It’s a biggie, this weekend. Up and down the country rugby fans will become hermits, forget to wash and most likely forget about (OMG, GAMU!) Saturday night reality TV as the Heineken Cup starts up again.
Thankfully the national papers have already written our sides off, so we, the fans don’t have to think about it. Cheers. Maybe next year, eh? Oh…. We’ve been written off for that one, too?! Ok. Also, our Commonwealth 7s campaign starts on Monday. Tape it? Alright. Let’s just focus on our club rugby, then…
It has been confirmed that Scotland Sevens will be representing the land of wild haggis, Nessie and the Buckfast triangle at this years Commonwealth Games. Whether they will send the usual mix of academy players and the legend that is Colin Gregor, or whether they will turn out a team of pro-team ringers as they do at Murrayfield every year remains to be seen.
Every time you turn on the news these days you are bombarded with the word ‘CHANGE’. The politicians are all screaming it. Travel agents can’t get enough of it. Even the chief exec.’s of Rangers and Celtic seem to be on the streets begging for some spare. So what is set to change in Scottish rugby next season?
The answer to that appears to be the squads of almost every single ‘top level’ team.
Well, it’s that weekend of the year again where the Heineken Cup knockout stages face off against the Melrose Sevens for domination of your rugby-viewing brain. You can watch live rugby from the Super 14, Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup from about 8am on Saturday till well past 10pm non stop (apart from adverts) on Sky Sports 2, while BBC 2 Scotland has coverage of the Melrose Sevens from 2-5pm. So much rugby, so little time! Still, some of the interesting bits could include:
- The return of Ally Hogg and Marcus Di Rollo to our TV screens (/hearts?) in the Watsonians Sevens set up
- Munster vs Northampton’s potentially “large ship v iceberg” clash at Thomond Park
- The South African students endlessly praising Jesus in front of a bemused Melrose crowd after they have thrashed allcomers.
- The slim outside chance of a Lamont vs Lamont clash in Toulon vs Scarlets – although looking at the squads there is no sign of Rory.
- Trying to decide which non-Scottish team to root for, based possibly on the number of Scots on the pitch (Saints and Gloucester are prob worth a cheer on those grounds!).
And that’s before we even think about Leinster vs Clermont tonight at the RDS or Stade Francais vs Toulose on Sunday… enjoy your weekend…
Edinburgh 9-7 Stade Francais
Mossy once again picked up all the points in what despite the low score was a fairly enterprising display from the home team. Jim Thompson – who must have been emotionally all over the place after the minutes applause for his grandfather the late Bill McLaren – was probably the standout back for me, although it was also hard to argue against Greg Laidlaw’s MoM performance at scrum-half that saw him dart Edinburgh seriously close to the Stade line on a couple of occasions. Jim Hamilton was very industrious for a man of his size and seems to have upped his workrate in the loose considerably. I reckon it could force a tricky decision for Robbo as to the make-up of his pack against France with Al Kellock, Richie Gray and Nathan Hines in good form too. Special mention should also go to returning vagabonds of various descriptions: Malkovich was able to conduct one of his darting runs but with Edinburgh’s new look back row in support he didn’t actually turn the ball over. On the opposition team, Hugo battled valiantly at scrum-half providing a (mostly) crisp service and his new-found versatility may see him on to the bench for Scotland at the very least. Good to see Simon Taylor back from injury too for the last twenty, he seemed to be relishing taking on his old teammates at his preferred position of Number 8 and must have been vaguely perturbed to see a small ginger openside filling the shirt he held for so long. Back in his day they used to work around the Number 8 with Hoggy, Callam and Taylor all competing. These days it is the 7 shirt that hold the embarrassment of riches.
Edinburgh: Paterson, Robertson, Cairns, De Luca, Thompson, Godman, Laidlaw, Traynor, Kelly, G. Cross, MacLeod, J. Hamilton, MacDonald, Rennie, R. Grant.
Replacements Used: Webster for Paterson (52), Houston for De Luca (41), Jacobsen for Traynor (64), Ford for Kelly (52), C. Hamilton for MacLeod (64), Newlands for Rennie (33). Not Used: Young, Samson.
Stade Francais: Beauxis, Gasnier, Messina, Bousses, Camara, Mieres, Southwell, Roncero, Szarzewski, Gerber, Palmer, Pape, Haskell, M. Bergamasco, Leguizamon.
Replacements Used: Bastareaud for Bousses (47), Slimani for Roncero (66), Kayser for Szarzewski (50), Ledesma for Gerber (58), Taylor for M. Bergamasco (52). Not Used: Vigouroux, Barraud, M. Bergamasco.
Edinburgh: Pens: Paterson 3.
Stade Francais: Try: Pape; Con: Beauxis.
Biarritz 41-20 Glasgow
at Stade Aguilera
Glasgow played some excellent stuff for 60 minutes, scoring one of the tries of the tournament in the process and putting the expected home victory in serious doubt. With the impressive Richie Gray going off at half time, the under-powered pack was then obliterated by substitutions as the strong Biarritz bench took serious advantage of Glasgow’s second string deficiencies. Sadly Biarritz prop Campbell Johnston is not from Jedburgh – he has an All Black cap, just another antipodean whose parents came over all nostalgic when dishing out the names. Pluses for Scotland though: Thom Evans looks back on form, Low, Kellock, Cusiter and Parks seem to have maintained theirs going into the Six Nations (just keep Dan away from the high ball/pitch) and the three Bs back row was an infuriatingly dominant force at the breakdown for most of the match. Minuses for Scotland: on this display, the second string just aren’t good enough. To be fair though, this is the second string that Glasgow have had for a while and the young players leap-frogging through (Gray, Jackson) look like they will be good enough given game time which must come soon.
Biarritz: P Couet-Lannes; T Ngwenya, A Mignardi, L Tranier, I Bolakoro; V Courrent, Y Lesgourgues; E Coetzee, B August, M Moala, P Taele, J Thion (capt), M Lund, T Hall, I Harinordoquoy.
Replacements Used: Balshaw for Couet-Lannes (66), Hunt for Lesgourgues (54), Hughes for Coetzee (71), Terrain for August (71), Johnstone for Moala (45), Carizza for Taele-Pvihi (67), Alaxndre for Hall (70).
Glasgow: B Stortoni; R Dewey, M Evans, G Morrison, T Evans; D Parks, C Cusiter; J Welsh, D Hall, M Low, R Gray, A Kellock (capt), K Brown, J Barclay, J Beattie.
Replacements Used: O’Hare for Dewey (56), Jackson for Parks (64), McMillan for Cusiter (65), Tkachuk for Welsh (61), Thomson for Hall (59), Turner for Low (41), Eddie for Beattie (59).
Biarritz Tries: Coetzee, Ngwenya, pen try, Lesgourgues. Cons: Courrent 3. Pens: Courrent 5.
Glasgow Tries: T Evans, Cusiter. Cons: Parks 2. Pen: Parks 2
Ulster 21-13 Edinburgh
Edinburgh failed to deal with the conditions and a determined Ulster pack in a first half when they had the wind behind, leaving them unable to take the win they could probably have claimed with a solid performance into the wind in the second half. David Young had settled down in defence from his earlier over-exuberant Edinburgh appearances but still found his way into the sin-bin early on. Ulster couldn’t really kick the penalties such was the wind (Humphries did attempt one ridiculous banana job that came close), but they excelled in holding on to the ball and depriving Edinburgh of possession. Mossy kicked the few chances they got – for kicking at goal the wind was no real help either – and they went in at half time with a lead. When they finally got possession in the second half they proved particularly adept at holding on to it for more than 20 phases without ever really moving forward despite crash ball runners like Ford and Hamilton. Perhaps aware of his troubles on the pitch and the resultant slaggings off it, Phil Godman was particularly targeted by Ulster with a few big hits and the backline mostly failed to get the ball wide to Visser and Thompson. When they eventually did, a try came for Thompson very similar to last week’s one but Ulster finished the game as they had started, controlling possession and watching Edinburgh huff and puff but go nowhere.
It may be a lack of depth at Edinburgh, but some of the willy-nilly sub-hurling from about 50 minutes onwards is worryingly Hadden-esque – some of the replacements were not quite up to standard and putting them on the park just because you can (especially when removing the likes of Laidlaw) seemed like a backwards step especially when the result is still within reach.
As with the 1872 Cup games, this Heineken Cup campaign has proved to be largely a triumph of content over style. Glasgow and Ulster have the content, and Edinburgh can’t seem to get their style going.
Scotland 6N squad announcement expected on Wednesday!
Ha, gotcha. No, Worcester are the Warriors I was talking about. I refer to an interesting article which on reflection is mostly about nothing (something of a Scotsman specialism sometimes) over at the Scotsman speculating as to the employment future of Mike Blair, which I missed this week. Although arguably not missing him at scrum half specifically, are Edinburgh missing Mike’s cutting edge as he recovers from his ankle injury?
Edinburgh to face Ulster at Ravenhill: C Paterson (capt), J Thompson, B Cairns, J Houston, T Visser, P Godman, G Laidlaw, A Jacobsen, R Ford, D Young, S MacLeod, J Hamilton, S Newlands, A MacDonald, R Grant
Replacements: A Kelly, K Traynor, G Cross, C Hamilton, D Callam, R Samson, N De Luca, M Robertson. Simon “Malkovich” Webster is the spare man for Edinburgh in his quest on the comeback trail.
Sky Sports, k.o 8pm tonight (Friday)
News on the blog front: in addition to myself and Al – who has been busier playing rugby than writing about it recently (that and his laptop broke) – we now have a new blogger on the team who is going to do some bits and bobs for the site, concentrating mainly on the club game in Scotland. Confusingly enough, his name is also Alan (distinguishing nickname TBA) so I hope you will all make him feel welcome when his pieces appear over the next few weeks.
UPDATE: Stade bring the crazy (again): Hugoooooooo set for scrum half vs Bath – does this help Edinburgh’s chances of the result they need? (Thanks to Dougal for the tip – may your balls ever be oval)
During whiteout conditions at Murrayfield on Saturday where the weather played a larger role than either of the teams for a chunk of the first half, Edinburgh managed to grab a victory against Bath. It was a pity the snow came in when it did, as both teams were showing a willingness to throw the ball about, but when the ball became invisible in a sea of white it became time for a game of Very Cold Hot Potato (mixed in with a little Dead Ants).
Mossy’s boot saved them as it has so often, and while I have often been reluctant to wade in on the whole Mossy at 10 thing, Godman’s form seems to be on the wane while Mossy seems to have gained a yard of pace, gets turned over in the tackle far less and his tactical kicking is miles better than it was and miles ahead of Godman. He’s surely done enough to be the front runner for the Scotland 15 shirt with Hugo a close second (who honestly believed he would be a regular at Stade?), but is he worth a look at 10 for Edinburgh as so many have suggested? (This is assuming Rory Lamont remains in the injury information black-hole he is currently in). While Robbo has been telling anyone who will listen about Scotland’s deficiencies in the 10 position, is Mossy finally worth a shout, having made his tactical game a bit, well, more Dan Parks-esque?
Speaking of Parks, he controlled the game against Gloucester extremely well in the first half while Barclay led the forwards in a masterclass in frustrating the opposition. For a game with so many Scot on Scot match-ups there was plenty of niggle, and no doubt a sign of what is to come next weekend (worryingly for Edinburgh, the Weej seem to excel in this area). Yet in the second half Gloucester came out and pretty much reversed the situation, bullying Glasgow off their 0-6 lead and the ball and sharpening up their attack enough to take the victory. A raft of late-term substitutions probably didn’t help Glasgow – much in the same way as it buggered up Edinburgh last week – with Cusiter going off and replacement McMillan then having to hide at the back with an injury while Gregor filled in at scrum half. This only served to rob Glasgow of Gregor’s running lines and pace from at the back, which they were already short of with Thom Evans out. The Gloucester Scottish showed up well too with Scott and Rory Lawson and Al Strokosch showing good skills in attack, although Kellock and Gray were all over Lawson (hooker) at the lineout. And one more thing: does Graeme Morrison ever pass? You’d be as well playing Richie Vernon in the centre, who unveiled the pace that has Glasgow abuzz while the rest of us were initially wondering why Beattie was left on the bench in favour of a guy with two first names…
Glasgow: Bernardo Stortoni, Dave McCall, Max Evans, Graeme Morrison, DTH van der Merwe, Dan Parks, Chris Cusiter, Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Alastair Kellock, Richie Gray, Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Richie Vernon
Replacements: Fergus Thomson, Kevin Tkachuk, Ed Kalman, Dan Turner, Colin Gregor, Mark McMillan, Johnnie Beattie, Colin Shaw
Good mix in the second row and great that Richie Gray is well settled into the Glasgow team now. The wingers get a chance to show what they can do, but leaving off the front line chaps suggests either a) they are injured or b) the ball is never getting that far and Parks is going to try and nick all the points going with his boot. (UPDATE: Turns out it’s a wee knee injury to Evans).
Edinburgh: Paterson, Houston, Cairns, De Luca, Visser, Godman, Laidlaw, Traynor, Ford, Cross, Turnbull, Hamilton, MacDonald, Rennie, Newlands.
Replacements: Kelly, Jacobsen, Young, MacLeod, Callam, Samson, Robertson, Thompson
Bath are targeting this one for a win despite almost being beaten at home last weekend. With “Tony” Blair out injured, it will be interesting to see what happens if/when Godman goes off, word is that Thompson has been asked to consider filling in at 10 before… I’m also interested to see if Rennie has the same impact that Roddy Grant has been having recently… here’s to another flowing game of rugby although maybe a little less self-destruction and a little more confidence in the finishing (Cairns should definitely have been able to finish that break last week) would be nice. Where have I heard that before?
Going to be out of Sky range this weekend but hoping to go along to the Heriots game on Saturday if I get a chance. Meanwhile here are the teams announced so far for the weekends action, plenty of Scots all round and some interesting match ups at 2, 6 and 9 in the Glasgow game. Cusiter faces his closest rivals for the national shirt in his next four games – should be interesting to see how he takes them on.
Glasgow: B Stortoni, P Murchie, M Evans, G Morrison, T Evans, D Parks, C Cusiter; J Welsh, D Hall, M Low, R Gray, D Turner, K Brown, J Barclay (capt), R Vernon.
Replacements: F Thomson, E Kalman, K Tkachuk, T Barker, C Gregor, C Forrester, M McMillan.
Gloucester: C Spencer, C Sharples, J Simpson-Daniel, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, L Vainikolo, N Robinson, R Lawson; N Wood, S Lawson, G Somerville, D Attwood, A Brown, P Buxton (capt), A Strokosch, L Narraway
Replacements: D Dawiduik, P Doran-Jones, A Dickinson, A Eustace, G Delve, D Lewis, T Voyce, T Molenaar
Edinburgh: C Paterson (capt), J Houston, B Cairns, N De Luca, T Visser, P Godman, G Laidlaw; A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross, S Turnbull, S MacLeod, A MacDonald, R Grant, S Newlands.
Replacements: A Kelly, K Traynor, D Young, C Hamilton, A Hogg, R Samson, D Blair, J Thompson.
After Leinster’s failure to topple the ever-improving Dragons at the weekend, the Scottish pro-teams go in to the Heineken Cup break first and second in the Magners League table. So congratulations to Glasgow and Edinburgh for that excellent bit of away points-grabbing, in particular the two oft-abused/unsung 10s David “Tony” Blair and King of Dans Parko Parks who both played pivotal roles. What’s more with only each other to play in the league between now and then, there’s a pretty good chance that one of the Scottish pro-teams will go into the half way point after Christmas atop the table, with the other in close attendance – along with the likes of Leinster and Ulster. It’s really great to see the teams doing so well and heading into the second half of the season with one and possibly both primed for at least a decent chance of a playoff spot come the sharp end.
This weekend attention turns to the Heineken Cup. Both Glasgow and Edinburgh need to win all their remaining games to have a chance of getting anywhere, including a possibly shift sideways into the latter stages of the Amlin Challenge Cup (might be a better bet there anyway!). For Glasgow that’s back to back against Gloucester, then the Dragons and away to Biarritz. All of which is in theory possible based on previous events, but still fairly unlikely for a team that has struggled so often with inconsistency. Still the way they toughed it out against Ulster gives me hope. Going out to the south of France with the weather turning a bit and all to play for could make for exciting times though. Good news for them too that Ruaridh Jackson came through an hour for Ayr (at full-back) on Saturday.
Edinburgh also face a team struggling in the GP, Bath (get Robinson on as a pundit!) before taking on Ulster at Ravenhill and Stade at home. With those wacky Edinburgh guys and their love of shirts that look like a tartan factory threw up and throwing it about in their own 22 anything is possible, but I fear “for zem ze vor is ova” and I reckon they will target the festive derbies for a clean sweep instead, maybe giving David Blair some more game time between now and then – he did pretty well against the Scarlets on Friday night. Or is that defeatist talk? On the Internet the walls have ears. Win against Bath at the Rec and I’ll probably change my mind again.
In terms of TV coverage, according to ERC rugby we get delayed highlights of Glasgow on Friday (this I think means “delayed until the round-up show on Sunday night”) and red button for Edinburgh on Sunday afternoon. What do you reckon – We Are The Champions or Mission: Impossible?
I’m away this weekend so will probably miss the games, hopefully the boys can get their campaigns back on track after disappointments on their last outings. Glasgow are still struggling with injuries but hopefully Chris Cusiter will be back from illness. New boy Peter Horne may get a start in the centre with Lineen assuring us he has the makings of a decent 12. Is a Jackson-Horne axis the future of the Scottish midfield? On the East Coast, Ally Hogg wants you all to turn out for the Ulster match and buy Anygame tickets etc etc. Will the promise of a turn in fortunes continue to draw a crowd despite the most recent evidence to the contrary?
In the meantime why not have a look at this video, there’s a chance to win a VIP trip to the Heineken Cup Final and deliver the trophy pitchside!
UPDATE: it seems indeed that the new Scotland strip involves white shorts – huzzah, our woes are at an end. Perhaps.