If you are interested (and why not?!) you can find some picture galleries of the Lions in training (except for Euan Murray, Harry Ellis and the Leinster boys) below:
Or alternatively go straight to the source and view all of them at Getty Images.
Or three, perhaps. More players have joined Tomas O’Leary and Tom Shanklin on the list of Lions casualties, and the tour has not even started.
Alan Quinlan’s ban for gouging was upheld, so he will not tour to South Africa. Non-surprise of the year is that Tom Croft will replace him, offering something different in the back row including excellence in the lineout (and additional cover in the second row). Perhaps it is a sign of Scottish decline that our traditional area of strength – the back row – offers no immediate candidate with Strokosch out injured.
In other news hooker Jerry Flannery and winger Leigh Halfpenny both have injuries. Halfpenny’s is not too serious and although he is to be replaced, he will re-join the tour when recovered. This could be an opening for Thom Evans or Chris Paterson to sneak on tour, although the favourite would seem to be Delon Armitage, with Mark Cueto another possibility. Alongside Irishman Rory Best, Scotland hooker Ross Ford is one of the favourites to replace Flannery who has chipped a bone in his elbow in training. Ford would certainly add some grunt and physicality – plus familiarity with Euan Murray – in the front row, however his line-out throwing might be a concern against the likes of Victor Matfield.
Scotland Captain Mike Blair has been called up for the British and Irish Lions squad that travels to South Africa this summer. Blair has been called up to replace the unfortunate Thomas O’Leary who recently broke his leg playing for his club side Munster.
Blair, who plays for Edinburgh, was thought at the turn of the year to be a certain to travel South Africa. However a poor Six Nations campaign and unsure performances for his club side saw him not even make the travelling party. Blair has been a key part of the Edinburgh side that has recently gone on a five match winning streak and his performance in last weekends 43 – 3 defeat of the Dragons will have no doubt helped highlight what he can bring to the Lions party.
Fellow Scot Chris Cusiter was initially rumoured to be the front runner as a replacement but perhaps being stuck on the bench for Perpignan has hurt him (the same could be said for Dwayne Peel at Sale), while Blair has been able to take full part in Edinburgh’s recent string of consecutive victories. I am sure he will make a full contribution and if he finds the form of the autumn (where he made most of the Springbok team look a little ordinary at times) he definitely has the class and vision to be the test scrum half.
Blair will no doubt now want to push for a test place in the Lions team. His inclusion now ups the number of Scots in the Lions squad to a (still paltry) 3. All of us here would like to congratulate Mike on his call up and hope he’ll be able to do both himself and his country proud.
Edinburgh blasted the Dragons with a bonus-point victory at Murrayfield this weekend but Glasgow failed to do them a favour by beating an out-of-sorts Ospreys team. They did deny them a bonus point but the game was marred by Max Evans going off on a stretcher with what looked like a nasty knee injury and another schizophrenic refereeing performance from Irishman George Clancy. Ruaridh Jackson looked inventive at 10 and kicked most of his points and Lome Fa-Atau had a pretty good game on the opposite wing from Thom Evans. I have to say that Andrew Henderson looked pretty off-peak when he came off the bench with a couple of poor and late challenges – one of which he would have been carded for if Clancy wasn’t obsessing over sending off as many props as possible. The Ospreys now move third, equal on points with Leinster. Edinburgh can regain second if both those teams lose next weekend and they manage to beat Cardiff in Cardiff. Unlikely, I know. But Cardiff have a midweek game and must be on their last legs by now – paying for the silly Anglo Welsh Cup. Meanwhile Leinster face the Dragons but Ospreys have to play Munster. So third could be on and they are guaranteed to at least equal their best ever finish of fourth.
While he was always an outside chance to be called up to the Lions as a replacement for the injured Tom Shanklin – and it was interesting to hear Will Greenwood mention him as a possibility – this will almost certainly rule Maximus out. In the same game though James Hook looked pretty good from inside centre, and he might give the Lions some fly-half cover too. With Jamie Roberts going off injured in the Munster match last night too the Lions could be looking at another replacement in the centre. Speaking of which, the Sunday Times reported that former Lions scrum half and backs coach Rob Howley was dispatched to watch Chris Cusiter in Perpignan this weekend – bit of a shame as he didn’t seem to get on the pitch. Ian Macgeechan went to watch Danny Care who didn’t have the greatest game either. No word if anyone was watching Blair, as we await the rumoured announcement this week.
UPDATE: The Times is now reporting that Rob Howley was in the crowd for the Edinburgh match, which seems more likely. Someone (in the Murdoch empire) got their info wrong.
This week has seen Geech face the possibility of a 3 man reshuffle to his Lions squad, with Tom Shanklin now joining Tomas O’ Leary on the injury list and Munster’s Alan Quinlan facing the possibility of a ban for gouging Leo Cullen in the Heineken Cup Semi Final. While there are a couple of Scots in the running to fill the spare 9 shirt in Cusiter and Blair, it is less likely there will be any chance of them filling the other shirts. If Quinlan is banned out of contention, Tom Croft and Ryan Jones (or Dennis Leamy) would be considered the front runners – perhaps Strokosch if he had been fit would have been in with a shout. In the backs, there is no real direct replacement for Shanks (if fit I suppose Tindall has the same amount of hair) but they might look to bring in the likes of D’Arcy or Hook as a different sort of centre. Max Evans is probably an outside bet at this stage I would say, but a demolition derby of the Ospreys at the weekend on his part would certainly help his cause… see below.
No news on when any announcements would be made, but it will probably be after this weekend’s Premiership semi-finals and round of Magners League matches.
Transfer update: Sean Lamont’s move to Llanelli has also been confirmed.
Edinburgh, still chasing an improvement on last season’s fourth place finish – they are currently on course to match that – are at home to the Dragons on Saturday. This match is not being televised. Assuming Edinburgh can beat the Dragons, on Sunday Glasgow could do them a favour by beating the Ospreys away, a result that would take the battle for the last few places down to the final weekend of the season. Ospreys vs Glasgow is on S4C at 2.30 on Sunday. These games offer the second to last opportunity for Scottish players to keep their heads bobbing above water in the Lions standby pool.
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…
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.
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
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…
8 English (there are also 8 Munstermen in the squad)
2 Scots (there are also 2 antipodeans in the squad)
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?
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…
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.
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.
After all the excitement of yesterday evening, tonight Edinburgh take on Cardiff at Murrayfield tonight (not on TV, but probably on BBC Radio Scotland along with a lively debate about future Scotland coaches from 8pm), while Glasgow visit Llanelli live on S4C on Saturday at 5.30pm ish with a few more of their internationals back. A couple of good games from Thom Evans could see him shoot up in the Lions reckoning, which would be nice. Also with one eye on the future, Ruaridh Jackson is starting at 10 for Glasgow with Parko (still without a contract for next season) on the bench. Edinburgh should also have newly resigned and restored prop Geoff Cross packing down in the scrum (but not against Cardiff’s Gethin Jenkins, who is rested). Cross will be looking to make up for his inauspicious test debut vs Wales in the Six Nations, one hopes…
Speaking of the future, Edinburgh and Glasgow seem to be scouring the English club game for Scottish-qualified youngsters with ex Stew-Mel and Newcastle scrum-half Ross Samson signing for Edinburgh and centre Peter Murchie signing for Glasgow from London Welsh. Samson’s signing and Ben Meyer’s exit from Edinburgh would mean I think that Edinburgh now only have one non-Scottish qualified player on their books (in Ben Gissing).
At the other end of the career spectrum, former Edinburgh scrum-half Graeme Beveridge has also announced his retirement from pro-rugby after he was let go by Bristol. He aims to have a go at coaching in the future though, so we wish him all the best with that and hope to see him plying his trade north of the border soon. Andy Henderson is also off to pastures new in Montauban after a game for the BaaBaas – it was getting crowded in the Glasgow midfield I suppose.
After their exertions last week in victory over Connacht and loss to Munster respectively, good to see a few home-based Scots creeping into the (only half serious) Sky Sports Lions Watch team of the week, as well as a few exiles. In fact this team is almost thick with Scots – that’ll never last. Big Stroker is definitely increasing the awareness of his physical talents, while I’m sorry to have missed the battle between Euan Murray and Gethin Jenkins in the scrum… plus the comments on these things are always fun to read…
With Henson now out with injury till May, it looks like Goron D’Arcy could be coming into form at just the right time to re-cement his partnership with O’Driscoll… Shanklin or possibly Jamie Roberts should keep Maxi out of the reckoning at 13 but he may have more value as a utility back than Thom. Tindall is injured too, lest we forget so if the 2×2 centres were Flutey (ugh) and D’arcy, O’ Driscoll and Shanklin, they’d probably still need a utility back who could cover centre. Step forward Maximus! Such are the discussions that the coming weeks are made of, so I’ve put up a handy countdown in order to build the hype towards the inevitable leonine let-down (but we are used to such things by now).
Have a good weekend. Next week was going to be chat about the Lions, but now we have some fantasy coach shopping to do!
Ahh, some sense at last. In his most recent Rolling Maul (well worth a read for many reasons, primarily it seems as something to argue with your PC screen about) the esteemed Sunday Times Rugby correspondent has highlighted Big Nathan’s possible usefulness as a Lions tourist:
Nathan Hines (Perpignan)
He has had his injury problems, he has had his moody periods – notably when he decided to retire from Scotland, although in the dire reign of Matt Williams as coach this was seen as compulsory, not disloyal.
Hines, however, is hardcore. Someone has to stand opposite Bakkies Botha on tour and give back in kind everything Bakkies dishes out, in deed or word. At present, Hines seems to be the leading candidate to out-Bakkies Bakkies. He is big, tough and uncompromising, and if you can become a hero in a tough place like Perpignan then you have it all going for you.
You can get the full thing here.
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.