Category: Player Watch

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

Can We Beat The All Blacks?

After the widely derided World Cup ‘B’ Team played against New Zealand on their last visit to Murrayfield, it will be interesting to test our full XV against the might All Blacks. Your fearless Scottish Rugby Blog correspondent will be in attendance. But can we (unlike Scubbsy) man up, and get a result?

Yes We Can:

  • They have lost a few first choice players. Either to the Northern Hemisphere (Chris Jack, Carl Hayman, Luke McAllister et al) and to injury (Andrew Hore). The frightening strength in depth of the pre-World Cup era in depth seems to be absent. After another choke in the World Cup, Kiwi support for Graeme Henry is balanced on a knife edge and depends only, you feel, on the results they get. For the first time, the All Blacks seem almost fallible.
  • We get them first. They will be fresh in the country, getting used to the crappy weather we have made our national speciality. They definitely looked a little rusty against Australia. The big one for them is in four weeks against England. We’re just a warm up. Regardless of what they might say, they won’t be targeting this as a tough match. Let’s hope we can catch them off guard with a decent performance before they gel too well. Our players are mostly match sharp and some (Murray, Barclay, Taylor, Blair, Rory Lamont, Thom Evans) are in pretty good – even great – form.
  • The All Black set piece was looking a little ropey against the Aussies. If Euan Murray can continue his current form perhaps he can reverse the current tales of front row woe that we are used to. Hadden’s choice of second row might of course affect our ability in this area too. My choice would be MacLeod and Taylor, but that is looking less likely. If we can get parity and hold our defence, we have a chance. A slim one, but a chance.
  • Wayne Barnes is the referee. While one hopes that he is not anxious to make amends to the nation of the Long White Cloud for allowing that forward pass, he has been solid all season and is one of the referees who is definitely upholding the new protocols regarding the breakdown. We’ve been playing under them all season. The Kiwis have only had the ANZ Cup and one Bledisloe Cup test to get used to the much stricter refereeing of that area. In particular, flopping over the ball to protect it is an area that could see Richie McCaw either deliver a masterclass (from which John Barclay will learn much) or be penalised off the park.

No We Can’t:

  • It’s the All Blacks, for pete’s sakes. We’ve never beaten them. Ever. Played 27, lost 25, drawn 2. The last draw was in 1983. We haven’t bothered going there on a summer tour since 2000. It’s no fun getting whipped on your summer holiday.
  • The frightening strength in depth only seems to be absent because we haven’t heard of any of them this side of the world. Let’s face it, Stephen Donald would walk into the Scotland XV. He even kicks a bit like Parko. Corey Jane may sound like a girl’s name, but as Al pointed out once, so does Nikki Walker. Whichever back three they play it will be talented, very fast and there on merit. Can we say the same?
  • We’ll probably play Dan Parks. You don’t have to play a kicking game under the new ELVs, but it does seem to happen a fair bit. Ergo Hadden may feel he must play Parks. It’s the fashion. Nevermind the sense that Mike Brewer talks about wanting to score tries. We’ll probably also play some other guys short of match practice or form  (White, Webster, Paterson) ahead of less experienced, in-form players.
  • Scotland have only had a few days to work together. Some of our likely inclusions (Strokosch, Rory Lamont) have been disruptively recalled to their clubs this weekend. Lamont was not picked for Sale yesterday, so he didn’t really need to go. It doesn’t help.
  • Our strength in depth is also frightening, in a different sense. Possible Kiwi frailties in the centre could be countered if we had a few more experienced operators in that area. If he’s given a chance, this test series could be the making of Ben Cairns, not to mention Nick De Luca. These matches would be ideal for giving these guys and Max Evans chance to get experience at test level. But because of the pressure for World Cup seedings (is it really going to happen?) Hadden may opt for the conservative route. Our one area of genuine depth, the back row – is the area where they have Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo.

In short, Scotland will have to play the game of their lives simply to stay in contention. Putting aside the World Cup draw (even as a third seed, we could still end up with a group involving say, Argentina and Ireland which wouldn’t be that scary) there’s nothing to lose, and with a little luck, a little slice of history to gain.

Thank goodness for strength in depth

Bad news for Scotland’s squad preparations for the “autumn” (it’s already winter here in the north) internationals came yesterday with announcements that scrum halves Chris Cusiter (thumb), Rory Lawson (ribs) and centre Graeme Morrison would all be unavailable. Luckily Mark McMillan is able to step into the breach – he’s been in form for Glasgow, and it’s good to have a Heineken Cup winner and former U21 captain to call on. It’s a big blow for Cusiter, who always seems like he gets injured just as he is hitting form. Nikki Walker will also join the squad, having been released by the Ospreys. Morrison’s absence leaves the midfield looking a little lightweight – especially considering they may have to face big lads like Nonu and De Villiers running at them – could it be Rob Deweytime again?

MacLeod faces second drug test probe

Bit of breaking news: ahead of Frank Hadden’s announcement of his reduced squad to face New Zealand next month, lock Scott MacLeod has thrown his availability into severe doubt with the revelations that he has reportedly failed a second drug test, this time for “higher than permitted levels of testosterone”. MacLeod has insisted he is innocent and awaits the results of testing on his backup B sample. In the mean time he will be suspended from training or playing. Which makes it look even more likely that Hadden could be playing a back rower – or Scott Murray – in the second row come November. With White short of game time and Taylor playing regular first team rugby in that position, it looks like Taylor could be the answer. Unless of course Perpignan were just hiding big Nathan to keep him fresh for the Top 14 and he is fit and healthy…

Weekend Roundup

Glasgow 9-15 Toulose
In the first half this was there for the taking, but by the time the second half got into its stride so did Toulose, With a couple of moments of typical clinical brilliance from Jauzion and Skrela forcing Glasgow to chase the result, and they actually came very close on a couple of occasions. In a country where wings are now either of the “bulky and powerful” or “dancing feet and turning ball over” variety, Thom Evans is starting to look like the real deal in terms of offering genuine pace to beat people with. The Sky commentators kept blabbing on about his 100m time – reputed to be sub 11 seconds – but in fairness on most of the occasions the ball got to him he displayed it to good effect, and was unlucky not to have added to his tally of tries this season. Even David Strettle said he wouldn’t fancy chasing him down. In addition John Barclay showed that after Mike Blair, he should probably be the second name on the team-sheet with a ferocious display of tackling on the pitch – he almost managed to stop Kelleher scoring a try while simultaneously (accidentally) kicking him in the head – and refreshing candour in the press afterwards. Mention should also go to the officials, who once again let a couple of blatant forward passes go.

Stade Francais 37 – 15 Llanelli Scarlets
It’s not often you see a lock kicking, or coming in at first receiver twice in ten minutes, but Simon Taylor showed up well at 5 during another frightening display of skill from Hernandez and Parisse. With Scotland locks Hines and Macleod currently injured, might Taylor find a place there for Scotland in the Autumn?

Ospreys 15 – 9 Perpignan
A grubby little game now beset by accusations of gouging, so the less said the better. Cusiter was given little to work with in terms of go-forward from his pack but still lacked in attack, preferring simply to distribute (this may be the USAP way). He’s obviously practicing for having Dan Carter outside him, but still.

Castres 6 -13 Edinburgh
To be honest this one should have been out of site with a 4-try bonus point by half time, with Mossy and De Luca butchering a couple of chances as Edinburgh – led by Cairns in the midfield – cut Castres apart seemingly at will. The second half saw Castres come back into it and Edinburgh were forced to defend solidly for large periods, never able to regain the sort of posession that had allowed them to dominate the first half. Godman did reasonably well to keep the backs moving with some brilliant passes moving his players on to the ball at pace, and Robertson showed guts and zip on the wing. Webster had a pretty quiet game though, and may be lucky to get in the Scotland team given some of the form other wingers are in (Lamont, Evans). Hoggy showed up well too and should be in with a shout for New Zealand depending on what Hadden decides to do with Simon Taylor. This was the Edinburgh team we remember from last season, and the team that sold all those season tickets for this year. Welcome back, we hope you stick around.

Other games: MIA Bruce Douglas, it turns out, has been at Montpellier all this time. The French team were the latest on the end of a 5 point hiding from resurgent Northampton Saints. Tom Smith still proved he is the man with a last ditch try saving chase – steaming in ahead of Sean Lamont to get there and clear to touch. Rob Dewey got a whole 12 minutes on the pitch in Ulster’s 42-21 kicking from ‘Quins. Rory Lamont displayed power and control as well as some great full-back kicking skills in Sale’s loss to Munster. Still, it was a great game so we can’t complain too much. The Gloucester boys were unlucky not to come away with something in Cardiff in another great game. Al Strokosch showed up well, but I’m not sure if 7 is the best use of his talents – or if it provides the best supply of ball for Gloucester…

Team News for the Weekend:

IN:
Ben Cairns – Edinburgh – will he combine with De Luca on his return and revitalise Edinburgh’s cutting edge?
Dan “Parko” Parks – Glasgow – will he return Glasgow’s cutting edge or boot everything in sight?
Thom Evans – Glasgow – back from plastic surgery (well, he was in a boy band) to show us if his zip and zest belong in a Scotland shirt. Malkovich look out.
Richie Vernon – Glasgow – young back rower gets his first start of the season. Against Toulose.
Rob Deweytime – Ulster – into the squad vs Quins on Saturday but no guarantee his time in the wilderness is over.

OUT:
Hugo Southwell – Edinburgh – drops right out of the 22
Matt Mutschin – Edinburgh – pays the price for his stupid trip on Kearney and ensuing Yellow Card
Kelly Brown – Glasgow – possibly also paying for indiscipline last weekend
Nikki Walker – Ospreys – out for 3 weeks with a hand injury

SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT:
Phil Godman – Edinburgh – hopes to celebrate his 100th appearance for Edinburgh with a victory at Castres
Dan Biggar – Ospreys – with a name like that he should be playing for Scotland. Rumour has it he had a grandfather in the right place.
Rory Lamont – Sale – continues his run at full-back
Jason White – Sale – still on the bench
Tom Smith & Euan Murray – Northampton – still cooking up a storm in the front row
Sean Lamont – Northampton – finding his way back into form with a try last weekend
Rory & Scott Lawson, The big Stroker and Dicko – Gloucester – all exactly where they were last week as Dean Ryan names an unchanged team.

Glasgow vs Toulose – Sky Sports, Friday night 8pm
Harlequins vs Ulster – Sky Sports, Saturday 3pm
Castres vs Edinburgh – Sky Sports (red button) Saturday 5.30pm
Northampton vs Montpellier – Sky Sports Saturday 7.30pm
Sale vs Munster – Sky Sports Sunday 1pm
Cardiff vs Gloucester – Sky Sports, BBC Radio Wales Sunday 3pm

The Heineken Cup starts this weekend

So we wouldn’t be serving you, the Scottish Rugby blog reader (there may only be one of you), correctly if we didn’t give you a run-down on where and when you can catch up with all the Scottish players on show this weekend in the world’s biggest and best club rugby tournament. Last night the junior tournament (without sponsor, so the Challenge Cup thingy as it shall henceforth be known) kicked off with a classy looking Northampton destroying Tana Umaga’s Toulon. Sean Lamont bagged a try, showed up well and the 66% Scottish front row were rampant once again, as was Scott Gray. Perhaps spending a year in the first division learning from Tom Smith could be the best thing that ever happened to Euan Murray. Special mention also to Fitzgerald the Toulon hooker and captain, who also hails from bonny Scotland, although he was mostly outclassed by Dylan “Fists of Fury” Hartley.

Friday

Munster v Montauban: Scott Murray is playing for the visitors who may struggle to win at the revamped Thomond Park. On Sky Sports from 1930 I reckon.
Perpignan vs Treviso: Chris Cusiter, but no Nathan Hines or indeed Dan Carter who is rumoured will start his brief European sojurn vs Leicester in December. Not on the telly.

Saturday

Edinburgh vs Leinster: a must win game for Edinburgh, even at this early stage. The SRU are running a “buy one ticket, get 4 kids in free” offer so if you are in Edinburgh and have 4 kids it could be worth going along. It has the potential to be a cracker. Or a drubbing. Malkovich is back from injury though which may help as Edinburgh field a near full strength back division (minus Ben Cairns). The back row still misses Ross Rennie, but if Connacht can beat a pretty strong Leinster team, then there is always hope. On Sky Sports, ko 1335.
Dragons vs Glasgow: Glasgow have already beaten the Dragons away this season so hopefully they can repeat it. If they play to their strengths they should have no problem but the Dragons have picked up a bit since the teams last met (beating Edinburgh for example). Pity this one’s not on the telly, as it would be nice to see the Evans boys in action, but you can I think get it on BBC Radio Wales. Ko 1430.
Clermont vs Sale: Big Jason and big Rory should be involved in this one (White from the bench) and the heartening news is that following Matthew Tait’s less than impressive start to his Sale career – and injury – Rory Lamont is finally getting a run at the 15 shirt he prefers. On Sky via the Red button, ko 1435
Scarlets vs Harlequins: Scott Macleod’s on the bench for Llanelli, ko 1530 via the red button.
Ulster vs Stade Francais: Hopefully sporting the bitching/utterly tasteless (delete as applicable) new strip, Stade will feature Simon Taylor at 5, his position du jour. Meanwhile, no sign of either Rob Deweytime or Simon “Ice Cream” Danielli (you like those? I just made them up) in Matt William’s Ulster lineup. Sky Sports, ko 1530.
Gloucester vs Biarittz: the Alisdairs Dickinson and Strokosch will both start at 1 and 7 respectively while Rory Lawson is on the bench. Dickinson has looked sharp so far this season, and if Hadden is looking for a mobile prop with good running skills he could do worse. Think Chunk, without the, um, chunk. Strokosch is getting game time in all three back row shirts, which might go in his favour if it came down to a “him or Jason White” type decision for the Scotland 6 shirt but you still want him in the team. Sky Sports, ko 1730.

Sunday

Leicester vs Ospreys: Nikki Walker pops up in his usual position on the wing. Sky Sports ko 1300.

And rest assured, Scotland will feature in the Heineken Cup final this year.

It’s at Murrayfield.

Friday Night Lights – Except for viewers in Scotland

Chris Paterson returns to full-back tonight while Super Hugoooooo is playing at centre for injury-riddled Edinburgh vs the Llanelli Scarlets, who have lost on trips to Murrayfield the last six times. Given Edinburgh’s recent form, the chance of the Welshmen overturning that record tonight seems plausible, but we’ll hope that is not the case. At this rate Andy Robinson will be borrowing back-row players from Glasgow before long, and rueing Simon Taylor’s departure before he took over. Ross Rennie can’t get back to fitness quickly enough.

Those self-same Warriors from the Weege travel to the Sportsground to face Connacht, a match they will be hoping to win now that Dan Parks has his record and can concentrate on playing rugby again. If the reliance on kicking is a sign of things to come under the new ELVs, Parks may find himself singing Flower of Scotland again before long. Which will delight and frustrate us in equal measure, I’m sure.

Both kickoffs are 7.30pm and you’ll get some coverage on Sportsound, BBC Radio Scotland (available online) from 8pm. You might also get a chance to catch Nikki Walker in action on BBCw, as the Ospreys take on title holders Leinster.

Woops – apocalypse

So what happened at the weekend then? Due to prior commitments to liver destruction at a friend’s wedding I didn’t catch much of the action and I’m fairly sure Al missed it too, that is if he made it home without falling into the river. However from the sound of things the Edinburgh scoreline pretty much speaks for itself. Andy Robinson will have to work hard to turn his team around, as Leinster are only going to get stronger with the addition of Rocky Elsom and others before the teams meet again in the Heineken Cup group stages. Edinburgh’s physios will need to work overtime to restore their pack to its full strength, although hope will be sparked in the news that new signing Jim Hamilton came through his first game back (playing for Watsonians). Glasgow only lost narrowly,so arguably they have less to worry about however their team was mostly at full strength, and failed to close out the game. Parks got a bit flaky as soon as the Magners League points record hove into view, but he did at least claim it, and should be congratulated for that.

In other news, Sean Lamont claimed a try for Northampton even though they lost (and Euan Murray was sin-binned) and Simon Taylor played at 5 again for Stade, where he seemed to be largely reduced to the role of roving ruck guardian rather than actually getting any ball in hand. And the ELVs produced a lot of kicking, or so it seemed based on the highlights I saw. The new ITV highlights show is good value though (Sundays ITV4 6.30pm), with plenty of match action and not too much banter – which let’s face it Sky’s The Rugby Club already does pretty well. More good news came in the discovery that S4C now offers an English commentary on its rugby coverage so no more watching in Welsh for Scottish rugby fans. I suppose it’s a bit of a moot point though, as there is not scheduled to be another Edinburgh or Glasgow match on BBCw or S4C this year.

I’ve also updated the About Us page to include some onformation on the sort of people we’d like to help expand and grow the blog into a bigger and better resource for Scottish Rugby fans, so if you think you might be able to help, have a look.

Another Lawson at Gloucester

Scotland hooker Scott Lawson has moved from Sale to Gloucester to join the growing contingent of Scots there under the tutelage of Dean Ryan and Basil Redpath. Gloucester coach Dean Ryan said “our forward pack is a competitive area and Scott will only add to the depth we can select from. It is a great opportunity for both parties and I am really looking forward to seeing it progress over the coming months.”

Some might question the decision to move after only one season to a squad that already contains Olivier Azam and Andy Titterell at hooker, but if Lawson can prove that he can out-throw Titterell or out-scrum Azam (less likely) – or at least do both reasonably well in one game, then there’s no reason he can’t find a place in the squad on a regular basis.

Scott who?

Good News: Glasgow beat the Dragons, in what is often referred to as “one for the purists” – a fairly unexciting match played in appalling weather. Still, Dan Parks kicked his goals and marshalled Glasgow to a decent away win against a Dragons side who had talked themselves up a bit in the pre-season. Mark McMillan had a shocking start to his second stint at Glasgow with a couple of dodgy passes, but felt his way into the game and was reassuringly solid by the end. Fa’atau and Stortoni looked sharp in attack and there was some solid defending all round in the Glasgow 22. Not really a day for the (Scottish) Evans boys, as although both had a few decent moments it was a bit too wet underfoot for any of their twinkly dancing feet.

Bad News: Edinburgh were outmuscled by Heineken Cup champs Munster. Didn’t catch much of the game save on the radio, but it sounded like they were hindered by poor set-piece and not actually playing until the last few minutes. Ordinarily it would be no bad thing, but we’re starting to expect more from Edinburgh, especially in front of record number of season ticket holders who will be hoping their newfound faith is to be rewarded. After De Luca had a try knocked off they got a bonus point out of it though, due to Mossy’s boot. I’m hoping he will not be relied upon too much as the season goes on.

Other News: Former Border Reiver (and single Scotland cap) Scott Gray put in a storming performance for Premiership returnees Northampton Saints on Sunday, in a game that also saw Sean Lamont’s return to rugby after almost 10 months out. Lamont made a few good runs, looked good under the high ball but in fairness didn’t get much to do in a slightly disjionted game – seems to be the pattern created by the ELVs where an unbalanced line-out becomes a bit of a risk unless you are Munster/Leicester. Northampton is also turning into a bit of a Scot-prop factory with oldest man in the Premiership Tom Smith still toiling ably away, followed by proteges Euan Murray and the oft-overlooked Barry Stewart. Back to Gray though, who put himself about in true Stroker/White style, hammering anything that moved and contributing to a few nice wee moves as required. Hopefully his season will continue in this vein and we’ll be looking at another potential Scotland back row champ. Speaking of which, I’ve a funny feeling I spotted (scrumcap-less) Simon Taylor playing in the second row for Stade’s win against Perpignan (Hines and Cusiter both on from the start). Anyone catch the game on Eurosport able to confirm – I turned over to watch Andy Murray!

Match of the Day?

It’s not quite in name at least, but it looks like the campaign for a Match of the Day for Rugby has finally scored some points, with the announcement of a highlights show to be screened on ITV4 (and repeated at an unsocial hour on ITV1) on Sundays at 6.30pm. ITV have recently acquired the rights to Guinness Premiership highlights previously held by the BBC, and the programme will be fronted by sometime BBC touchline/holiday reporter and double glazing salesman Craig Doyle. Quite what happened to our own little Scotsport version complete with handheld footage from your local rugby pitch, Doddie Weir’s trousers and the odd bit of pro-team action, we’ll never know.

Also announced was the news that several regulars from Edinburgh’s squad last season – plus a couple of newly minted pros – will be living it up in the Premier League until such time as they regain form or fitness, having not been registered as part of Edinburgh’s playing squad for the season. Big surprise on the list is Ross Rennie (injury), who presumably will be re-instated when he recovers. Roland Reid has also been left off.

And the SRU have announced that anyone buying an Autumn test ticket will be eligible for a free ticket for the Boxing Day derby between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Which is nice of them.

Edinburgh Beat Wasps

Bet you never thought you’d see that headline – indeed you may not see it again this season when the Heineken Cup warms up properly. For now though, Edinburgh Rugby seem to have given the visiting Premiership champs a decent game under the new ELVs, and more importantly held out for the win in this pre-season friendly.

Mossy as predicted came on at full-back amongst a half-time bucketload of subs, but Godman still seems to have done a fair bit of the kicking. Ben Cairns worryingly may have picked up a ligament injury, but De Luca seems to have once again come through with honours against a reasonably strong Wasps side. Even better news was a good sized crowd of 4,225. Let’s hope the crowds – and the wins – continue. Next up: Bath away.

Anyone at the game?

UPDATE: In other news, Glasgow lost narrowly 15-12 to Bristol in a game that sounds a lot less fun.

Scottish Rugby Blog is Back

Kicking down the door and shouting “Sucka” (while no-one really gets hurt) like the Mr-T of sports journalism that we are, I bid you welcome to a new season of rugger-based ramblings. Oh, wait, the season hasn’t started yet. Still, there is some stuff to report, namely that two of Scotland’s favourite sons went head to head the other night in a pre-season friendly between Sale Sharks and Perpignan. Chris Cusiter started at 9 and may or may not have played the whole game – they’re not exactly reporting the hell out of this one – while Rory Knee-Face Lamont (Batman’s new nemesis) seems to have sparked a bit of a second half fightback, scoring two tries to leave the final score a tie at 24-24. The good news is he was playing at 15, hopefully a position that Saint-Andre will give him a run at this season. Otherwise he may end up marking his brother…

Glasgow seem to have beaten Castres in a pre-season friendly, without most of their top players and trialling some of the ELVs. New signing Mark McMillan hopefully gave an indication of things to come with a late try to seal the win, whilst Colin Gregor illustrated his versatility by kicking most of his goals. Here at SRBlog Towers, we’re almost as happy to see McMillan at Glasgow as teammate Dan Parks:

Mark Mcmillan and Dan Parks

Welcome back to Scottish Rugby Blog. Come in, the water’s lovely.