Category: Player Watch

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

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!

Singing In The Rain

Well done to Edinburgh for a good result away from home facing down an admittedly poor Cardiff team and coping with the usual performance from G. Clancy esq. Did I say Edinburgh? Oh, I meant Glasgow. Telling the difference between the Scottish pro teams must be getting hard for poor old BBC Wales, who made several references to John Beattie, Firhill, and playing Biarritz next week during the coverage of Edinburgh’s pisspoor display against the Ospreys. Granted, Beattie (junior, I can only imagine) and Ally Hogg may share a hairdresser and Edinburgh have “Aberdeen” on their shirts to confuse matters further, but it’s pretty commentary standards (never mind the bias).  This gave me something to get excited about and shout at the telly for (not really the TV’s fault I suppose), given I was long past the point of shouting at Edinburgh’s general ineptitude.

Roddy Grant looked sharper at the breakdown than pretty much the whole team put together, and Ospreys turned Edinburgh over almost at will. A few chances went begging but inability to (or lack of desire to) keep ball proved pretty foolish against an international class (and in many places Lions/world class) backline who promptly cut them to shreds. Good to see Nikki Walker looking sharp though. Godman kicked perfectly from tee so Mossy was not missed in that regard, but as one of the chaps pointed out on the BBC boards, his marshalling of the defensive line was sorely absent. Stand in full back and new signing Steve Jones didn’t cover himself in glory, shall we say, but he should not be the scapegoat.

Meanwhile new Glasgow full back Peter Horne got one kick of the ball on Saturday and sclaffed it into touch, but as it was to end the match I can’t really complain. Still, it’s a good sign for a youngster that he looked thoroughly disappointed in himself even for something that had no bearing on the game. The match had long since been won by the combined work of Colin Gregor and Thom Evans behind a sturdy pack effort and this time Glasgow did not surrender their half time lead. Huzzahs all round for pseudo-Highlander Moray Low’s boot up field that eventually led to Johnnie Beattie’s try (see Jonathan, he was playing for Glasgow). With Cusiter undoubtedly the best 9 Glasgow have, perhaps they should find somewhere else to bring Gregor’s skills into play on a more regular basis – 10 or 15 perhaps?

Big Nathan looks like he would have had fun during the Leinster 30-0 demolition of Munster that brought several tries, a bit of controversy and no doubt plenty of niggle. A much better range of highlights from STV this week too – they are learning a game of rugby is not just the penalty offences that lead to points and I reckon it’s getting better.

Next weekend – Heineken Cup!

Edinburgh Still Top

Congrats to Edinburgh who scraped a win at Ulster over the weekend. Things are looking good if they can still nick an away victory even whilst under the kosh and in front of a partisan crowd. Mossy seems to have kicked well and Mark Robertson continues to look sharp. Good also to see a World Class drop goal from Phil, I hope he’s been practicing as it is one thing (among many) we could use for Scotland. As long as he doesn’t start trying from inside his own half ala Hernandez or Franc Steyn.

Glasgow were beaten by their bogey team the Dragons, while in other more surprising news perennial underachievers Connacht beat Cardiff who now find themselves draped over the bottom of the league table.

Catch the highlights show here (UK only).

Meanwhile in the absence of someone stepping forward to fill the role of Top 14 correspondent, I did a bit of digging on Eurosport site and managed to find that Rory Lamont played at the weekend (at fullback) for Toulon in their defeat of Toulose. Jonny is back to his best, according to Al’s nemesis Freddie Michalak. Speaking of Al, happy birthday for tomorrow big man! While digging I couldn’t see any sign of Hugo at Stade but that is less than surprising given the depth of their squad and recent coaching turnaround. Haskell seems to have been in Stade’s back row while Simon Taylor was MIA (as was Big Jason for Clermont), and Andy Henderson stayed on the bench for Montauban.

I was hoping to catch the Leinster game this week as I will be down in the big smoke and wanted to see if Edinburgh can make it four in a row and stay atop the table, but alas stupid Setanta scheduling has the kickoff at 630pm which clashes with an important social engagement. Whatever happened to 3pm on a Saturday?

Weekend Round Up

So this weekend we had both Edinburgh and Glasgow beating top clubs (if not their top teams) and the arrival of a new TV programme. Marvellous!

First up were Edinburgh who took Cardiff to the cleaners in the first half through some solid forward play from the relatively under-rated talents of Hoggy, Roddy Grant and Alan MacDonald in a bizarro South African style double open-side back row that seemed to go nicely. Edinburgh had fairly comprehensive control of the match save for a ridiculous non-try that put Cardiff back in the match. Turns out the touch judge may have been Welsh (hence why he was looking at the ball grounding, not Czekaj’s foot in touch) so a diatribe against Irish referees may have to wait till Al manages to climb the steps at SRBlog Towers once again… Cardiff came fairly storming back in the second half, but a couple of duff Mossy kicks kept them in a game they barely should have got a bonus point from save for an excellent Alfie try (highlights here on the BBC). Next up they face Connaught, and if they can control the pace of the game again they should be looking for five points. The offloading ALL the time may have to be curbed a bit though…it looks nice but Cardiff soon worked out where to stand to intercept them!
High points: Mossy try from a cross field kick, Roddy Grant, Mark Robertson, Greg Laidlaw’s impressive diving/sliding catch, hanging on for the victory.
Low points: Fitzgibbon not going upstairs for a “try” that even Jonathan Davies said wasn’t legit.

Glasgow of course won also, but that one wasn’t on the telly so we had to wait till STV’s new Sunday night highlight’s show arrived to catch some of the action. Fronted by Andy Nicol and Scott Hastings, the show gave us a decent amount of action and possibly a bit too much chat. Nice to have a round-up of the weekend club results too. Some of the editing of the footage was a bit wonky – penalty offences don’t necessarily count as “highlights” but it was good to see something on our TVs at last! Ditch the chat about the wider game – we can get that on the Rugby Club and let’s keep the focus Scottish and have a few minutes more action, though the Lions chat was interesting. Maybe switch Scott and Andy round, Hastings is a better presenter and Nicol pundit. Much improved on STV’s last effort though.

Up at Firhill, Glasgow were putting Munster into tricky situations thanks it seems to their youthful front row and some placekicking from Parks. Reports were of Graeme Morrison’s barnstorming runs, but on the TV highlights I only saw one of these that led to Jackson’s try and sadly his injury also. Damn shame that, I think we were all looking forward to seeing what Jackson could do this season so here’s to a speedy recovery. I had never heard of Jon Welsh before last week but I suspect we will hear a lot of him this season, Parks apparently said it was the best scrum platform he had ever played behind. Cusiter seemed to show up everywhere too so he’s looking like the excellent signing we all thought he’d be. Anyone actually at the game see how Peter Murchie went in the centre? Glasgow host Sean Lamont’s Scarlets next weekend which I think is on S4C.

Speaking of which, Lamont scored the opening try and looked strong in defence in the Scarlets’ victory over Leinster. Northampton Saints had only Scott Gray on the bench – with (unbanned and uninjured) Best, Wilson and Dowson in the back row I think he might not have quite as many chances to catch Andy Robinson’s eye as he did Hadden’s last season. On the losing end of that game, Worcester’s Alex Grove had few chances to shine but did not badly. Gloucester’s new Scottish coach Bryan Redpath got off to a good start as well, fielding last season’s fringe man Scott Lawson as his starting hooker who repayed him with a solid performance. Rory Lawson and the big Stroker were reliable as usual. No word on the French contingent – anyone with ESPN want to join in?

Onwards and upwards, Scottish Rugby folk!

STV to Screen Scottish Magners Games?

As usual, I trot back on to the pitch with a whimper rather than a bang.

I had planned a grandiose piece to open the new season about how this was the summer that rugby found its soul (on the marvellous but ultimately non-victorious Lions tour) then lost it again (gouging) and again (armbands) and again (fake blood), and how this was to be an important season for us all where rugby should step up to the plate and try and reclaim some of its honour. About the new hopes we have for Scotland under Andy Robinson, about whether Edinburgh and Glasgow can continue to / compete and how the Magners League will fare with playoffs at the sharp end of the season. I was going to call it “What I Learnt on My Summer Holidays” and everything – all without using anything “-gate”. But as usual, time is my enemy and some news more worthy of your attention has appeared. Like some sort of tubby West Ham fan taking off his pie-stained t-shirt and jumping a barricade in order to do a one-man conga round a pitch similarly crowded with idiots, it has hurdled into the lead position for “first new post in ages”. Such tidbits will keep appearing in the press and online, demanding an airing on this platform, until the polemic once so clear in my mind to kick off the season has faded to nought but a distant memory, beaten into submission by harrowing viewings of Scotland’s rugby finest trying to cross a line less than four inches wide.

So I guess: we are back. Welcome to the new rugby season.

Lewis Stuart in The Times is reporting that there may be an announcement this week that STV will show some form of  footage of the missing gaps in the Magners League schedule available to view on TV, namely the Edinburgh and Glasgow matches not BBC Wales/S4C. The report reckons it could be limited to just a highlights package, however that is better than nothing. Look for updates to our Scottish Rugby on TV page as soon as I hear. Hopefully this will be well supported enough that they may be encouraged to show the odd live game – for example the 1872 cup matches. but look what happened with STV’s last foray into rugby. Now that STV have opted out of airing almost all of ITV’s dramas there should be plenty of room in the schedule. What else have they got to show?

The Times also reports that Max Evans and Mike Blair are rushing back to fitness. The article is not online yet so you’ll just have to trust me or rush out and buy a copy.

Edinburgh utility back Calum Macrae has signed with Mike Ruddock’s Worcester Warriors. I would have thought he might have stuck around to try and fight incomer Steven Jones for Mossy’s 15 shirt but perhaps he felt it time for pastures new.

And the SRU have introduced a new “Any Game” voucher which can be bought in advance at £5 off full ticket price – putting the price back to an almost reasonable £15 – that allow you access to (almost) any of your chosen pro-team’s Magners and Heineken Cup matches. Buy them in bulk in advance and turn up to whichever game you want. It sounds like a good plan especially if the weather suddenly turns nasty at 5pm on a Friday, you can save your ticket for the next game rather than going and getting wet sitting by yourself in the West Stand. Details on the SRU website.

Also, I know I said we should never play New Zealand again, ever. Except in the RWC final in 2011. But they have looked pretty inept of late, with their back line firing as well as, well, ours. Tri Nations: pretty dull so far.

News Round Up

Bit of a news digest this week, hope you are enjoying the off season!

Andy Robinson has announced his 44 man Scotland training squad for later in the month including all four Lions, several fresh faced youngsters like Ruaridh Jackson, Alex Grove and Richie Gray, and missing Simon Taylor who has requested not to be involved at this stage. All very mysterious. Nick De Luca has been named, but I think he is carrying an injury so presumably won’t be doing any physical training. Good to see the Rory Lamont Helicopter back and challenging for the full back shirt…

Scotland squad for three-day training camp at St Andrews – Monday 17-Wednesday 19 August:

Backs – Mike Blair, Ben Cairns (both Edinburgh), Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Thom Evans, Max Evans (both Glasgow Warriors), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors), John Houston (Edinburgh), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Lamont (Toulon), Sean Lamont (Scarlets), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Hugo Southwell (Stade Francais), Jim Thompson (Edinburgh), Nikki Walker (Ospreys), Simon Webster (Edinburgh)

Forwards – John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie, Kelly Brown (all Glasgow Warriors), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Richie Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Craig Hamilton, Jim Hamilton (both Edinburgh), Nathan Hines (Leinster), Allister Hogg, Allan Jacobsen (both Edinburgh), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Alan MacDonald, Scott MacLeod (both Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Kyle Traynor (Edinburgh), Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors), Jason White (Clermont Auvergne).

Speaking of Clermont, Glasgow take them on in the Challenge Auvergne mini-tournament tomorrow night, having won their previous game 20-11. Lineen seems to be rotating the squad and blooding plenty of the new signings, but Rob Dewey seems to be in the thick of the action whether at wing or centre.

Glasgow Warriors team to play Clermont Auvergne at the Challenge Auvergne in Issoire, France, on Friday 7 August (kick-off 8pm local time)

Bernardo Stortoni, Rob Dewey, Peter Murchie, Peter Horne, Colin Shaw, Ruaridh Jackson, Mark McMillan, Justin Va’a, Dougie Hall, Hamish Mitchell, Richie Gray, Dan Turner, Calum Forrester, Chris Fusaro (Heriot’s)*, Johnnie Beattie

Not present will be scrum half Sam Pinder, who has announced he is leaving Glasgow for a coaching position in Hong Kong. With Cusiter coming in as clear number one scrum half it was always going to be tricky given McMillan and Gregor are probably ahead of Pinder in the pecking order too…

UPDATE: Glasgow lost 12-0 to a Clermont side featuring Jason White, with the only serious news being that young Richie Gray mentioned above dislocated his elbow and will be out for a few months.

Is Big Nathan The New Rocky?

Elsom that is, not Balboa. After his Wikipedia entry was recently amended to suggest he would be moving to Wales (the Ospreys and the Scarlets simultaneously), it seems that Scottish Lion and general all-round troublemaking loon Nathan Hines is now set to leave French Top 14 Champs Perpignan for Irish province Leinster, where he can team up with fellow Lions BOD, Fitzgerald, Kearney and Heaslip and aim to fill the Australian sized gap left by the return home of Rocky Elsom. Presumably the USAP lot are wound up that he prized a Lions shirt over victory in the championship and have decided to let him go. Could be a valuable signing for Leinster, and should be able to give plenty of insight into the Irish camp come 6 Nations time…

Shame one of the pro-teams couldn’t have snapped him up, but with the likes of beanpole Richie Gray coming through the ranks at Glasgow perhaps youth development is more of a focus these days – hardly a bad thing.

Scotsman Report

It is also being reported that Euan Murray has actually broken his leg on tour in South Africa and will be out for longer than feared, and will possibly not be ready in time for the autumn internationals.

D’Arcy Called Up to Lions

British & Irish Lions Tour Manager, Gerald Davies, and Head Coach Ian McGeechan, today announced that Leinster and Irish centre Gordon D’Arcy has been called into the Lions’ squad for the remainder of the tour.

Commenting on the call up, Ian McGeechan said, “Gordon has been called up due to the fact that we have had a few injury concerns in the backs. While the injuries are being treated by the medical team we felt it prudent that we call up Gordon to provide us with extra cover in midfield.”

“Due to the short nature of this tour we have to be prepared for every eventuality. An extra back at this stage, three matches into the tour, will provide the extra depth to cover the existing injuries plus any further injuries we may encounter.”

With the likes of Keith Earls and Riki Flutey both carrying knocks, Jamie Roberts playing twice and James Hook not having had a run out yet it seems prudent to have more cover at centre. Max Evans must be gutted he picked up an injury when he did.

In other news, Glasgow have signed young (Scottish qualified) centre Peter Murchie from London Welsh.

Mike Blair Dancing Naked….Again

As anyone who can remember the BBC footage from inside Scotland’s 2006 Calcutta Cup winning dressing room will attest to, Mikey Blair loves to do little dances with as few clothes on as possible. Seems he goes by the nickname Blade – a new one for the Rugby nicknames page – and has been at it again, judging by Tommy Bowe’s Lions Blog:

Dancing Naked and Beers the Way Forward

Monty Steps In to Sevens Squad

After punching above their weight in reaching the semi final of the IRB World Sevens at Twickers last week, the Scotland Sevens squad move on to Murrayfield this week hoping for a repeat of the good performance on home turf. Having watched Scotland throw away a winnable match against Kenya I went out thinking “oh well, same old same old” only to return and find they had beaten Fiji and humped the USA setting up a quarter against Portugal. They won through that (just) to face a semi with Auld Enemies England. The game was probably there for the winning at points, had Thom Evans not been ruled out, but in the end England were too strong – they went on to win the competition.

So with Thom Evans out with a foot problem, for this weekend’s squad coach Stephen Gemmell has called in new Scarlets man Sean Lamont, who represents a different sort of winger but who will hopefully be more than up to the challenge. Ally “played every game this season and still volunteering for Sevens” Hogg and Roddy “Ginger Warrior” Grant give them a good shout at the breakdown (such as it is in Sevens) so hopefully we can see some good results at Murrayfield. First group game up is a chance for revenge against England. Tickets for both days still available, naturally. And for those of you outwith spitting distance of Edinburgh, full coverage is on Sky apart from when the Lions are on.

In other Murrayfield news, Edinburgh have signed Scotland A, ex Borders and Newcastle full back and sometime fly-half Steve Jones to swell their ranks with the departure of Hugo to France. Robbo has also signed Dutch wing Tim Visser from the Falcons, his first non-Scottish signing of the season.

Meanwhile reports of team spirit being forged in South Africa seem positive, with Donnacha O’C saying it already feels like a club side. Let’s hope they don’t play like one. Big Nathan has been put in charge of rooming arrangements – good move putting Ross Ford with Paul O Connell. When is Nathan going to be roomed with O’Gara? And Warren Gatland has announced his intention not to publically slag anyone off (the Irish?) this time out. First game up on Saturday against the Royal XV, team announcement on Thursday around 2. Anyone getting excited yet?

PS If there are any Scottish fans going out to SA on tour, please get in touch (details on About Us page) – we’d love for you to do some reporting either out there or when you get back.

UPDATE: It is actually possible to watch all the Sevens on Saturday, Sky is just channel hopping it. So you can still record Scotland’s glory.

Magners Dream Team Scot Free

Here is the Magners League Dream Team as officially announced. Surprisingly despite Thom Evans being the top try scorer in the league and Edinburgh finishing second, there is no Scottish representation in the team. Still, they were probably all drinking cider when they made the list, weren’t they?

The Magners League Dream Team 2008/09

1. Gethin Jenkins – Cardiff Blues
2. Jerry Flannery – Munster
3. Adam Jones – Ospreys
4. Paul O’Connell – Munster
5. Alun Wyn Jones – Ospreys
6. Rocky Elsom – Leinster
7. Martyn Williams – Cardiff Blues
8. Jamie Heaslip – Leinster
9. Mike Phillips – Ospreys
10. Ronan O’Gara – Munster
11. Leigh Halfpenny – Cardiff Blues
12. Lifeimi Mafi – Munster
13. Brian O’Driscoll – Leinster
14. Tommy Bowe – Ospreys
15. Lee Byrne – Ospreys

In other news:

Head coach Matt “Silver Fox” Williams has parted company with Irish province Ulster to return home to Australia. Pity he’s just a wee bit too late to apply for the job of Scotland Coach.

Chris Paterson has been voted the 2008-9 Player of the Season by Scotland Rugby Supporters Club following the Scottish Rugby Awards dinner at Murrayfield, with new Edinburgh signing Roddy Grant winning Sevens player of the year. No sign of their Magners Player of the season Max Evans in the dream team above either.

Edinburgh beat Cardiff to finish Second

Cardiff 14 – 36 Edinburgh

Edinburgh put together a solid performance in defence coupled with some excellent counter-attacking rugby to snatch a record second place finish in the Magners League with an away victory in the last match to be played at Cardiff Arms Park. A few decisions from Irish ref Simon McDowell that were controversial to the home crowd but on the face of it probably correct helped too – notably a penalty try and sin-binning for the deliberate knock down of a pass to Godman about 2 metres from the line. That gave Edinburgh the space they needed to keep the scoreboard operator awake and turn the match in their favour. After a lot of loose play, several knock-ons and turnovers by both sides in the first half, this period proved decisive. It was also great to see a Scottish side capitalising on opposition mistakes with a degree of ruthlessness often absent from the national side.

Ally Hogg put in a captain’s performance at the breakdown alongside youngster Roddy Grant and was turning over ball almost at will against a Cardiff side shorn of much of its international talent. Ross Ford and Geoff Cross both had good games too, although Ford missed the odd lineout throw. Phil Godman marshalled his backs well on the counter in a loose game that suited Webster’s and Mossy’s style, although he didn’t always get the best service from scrum half Laidlaw in crunch situations. Nick De Luca popped up everywhere in  midfield, putting in some good defensive work and grabbing the interception try that put the result beyond doubt – regardless of the ability Cardiff have to conjure late points that scared Leicester so.

To be fair it was mostly a second string that faced Edinburgh here, the same sorts of second strings that the bigger clubs can afford to field. Such second strings allowed the results to go Edinburgh’s way earlier in the weekend (Ospreys losing to Munster and Leinster losing to the Dragons), and is probably a sign that at least until the play-off system next season Heineken Cup Rugby is still the bigger prize for the larger clubs. Edinburgh would have been guaranteed a play-off spot anyway if the system had been in place this year – probably facing Munster or Leinster if the usual 1 v 4, 2 v  3 model is followed.

At the end of the match, as Hugo Southwell came on for his last appearance in an Edinburgh shirt, the heavens above Cardiff opened as if to signal their displeasure not to see a home victory, but it was to be Edinburgh and Andy Robinson’s day. As the Blues and their fans prepared to mark the obsolescence of one of Rugby’s old icons in the shape of the Arms Park and celebrate their current successes past and present at season’s end, the match was largely forgotten by the locals in a matter of minutes. For Edinburgh though, the last trip home from Cardiff Arms Park will be a memorable, very happy one.