Category: Player Watch

Keeping an eye out for Scotland’s up and coming rugby stars

Blair Sees Red (and Green)

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The Red hand, that is, and the green of money. The Scotsman have a story that Edinburgh scrum-half Mike Blair is being offered somewhere in the region of £300,000 a year to move to Ulster, whose current scrum half Isaac Boss is rumoured to be headed to Leinster. Good move or bad? While Edinburgh have in recent months been a little stifled in attack and probably miss Mike’s leadership in midfield, I would still probably say “good” move. Greg Laidlaw has improved massively this season in the period Blair has been injured, and though a little bit of a mentalist at the moment, Ross Samson looks a good option for the future. By leaving, Blair would be getting game time at a high level and in a decent team, but he would also be allowing our younger players to come through and play more regularly at the same high level. Although he’s been a faithful servant to Edinburgh, look at the positives Chris Cusiter got from his time in Perpignan. If it could bring back the form that saw him nominated for IRB player of the year, a change could do Blair good.

PS I’ve just realised the headline could be seen as a dig at his colour-blindness, sorry Mike, unintentional!

Killer B Leaves the Hive

Glasgow have confirmed rumours Kelly Brown is to leave them for Saracens at the end of the season, splitting up the infamous Killer Bs back row. However fellow “B” John Barclay has renewed his contract, which should keep Glasgow and Scotland fans happy – I imagine there was much interest in him. Brown has been in a rich vein of form for the Warriors recently but with a number of youngsters like Richie Vernon, James Eddie, Calum Forester et al pushing through for back row places – and in considering International level you have to factor in Edinburgh’s burgeoning back row talent too – Brown’s move allows them to develop in the limited spots we have up here, while still he’s playing top level rugby and trying to force his way back into the international team. Still, unless Mike the Blade moves to Worcester I won’t be able to make Blair vs Brown jokes anymore, which will be a relief to you.

In other good news, Gougy McGouge aka Stade Prop David Attoub has been handed a 70 week ban on top of Dupuy’s 23 week ban both for gouging Stephen Ferris. Good enough for him, I say.

Bring in the reinforcements!

Panic seems to have hit Martin Johnson. Shontayne Hape?! Well we’re used to this in Scotland.   Every time Scotland sees a decline in talent in certain positions there seems to be a desperate snatch for anyone Scots qualified, by the SRU. While some might question Andy Robinson’s desire to put in a long term plan for Scottish youth there is almost something admirable in his declaration of interest in the long-term progress of Ayr’s Frazier Climo: a man not eligible for Scotland until 2012. Then there is Dan Parks.

The much derided stand-off has been written off more times than his motor (allegedly), but he keeps coming back for more. As Phil Godman struggled to kick himself out of his shadow and was constantly caught with the ball in his hands during the 1872 cup matches against Glasgow, his opposite man, Parks, had put the ball wherever he wanted and ran the game with metronomic rhythm.

While this may have delighted Glasgow fans you could hear the rest of Scotland groaning. Perhaps not because Parks was back in the frame for a Scotland call up but because the transitional period is set to continue at 10, for us. Parks has, at pro level, the ability to control a game but with rumours he is only interested in reaching a 50th cap and his attentions soon turning to Cardiff’s fortunes the future seems unsure.

This creates an interesting situation. Many believe that Kiwi Climo will slide into Parks’ vacated position at Glasgow while calls to sign up Hutton are increasing in Edinburgh. Every outcome suggests a few more unsure years for the fans regarding the Scottish fly-half berth. While it is obvious that the SRU have no problems bringing in a ‘foreign’ player for the two pro teams it creates a fascinating precedent. Do we really want another situation where a Matt Mustchin is called up for a Scotland tour because no young Scottish players are deemed good enough? Do we want another like Boroughmuir’s Fergus Pringle playing on tour for Scotland ‘A’, maybe the most developmental stage of Scottish international rugby, while talented, if not a little inexperienced, kids stay at home like a few seasons ago?

This situation possibly says more about the state of the pro set-up in Scotland, but it is also true that the infiltration of ‘foreign’ players is evident in all aspects of the Scottish game. Almost every premier club in Scotland has at least one player who is not Scottish qualified. Some teams have more than three every game. What this means is that a disparity occurs. If we are being honest, players like Hutton, Jackson, David Blair and even Climo are too good to play amateur rugby every week but what is coming up behind them is not encouraging. What’s more, most clubs are more interested in league positions, cups and getting one over their rivals. Some cynics can say there is not as much concern about strengthening Scotland as a nation as much as there is an internalized drive to make ‘my club’ stronger. There could be some substance to this. Of course there is the by-product of younger players learning from experienced foreigners. This helps, but it becomes much harder when the best Scottish talents are whisked away by the SRU, or worse, head down south to earn their stripes because there are no places north of Hadrian’s dyke.

The age old shocker of a question arises: what the hell do we do?!

Finally, I’ve known a few overseas players who have landed on their feet in this country. What would I do in their situation if I was asked to play for Scotland? Alex Tait is thinking about it. Even if I had a silver fern tattooed on my arse would I take the cap/pay rise/accolades? Maybe. On Tuesday Paul Tito said “If Wales were in massive dire, dire need I’d probably have a think about it [playing for them].” Doesn’t sound like a definite NO, does it?

What would you do?

Goggsy News

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Some of you West Coast OGs may have seen this, but for those who haven’t I came across an interesting interview with Gordon Ross on the Herald site telling tale of what he has been up to down south:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/rugby-union/gordon-ross-is-roaring-back-at-london-welsh-1.997330

Interesting to find out what’s being going on with one of Scotland’s largely forgotten sons while the current standoff debate rages.

Tait vs Tait?

Nothing to do with Alan Tait mind, but instead an interesting article from the Scotsman that Alex Tait, Newcastle full-back and younger brother of the oft-shuffled around never-settled-in-one-position Matthew Tait (can we use the word Mossified to describe such a process, or possibly Fodenification?) is considering pinning his colours to the Scottish mast (assuming he could find a boat with a mast, of course. Try Dundee – have they not got an old one there?).

Read the article here

It’s an interesting prospect, but does he have more chance of caps with us than with England? We have Mossy, Lamont R and Hugo as the current front runners, with the likes of Jim Thompson coming up hard on the rails and folk like Ben Cairns or Colin Gregor as wacky back-up plans. England meanwhile have Armitage, Foden, Morgan and Tait’s own brother Matthew not to mention the likes of Cipriani (if Johnno can get over his beef) or Monye/Cueto (and other wingers who aren’t really fullbacks).

I suppose it should really all come down to who he really wants to play for, but it would be interesting to see brothers on the opposite side of a Calcutta Cup/RWC2011 match, wouldn’t it?

Pro Teams for the Weekend (Weather Permitting)

Assuming the games go ahead as the freezing weather continues (a couple of Magners games have already been called off), here are the teams to take the field in Dublin and Edinburgh respectively.

Glasgow Warriors to face Leinster: Bernardo Stortoni, DTH van der Merwe, Max Evans, Graeme Morrison, Thom Evans, Dan Parks, Chris Cusiter, Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Alastair Kellock (capt), Richie Gray, Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements:
Fergus Thomson, Kevin Tkachuk, Dan Turner, James Eddie, Colin Gregor, Ruaridh Jackson, Rob Dewey.
(Probably on BBC Radio Scotland, Friday night).

Edinburgh team to face Cardiff: Chris Paterson (capt), Jim Thompson, Ben Cairns, John Houston, Tim Visser, Rory Hutton, Greig Laidlaw, Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, David Young, Jim Hamilton, Scott MacLeod, Alan MacDonald, Ross Rennie, Roddy Grant.
Replacements:
Andrew Kelly, Kyle Traynor, Craig Hamilton, Scott Newlands, Ross Samson, Nick De Luca, Mark Robertson.
(Live coverage on S4c, Saturday from 6pm-ish)

Can’t say I’m not a little intrigued to see what Hutton can do, given what is a massive opportunity for him… but I wouldn’t expect miracles straight off the bat. Highlights of both games are also on STV as usual on Sunday. Given the lack of games this weekend they will presumably pad by talking about either the upcoming 6 Nations or perhaps porridge: ie the new Scott’s limited edition packets that are to feature Ross(y), Mossy and Thom. Hopefully this will help boost the sport at breakfast tables everywhere, especially during the current wintry spell. Speaking of, um, spelling, can someone tell me when they changed the spelling of porridge?

UPDATE: The Leinster vs Glasgow game has been called off due to late weather complications: more info on the BBC. Glasgow want to sue people given the cost of getting to Dublin has already been undertaken by the team after advice that the game would go ahed… Most of the weekend’s scheduled GP matches are also off, with just a few top flight rugby fixtures still hoping to go ahead including Munster, Leicester and Edinburgh.

Break A Leg

Some quick news snippets: poor Jason White has broken his leg in New Year training with Clermont, and as a result the injury will keep him out of the coming Six Nations campaign (only about a month away now!). Although the big Stroker had mostly usurped him from the starting 6 shirt, big Jason’s versatility and impact play would have probably seen him on the bench at least so it will be a blow to Andy Robinson’s squad selection tactics. All the best for the recovery, Jason.

Simon Danielli is now joint first in the SRBlog Scottish Wings 2010 try scoring table having also scored 2 this year, against Munster yesterday. If our exiled back three players keep this up it will give us Evans apologists a major headache come amateur selection time. Hugooooo is playing for Stade today too, seemingly now a fixture at full back for the original pinkos.

Meanwhile it seems to be Not World Class Phil week in the press, but who can blame them after he’s played pretty craply for the last few months – could this be what coasting with no clear competition for your shirt at club or international level can do to a man? In that case Phil: Dan Parks for Scotland captain! Pull your socks up mate!

Cardiff Arms Parks?

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Breaking news: rumour has it that Magners League leading points scorer, kicking machine and regular Scottish rugby/Strathclyde Police source of amusement Dan Parks is to sign for Cardiff Blues. At 31, he’s most likely a short term solution to the Blues’ issues at standoff where Sam “Two-dads” Norton-Knight has struggled to fit in (possibly because he is a full-back). Cardiff never struck me as much of a kicking side but I am sure Dan will feel right at home alongside several antipodeans, a Blair and a giant ginger chap. Is that the sound of Dai Young capitulating to aerial ping-pong?

Up this end of the country it frees up Jackson, Gregor and some other youngsters TBA for a run at the Glasgow ten shirt. Interesting, although unconfirmed…

BBC Article

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/welsh/8426303.stmBBC Article

Hoggy Out, Rennie In

Busy week this one! Scottish Rugby is like buses – it makes a mess of Edinburgh city centre.

The SRU have announced that they are withdrawing from bidding for the 2013 IRB Sevens World Cup (potentially the last before it goes Olympic) due to (yet again) a lack of broadcaster interest. And Ally Hogg is to have surgery on a hip that is giving him gyp (see what I did there?) and has possibly been a factor in his form this season not being as good as last – when he played every game of the season for Edinburgh plus two sevens tournaments. On the good news side though, 23 year old openside Ross Rennie completes his comeback from injury into an Edinburgh squad alongside Roddy Grant and Alan Macdonald. Suffice to say, I think we’ve seen the last of Hoggy being shuffled to 7 as he used to be. Although with Dave Callam also almost back Ally might not find the back row slots just opening up for him when he does return, estimated to be sometime towards season’s end.

Compatibility Issues for Euan Murray

Rumours are circulating that Euan Murray may be set to confirm a new-found unwillingness to play his rugby on a Sunday, which would rule him out of selection for the tournament opener against. In the past he has been uneasy on the matter or injury has ruled him out, but both Saints and the man himself (that’s Murray, not God) are so far unwilling to comment on the matter. While Murray is undoubtedly one of the top props in the world, this puts Andy Robinson in a bit of predicament going in to his first Six Nations in charge of Scotland. Can he pick someone else (Moray Low, Geoff Cross) without them feeling they are only a place-holder until there is a game on the right day for Murray? You have to hope that anyone who is put in for that match against France will remain there throughout the tournament if they play well enough. But then again Murray does give us an edge in the scrums. Or will Robbo put the foot down and leave him out altogether a la Simon Taylor? Robbo vs God, it’s an interesting battle. Still, at least those folk who rail against Six Nations games at any time other than 3pm on a Saturday can claim him for their side.

There is an old interview done pre-last Six Nations where Murray talks a fair bit about his faith on the Scotsman site that also offers an amusing (in hindsight) Six Nations preview and even some measured debate in the comments.

UPDATE: this has now been confirmed, Murray will indeed be unavailable for selection for the opener vs France on Sunday 7th Feb.

Who’s Carrying the Ball?

Edinburgh got a well deserved if unspectacular win at home to Munster on Friday while Glasgow laboured in the second half but eventually secured the expected four-try bonus point against Connacht, putting the Scottish teams at third and fourth in the league table. Sean Lineen has been asserting everywhere he can that Thom Evans is “back”, and with two tries (including a strong tackle-busting effort off his favourite inside ball move) who can argue?

Next weekend before a break going into the Autumn Internationals and Andy Robinson’s all important first match with Fiji, Edinburgh will try to do what Glasgow have so far failed to ie beat the Dragons (Sun 5pm S4C), while Glasgow go to Swansea to face the star-studded Ospreys (Fri 7pm BBCw) I just hope Thom Evans and Nikki Walker don’t knock so many bells out of each other that they can’t play for Scotland. It gives me  a week to think of the team I’d pick as well. I’m still not sure about the back row though. Having watched “Gloucester Scottish” play pretty much like an actual Scottish team (inept) at the weekend, two of the better players were actually Stroker and Scott Lawson (who can at least throw straight and was industrious about the park). Lots of good hits and work at the breakdown but Stroker is not really a big ball carrier though and neither is Barclay, which puts a lot of pressure on your Number 8… Big Nathan and the backs can’t do all the go-forward… On a side note, I fear an anti-Scottish backlash at Kingsholm if Redpath can’t turn the results around soon. Which would be a shame as moves south have been the making of Strokosch and Rory Lawson, and Redpath at least at assistant coaching level.

Next week’s matches could be key, especially if Max Evans continues his rapid return from injury. With Robbo’s assertion that Morrison is inked in at 12 that leaves Cairns, De Luca and Grove along with Evans if form merits it (looks good so far) competing for the 13 shirt and probably a bench spot. My current thinking would be Cairns – who stepped the normally rock solid De Villiers on Friday, although I wouldn’t pick him just for that – with Evans or De Luca on the bench but who knows what next week will show?

Quelle différence?

Stade Francais 31-7 Edinburgh
Glasgow 18-22 Biarritz

Ugh. Edinburgh flatter to deceive (get hammered) and Glasgow come close but fail to squeeze out the result they definitely deserved. So far, so Scottish teams in the Heineken Cup. I thought there were a few positives to be taken from the weekends defeats though.

Johnnie Beattie finally took it to the next level with a great performance level that if maintained could and should see him challenge Hoggy and Simon Taylor for the Scotland No 8 shirt. Won’t matter to Jonathan Davies who can’t tell the difference.

Thom Evans is rediscovering form with every game and was a palpable threat whenever he had the ball. He just lacks the opportunities in the right spaces without his brother inside him, but Dave McCall is also getting up to speed with each game and building on his solid defence. In the Glasgow backline, Colin Gregor continues to be a hive of activity with a wee bit of flair and Rob Dewey looked a little more at home at centre than his recent home on the wing. Still, they weren’t quite able to put it together in the midfield when needed in order to win the game.

Dan Parks is at least doing what he does very well – kick the ball around Firhill on a bit of invisble string. But he still made two silly choices when the run – and scoring opportunity – was clearly on. With the Glasgow backs’ handling skills and pace, such negligence borders on the criminal. Parks can run the backline very well but it seems his instinct is still to kick. What price Ruaridh Jackson or even Colin Gregor marshalling the onslaught on Biarritz’s try line that often went unrewarded?

Glasgow’s front row is developing into a powerful scrummaging unit, and the props are both under 24 so well off propping “peak”. Still (as with Edinburgh) the lineout was fairly abysmal and led to the slightly iffy try that in the end decided the match. With Ford and Hall both having dreadful days at the lineout, who does Robbo turn to for the Scotland No 2 shirt? (Although some of the “not straight” decisions were a mile straighter than the ones allowed regularly in the scrum. However, the Feeding At  The Scrum and Lineout Equality Group (aka FATSLEG) is yet to be convened and start its world-conquering grass-roots petition, so that will have to wait – watch this space!). Glasgow are definitely gettting there, and so to Edinburgh…

Mossy looks in good form, his work on sprinting has paid off and he seems to have developed a yard of pace to go with his eye for a wee gap – he should be back at 15 on merit. Cairns looks good but rarely saw the ball. If Houston is injured, I still reckon Cairns should be playing 12 and De Luca 13. Regardless, there was some slack midfield tackling that gave Stade an unassailable lead far too early on, and Scottish teams always struggle trying to force the game.

Umm, that’s about it for Edinburgh. Okay so they won the second half 7-3 with a well taken try but by then Stade’s foot was so far off the gas that they resembled someone dropping a bucket of paint over a traffic jam (slowly) rather than the confident riot of colour and pace from the first half. Roddy Grant looks fully at home in the 15s game, and is it just me or were Edinburgh much better when Hogg was captain? Perhaps it was just poorer opposition early on in the season. Far too many handling errors, no lineout control and lack of quick ball for/from Blair basically put the dampeners on Edinburgh’s match. At least it is a game out of the way that they would not perhaps realistically have targeted as a “Win” in their battle to escape the pool, but one wonders if it will prove a damaging blow to the confidence of a team that we felt had moved forward so much under Andy Robinson.

UPDATE: Rob Dewey seems to have broken his ankle, keeping him out well past the Autumn Internationals. DTH Van Der Merwe has also broken a bone in his hand.

Heineken Cup Preview

So Europe’s finest club competition shuffles into view, unloads its wagon, sends the freaks round the back to get the candy floss machine running and erects a big top suitable for showcasing some of the finest club rugby teams known to man, and er, our lot. Here are the games on this weekend, sadly unless you have Sky you are probably screwed for watching them (most are on Sky Sports unless indicated otherwise). Several are mouthwatering:

Castres vs Toulon (Amlin Challenge Cup) Fri 5.30 – only one reason this is on the telly, and his name is Jonny. Might get a squizz at Rory Lamont in action though. At least, that’s what you think until you look at the team sheet and find that the only names you recognise are Tom May and Phil Christophers (who has been at Castres since Goggsy was). Unlucky Jonny watchers, there’s little here to get you back from the pub/work early.

Ulster vs Bath Fri 7.30pm – Ulster should be strong enough to win this one but it might help Edinburgh if Bath can nick a result at Fortress Ravenhill. Danielli is on the bench, and it’s not on the telly.

Leinster vs London Irish Fri 8pm – Could be the game of the weekend, which would leave the weekend downhill from here. Leinster’s Lions seem to have found form where their Welsh counterparts have struggled, while the non-Irish Irish are playing sparkling rugby without a host of stars. Blarney begorrah and bejesus will be in full attendance. Big Nathan starts at 5 for Leinster.

Gloucester vs Dragons Fri 8pm – if you have Sky but not Sky Sports you might catch this on S4C, Sky Sports have it on Red Button though so whether there is an English commentary is open to debate. Practically a local derby, it should see Gloucester win but given their form of late who knows? Would a Dragons win help Glasgow in the group? Dicko, the two Lawsons and the big Stroker all start for Redpath’s men.

Cardiff vs Harlequins Sat 1.35pm – Battle of the slow starters, but if they live up to last season’s play it could be so much better. Little Scottish interest but doesn’t mean it won’t be work a watch. But wouldn’t you rather watch…

Stade Francais vs Edinburgh Sat 1.35pm (2.35pm local) – What to say? Things were looking pretty good up until the Ospreys last week. But Moffat’s put the proper team back together and if they can find some of their early season spark against a Stade side who have been struggling until recently then Edinburgh could sneak a home result. Home field advantage with the accompanying razmatazz could be irresistable though. Several of the guys who have impressed so far – Cairns, Grant, Houston, Robertson have a real opportunity to stake a place for caps here. No sign of a Stade team yet so Hugo may yet make an appearance. Red Button on Sky for this one.

Edinburgh: Chris Paterson, Mark Robertson, Ben Cairns, John Houston, Tim Visser, Phil Godman, Mike Blair (capt), Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Craig Hamilton, Scott MacLeod, Alan MacDonald, Roddy Grant, Allister Hogg. Replacements: Andrew Kelly, Kyle Traynor, Ryan Grant, Steven Turnbull, Scott Newlands, Greig Laidlaw, Nick De Luca, Steve Jones.

UPDATE: Hugo is indeed starting at 15 against his former teammates.

Scarlets vs Brive Sat 3pm – Chance for Sean Lamont to continue his try scoring form. Not on telly anywhere.

ASM Clermont Auvergne vs Viadana Sat 3pm – Little known Scot Garry Law appears at full back for Viadana while big Jason White could be in the as yet unannounced team. Not on TV.

Glasgow vs Biarritz OPB Sat 3.45pm – having (apart from a blip at the Dragons) mostly maintained the consistency that often eludes them, Glasgow have a real chance to lay down an early marker provided the team have shaken off the big that has dogged Chris Cusiter and Kelly Brown in particular. Jon Welsh continues to impress although Rob Dewey needs to find a bit more spark to convince us he can play at wing. Talk coming out of the camp is good, and as usual it depends if the French come to play or not. Biarritz should be pool favourites, so a win would send a message out to the other teams, both of whom should be beatable. Hard to tell who a kicking fest would favour, Parks or the French who should have siege gun Traille on side, but it could turn out to be another one of those tight games that see Parks turn from liability into lifeline.

Glasgow Warriors: Bernardo Stortoni, Rob Dewey, Dave McCall, Graeme Morrison, Thom Evans, Dan Parks, Chris Cusiter, Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Tim Barker, Alastair Kellock (capt), Richie Vernon, John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements:Fergus Thomson, Ed Kalman, Kevin Tkachuk, Dan Turner, Kelly Brown, Hefin O’Hare, Colin Gregor, DTH van der Merwe.

Northampton vs Munster Sat 6pm – another of those “could be a classic” matches so often thrown up by this tournament. No Euan Murray yet and no Tom Smith now either, but the ever reliable Scott Gray continues to add to Robbo’s back row riches.

Leicester vs Ospreys Sun 1245pm – And another one. Nikki Walker continues a rich vein of form and the Ospreys are starting to spark in a backline that should be a match for any team, even the Tigers at Welford Road. If they don’t fire though, expect Leicester to win, ugly or otherwise.

Toulose vs Sale Sharks Sun 3pm (4pm local) – Should be a comfortable win for Toulose, but could out of form Sale cap the weekend with an upset?

Phew. I won’t be doing that every Friday. Enjoy the weekend!