Category: Player Watch

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

Edinburgh Back In Fourth As Glasgow Fail to Ignite

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.

Review and Preview

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.

Young Props Up Edinburgh Forwards

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In other transfer news, Scotland A Tighthead (and recently released from Gloucester) prop David Young has signed for Edinburgh, who lost Gavin Kerr to Sale for next season. Good to see young talent coming home, Young should add to the mix nicely with Geoff Cross, Kyle Traynor and of course Chunk when he returns from injury. Although part of a decent contingent of Scots at Gloucester such as wee Rory, big Stroker and medium Ali Dickinson, Young was the only one of them released during the recent cull that saw some higher profile talent (Ryan Lamb, Anthony Allen) let go.

BBC Story

Dai Was Monty’s Double

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It seems that Sean Lamont may be bound not for Brive, but for Parc Y Scarlets with a move to Llanelli. Injury hit Sean (but who is currently out of the Saints team on form) may yet be playing Magners League rugby next year. There’s nothing official on the Scarlets website yet so it may be another one of those rumours, in which case apologies for spreading it further.

Scotsman | Beeb

Would there have been room for him at either Edinburgh or Glasgow? Unlikely at Glasgow with the Evans boys, Fa-atau and Rob Dewey’s rumoured impending transformation into a winger. While at Edinburgh you have Malkovich Webster and Mossy who immediately spring to mind –  so there is an argument he could fit in there  – but not forgetting the likes of Turnbull, Reid, Houston and Thompson all pushing through and competing for back three spots. Still it means we’ll see more of Sean on BBC Wales’ coverage…

Hugo Goes to France and Monty Might Not

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

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

Geech To Take His Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerr for Sale

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

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

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

Enjoy your weekend!

Oops He Did it Again, and Cheerio Tom

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

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

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

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

Is there hope for Chris Cusiter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huuuuuuggoooooing?

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

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

It Really Is Rob Dewey Time

“Back” when Scotland and Edinburgh were one dimensional in attack and never got the ball past 12, at least you could count on Rob Dewey. When within 10 metres of the line, it would be “Rob Dewey time”. Chuck him the ball and let him have a batter – at close range he was trick to stop and you stood a good chance of crossing the line. Soon fame and injury beckoned at Ulster, and by then Scotland’s opponents had him well marshalled. Briefly last year he appeared in the Churchill Cup A Team looking almost a different player, displaying the “worrying” trait of varying his lines of running and offloading, with fairly decent results.

With Scotland having a few problems getting the ball past the number 12 shirt at times on Saturday (so much so that BBC pundit and former Ireland centre Rob Henderson had worked out most of Scotland’s Morrison-centric game plan by half time), could now be the time to announce Rob Dewey’s return to Scotland to team up with former central-belt foes the Glasgow Warriors? Yes it could. Having been shunted into a club team by loveable Aussie Matt Williams, Dewey is ready to return to this fair country and stake his claim in a Glasgow back line that next year will already have the likes of Chris Cusiter, Mark McMillan, Ruaridh Jackson, Andy Henderson, Graeme Morrison and of course both Evans brothers competing for places. Exciting times ahead for Sean Lineen’s Glasgow. If you were him you’d want to stick around there for a while rather than get involved with the muck higher up…

Speaking of which, after a considerable session in the Irish-mobbed Roseburn bar on Saturday, your fearless Scottish Rugby Blog correspondents witnessed the second half debacle at Murrayfield first hand. Hopefully Al will be here with his near-patented Big Rant later. Watch out, Frank.

Big Nathan Hits the Comeback Trail For Realz

Welcome news ahead of this weekend that Big Nathan, Bigger Jim and even Big Rory have returned to training with the Scotland squad this week. While Hamilton would have been expected to roll in pretty soon, Lamont was not scheduled to return till April so that’s quite the surprise. It’s unlikely that he’s at full fitness just yet after his ankle injury, but good to have him back. With a lot of focus on the full-back battle between Southwell and Paterson, let’s not forget Rory is our hope for the future in that position, provided he can convince Hadden it’s where he belongs. Sale will be glad to have him back too as they lose players left, right and (inside) centre.

As for “former liability but now we love him” Nathan Hines, great news he’s back a week earlier than predicted. But then he did try and pick himself for France, just before he had knee surgery so he might be bringing the crazy. If he can prove his fitness this week, might we see him worthy of a spot on the bench? Of course it does bring up the whole argument about picking players on reputation or form again, but given the level of inconsistency in selection so far who knows. I hope he gets a chance to show his stuff in the next few weeks, with many touting him as a possible Lion. Interesting that everyone seems to have problems with kiwi Riki “Parachute” Flutey as a Lion (I would too, to be honest, given he’s just qualified for England and is now off to France) but no-one baulks at the big man from Wagga Wagga. Perhaps because he has shown no shortage of fiery commitment in his years for Scotland.

In the absence of Chunk these boys offer us a bit more ballast in the scrum. Would it be too much to ask for a team with Kellock, Hamilton and Hines on the bench that offers Scotland a full complement of second rows for the first time this tournament?

Weekend Round Up

Losing weekend for our pro-teams which was hardly inspiring, but it’s not all doom and gloom.

Glasgow were beaten by a strong Ulster team with Simon Danielli having a hand in both tries. Glasgow will however have been buoyed by the news that the Evans brothers Thom and Max are to stay at Glasgow until after RWC 2011, despite being courted by English and French clubs.

Edinburgh lost to Scott MacLeod’s old team Llanelli in a pretty dire game that was there for the taking. MacLeod had a reasonable 60 minutes before being warmly applauded from the pitch. In the battle of the full-backs, Mossy was the resounding winner simply by virtue of the fact he ran more than he kicked and when he did kick it wasn’t rubbish. Sorry Hugo, but you screwed the pooch there. Whether or not Southwell was hampered by a different set of tactics in the first half is open to debate but there was some pretty dire ping-pong and Hugo and Blair Jr did not show themselves in the best light. Worryingly, Cairns and De Luca also did not seem able to string much together in the centre although De Luca forced himself into the match as it went on. Apart from Paterson and perhaps Malkovich Webster, no-one really stepped up to say “Hoy Frank, I should be in the team.” Edinburgh were still in it at the end, and a lack of passion/commitment/skill in the first half prevented them from nicking the away result they probably deserved on the basis of the second.

Scott Gray, Sean Lamont and Euan Murray all played for Northampton in their win over Worcester, with Gray picking up both a try and a yellow card. Al Strokosch got on for the last 20 in Gloucester‘s loss to Leicester while Rory Lawson picked up a yellow card too. And Big Jason White had a pretty good game for Sale in their brilliant match with Newcastle which saw former Borders men Steve Bates and Alan Tait’s resurgent Falcons team eke out a win. That game also illustrated what a team can do with a solid scrum platform led by a class tighthead, and while our Euan is no Carl Hayman, he’s still vital to Scotland’s set piece efforts. After doing some digging online it looks like Chris Cusiter and Simon Taylor were also rested by their French teams at the weekend.

Also major plaudits should go to Ayr, who secured their first Premiership Division 1 title in 112 years of trying at the weekend, and the Scotland Sevens Squad who managed to see off Australia in final of the Plate (middle level runners up competition). The Dubai World Cup event also saw a number of upsets including Kenya beating Fiji, and (eventual winners) Wales reaching the main final against Argentina, between them having seen off New Zealand and South Africa. Wales, World Cup Winners eh?