Month: April 2009

Hugo Goes to France and Monty Might Not

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As reader Derek pointed out in the comments for our last impeccably titled Hugo related post, Hugo Southwell has now indeed confirmed a move to France, in particular Stade Francais where he hopes to find a spot in the team alongside former Edinburgh stablemate Simon Taylor. While the concept of Hugo in a flowery pink shirt would in principle seem awesome, I think he will need to up the consistency of his play a fair bit to pin down a regular spot at Stade.

Meanwhile the Beeb reports that Sean Lamont’s rumoured move to Brive (a club seemingly beloved of out of form Northampton players, having played recent host to Ben Cohen and Steve Thompson) has fallen through and coach Saints Jim Mallinder is now “unsure” of Sean’s future at the club. A decent run in the European Challenge Cup match against Sarries on Friday could help turn the tide.

Geech To Take His Time

While it won’t surprise you to learn that Scottish Rugby Blog’s preferred choices to fill Tomas O’ Leary’s vacant Lions shirt both hail from these shores, Ian Macgeechan has opted to wait for a week or two before naming a replacement. How will the remaining weeks of the season allow the main candidates to showcase their talents (assuming they all play in all possible games)?

Mike Blair – home game vs the Dragons and away to Cardiff who may choose to concentrate on the Heineken Cup. Plenty of opportunity to show off and guaranteed his spot in the Edinburgh team if fit. Has been steadily improving of late since a poor Six Nations but without being spectacular. Would offer a different kind of scrum-half play to Phillips (who bowled him over in the Ospreys game at the weekend) and potentially restore some magic to the Lions half-backs.

Chris Cusiter – at home to Montauban and away to Castres, plus with USAP topping the table the playoffs to follow. Plenty of opportunity to show he is battle-hardened at the top level if the Lions selectors bother to send anyone to watch him, and if he can secure a starting place in the Perpignan team having already announced his return to Glasgow. The Lions management have apparently asked for him to go on the (European Nations Cup) Scotland A Tour to stay match fit. Came off the bench during a game last weekend that saw Perpignan stage a last-minute fightback against Clermont to clinch victory. The week before he didn’t play and they lost. Coincidence? Such are the straws we love to grab.

Peter Stringer – now in Munster’s hot seat for their Heineken Cup shindig with Leinster at Croker, as well as the last two games of the season vs Cardiff and Ospreys. Will get plenty of opportunity to play in tough matches, but does he have enough to his game in comparison to the others, save a good pass and the extremely occasional bluff if the run is on, like he did to Scotland in the 6N?

Dwayne Peel – having been probably “the best in the world” in his field at the time of the last Lions tour, (just like Lee Byrne is now), Peel’s season is now over with Sale out of the running in European and Domestic competition. Other than the Welsh tour to North America, this offers him little opportunity to stay match fit before a decision is made. Given the Welsh selectors didn’t want to take a chance on his form before the 6N (when he was actually in reasonable form when he played for club and country), will the Lions team follow suit?

Danny Care – Has a Guinness Premiership semi-final vs London Irish and potentially a final too. Probably the in-form man with some high intensity stuff ahead, but can he control his rash streak enough for the Lions selectors?

An announcement should come either this week or next. In other news, heaps of people have applied for the Scotland job including 8 or so definite contenders, and Rory Lamont is rumoured to be following Philipe Saint-Andre to Toulon. Hopefully he won’t get involved in anything like this

Kerr for Sale

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More transfer news: Edinburgh prop and ex-Borders and Leeds man Gavin Kerr has signed for Sale Sharks on a two year deal, to bring some much needed experience to a Sale team shipping players and coaches left right and centre. There is still no news on Dan Parks’ contract.

This weekend sees Edinburgh take on the Ospreys and Glasgow take on full strength Leinster – I can only hope both of these games are belters. With spots on the Lions replacements list, the likes of Mike Blair, Ross Ford, James Hook and Ryan Jones will be looking to throw in some good performances – the season’s not over yet. Meanwhile Glasgow’s overlooked talent like Thom Evans and John Barclay will be looking to show why they should be on the list too. Ruaridh Jackson again holds the 10 shirt (a selection in place before yesterday’s Dan Parks trouble), it’s great to see him getting a good run of games but with Leinster warming up for their potentialy titanic clash with Munster next weekend, this should be a step up in intensity for him. The Ospreys vs Edinburgh game is live on S4C while Glasgow are on Setanta (Ireland). Both games are 7.30pm kick offs, give or take.

Meanwhile the Lions debate rolls on throughout the blogosphere and beyond, I recommend the BBC 606 boards for a laugh. However it seems to be a sign that Geech and co may be going in the right direction that very few selections are being questioned. The main ones receiving attention seem to be Alan Quinlan over Tom Croft, and Harry Ellis over just about anyone. Good to see some Blair and Cusiter fans out there. Folk still have their doubts about ROG’s defence, flair in the half backs and midfield, but with Hooky distinctly not setting the leeks on fire (they probably have heather in Wales too I suppose) and Henson injured, who else do you take? Flood? Cipriani? Phil Godman? Regarding most of the rest of the squad everyone has pretty much said, hmm okay, let’s get on with it. It was good to see Fitzy supporting Ross Ford in the press too.

Enjoy your weekend!

Oops He Did it Again, and Cheerio Tom

Now that all the Lions disappointment is out of the way for a few days, back to parochial matters.

In the news today: Parko arrested for alleged car/booze related incident, according to BBC Sport (I shall try not to use the words “disappointment” and “Lions” in this sentence too lest I be accused of taking the michael).

In memories of slightly happier times, 37 year old Scottish Lions Braveheart Warrior Poet Scrummaging Genius Legend non-disappointment etc etc Tom Smith has announced his retirement from professional rugby at the end of the season – now rapidly upon us. Smith famously was the dark horse in the front row for Geech’s last visit to South Africa, and now Tom’s protege at Northampton (Euan Murray) is off on his own Lions Tour to South Africa with Geech. Smith also took part in Scotlands 1999 Five Nations tournament victory – those were the days, eh? He had 6 Lions caps, 61 Scotland caps and over 200 appearances for Saints. We wish Tom well with whatever he chooses to do next – he’s been helping out at Scottish age grade coaching I think so here’s hoping we see him rising through the coaching ranks soon, he sure has a lot of knowledge to impart to someone…

And finally, Andy Robinson has indeed announced his willingness to be Scotland coach, thereby causing bookies everywhere to breath a sigh of relief. With Gloucester losing again, could Bryan “Basil” Redpath/Carl Hogg, hell even Dean Ryan too be a good team to take over at Edinburgh if Robinson moves upstairs?

British and Irish Lions Squad 2009 – Fewest Scots Ever*

I’ve been kind of excited all morning, so I shudder to think the pain the players have been going through waiting for this announcement.

Backs

Lee Byrne, Rob Kearney, Shane Williams, Leigh Halfpenny, Ugo Monye, Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Brian O’ Driscoll, Keith Earls, Rikki Flutey, Ronan O’ Gara, Stephen Jones, Mike Philips, Harry Ellis, Tomas O Leary

Forwards

Jamie Heaslip, Andy Powell, David Wallace, Stephen Ferris, Alan Quinlan, Joe Worsley, Martyn Williams, Alun Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell (c), Donnacha O’Callaghan, Simon Shaw, Nathan Hines, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Andrew Sheridan, Phil Vickery, Euan Murray, Jerry Flannery, Lee Mears, Matthew Rees

Yup, that’s two. Okay I’m slightly less excited now. Well done to the (mostly) non-scots in the squad, and of course we’ll be keeping up to date as the preparations and tour progress. Looks like we all get to join the Munster red army…

14 Irish
13 Welsh
8 English (there are also 8 Munstermen in the squad)
2 Scots (there are also 2 antipodeans in the squad)

37 total

UPDATE: Few big names missing: Ryan Jones, Tom Croft, James Hook, Mark Cueto, , Dennis Leamy, Mike Blair (nobody really thought Borthwick would go did they?). Do any Scots deserve to be in there ahead of the guys they have though, really? Ross Ford is unlucky I think to lose out to Rees. Powell had a storming autumn but went badly off the boil in the 6 Nations yet he’s on the tour (and probably wouldn’t be replaced by a Scot anyway). If he finds his autumn form it would be hard to argue against him doing some damage in SA though. There are surely better scrum halves than Harry Ellis too (*cough* Cusiter, Blair, Peel *cough*), he’s not even first choice for his club.

Overall it’s an interesting selection and one or two surprises, but if I’m honest there are not that many grounds for complaint really and it looks a pretty strong squad apart from the half backs, with a nice balance.

Maybe if Hadden had been picking on merit early in the season we’d have had a bigger representation. Without wishing injury on anyone, 8 Munster men and 6 Cardiff men still involved in Heineken Cup action before the tour departs, not to mention the 1 Leicester and 4 Leinster boys. It’s basically a whole rugby team plus subs getting through 2 test-level instensity matches un-injured? There may yet be a chance for the odd Scot to have a say in the tour later on.

* DOUBLE UPDATE: it turns out it’s not the lowest “ever”, we had just one representative in 1930. Ireland were the last with 2 in 1993. That makes it 3, 3, and 2 for Scotland over the last few tours (not counting call ups). Not terribly inspiring is it?

The Deadline Has Passed

So if you were planning to apply for the job of Scotland coach, you are now too late. We should get a result in the next four weeks or so. They claim to have received applications from around the world, although Andy Robinson is still the front runner.

The deadline has also passed to squeeze into the Lions squad, with Geech and the gang currently holed up in a hotel somewhere near Heathrow arguing over whether Danny Cipriani is any good or not and who leaked O’Connell as the captain. I’ll be back tomorrow lunchtime with an (almost) live announcement of the Lions squad. Whoever has “3 or less” in the “how many Scots in the Lions squad” office pool could be in with a winner. Although it was interesting to see people talking of Hines and Cusiter in the Sunday papers, despite having mostly forgotten about them for the last few months (unlike the geniuses here at Scottish Rugby Blog Towers).

Just so I can slag myself off tomorrow when I am proven wrong:

Crappy timing/form awards: Simon Taylor, the big Stroker (injury), big Rory (injury), John Barclay, Chunk (injury), pretty much all of the Scotland team who dominated South Africa in the autumn.

In with a shout but most likely to be “held in reserve” ie snubbed/overlooked: Chris Cusiter, Thom Evans, Ross Ford, big Nathan, Mossy, Mike Blair. Ford, Hines and Blair could easily fit into the first list if they don’t go although apparently Ford played well for Edinburgh last weekend. Andy Robinson’s picks would be Ford, Blair and Mossy. (Either) Evans only has inexperience against him, certainly the Lions could use a bit of the Evans magic.

On the plane: Euan Murray. Er, that’s it. Unless you count all the Scots in the backroom team. They’ll probably wheel out Jim Telfer for the odd Guinness ad.

So, fingers crossed but don’t get too excited, we’ll just have to cheer our Celtic brethren who look sure to dominate the team, given Cardiff and Munster’s form of late. Although if they knock the crap out of each other in the Heineken Cup final, there’s every chance a Scot or two will sneak on tour in the injury strewn aftermath…

Is there hope for Chris Cusiter?

After the autumn internationals, there were two real front runners for the Lions 9 shirt, Mike Blair number one on form with Mike Philips of Wales offering a different option in terms of physicality which some preferred.

Fast forward to the Six Nations, and the half back choices are in disarray. Blair went backwards form-wise in the Six Nations, Peel and Cusiter looked very sharp but didn’t get picked, Philips was injured, Care couldn’t keep his head when all around were losing theirs and Ireland’s best option was Peter Stringer.

Since then Tomas O’Leary has found form for Munster, and become a credible front runner. Care has found his zip again for in-form Quins but Mike Philips is stuck playing in an underperforming Ospreys team.

Step forward Chris Cusiter. First Kenny Logan picked him in his Lions team and now this from Shaun Edwards suggests they are not overlooking foibles of national selection:

After our most recent three-hour huddle – in a hotel near Heathrow this week – it is obvious that Ian is sticking by his word: he will pick on form and not reputation. Some big players who have been there and done it before, won Six Nations or Heineken Cups, might be in for a shock next Tuesday… Some of those currently in the reckoning may not have made their national teams in the Six Nations which ended less than a month ago.”

Hopefully Cusiter is still in with a chance of making the tour – Perpignan have been on a bit of a winning streak lately. Might that bode well for Hines too, who a lot talked up before his recent injury? I had a look on their site and can’t find much in the way of recent match reports so I hope they haven’t taken the huff because Cusiter is returning to Glasgow. According to Eurosport he played their win against Stade Montois (?), but seems to be part of a fairly even-handed rotation system in the games previous. He’s not injured though, I managed to pick that up.

Could he be the ideal man to partner ROG, given that they played together in Geech’s successful dirt trackers team in 2005? It seems like a fairly large straw to clutch at, but other than Euan Murray where else are the definite picks? I’d like to hope the Evans boys are considered too. Here in Scotland we’ve got a lion rampant on our ‘B’ flag, but doesn’t look like too many on the plane to South Africa, even in the ‘B’ team. Still, I can’t wait for the squad announcement tomorrow – I hope it’s a great tour.

Edinburgh Go Third

Edinburgh beat off the Leinster seconds at a cold Murrayfield while Glasgow failed to edge out Ulster at home with Parko missing a late kick. That puts Edinburgh only two points behind Leinster on the table, however the Ospreys who currently sit 2 points adrift of them with two games in hand. Edinburgh’s visit to the Liberty Stadium next week could be key (it’s live on S4C, 7.30pm on the Saturday). Glasgow currently sit in fifth.

Edinburgh 26 – 17 Leinster | BBC Report | Scotsman Report

Glasgow 19- 20 Ulster | BBC Report | Scotsman Report 

In other news, current Scotland forwards coach Mike Brewer has announced his intention to apply for the post of Scotland head coach.

Planet Rugby Makes Bold Choice

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I was trying to come up with a Blair-related pun there, but I’ll save that in case it actually comes true. Here is Planet Rugby’s chosen Lions squad (hypothetical) for South Africa.

While the Scots selected are probably what you’d expect (as are most of the rest of the players), surprise inclusion of Mike Blair as captain would certainly set tongues and tails wagging were Geech’s selection the same. Harry Ellis, though, really? He’s barely Leicester first choice at the moment. Still if you take him then Blair’s more likely to hold on to his place in the team… If you read the rest of the article, interesting to see the number Scots that are just bubbling under in the minds of their pundits. So we live in hope, eh?

Backs: Lee Byrne, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald, Leigh Halfpenny, Mark Cueto, Thom Evans, Shane Williams, Jamie Roberts, Tom Shanklin, Brian O’Driscoll, Stephen Jones, Toby Flood, Ronan O’Gara, Mike Phillips, Harry Ellis, Mike Blair (captain).

Forwards: Ryan Jones, Jamie Heaslip, Martyn Williams, David Wallace, Joe Worsley, Stephen Ferris, Paul O’Connell, Simon Shaw, Alun Wyn Jones, Steve Borthwick, Adam Jones, Euan Murray, John Hayes, Ross Ford, Jerry Flannery, Lee Mears, Gethin Jenkins, Andrew Sheridan.

Walk 4 Matt Hampson

Nick of the similarly monikered but containing more leek-jokes Welsh Rugby Blog has been in touch, highlighting a great rugby charity event that I would urge you to support in any way you can.

This year the walk from the home of rugby (Rugby) to the home of cabbage (Twickenham) has been adopted as a way of raising money for the Matt Hampson trust, while also supporting some other great causes like Wooden Spoon and Cancer Research. Each Guinness Premiership club nominates a charity, so it’s basically about the rugby community joining together in a good cause.

You’ll find full details on the walk, some of the rugby greats who are joining Matt on the route and how you can help raise money on the page:

http://www.walk4matt.org/

And here’s Nick’s page about it on his site. You can donate by Paypal, CC, text etc. We’ll be donating our ad revenue for the month (such as it is) to the cause, hopefully you can chip in something too.

Huuuuuuggoooooing?

According to this article in the Scotsman, Hugo Southwell might be heading to pastures new. While a move to Harlequins so they could have shouted Ugo AND Hugo might have been better for the amusement of people like me, it sounds like he could be heading to France. Presumably the reason for this is Paterson’s kicking will cement his place in the Edinburgh team, but it leaves them a bit short when Mossy gets injured or is away on international duty. Cairns and De Luca have both filled in at full-back for Edinburgh in the past, and Jim Thompson could follow the example of Colin Gregor for Glasgow last month as a sevens man slotting in at 15 and playing a blinder. From there they get plenty of space to look up and see what’s on, rather than, say, just hoofing it skywards. I thought Gregor did a pretty decent job, and Thompson is physically more what you’d expect a full back to be. Sorry Colin, but you’re wee. Speaking of which, he’s playing 15 again this weekend as Glasgow take on Matt Williams’ Ulster. Ruaridh Jackson once again gets a shot at the 10 shirt and Andrew Henderson returns from injury to take a slot on the bench. Meanwhile Edinburgh take on a Leinster side still featuring plenty of internationals, just not the front line ones. Gordon D’Arcy may take a last tilt at the Lions tour here, and it’s a final chance for the Scottish guys to put a hand up. To be fair, the squad is announced on Tuesday so they’d have to do something pretty spectacular to get in at this late stage!

Anyway, should Hugo indeed be away to pastures new, we at Scottish Rugby Blog would of course wish him all the best.

Lineen Rules Himself Out

Sean Lineen has ruled himself out of contention for the Scotland Rugby head coach’s position. Wise enough to mastermind a famous away victory in Toulouse, the original kilted Kiwi is also wise enough to know that he has unfinished business with Glasgow. He talks a lot of sense about where he is as a coach, realising his own strengths and weaknesses and he’ll probably be a great Scotland coach, just not this time round. This leaves Andy Robinson as pretty overwhelming favourite now. Will he take a similar step out of the spotlight, clearing the way for a worldwide headhunt, or is he actually far more anxious to prove himself once again on the biggest stage? One overwhelming thing in his favour is that he doesn’t get on with Brian Moore. We should know if he throws in the hat or the towel in the next week or two.

While rumours abound that Sean Lamont is Edinburgh bound – he certainly seems to be MIA at Saints although that may be more to do with the form of Paul Diggin – one thing for sure is that Robinson has also just completed the signing of Sevens captain Roddy Grant to a full-time contract at Edinburgh. Grant, who plays as flanker in the fifteens game, should be afforded an ideal opportunity to learn his trade first hand from a coach with a pretty large knowledge base in that area. Unless of course he moves upstairs…

Meanwhile Lineen, with an even stronger Glasgow squad for next year including Chris Cusiter and Rob Dewey, wants to give himself a chance for success there first, realising that one good Heineken Cup result does not a good Scotland coach make.

Oh, wait…