left. (Edinburgh vs Wasps, Sky Sports, Sunday 1pm)

UPDATE: Ross Rennie has received a two match ban for his tackle on Paul Sackey. Paterson has failed a fitness test so Hugo Southwell will start at 15. Scott Newlands fills in for Rennie and the only other change is Andy Kelly filling in for the injured Ross Ford.

And having cemented his place in Glasgow’s Outside Centre position, Max Evans has signed a new deal with the club. Let’s hope he repeats his performance against Bath this weekend. Disappointing to see that Ruaridh Jackson has dropped to the bench to welcome back Parko, but I suppose it was inevitable. (Sunday 2pm, not on the telly, highlights on Sky Sports ERC Rugby Special Sunday night)

Glasgow Miles Better

I have to admit it, I’ve always been kind of an Edinburgh man. I like the city more than Glasgow, went to University there, most of my friends live there. So naturally I gravitated towards Edinburgh Rugby as a natural home for my supporter’s sympathies – other than the mighty Highland, of course. It was also pointed out recently that (inadvertently) I had even sustained this anti-Glasgow bias in the header of this site – now slightly redressed. But it seems in all that I overlooked something. Glasgow are actually pretty good.

Currently they sit 2nd in the Magners League. They are building a passionate and consistent crowd of supporters at Firhill, and Lineen is long past being happy with valiant defeats. Performance -and results – are starting to matter to him, as well they should. A lot of the focus is on Andy Robinson rebuilding teams and careers at Edinburgh, but Lineen has been quietly turning the ship around on the other side of the country for a few years now, and this season it looks to have started steaming in the right direction.

Failing some sort of Munster miracle game, Glasgow took part in the Heineken Cup match of the weekend – even including Harlequin’s thriller in the Stade de France – against Bath today. England’s second best team looked like they would have too much class, but Glasgow never gave up and eventually went down 35-31. If you get a chance to watch the highlights on Sky tonight, I’d recommend it. On Friday Ian MacGeechan blamed Wasps’ endless kicking and lacklustre rugby (still enough to defeat Edinburgh) on the ELVs and new interpretations at the breakdown, yet Bath seem to manage quite well. Even Munster, led by kicking machine Ronan O Gara, are willing to throw it about a bit. Glasgow manage it quite well too. Kicking ping-pong only works if you’re certain that the other team will kick it back. Bath don’t. Problem solved. Glasgow didn’t much either, and it gave us an enthralling game of rugby. I hope Geech will sort it out in time for the Lions tour.

Speaking of which, John Barclay is continuing his run of understated but utterly effective play in the tackle and at the breakdown that will hopefully see him as an outside pick for the tour at 7. Tom Rees and Martin Williams are probably ahead of him, but the Six Nations will give him a broad stage on which to showcase his talent. And he’s only 22. If not this one, maybe the next.

Ruaridh Jackson may yet prove the most important find of the season (though we probably won’t really know for a couple of years) in his first professional start at 10. He’s got great hands, a bit of pace, vision and his tactical kicking wasn’t too bad either (and that’s one area he could learn from Dan Parks). In a Glasgow team filled with sevens players, they were always alive to the counter – as proven by Thom Evans’ opportunistic hat-trick of tries created largely through sheer pace and acceleration. You won’t have heard it here first, but I believe Ruaridh Jackson has a part to play in Scotland’s future.

The one area Glasgow did suffer in was depth, as illustrated by the very last play of the game. After the clock had ticked over the 80 minute mark, Bath were camped on Glasgow’s line with the sustained pressure that had characterised the second half (punctuated by breakaway Glasgow tries). You felt the last chance for a well deserved – if unlikely – snatched victory was gone. Suddenly, there’s an interception and Jackson is steaming up the pitch – a repeat of his try minutes before that had put Glasgow into twin bonus point territory and announced that this game was far from over. The Rec crowd go nuts as a frantic foot race begins and Jackson finds the touchline closing him out. If there’s one man you want on his shoulder it was Thom Evans, but he had gone off ten minutes previously to be replaced by the slightly less pacy Hefin O’Hare. So instead Jackson chips past the defender, and looks to regather. But the ball bounces into touch, and the Rec breathes easy again. Not bad for a first game – to be so influential on the outcome, and against a World Cup winning fly-half on the other team. Glasgow never stopped battling, but their class diminished slightly with every substitution (unlike Bath). Still, next time Jackson is stuck on the bench behind Parks, you might not be able to say the same.

Sean Lineen, I am fast becoming a fan.

What We Learned in the Autumn

1) We shouldn’t really bother playing New Zealand, ever again. What useful purpose does it serve? It does us little good, and it gives them pointlessly easy grand slams. Think of that, we could scupper their grand slam tours without even playing a match.

2) Scotland now have a scrum that shouldn’t get pushed around. If we could get back our lineout dominance of a few years back we might be a serious threat up front. Bring back Scott Murray?

3) Nick De Luca looks like he is over his 6N hiccup and is now forming a dynamic centre partnership with Ben Cairns that augers well for the future. A lot of our players should hit their playing peak in around 3 years. Many of them already have a solid base of caps and are growing in maturity. We may not be able to just unwrap a new test-ready fly half like the All-Blacks seem to do, but I think we are managing the resources we do have well. Gregor Townsend’s mentorship scheme of the young players is a similarly excellent idea.

4) Mike Blair may be the best scrum half in the world at the moment. He outshone the best the southern hemisphere showed him, even leading a losing team. Euan Murray gave a great account of himself too, although it could be argued he didn’t face NZ’s best scrum combination. Both, along with Lee Byrne of Wales, are certain Lions if their form and fitness continue. Blair now pops up in most people’s World/Lions XVs. (Except for Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times, who picked him in his World XV but not his Lions team. Someone should point out to Mr Jones that Mike Phillips and Gavin Henson are short of fitness and form, and too busy duking it out on the streets of Cardiff to merit inclusion at this stage. Stuart Barnes didn’t pick Murray at tighthead but at least explained his reasoning! And he picked Barclay at 7, kudos.)

5) Ryan Jones is far from certain of a Lions test place, due to the barnstorming performances we have seen from Powell in the Welsh No 8 shirt. The Lions captaincy is still wide open.

5) Commentators still love mispronouncing names. Award of the season goes to John Beattie for “Cleanburger” (Adam Kleeberger of Canada). Rokocoko got a bit of a mangling from the BBC boys as well… Jonathan Davies is not alone.

6) England are having a few problems. They are probably where we were a few years ago, bottoming out on the constant wave of world rugby. Their players and management will take a while to bed in – Martin Johnson is a novice coach, remember. Let’s just hope they get it sorted. In 2012.

7) The second tier rugby nations are still getting screwed by the clubs. While the big unions can buy player release, pity poor Canada who have a core base of amateurs and can’t even get Ander Munro on release from Italy. They should shut off all club play on the continent while the Autum Internationals are on (masterplan for restructuring 4-years rugby cycle coming soon). This would undoubtedly help the likes of Italy, Georgia and Romania whose players fill in when the Frenchies are off playing tests. Georgia could quite easily have played a close full test against similarly ranked Canada rather than them getting pasted by our A and full sides respectively. Georgia might have also been beaten by Edinburgh had the floodlights at Meggetland not failed (poor show).

8) Australia will rise, and soon. Their last two games against Wales and the Baa-Baas were great fun, backed by a steely spine of solid – that’s almost not strong enough a term – defence. We could learn a lot from the Robbie Deans “soak it up then counter” school of thought. They will definitely be a force come 2011. Good job we didn’t get them in our group.

9) World XV based mostly on Autumn performances I saw: Byrne (Wal), Muliaina (NZ), De Villiers (SA), Nonu (NZ), Williams (Wal), Carter (NZ), Blair (Sco), Powell (Wal), McCaw (NZ), Burger (SA), Matfield (SA), Botha (SA), Murray (Sco), Ford (Sco), Woodcock (NZ). Honorary mention should go to the Aussies who showed up with a team rather than some individuals, so I’d pick Robbie Deans as the coach.

10) Wales are still 6N favourites. Behind them it’s a toss-up but Scotland have more than a good chance of making the top three. On current form you might hesitate to say that about England or Ireland. France, as always under Lieveremont are a mystery until they take the field. Frank Hadden has us as dark horses, and for once I’m in agreement with Franky baws. The Scots are coming.

Don’t forget there is Heineken Cup rugby on Sky this weekend again, though no Edinburgh vs Wasps on Friday night. Bath vs Glasgow is on on Sunday. Player watch as usual to follow next week. Oh, and you can add number 11) in the comments section below. We don’t bite.

Scotland Land Dream World Cup 2011 Draw

Perhaps the 9th ranking was all part of Frank Hadden’s master plan.

Pool A:
New Zealand
France
Tonga
Canada (Americas 1)
Asia 1 (Japan?)

Pool B:
Argentina
England
Scotland
Europe 1 (Romania?)
Play Off Winner (your guess is as good as mine)

Pool C:
Australia
Ireland
Italy
Europe 2 (Portugal, Spain, Russia, Georgia?)
Americas 2 (USA?)

Pool D:
South Africa
Wales
Fiji
Samoa (Oceania 1)
Africa 1 (Namibia?)

No Southern Hemisphere biggie. Argentina, who we have recently beaten. And our cousins from south of the border – currently in disarray and against whom our form is not necessarily an indicator of result – so if we played the World Cup today I’d be quite happy. However it’s still three years away and a lot can (and will) change. At least we didn’t get New Zealand in our group again. Who’s going to upset the home team’s apple cart? Oh look, they got France again…same again, or situations reversed with the plucky home team upsetting the rampant favourites? Seems unlikely given NZ are filling the role of both. Once again Ireland are in a group of if not death then mild  trauma with Italy and the Aussies. Italy have recently pushed the Aussies close and could be the Argentina of this tournament, if they continue to mature.

Talk has already begun as to how the draw has been kind to England (which it has). It has also been kind to us, and to Argentina. A lot of people on message boards everywhere are already assuming that this group will go according to the seedings with Argentina coming out on top, and England second. My apologies, but I would say this is one of the few groups that could go in any direction and Argentina on current form would not be favourites against Scotland or England. Scotland are the 3rd seed team England did not want. Because in a Scotland vs England match, even on the other side of the planet and even if England were by that point the top team in the world, anything can happen.

See you in Dunedin? I’ll be there.

UPDATE: updated 13/07/09 as Canada have qualified