Category: Heineken Cup

Quelle différence?

Stade Francais 31-7 Edinburgh
Glasgow 18-22 Biarritz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heineken Cup Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edinburgh Steel Themselves For Europe

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

At first glance at this squad you think, what the hell is Rob Moffat doing? Just when momentum was needed and Edinburgh were looking sharp, he’s taken out most of the players in form like Ben Cairns and Roddy Grant leaving Edinburgh looking slightly under strength for an encounter against a star-powered Ospreys side who are starting to splutter into life. But then you look at the fixture list for the next month – Stade at the pink palace followed by Ulster who were only narrowly beaten last time out. After that they’ve got Munster, so it doesn’t really get “easier” until the visit of the Dragons in November, and you write them off at your peril. Besides, Edinburgh still have Blair and Godman at half-back, and you suspect Blair in particular will be keen to match up against the man who dominated the scrum half berth on the Lions tour, Mike Phillips. Houston, Visser and Robertson are still there and so is Hoggy, all fit and playing well. The Ospreys on Sunday is arguably the least important fixture of the coming month and based on that, well, it looks not a bad team.

Hopefully this team selection is not a reflection that the squad is crocked after 4 weeks, and instead means Edinburgh aim to make a real stab at the Heineken Cup, the stage on which true rugby respectability is earned in Europe. Let’s face it, second in the Magners last year or not, in the pre-match punditry you won’t hear many people giving them a chance of progressing out of their pool – if they even show the Scottish matches at all. The other regions (Munster, Leinster, Cardiff) have stepped up and earned some respect for their clubs and for Celtic rugby. Now it is the turn of the Scots to do their bit.

Heineken Cup Pools 09/10

Here are the just announced Heineken Cup Pools for next year. Edinburgh have a pool that could prove difficult with both Bath and Stade Francais – but as Glasgow showed, Bath and French clubs are nothing to be feared. Ulster could be a force if their new coach gets them ticking and Ravenhill will always be a tricky away fixture. Meanwhile Glasgow have a pool that has a pair of recent strugglers who have failed to return on their promise  – much like Glasgow themselves – and the Dragons. Lineen’s men could be in with a shout, but with the standards narrowing every year nothing can be taken for granted at this stage. I would question the BBC’s assertion that it is “joy” for the Scottish teams though. And what’s this, Shuggy – a new nickname for Hugo?

Heineken Cup Pools for 2009/10
Pool 1: Munster, Perpignan, Northampton, Treviso
Pool 2: Biarritz, Gloucester, Dragons, Glasgow
Pool 3: Leicester, Ospreys, Clermont, Viadana
Pool 4: Bath, Stade Francais, Ulster, Edinburgh
Pool 5: Toulouse, Cardiff Blues, Sale, Harlequins
Pool 6: Leinster, London Irish, Scarlets, Brive

If you are looking for info on the Scotland U20s match vs England, you can find a report here. Pretty sure there is no coverage online or off else it would be on this page. If it’s anything like the U20 Six Nations match it might have been uncomfortable viewing.

Glasgow Beat Toulouse

Toulouse 26 – 33 Glasgow

Yes, you read that correctly. A historic result for Glasgow Rugby today saw Glasgow shock pre-tournament favourites and poster boys of French Club rugby Toulouse in the Heineken Cup. Not only that, but they did it in Toulouse, forcing the home crowd to suffer a range of emotions from histrionic booing through stunned silence and frantic cheering as their team chased what was in the end a losing bonus point. Glasgow opened hard and kept phenomenal pressure up on Toulouse’s attack. From a back division this skilled – Michalak, Clerc, Ellisalde, Poitrenaud among them – it was telling that their handling was made to look poor as they tried to get into  gear. Man of the Match Max Evans had a wonky moment early on as he chipped rather than cleared from his own line, but Toulouse failed to capitalise and from then on he was at the heart of Glasgow’s attack. Dan Parks, in at the last minute for promising youngster Ruaridh Jackson, did little wrong and distributed well to the powerful Morrison and threatening Evans boys. Thom Evans in particular is on a hot streak where everything he tries comes off. We can only hope the bounce of the ball will continue to go his way during the Six Nations, where he must start – his defence is now swiftly catching up on his attack. Morrison also did plenty to cement his grip on the Scotland 12 shirt. With Paterson playing at 10 for 30 mins yesterday after Godman took a hamstring knock, Parks may well yet have a part to play in Scotland’s Six Nations too.

After taking a 9-22 lead in at half time, Glasgow found themselves on the receiving end of a blistering Toulouse attack. Guy Noves emptied out his bucket marked “cavalry” and brought on the likes of Florian Fritz, Byron Kelleher and Fabian Pelous. The game was tranformed as the passes stuck (for the most part) and Glasgow’s attacking ball was stifled. Sustained pressure saw a penalty try from a scrum, a few kicks and some more typical Toulouse back play leading to a try. Here were go, you thought, as Glasgow seemed to be opened up at will by Kelleher’s darting breaks and the gap on the scoreboard closed bit by bit: normal service resumed.

Only it wasn’t. After a quick bought of fisticuffs that saw Ellisalde and Barclay sin-binned, Glasgow seemed to weather the storm. Max Evans even scored another try. The crowd went quiet as they slowly realised the unthinkable was about to happen. Toulouse were going to lose. By the time they could only kick for a losing bonus point with the last play of the game –  an undeserved victory long since out of reach thanks to Glasgow’s miserly defence – the furious booing had started. One senses it may continue for some time in the South of France.

But here in Scotland: nothing but cheering.

Friday Night Special

Edinburgh 32 – 14 Castres

Quick update on Edinburgh’s abortive Heineken Cup campaign: tonight they have claimed a decent home victory against an under-strength Castres side. Tries from Cairns, Godman, Ford and his replacement Kelly ensure a bonus point which will go nicely towards their draw seedings for next year’s competition if little else. Just back from a rib injury, Mossy got on for about half an hour – presumably at standoff – but more worrying news is Nick De Luca’s 21st minute substitution which suggests an injury of some sort. It might make the centre picks for the Six Nations a little easier I suppose, with Morrison and Cairns the clear favourites in De Luca’s absence. Injury news as we get it!

UPDATE: Godman was taken off with a hamstring knock as a precaution, so that could be worrying. Nick De Luca went off with a head knock but should be fine in a week or two.

A Splash in the Pool

Castres’ surprise but merited victory over Leinster last night throws a glimmer of hope to those of us Edinburgh fans who like to live fairly removed from the plane of reality. If Edinburgh get a five point victory away at Wasps tomorrow, they would jump to second in the group. If Leinster continue to nosedive when Edinburgh face them in Dublin, with a home tie against Castres who they have already beaten, Edinburgh could in fact finish well in the group which might bode well for seedings next year.

The more likely occurence is that starting tomorrow, Wasps suddenly materialise as a team, grab a stranglehold on the group and go through to the knockout stages after a showdown for the group with Leinster at Twickers. After all, that’s what everyone is telling us is going to happen…

Player News – Rory Lamont and more

Rory Lamont will be out of the Six Nations while he recovers from ankle surgery made necessary after ligament damage sustained playing for Sale against Montauban. This is a real shame as he was in a rich vein of form, and it may well affect his outside chances of a Lions berth – while it solidifies the odds that Chris Paterson will fill the 15 shirt where he has been playing reasonably well for Edinburgh so far.

UPDATE: It seems the patented Rory Lamont Helicopter™ is to blame. Quoted on the BBC Website Rory says:

“I seem to spin through a lot of contact and it puts a lot of force through your body when you’re spinning. I guess I just open my body up for injuries with that style of play.”

We wish the flying Chinook of Scottish Rugby well with his recovery.

Ross Rennie’s citing has delayed the team picked to face Wasps (update to follow as I hear), but Andy Robinson has largely stuck with the side that played all the rugby at Murrayfield last weekend but got none of the points. Meanwhile Andy Robinson has revealed that they tried to lure Rocky Elsom last year to play in Edinburgh before he opted for Leinster and may look overseas again next year for a new signing. I’m all for Edinburgh expanding their squad, but a balance has to be found between bringing in world-class experience and keeping improving back rowers like Ross Rennie and Alan Macdonald out of the team. Darryl Gibson was less than a success on the pitch for Glasgow (though reputed to have been very influential off the pitch) whereas Todd Blackadder is probably the benchmark for a successful import. Oh, and we did have a world-class back row at Edinburgh – but Simon Taylor left. (Edinburgh vs Wasps, Sky Sports, Sunday 1pm)

UPDATE: Ross Rennie has received a two match ban for his tackle on Paul Sackey. Paterson has failed a fitness test so Hugo Southwell will start at 15. Scott Newlands fills in for Rennie and the only other change is Andy Kelly filling in for the injured Ross Ford.

And having cemented his place in Glasgow’s Outside Centre position, Max Evans has signed a new deal with the club. Let’s hope he repeats his performance against Bath this weekend. Disappointing to see that Ruaridh Jackson has dropped to the bench to welcome back Parko, but I suppose it was inevitable. (Sunday 2pm, not on the telly, highlights on Sky Sports ERC Rugby Special Sunday night)

Glasgow Miles Better

I have to admit it, I’ve always been kind of an Edinburgh man. I like the city more than Glasgow, went to University there, most of my friends live there. So naturally I gravitated towards Edinburgh Rugby as a natural home for my supporter’s sympathies – other than the mighty Highland, of course. It was also pointed out recently that (inadvertently) I had even sustained this anti-Glasgow bias in the header of this site – now slightly redressed. But it seems in all that I overlooked something. Glasgow are actually pretty good.

Currently they sit 2nd in the Magners League. They are building a passionate and consistent crowd of supporters at Firhill, and Lineen is long past being happy with valiant defeats. Performance -and results – are starting to matter to him, as well they should. A lot of the focus is on Andy Robinson rebuilding teams and careers at Edinburgh, but Lineen has been quietly turning the ship around on the other side of the country for a few years now, and this season it looks to have started steaming in the right direction.

Failing some sort of Munster miracle game, Glasgow took part in the Heineken Cup match of the weekend – even including Harlequin’s thriller in the Stade de France – against Bath today. England’s second best team looked like they would have too much class, but Glasgow never gave up and eventually went down 35-31. If you get a chance to watch the highlights on Sky tonight, I’d recommend it. On Friday Ian MacGeechan blamed Wasps’ endless kicking and lacklustre rugby (still enough to defeat Edinburgh) on the ELVs and new interpretations at the breakdown, yet Bath seem to manage quite well. Even Munster, led by kicking machine Ronan O Gara, are willing to throw it about a bit. Glasgow manage it quite well too. Kicking ping-pong only works if you’re certain that the other team will kick it back. Bath don’t. Problem solved. Glasgow didn’t much either, and it gave us an enthralling game of rugby. I hope Geech will sort it out in time for the Lions tour.

Speaking of which, John Barclay is continuing his run of understated but utterly effective play in the tackle and at the breakdown that will hopefully see him as an outside pick for the tour at 7. Tom Rees and Martin Williams are probably ahead of him, but the Six Nations will give him a broad stage on which to showcase his talent. And he’s only 22. If not this one, maybe the next.

Ruaridh Jackson may yet prove the most important find of the season (though we probably won’t really know for a couple of years) in his first professional start at 10. He’s got great hands, a bit of pace, vision and his tactical kicking wasn’t too bad either (and that’s one area he could learn from Dan Parks). In a Glasgow team filled with sevens players, they were always alive to the counter – as proven by Thom Evans’ opportunistic hat-trick of tries created largely through sheer pace and acceleration. You won’t have heard it here first, but I believe Ruaridh Jackson has a part to play in Scotland’s future.

The one area Glasgow did suffer in was depth, as illustrated by the very last play of the game. After the clock had ticked over the 80 minute mark, Bath were camped on Glasgow’s line with the sustained pressure that had characterised the second half (punctuated by breakaway Glasgow tries). You felt the last chance for a well deserved – if unlikely – snatched victory was gone. Suddenly, there’s an interception and Jackson is steaming up the pitch – a repeat of his try minutes before that had put Glasgow into twin bonus point territory and announced that this game was far from over. The Rec crowd go nuts as a frantic foot race begins and Jackson finds the touchline closing him out. If there’s one man you want on his shoulder it was Thom Evans, but he had gone off ten minutes previously to be replaced by the slightly less pacy Hefin O’Hare. So instead Jackson chips past the defender, and looks to regather. But the ball bounces into touch, and the Rec breathes easy again. Not bad for a first game – to be so influential on the outcome, and against a World Cup winning fly-half on the other team. Glasgow never stopped battling, but their class diminished slightly with every substitution (unlike Bath). Still, next time Jackson is stuck on the bench behind Parks, you might not be able to say the same.

Sean Lineen, I am fast becoming a fan.

What We Learned in the Autumn

1) We shouldn’t really bother playing New Zealand, ever again. What useful purpose does it serve? It does us little good, and it gives them pointlessly easy grand slams. Think of that, we could scupper their grand slam tours without even playing a match.

2) Scotland now have a scrum that shouldn’t get pushed around. If we could get back our lineout dominance of a few years back we might be a serious threat up front. Bring back Scott Murray?

3) Nick De Luca looks like he is over his 6N hiccup and is now forming a dynamic centre partnership with Ben Cairns that augers well for the future. A lot of our players should hit their playing peak in around 3 years. Many of them already have a solid base of caps and are growing in maturity. We may not be able to just unwrap a new test-ready fly half like the All-Blacks seem to do, but I think we are managing the resources we do have well. Gregor Townsend’s mentorship scheme of the young players is a similarly excellent idea.

4) Mike Blair may be the best scrum half in the world at the moment. He outshone the best the southern hemisphere showed him, even leading a losing team. Euan Murray gave a great account of himself too, although it could be argued he didn’t face NZ’s best scrum combination. Both, along with Lee Byrne of Wales, are certain Lions if their form and fitness continue. Blair now pops up in most people’s World/Lions XVs. (Except for Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times, who picked him in his World XV but not his Lions team. Someone should point out to Mr Jones that Mike Phillips and Gavin Henson are short of fitness and form, and too busy duking it out on the streets of Cardiff to merit inclusion at this stage. Stuart Barnes didn’t pick Murray at tighthead but at least explained his reasoning! And he picked Barclay at 7, kudos.)

5) Ryan Jones is far from certain of a Lions test place, due to the barnstorming performances we have seen from Powell in the Welsh No 8 shirt. The Lions captaincy is still wide open.

5) Commentators still love mispronouncing names. Award of the season goes to John Beattie for “Cleanburger” (Adam Kleeberger of Canada). Rokocoko got a bit of a mangling from the BBC boys as well… Jonathan Davies is not alone.

6) England are having a few problems. They are probably where we were a few years ago, bottoming out on the constant wave of world rugby. Their players and management will take a while to bed in – Martin Johnson is a novice coach, remember. Let’s just hope they get it sorted. In 2012.

7) The second tier rugby nations are still getting screwed by the clubs. While the big unions can buy player release, pity poor Canada who have a core base of amateurs and can’t even get Ander Munro on release from Italy. They should shut off all club play on the continent while the Autum Internationals are on (masterplan for restructuring 4-years rugby cycle coming soon). This would undoubtedly help the likes of Italy, Georgia and Romania whose players fill in when the Frenchies are off playing tests. Georgia could quite easily have played a close full test against similarly ranked Canada rather than them getting pasted by our A and full sides respectively. Georgia might have also been beaten by Edinburgh had the floodlights at Meggetland not failed (poor show).

8) Australia will rise, and soon. Their last two games against Wales and the Baa-Baas were great fun, backed by a steely spine of solid – that’s almost not strong enough a term – defence. We could learn a lot from the Robbie Deans “soak it up then counter” school of thought. They will definitely be a force come 2011. Good job we didn’t get them in our group.

9) World XV based mostly on Autumn performances I saw: Byrne (Wal), Muliaina (NZ), De Villiers (SA), Nonu (NZ), Williams (Wal), Carter (NZ), Blair (Sco), Powell (Wal), McCaw (NZ), Burger (SA), Matfield (SA), Botha (SA), Murray (Sco), Ford (Sco), Woodcock (NZ). Honorary mention should go to the Aussies who showed up with a team rather than some individuals, so I’d pick Robbie Deans as the coach.

10) Wales are still 6N favourites. Behind them it’s a toss-up but Scotland have more than a good chance of making the top three. On current form you might hesitate to say that about England or Ireland. France, as always under Lieveremont are a mystery until they take the field. Frank Hadden has us as dark horses, and for once I’m in agreement with Franky baws. The Scots are coming.

Don’t forget there is Heineken Cup rugby on Sky this weekend again, though no Edinburgh vs Wasps on Friday night. Bath vs Glasgow is on on Sunday. Player watch as usual to follow next week. Oh, and you can add number 11) in the comments section below. We don’t bite.

Scotland Squad and Lions Coaches Announced

Scott Gray makes a surprise and (if he continues current form) welcome return to the Scotland National squad, while in form Max Evans and Geoff Cross make up the uncapped contingent. No real suprises otherwise but a few points:

  • Good to see Hadden’s picked some genuine 7s.
  • Not too many locks there though – Hamilton and Hines are the only genuine ones, so expect cover from Mutschin or Taylor (vindicated). Scott MacLeod may yet make it, test results/appeal pending (see previous post). No sign of Scott Murray who looked good in Montauban’s near miss against Munster.
  • All the usual suspects in the backs, though it could be Lawson that misses out rather than Cusiter this time
  • They seem to be heading for warm-weather training in Spain. With all the games being played in Novermber (including one practically in the North Sea) would they not be better training in Reykjavik?
  • For me Barclay and Euan Murray are probably the only certs in the forwards, and Blair in the backs. Highly recommended picks would be Godman, Evans and Cairns also but I guess that comes down to Hadden’s tactics. There is plenty of scope for picking a form team rather than a favourites team.
  • My starting (form) XV to face New Zealand would be: Lamont R, Evans T, Cairns, Morrison, Lamont S (maybe Mossy), Godman, Blair, Hogg, Barclay, Strokosch, Taylor, Hines, Murray, Ford, Dickinson. I imagine he’ll play Parks and Mossy in there somewhere though as Godman’s goal kicking may not be reliable enough – kicks could be our only source of points after all…

In other news of the un-surprising nature, most of Wales’ coaching staff were announced as the Lions backroom team plus team doctor and Scotsman James Robson. Gatland, Howley, Edwards and McGeechan certainly sounds bloody good on paper, even if it decimates Wales’ touring party in the summer. But then the Lions squad selection might have done that anyway. Shane Williams, James Hook, Ryan Jones and Martin Williams are all shoe-ins if you ask me. Also, Sky pundit Dick Best advocated Allan “Chunk” Jacobsen as a possible midweek Lion last weekend. The campaign starts now… and there’ll be more Lions preview stuff in the coming weeks.

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