Author: Al Kerr

Alan Kerr is a long time rugby lover and occasional player for Broughton FP RFC. Site co-founder Al prides himself on offering the "man on the bus" view of Scottish Rugby!

Tagged: Al’s Story…

I see my esteemed colleague Rory has ‘Tagged’ me and I’m compelled to give you an insight into my mind.  Its a scary place so you’ve been warned….

What was I doing 10 yrs ago?

Was at Uni and was making an effort to eat all the packets of Rib ‘n’ Saucy Nic Naks that I could lay my grubby little hands on…happy days!  I wasn’t in a rock band.

Five things on my To Do list today:

  • To not kill myself when climbing tonight
  • Start packing  – I’m moving house at the end of the week
  • Dig out the rugby ball – touch rugby training starts this week!
  • Have a fight with my IT department and get them to do what I have been asking for for the last 6 months.
  • To not  annoy the living crap into Mrs Al – a near impossibility.

Snacks I enjoy:

Food!  Like Rory I’m a fan of the Croq Monsieur but an honourable mention must go to Rib ‘n’ Saucy Nic Naks and the bacon roll (although their is a battle in the Al house over whether red or brown sauce is best!).  Also a lot to be said for Pink Lady apples…tasty!

Things I would do if I were a billionaire:

  • As Rory mentioned I always said that I would sponsor the Scotland rugby team and get my picture on the jersey!  Since Rory is kindly doing this for me, with his billions, I thought I’d repay the favour.  So I’ll sponsor the England team and get Rory’s picture put on their jersey….he’ll like that!
  • Make sure my family were all sorted for life
  • Take Mrs Al to Paris (again!) and let her run wild in the Prada and Dior shops!  I’d get plenty of kudos and she could never again moan when I put rugby on the telly…ever!
  • Probably put money into my favourite football team (Aberdeen)
  • Pay to have Austin Healey fight an angry gorilla and for David ‘the Gob’ Campese to have his fat, Aussie mouth sewn shut!

Three of my bad habits:

  • Getting wound up at rugby internationals and being very loud
  • Getting very drunk the night before rugby internationals and then going AWOL in a foreign country
  • Drinking Lager Tops – its a girls drink

Five places I have lived:

  • Foyers (a wee village on Loch Ness)
  • Inverness
  • Dundee
  • Inverness (again)
  • Edinburgh

Five jobs I have had:

  • Helper monkey at the Co-op
  • Helper monkey (senior) at Tesco’s
  • Photocopier extraordinaire
  • Community project judge, jury and executioner
  • NHS desk jockey

Current position

Part time rugby blogger, part time NHS grunt, part time sports enthusiast, full time pain in the backside.

Bloggers I want to know more about?

All you lovely people!  In the words of Delia “Where are ya?…Lets be havin’ ya!”

Over and out.

Al

 

Six Nations Roundtable

aka The Five Thingies of Journalism. We do have a round table in the house though seriously, so Al and I sat at it post Six Nations and had a chat as we lay cringing in the rubble of Scotland’s wooden spoon near miss.

What should be done?

RB:I think we need to look at a new coaching structure for Scotland. Or new personnel in the existing structure. There seems to be a lack of tactical nous coming from players we know are better than this. I think Parks – who we have both been more supportive of than some, it has to be said – needs to only be let back into the squad if he’s playing better than Paterson or Godman and the policy adopted (half way through the tournament) of picking players on form needs to be stuck to across all positions, not just number 6, where it worked particularly well.
AK: Personally I’m going to start by going back through my family heritage and try and uncover my Tongan roots!  Calcutta Cup aside that was a minging tournament from a Scottish perspective.  I struggle to see how Hadden can keep his role as it currently stands, as the head honcho he needs to take responsibility for the debacle and he’s been culpable in a number of areas from poor choice of tactics to baffling selections of substitutes.  As the backs coach the fact that Scotland only scored 3 tries (I think) says it all.  A new head coach is needed, a new coaching structure needs to be put in place and for the love of God play form players – we just can’t afford to carry passengers!

Where Next For Scotland?

RB: Argentina is the short answer. Although more interesting could be the A team’s trip to the Churchill Cup in June, with Robinson and Lineen hopefully showing the way forward. A position in the third group of seedings for the World Cup in 2011 is looking more likely unless we upset the applecart twice over the summer away from home against the Argies.
AK: I suspect a couple of thumpings for a Scotland side over in South America.  You never know though.  In my opinion we have the players to beat Argentina but we need to go with form.  Its an opportunity to blood some new players and try a more expansive game – this means no Parks!  I don’t think we are a particularly bad team, its just they really don’t – yet – know how to play with each other.  Beyond that, who knows what will happen, much will depend on coaching structures.

Who Next for Scotland?

RB: Not sure, but I think Andy Robinson should be left where he is. A possible part-time Scotland job as with Shaun Edwards, Wasps and Wales may be the answer. The same could be said for Lineen at Glasgow. They are only just starting to get results and they should be allowed to build on that to create a strong and dare I say it confident professional core on which to found our national squads. I don’t know if that means get rid of Hadden or not, to be honest. Jake White would be unlikely to take the job if offered – though representing one of the few real challenges in rugby left to him(!) – , but there are a few decent coaches floating about. But please not Eddie O’ Sullivan. In terms of players, younger players such as De Luca, Rennie, Barclay, should be given their chance, sooner rather than later. France are blooding young players without regard for results and getting the results anyway. Who’s to say it wouldn’t work on a smaller scale?
AK: Erm…pass?  Not a clue, I agree its probably too soon for Robinson who is, in my opinion, not an international head coach – better to use his skills as a forwards coach.  Not sure if we could try and get someone like Brian Redpath involved but whether he’d leave day-to-day rugby is debatable.  I think Scotland need a team of coaches rather than this head coach figure.  I appreciate a team pulled together by ‘committee’ is risky but it may be our best way forward.  We really need a motivator in this new coaching ‘team’ so happy to take someone who’ll strip the paint of the changing rooms at half time!  At the moment I get the feeling we lack leadership, Strokosh, over time may start to take more and more on.  Players wise the future is brighter than it may seem, Edinburgh and Glasgow have a decent crop of youngsters starting to come through but now, not 2 years from now, is the time to blood new players.

Why?

RB: Because the current team aren’t playing to their potential, and that needs to start happening if interest in the game is to grow and I’m to have any hair left before I turn 30.
AK: Because what we currently have is performing below what it should be.  In my opinion this is the perfect time to take a risk.  Nothing to lose, World Cup is 3 years away and new players can get the chance to get international experience.  A new coach, a new ethos and a new spirit need to be instilled into the whole Scottish setup.  The time for consolidation is really over and Scottish rugby is crying out for someone to take the bull by the horns and make some bold, and possible brave, decisions.

When should this all happen?

RB: If you’re getting rid of Hadden, it should be as soon as possible. Or if not now, then after the Churchhill Cup and Summer Tour. Disastrous results may see that happen anyway. Not making change now may reduce the summer tour to an exercise in telling us what we already know, ie that we’re not as good as Argentina with Hadden in charge. But perhaps we could be, without him.
AK: Now.  That’s it really!  Wholesale changes need to be made, the sooner we start the better.  Not just Hadden, under-performing players need to be dropped and chances taken on players who are in form.  We go to Argentina with nothing to lose so why not start from scratch?  Ultimately whatever we do, whenever we do it, it can only get better…unless we take Matt Williams back!!!!! 

Cipriani’s chance turns to a Pumpkin…

Breaking news today that Danny Cipriani, the new Wunderkind of English rugby, has been dropped from the English squad to play Scotland this coming Saturday. According to reports Cipriani was seen sneaking out of a nightclub after midnight and Brian Ashton has taken the hump with Cipriani’s late night escapade and has dumped him out the squad. Cipriani will now line up for Wasps at the weekend.

Reports that Cipriani was seen canoodling with Jodie Marsh on the back of a giant pumpkin pulled by a team of mice in waiters jackets have yet to be confirmed…

For the benefit of the scottishrugbyblog.co.uk lawyers that last comment was for humorous purposes!

Over and out…
Al

The Scotland team that scares me…

The Scotland management team today named the XV that will face up to a buoyant England side that rolls into Edinburgh off the back of a cracking win against the French. Scotland are sticking with the more mobile team but a couple of changes have been made. Simon Taylor has come in to replace the ineffective Kelly Brown and Graeme Morrison comes in at No.12 to make his first start since 2004 (v Japan). The starting XV for Saturday’s game versus the English is highlighted in Rory’s post below, but here are my thoughts:

Scotland have had a shocking tournament so far with very little to excite the faithful few that follow the side. The game against Ireland at least showed signs of limited improvement and the emergence of Strokosch was encouraging. Scotland even scored a try, a decent one at that, and looked like they could start to create chances – the next step would be to take them!

So, it’s back to Murrayfield to face up to an England side that is starting to find some form. On paper this has England win written all over it, indeed keeping the score down may be an achievement, but if Scotland will ever raise their game it’ll be against the English.

Scotland can win this game, they have the skill and the power to rattle the English, particularly at home, but confidence is at an all time low and at a time when leadership is most needed it has been sorely missing. The return of 2 times Lion Simon Taylor is a timely boost and his experience and skills around the breakdown could prove vital. Graeme Morrison has performed well for Glasgow and the Scotland ‘A’ side so is maybe due a run in the ‘top’ side but this will surely be his biggest challenge yet. The centres have been poor for Scotland all tournament and against the English will need to have passion for the fight. As Rory says in his post below the Scotland bench does not indicate a ‘festival of running rugby’ but the starting line-up has the same feel as the one that went out to move the Irish about. I feel (hope!) Scotland will look to try run the ball at the English from early, but they’ll need to show great control and, if they draw penalties, take the points whenever on offer. My main fear is that Scotland will struggle in the scrum and if this is under pressure from the start it could be a very long afternoon for the men in blue. Where Scotland may look to pressure is at the lineout which finally seemed to find some form against the Irish. Finally, one area that will need to improve is player concentration. As much as I feel Hadden has responsibility for players performance (or lack of), he cannot do much about 15 guys collectively falling asleep at restarts. Every Scotland player needs to have their ‘A’ game with them if they are to find success on the field.

The officials fill me with fear. Kaplan is god awful as anyone in St Etienne will be able to testify. He is the sort of referee that feels the game should be about him and not about the 30 guys fighting it out and worst of all is the sort of referee that refuses to let a game flow. As for Mr Damasco he has already endeared himself to Scotland fans and the less said the better…

All the odds point towards an English win, but Scotland are due some luck so maybe this Saturday will be the day that the ball breaks Scotland’s way and they can at least make a game of it. Ever onwards….good luck guys!

Over and out.
Al

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.

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.

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!

No Paterson but De Luca gets a chance…Scotland Team Announced

Franky ‘Baws’ Hadden today named his XV for the game against France on Sunday. My initial thought was that this is a team set up to attack the French, and that seems like a fair plan but the big shock is the omission of Chris Paterson from the XV. Paterson will start Scotland’s 6 Nations campaign on the bench and presumably Dan Parks will take over kicking duties. Parks has been on good form for Glasgow as of late and will be hoping that this can be carried over to the international arena.

So here is the XV:

1. Allan Jacobsen
2. Ross Ford
3. Euan Murray
4. Nathan Hines
5. Jim Hamilton
6. Jason White (c)
7. John Barclay
8. Dave Callam

9. Mike Blair
10. Dan Parks
11. Simon Webster
12. Andy Henderson
13. Nick de Luca
14. Nikki Walker
15. Rory Lamont

Looking at that team makes me think that Scotland are going to try and attack France from the off and it is a brave (note: brave in the Scottish way i.e. tinged with prudence and not the French manner of 6 uncapped players!). I have to admit to some shock at Paterson admission since he is possibly the most reliable goal kicker in International rugby but it also shows just how much faith Hadden now has in Parks. There has always been a sneaky suspicion that Paterson doesn’t provide enough in open play and that may well have gone against him in this game.

Having now had a chance to look at the team I can see the logic that is possibly at work. Initially I was also surprised to see Mike Blair rather than Chris Cusiter start as I have always felt that he (Blair) is slightly more defensive and not as creative as Cusiter. In the main the backs are exciting, dynamic players and I’m sure that Hadden will look at Blair and Parks to be the more fulcrum around which the rest of the backs will operate. A tighter control in these areas may help Scotland provide a more focussed attack. This is certainly a very attacking line-up, the forwards are all capable ball carriers and able to put in BIG hits and the backs will hopefully look to utilise any space that opens up. With France making so many changes Scotland are out to unsettle the French and be as aggressive and offensive as possible. Could we see Scotland dominate the French? Lets hope so!

A couple of other quick points. The addition of Nick De Luca is heartening. He is a young guy who is playing great rugby at Edinburgh and deserves his chance. His experience of 7s should ensure his handling skill and lightning quick pace make an impact at international level. His inclusion also allows us to play Webster on the wing, his best position, and should hopefully see more from him. Couple that with Nikki Walker on the other side and Scotland presents 2 very different types of winger. The inclusion of John Barclay is also encouraging as he is another young player with the potential to make a mark at this level. His ability to put in big hits is coupled with good handling skills, especially in the contact areas, and hopefully he can go some way to helping to provide a strong base which Scotland can attack from.

Overall an exciting team and a hint of the future. Paterson can count himself unlucky and no doubt he will start other games (particularly away) but with the chance of France blooding so many new players Scotland are looking to attack from the off and get right in amongst the French. In a previous piece I predicted Scotland to win and having seen the team I stick by that…I just hope I’m right!!!

Al’s All-Singing But Hopefully No Dancing Six Nations Preview

Part I – Best Xmas Present….Ever!

I remember Christmas growing up being all about the lead up to the big day and whether or not Santa Claus had paid attention to the letter sent in June with my demands for Christmas presents. Sure, as the years go by this anticipation has faded slightly – especially since the demand is now mainly for cold hard cash – but you still hope to get what you asked for. Along with the sock and a knitted jumper from Auntie Agnes there was the good stuff, the ZX Spectrum, the BMX racer and the Eagle-Eye Action Man. I’ve spent most of last year on my absolute best behaviour to try and ensure that Santa had no reason to screw me out of the good stuff and sure enough the fat jolly fellow came through with the full list of goodies. Little did I know that my main Christmas wish for the last 2 years was also to be granted…

Having participated in the usual seasonal over-indulgence I had returned to work with a heavy heart and a pickled liver and have been looking for any distraction to help me through the long days manacled to my desk. Tuesday granted such a distraction with the announcement of Scotland’s 6 Nations training squad. Whilst the headline was all about Scott Murray’s exclusion from the squad (more about that later) the real news, and proof of a benevolent god, was that Marcus Di ‘Ohno’ Rollo was missing! For the last couple of years Di Ohno has been the epitome of a shirt filler, offering Scotland nothing except filling a space…badly. His calling card was missed tackles, fumbled balls and the attacking verve of post-box. For what feels like an eternity now (although probably only a couple of years) I’ve prayed to the rugby gods to have mercy and have cursed them everytime a Scotland squad was announced with Di Ohno’s name included. How he managed to masquerade as an international rugby player is one of life’s great mysteries but he must also be given some credit, for his omission was not made by Hadden but rather by the player himself. Having managed to only muster a solitary minutes play since moving to France, Di Ohno has seen the light and, ironically, given his greatest contribution to the Scotland cause by removing himself from it. For that Marcus I salute you.

Despite all that there is still a chance he could make a comeback. Maybe playing in France will sharpen his basic skills and add a new dimension to his game but for that to happen he needs game time and he just isn’t getting that at present.

As for Scott Murray I would expect to see him return at some point. At only 31 he can still compete at the international level and his experience (87 caps) will always be a valuable commodity. It will be interesting to see how the Scottish lineout works without his commanding presence – Hadden admits the competition for the 2nd row is fierce but if the lineout and scrum struggle he may well need to turn to the experience of Murray to help balance out the youth. Like Di Rollo he should benefit from playing in France and I suspect he will be back in the national side at some point.

Part II – A Chance to Shine…

Last years 6 Nations was all about building up for the World Cup in France and as such (even though finishing with the wooden spoon was horrific) I think fans were able to at least point to a continuing requirement for development of a squad which had its eyes firmly set on the World Cup. This year Frank Hadden and the boys won’t have such a cushion, fans will expect results, especially at home and look for a big improvement away from home. Scotland go into the tournament coming off the back of a fairly successful – if not ground breaking – World Cup. The tournament in France (and Scotland and Wales!) saw the emergence of Rory Lamont as a real threat from the back and Dan Parks finally proved that at the international level he can indeed cut the mustard (see vs Italy in St Etienne). The most encouraging thing about this Scotland team is that there is a real sense of development. The training squad has 6 uncapped faces yet the squad doesn’t feel like a major overhaul. Rather it’s a transition from the old to the new, players in form for their clubs and for the first time in years I think there is competition for place across the squad. The improvements in the domestic professional sides also points towards progress – not awe inspiring, zero-to-hero transformations, but the forming of good solid units able to hold their own in European competition and challenge in the Magners League. The exodus from Edinburgh during the summer was alarming but Andy Robinson has done a sterling job in both building that team back up to where it can compete and has started to rebuild his own reputation after his England debacle. I never bought into the ‘Fortress Scotland’ policy and I, personally, feel that the exodus of Scotland players to French and English leagues will only expand their experience and help improve the skill levels.

So, with no further ado, here is a quick look at what I think could happen over the course of the championship:

Scotland v France (3pm, Sunday 3rd February, Murrayfield) – France come into the game on the back of a mixed but ultimately disappointing World Cup and having lost some big players (Ibanez, Dominici). As ever it depends which French side decides to turn up, the side that is full of flair and incisive running angles, or the side that can’t handle a rugby ball covered in super glue! If Scotland can put real pressure on the breakdown areas then France are vulnerable, they showed at the World Cup that they can be forced into errors and with Chris Paterson in the side Scotland are well positioned to take advantage of any penalties coming their way. I see this a game where the Scots will try to exercise a varied kicking game aiming for two areas. Firstly I think Dan Parks looking to kick long either for territory and touch or kicking behind the backs to turn the defence. Parks game came of age at the World Cup and he’ll surely look to direct the game from the back. Secondly I think Scotland will look (through Rory Lamont in particular) to kick the up-and-under either right of top of the French backs or in the no-mans-land between the forwards and backs if the game becomes stretched. They’ll surely look to his and Webster’s pace to be able to reach the man as he receives the ball in an attempt to either turn-over or draw the penalty.

Predictions: Heart – Scotland win.
Head – Scotland win, it’s a home match so think that’ll swing it.

Wales v Scotland (2pm, Saturday 9th February, Millennium Stadium) – Christ, I struggle to predict this. Scotland’s 2nd game in 6 days is at the magnificent Millennium Stadium and should see a close match. If the French are mixed then the Welsh are positively schizophrenic in terms of performance. The Welsh have the ability in the backs to destroy pretty much any team they come up against but are equally as likely to do an Elmer Fudd impersonation and have a ‘shoot themselves in the face with a shotgun’ type calamity. New coach in place, so will be interesting to see what reaction they get to that. I think Scotland will dominate the pack (for once – ed.) and possibly the breakdown (as they did last year) but Wales will always pose a threat on the counter. I was at the Wales game last year and they were as poor a side as I have seen in a long time, totally dominated by Scotland for large parts of the match and poor James Hook looked like a lost child in Tesco the Saturday before Xmas. The passion of the Welsh crowd could (should?) make a difference in the game this time round.

Heart – Scotland win
Head – Welsh win – close match but some magic from the Welsh backs will be too much for Scotland

Ireland v Scotland (5pm, Saturday 23rd February, Croke Park) – One word sums up Ireland at the World Cup – insipid! Truly awful, plunged new depths of awfulness and the much vaunted world class players contrived to look more suited to Gaelic Football than Rugby! So this should be an easy victory for Scotland. Well, no, probably not. If you were to draw a bell curve both these sides would be a the same level but at different ends – Scotland are a team on the make, developing with each game and progressing all the time whilst the Irish have seen it all and are, for too many players, past their best. This should make for an interesting battle but I suspect there will only be a score or so between the teams. It’ll be a scrappy, forward-orientated type affair but a lot will depend on Ireland’s big creative players and whether they can show the magic of previous years. At the World Cup they only ended up putting themselves under pressure when trying to run from deep and you suspect that they are a collection of players rather than a team. Scotland could kick them to death as the Irish of late have looked ragged and prone to coughing up penalties, but I’d also look to Scotland’s backs being able to open up the Irish. Another cracking atmosphere in store at Croke Park. Anyone got a ticket?

Heart – Scotland win
Head – Scotland win – think this Scotland side have too much for the current Irish squad and work better as a unit.

Scotland v England (3.15pm, Saturday 8th March, Murrayfield) – The big one. Good v Evil. Balanced opinion v hyperbole. Wooden spoon holders v World Cup finalists. Congrats to the English for getting to the World Cup Final. Commiserations to the rest of rugby civilisation for being forced to watch the worst side ever to reach a World Cup final. Funny side the English, lost a lot of players recently but by all accounts the youngsters coming up are pretty decent. Much like Scotland they have a developing squad where evolution, rather than revolution, is the policy. Brian Ashton seems to be doing a decent job with someone else’s squad but it’ll be interesting to see where their points come from. The addition of big Vainikolo is interesting and brave. Ripping up the Guinness Premiership with 8 tries so far he has the potential to be a star (along with Sackey) for the English, but can he cut it at international level? Ashton maintains that his lack of kicking ability is not a problem saying something along the lines of why should a 6″2′ 18 stone winger want to kick the ball? Well, lots of reasons really. Defensively it’ll be a huge step up and whilst he’s big Scotland also have big wingers these days who won’t be afraid to challenge Vainikolo. I fully expect the Scots to try and pressure him heavily and force him into kicking. Otherwise this game will be the usual Scotland v England heavy match, blood, guts, thunder, no little passion and a good piss up afterwards.

Heart – Scotland win
Head – England win – we beat them the last time at Murrayfield so they’ll look to get revenge, plus its England and no side in the world is jammier!

Italy v Scotland (1pm, Saturday 15th March, Rome) – Scotland Grand Slam decider…maybe! Or maybe not. Italy are a decent side who have improved beyond recognition in the last few years, demonstrated by just how disappointed they were to not get out of the groups at the World Cup. In saying that I still expect Scotland to have too much. Kaine Robertson scares the living daylights out of me but without Troncon to lead, you wonder just how they will get on in this tournament. At home they are a good side and usually try to attack the opposition but this leaves them open to wiser teams to hit on the counter. The victory for Scotland in the World Cup was scrappy and hard fought but it shouldn’t have been. Indeed in that game if Scotland had played more sensibly the match could have been over
inside the first 20 minutes. The one advantage to this game is that it won’t be marred by the awful refereeing of Kaplan who single-handedly destroyed the game at the World Cup. Italy are no mugs but they are not great at the back and can be forced into silly errors. It will be interesting to see if Italy maintain their antics of diving from the World Cup? Its not something we need to see in rugby. Great supporters, good team, poor sportsmanship. If Scotland play their game they should win barring any major mistakes (World Class Phil lookin’ at you…again!).

Heart – Scotland win
Head – Scotland win – no mistakes guys…..please!

So there you go – ill-informed nonsense in the best possible way! If my heart is right Scotland will romp to Grand Slam glory. It’s not outwith the realms of possibility (if not probability), this is a 6 Nations in flux this year and I would hope to see a strong showing from the Scotland team. We can certainly beat all the other teams but it’s about stringing together some results, and ultimately I suspect that where we will fall down. I can see us winning 3 games and finishing 3rd or 2nd with the English doing enough for the tournament win. Wouldn’t be a surprise if the table is very congested and teams take point off each other. From the Scotland team I just want to see continued progress and some more attacking verve – play to our strengths and let teams worry about us, rather than the other way round.

Finally, let me just say that above all I just want to see good rugby, strong defences and imaginative attacks. I hope all those who are coming to watch rugby at Murrayfield have a good time in Edinburgh (even if your team gets cuffed) and enjoy the rugby folks!

Over and out…

Al

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