Category: Heineken Cup

Heineken Horror!

I’ll keep this brief as the idea of reliving Saturday’s Edinburgh v Leinster match is putting me off my lunch!

Glorious day, sun splitting the sky, a good Autumn wind and, with Mrs Al off visiting relatives, a free pass to go and do with the day whatever I desire.  For once Edinburgh are playing at home at a time that actually encourages attendance, not only that but a 1.30pm ko ensured that I was out and in the pub in time for the second half of the Scotland v Norway snorefest.   So off to fortress Murrayfield I went and to be honest the signs were good!  For once the ticket arrangements were well organised with separate booth for those of us paying cash so no wait in a long queue.  Into the stadium in time for a pint from the well manned (it’s true!!) booze cabins and an almost tasty burger from the stall – really, trips to Murrayfield rarely go this well.  It’s a case of sit where you like with the ticket I have and I get a seat right under the media boxes and a cracking view for the game ahead, find myself surrounded by Leinster fans but they are in good form.  For the first 15-20 minutes this general vibe of positivity was sustained by a good start from Edinburgh…

Those first 15 minutes or so saw Edinburgh press Leinster back and put real pressure onto the lineout. The Leinster lineout was an abomination at times, with lineout after lineout being stolen at the rear by Edinburgh.  You just knew that Edinburgh needed to make the most of the pressure, but all they got was 3 points from a Godman kick.  Sure enough, no sooner had Edinburgh scored than the wheels came off the Edinburgh wagon in spectacular fashion…

TACKLE: “Most forms of football have a move known as a tackle. In most cases this move is one that prevents an opposing player from carrying out what they intend.

The word is used in some contact sports to describe the act of physically holding or wrestling a player to the ground. In other sports, it simply describes one or more methods of contesting for possession of the ball.”

If you happen to be a member of the Edinburgh squad please take note of the above definition (thanks Wikipedia).  For about 15 minutes Edinburgh’s defence was pathetic.   A total inability to tackle or even put in something resembling a tackle cost Edinburgh the game.  Coupling this with a very high line and one missed tackle meant that Leinster were able to break free and score from long range run-ins.  Time after time this happened.  Granted, Leinster benefitted from one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen on a rugby pitch – the forward pass so far forward the Leinster player was sprinting to Livingston to actually catch it.  Now, the referee was miles away from play so, possibly, can be forgiven, but his line judge was bang in line with it and how he missed it only he will know!  Two moves later Leinster break again, second try and effectively game over.  Gutting as it may have been Edinburgh had no one to blame but themselves.

The second half at least saw some fight from Edinburgh and I’m pretty sure I even saw them put a tackle in.   A wee bit more cutting edge and Edinburgh might have had a chance of recovering, but like the national side, they just seem to lack ideas in the opposition 22.  Fair play to Leinster, they took their chances well but this was a victory they didn’t have to work for.

A couple of final points.  Firstly a word on the Leinster fans, certainly the ones around me, who were great craic and supported their team well – Edinburgh fans could learn from them (i.e. stop sitting on your hands and bein quiet!).  Secondly, praise must be given to Edinburgh for the buy one adult get 4 kids free offer.  Seemed to me a fair number of kids in attendance and hopefully they’ll want to come back; get them young, get them playing and get them passionate for the game. It’s the only way we, as a nation, will get better at this wonderful sport.

Over and out.  Al.

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.

An ill-informed look at what lies ahead…

So no sooner has season stopped than it’s up and running again.  A thankfully drama-free summer for Scottish Rugby and the focus (albeit a very limited focus from the nations media) has at least been on developments on the pitch and not in the boardroom.  Not that there has been much going on.  The big name transfers that have been ongoing in the rest of rugby seem to have largely passed by Scottish rugby, with incoming players not being prepared to play for the packet of sweets and a ‘See You Jimmy’ wig being offered by Edinburgh and Glasgow.  Regardless, the Scottish teams have attempted to build on the previous promising seasons and here are my quick thoughts on both:

EDINBURGH – Probably made the biggest signing of the summer by rescuing Chris Paterson from his miserable spell in England (well, it is England so you can kind of understand him being miserable!).  The addition of Jim Hamilton will also add considerable bulk to the forwards (all 19+ stones) so Robinson will no doubt be hopeful that he now has a side ready to kick on.  Last season turned into a sterling effort as Robinson’s impact started to show through in the later half of the season and Edinburgh will be realistically looking to claim their first ever Magners League championship.  They are certainly equipped with some exciting youngsters with a year’s experience under their belts and if they can get a strong start to the season, then come the end of it I think they’ll be there or thereabouts.

As for Europe there is a real opportunity that they could at last qualify from the group stage.  All 4 teams will fancy their chances but Wasps, Leinster and Castres will not be looking forward to a trip to Murrayfield.  Edinburgh are outsiders to qualify but a strong home record coupled with a slice of luck away from home could well see them become the first Scottish side to reach the later stages of Europe’s premier competition.

Predictions

Magners League – chance of the title but more likely a top 3 finish – 3rd

Heineken Cup – Mmmmmm, not sure….ach, early season optimism, 2nd in group.

Glasgow – a fairly quiet summer over in the West Coast.  The arrival of Mark McMillan from Wasps could be a major signing for our Weegie brethren who will hope that he can fill the scrum-half position which has been a troublesome area for some time.  If he can form a relationship with Dan ‘Parko’ Parks then Glasgow may then have attacking verve to trouble opposition defences.  Lineen had a decent season with Glasgow last year and, like Edinburgh, I’m sure he’ll be looking to kick on again and push harder for success in the League.  I don’t think they have the same depth as Edinburgh but Glasgow will certainly be pushing the top teams hard, and with some luck could still be in with a shout come the last run of games.

With regards to Europe I suspect 3rd in the group will be as good as it gets.  Toulouse and Bath will be hot favourites for top slot with the Dragons and Glasgow fighting it out for best of the rest.  I’m sure Glasgow will run both Toulouse and Bath close at home – indeed a sneaky win against either is possible – but away from home they might struggle, difficult to see them getting anything from trips to France or the West Country.  Still, they won’t be whipping boys and if you keep it close enough who knows what can happen.

Predictions

Magners League – outside bet for Championship glory, likely to push the top teams though so I’m going to say an improvement on last year and predict 4th.

Heineken Cup – Strong displays but not enough cutting edge will see Glasgow come 4th in my opinion.

So, there we go.  Told you it was ill informed.  Let us know what you think…enjoy the new season!

Al

Scotland Squad to Tour Argentina Announced

Backs: Chris Paterson (Gloucester), Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh Rugby), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh Rugby), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), Andrew Henderson (Glasgow Warriors), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh Rugby), Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors), Phil Godman (Edinburgh Rugby), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Mike Blair (Edinburgh Rugby) (capt), + 2 players tba

Forwards: Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh Rugby), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby), Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Scott MacLeod (Llanelli Scarlets), Dave Callam (Edinburgh Rugby), Johnnie Beattie, John Barclay, Kelly Brown (all Glasgow Warriors), Allister Hogg (Edinburgh Rugby), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), + 3 players tba

So it looks like the Mossy debate will rage on, with Paterson seemingly picked amongst the full backs. Thom Evans adds a bit of zip to a back three shorn of both Lamonts and Simon Webster. Cairns will most likely be used as utility cover. Glad to see faith has been retained in De Luca, hoepfully he’ll get a chance to show what he can do – more likely if Godman gets the nod at ten although apparently Parks has been playing a lot flatter (and better) of late. Perhaps Parks’ club coach Lineen will get the best from him where Hadden has thus far had limited success.

Not sure who the additional backs are going to be, but if Rob Dewey stays fit I imagine he will be one of them, and Max Evans has been in good form too, but perhaps he will get a run in the Churchill Cup A Team squad (announced tomorrow). The additional forwards may feature some of the absent French contingent depending on how their various clubs are performing come end of season. Given that there is only one second row selection currently (and Jason White is not available to slot in there either), I would look to see Murray or possibly Hines in the mix for those slots. It just goes to show that Jim Hamilton’s move to Edinburgh may prove a blessing until some younger second rows come through. Good to see former Highland man Moray Low rewarded for his form this season.

Players who may yet get an A Team selection include the likes of Max Evans, Gordon Ross, Nick Lloyd, Mark McMillan – newly signed for Glasgow, David Blair, Alan MacDonald, Roland Reid etc. We’ll give you details on that as and when.

Heineken Cup Round-up

London Irish 20 – 9 USAP / Perpignan

Hines and Cusiter had a good start, with Cusiter in particular rescuing Percy Montgomery from a few classic Percy moments under high balls etc, but Irish piled on the pressure as the match wore on, and consequently ran out the winners. Hines kept his discipline, indeed what could easily have been an ill-tempered affair only really spilled over in the dying minutes, and for once big Nathan was far from the action.

Gloucester 3 -16 Munster

Paterson (starting on the wing) had a shocking start, missing two bread-and-butter kicks and one tricky one, which seemed to unsettle him for the rest of the game. Substituted after 55 minutes. You wonder what lies in his future at Kingsholm if he’s no longer considered a kicker, given the presence of Lamb at 10 and plenty of pacier/bigger depth in the back three. It is unlikely that he will have experienced anything like the high pressure of European knockout rugby, in an atmosphere created by such devoted fans as Munster and Gloucester posess, but I hope he will get a chance to do so again, and am sure he will bounce back. Lawson marshalled his forwards as well as he could but made a few poor decisions early on that led to turnovers and could in fact have led to worse. No sign of Strokosch (or Dickinson), and to be honest they could have done with Stroker’s physicality up front, considering the size of the hits even the Munster centres were putting in from start to finish. Dean Ryan will not, one suspects, be too happy.

Saracens 19 -10 Ospreys

No Nikki Walker due to injury, and SuperGordo is absent from the bench for Saracens.

Toulouse 41 – 17 Cardiff

No Scottish interest here either. So I can post this article now, rather than tomorrow. I’ll update it with the scores as and when.

UPDATED:

Scores posted above. Semi Finals will be as follows: London Irish v Toulouse and Saracens vs Munster on the weekend of the 25th April. Not a Scot in site, unless you count uncapped but eligible Sarries prop Nick Lloyd, or Marcus di Rollo makes an appearance for Toulouse in a random display of rashness by Guy Noves. Stranger things have happened.

DOUBLE UPDATED:

As Giorgia pointed out, Mossy is taking a kicking (sorry) on the Gloucester Forum. Interesting, a Worcester fan posting there claims to have heard rumour linking him to the Warriors (Worcester that is) next season. Interesting. I wonder if a lack of pressure – and a better chance of first team games with Shane Drahm heading off to Japan – would suit him more, assuming they escape relegation.

Heineken Cup Update

I’ll keep this brief so you can read Al’s awe-inspiring Six Nations preview below. I was going to call this article “Stephen Jones can suck my poop”.

Glasgow managed a narrow victory against Viadana (pop. approx 17,000, and led by Al’s boogeyman Kaine Robertson), but no sign of the 4 try bonus point that was so vital if they are to fluke their way out of the group stages. Especially with Saracens going so well (5 points against Biarritz), Glasgow will need to get a bonus point victory against them next week. This group could go down to the wire next weekend. Brown, Barclay and Beattie looked like they might have picked up a few knocks though…

Edinburgh weren’t given a hope by anyone against Leicester after a 39-0 drubbing in the away leg – so I’m looking forward to seeing the highlights of that one on Sunday night as they outplayed the Tigers and emerged thoroughly victorious! 5,800 people turned up and Radio Leicester thought only about a thousand were travelling support, so hopefully the crowds will keep improving. With Parks not amazing against Viadana while Godman scored a try and kicked accurately, could World Class Phil once again be the saviour of Scottish standoffery?

Please leave some comments if you are an actual human being, but spammers don’t bother I only delete them!

Review of the Year

Happy New Year from all here at the Scottish Rugby Blog!

Well, that’s 2007 out of the way. And while we don’t like to dwell in the past much (unless we get to live in 1990 all the time), here’s a look back at some of our personal highlights of 2007.

The Six Nations and the Heineken Cup of last season were pretty disappointing. 6 minutes of separation from some of the first XV’s brain cells against Italy and it went very wrong indeed. Phil Godman’s career has only just begun to recover, and Chris Cusiter had to go and live in France. At home and in Europe, Glasgow were good in patches, while Edinburgh Rugby turned into the lamp-post in some sort of farcical pissing contest between the SRU and the Carruthers brothers. Who would have thought that you would be glad to see Edinburgh back under central control? We also lost the Borders, depriving Scotland’s rugby heartland of pro rugby.

However this season, things are starting to look up. We have the most settled squad and coaching team of any nation together with some young talents straining to be unleashed on the bigger stage. Both remaining pro teams having beefed up their squads, and a large number of our other players are now further afield playing high stakes, high intensity rugby with real pressure for places – and only some of them from the bench. Andy Robinson seems to be making an effort to build bridges with the rugby community in Edinburgh, while Sean Lineen already has a committed if small support and a win against Biarritz (should’ve been two) under his belt. A home win against Saracens could see them through to the Heineken Cup knockout stages. 6,200 people turned out for the derby match last weekend – might the Scottish public finally be paying attention?

Al in St EtienneRugby World Cup 2007 – who says the French can’t do hospitality? French lads handing out booze from rucksacks, locals looking on in bemusement and waving saltires from their balconies, Le Glasgow providing a bewildering blend of Scottish craic, French cuisine and crazy German beer so potent that Rory Lawson couldn’t hold on to his pen. And that was just St Etienne. Okay so we didn’t get to the semis and we could have. (Should have?) But it was my first World Cup in person, we met a bunch of the squad and generally had a whale of a time, best summed up by attached photo of Al augmenting the local sculpture.

Other highlights of the World Cup:

Chris Paterson is the world’s best kicker. Despite what the Sunday Times might think.
Japan’s tries against Wales. Forget the yankee dude skinning Habana, this (one of two) was the best of the Tournament. [youtube link]
The day the Northern hemisphere kicked back. New Zealand and the Aussies finally found common ground – both going out in the same day. Due to a misreading of the draw Al and I found ourselves cheering for England in some Firkin Bar in Paris, laughing as our southern cousins ordered magners at €7 a pop. As it turns out in the end I was unable to stop myself from cheering England on, and the scenes later that night in Paris – when France did the unthinkable and killed the king before the coronation we had all been assured – were unforgettable.
England not winning the World Cup. Despite having garnered a fair amount of good will (see previous item) it would have been a bit of a travesty if a team showing nothing in the way of previous form for 3.5 years had suddenly come up “the best in the world” and then gone on about it for the next 4 years. Justice, I feel, was served by a Springbok team that had the belief AND the skill. I am however gutted Bobby Skinstad didn’t get a chance to play in the final – it would have made a hell of a movie.
The Minnows Spread the Word, and the Word is Rugby. Any tournament that gets football crazy countries like Argentina and Portugal talking about Rugby is to the benefit of the game. It is a bonus that they did so by producing spirited performances in Portugal’s case, and in Argentina’s by punching so far above their perceived weight that it may alter the structure of world rugby. Here’s to the next one.

Tune of the Year: Industrial Revolution Pt II (Orchestral) – Jean Michel Jarre. Instant France flashbacks.

Man of the Year: Chris Paterson. For kicking 19 from 19, and also for talking to me and Al – and many other Scotland fans – when he could quite easily have been in his hotel bed asleep.

Man of Next Year: Nick De Luca. Undoubtedly, you didn’t hear it here first. Or if you’re more of a forwards man, Ross Rennie, John Barclay or Moray Low…

This year we aim to grow the blog into your number one source for chat and opinion regarding Scottish Rugby, so here’s to 2008! Stick with us, and please let us know any suggestions you may have about the blog.

Who Dares Wins

Unless you lose. Not that we endorse wanton gambling or anything, but James at the Rugby Blog has been in touch to say that they’re running an offer in conjunction with Betfair offering you good deals on Six Nations betting. So if you think that Marcus Di Rollo will win the most Man of the Match awards or you think Chunk will be the leading try-scorer of the Six Nations, why not follow this link and put your money where your mouth is? There are prizes and everything.

Also I should probably mention the sterling performances put in by our pro-teams last weekend. When Biarritz fluked a result against Glasgow I felt almost as gutted as when the Argies knocked us out of RWC ’07 – only at least the Argies deserved to beat us. So that’s the performance we asked for in my last post – even Sean Lineen thought they had won in the interview he gave afterwards on the radio. John Barclay also made me reconsider my choice at 7 in the fantasy XV I posted a while back. Meanwhile Edinburgh made Leinster look like, well, Ireland, and got the win that we asked for too. Robinson seems to have put a bit of steel in the Edinburgh team, and I like it. All I need now is some snow and it’s a merry Christmas.

In other unexpected news (“cruelly” ignored on the Rugby Club yesterday) Frank Hadden got a new contract for 12 months or more, presumably any extension depending on what’s happening with the SRU this time next year rather than if he’s been any good or not. Brian Ashton got a similar deal from the RFU, which was a less certain outcome – though probably the right one. Give them both a chance at a complete World Cup cycle – all the 6 Nations are going through upheaval of one sort or another, hell Scotland are practically the most settled team, and injuries have taken care of a couple of players who were treading water perhaps forcing Hadden into a more adventurous selection policy. So Hadden, Ashton – I wonder if Betfair will give you the odds on who lasts the longest?

‘Mon the boys

Here’s to the Scottish teams doing well this weekend. This means a win for Edinburgh on the Saturday against Leinster, and a decent game (bonus point) for Glasgow on Friday. If Parks kicks his touch and Biarritz forget to turn up again though, it could be the shock of the tournament. Both games are on Sky (red button Friday night for Glasgow, or you can watch Nikki Walker make Ulster look bad again) so if you can’t make it to Biarritz (ahem) or Murrayfield then watch it on the TV! If you prefer not to watch Edinburgh vs Leinster, Chris Cusiter is due to start for Perpignan alongside big Nathan (and Percy) in the match against London Irish, also on Sky Sports red button.

Player Watch: No appearances tonight for Jason White or Rory Lamont in Sale’s win over Bayonne. So Rory was unable to extend his 7 tries in 6 games streak – I suppose from St Andre’s point of view, why play him at full-back when he’s a try machine on the wing? However Scott Lawson finally got a wee run in Sale colours, and though wasn’t able to do much he made a few good tackles and his line-out throws were spot on.

Also thanks to our first commenters on the blog, here’s to many more!

Heineken Cup Player Watch AND Pro-Team Round Up

Slim updates all rolled into one this week – I had a busy weekend! I also got a chance to watch STV’s new rugby programme imaginitively titled “Scotsport Rugby” which happens on a Sunday around 6, for those of you that have missed out so far. While I’m still not sure who Richie Gray is, it’s good to see Rugby back on the telly in Scotland, and I think it’s something we should all get behind.

Leicester 39-0 Edinburgh

Leicester were up 15-0 after 15 minutes, with a new strategy from Loffreda that seemed to involve offloading before/in the tackle, and Edinburgh being crap. Still, a Leicester team more interesting to watch would be no bad thing. Goode’s kicking was anything but, which kept Edinburgh in sight, but they compounded their lack of possession with errors and penalties for holding on and Leicecster’s pressure proved too much to bear for Robinson’s men.

Edinburgh seemed to perform better in the second half – not least when reduced to 13 men, but never quite pulled together enough to penetrate Leicester’s defence (even when the Tigers fell asleep towards the end of the game).

Once again, a Scottish team show an inability to perform two weeks in a row – disappointing.

Glasgow 41-31 Viadana

Closer than you would hope, Glasgow let them get back to 24 all before closing the game out. Still, it shows high standards that Sean Lineen is still not happy with a bonus point win. Reports describe that
Glasgow were pretty sloppy.

Player Watch

Mossy got a whole half an hour on the pitch for Gloucester and made a good account of himself at 10, during which they closed out a close game against the Ospreys. Rory Lawson was once again very good, and Nikki Walker also had quite a good game for the Welsh team in the first half at least before it tightened up. Al “Stroker” Strokosch was lucky not to be sin-binned/sent off for a sneaky trip though.

Perpignan vs Treviso, Chris Cusiter got his first start for USAP, while Hines came off the bench after his sin-binning last week

Rory Lamont scored two tries for Sale in their Challenge Cup Victory. Look for him (on the wing, sadly) in Sale’s match vs Worcester live on TV on Thursday, no doubt we’ll see Luke McAlister winging
lots of miss passes to him on his debut for Sale. Please note, we do not condone the use of a miss pass as an effective attacking tactic.

Still no sign of Simon Taylor in Stade Francais 22 for their defeat to Bristol(!), but with Parisse and Bergamasco both picking up leg injuries he might get a chance for some game-time soon!

Next Heineken Cup weekend 7th-9th December, both sides are being shown: Edinburgh vs Leinster and Glasgow vs Biarritz. Start bricking it now.

Pro Team Round-Up

Edinburgh 15-19 Toulouse

Edinburgh were unlucky to lose this one – if David Blair had kicked a few more points this game would have been a first major scalp for Edinburgh. However, it’s unfair to lay the blame for what might have been at the foot of the diminutive Edinburgh fly-half, as this was another reasonably assured performance from him, and in general Edinburgh handled well with far fewer knock-ons and dropped balls than we are used to. There were still a few turnovers at the breakdown which they will be worried about, but a refreshing unwillingness to kick showcased a young Edinburgh team unafraid to throw it about a bit: backs and forwards alike offloading in the tackle and moving forward with zest. Nick De Luca scored a great try – going past Jauzion in the process – proving that he is developing as a centre offering a genuine attacking threat born of pace and speed, rather than brute strength.

Saracens 33-31 Glasgow

Parks early penalty gave Glasgow a lead, but from then on it was a case of weathering the first half storm. Thom Evans went off with a head knock, depriving the Warriors of some zip on the wing, and Saracens seemed to have all the luck from that point. Glasgow came out fired up in the second half and clawed back 6 points through Parks, but Farrell seemed to be orchestrating slick attacks all over the park and it wasn’t long before Saracens had stretched the lead again, by seemingly too great a margin for Glasgow to come back from. Glasgow never gave up though with late converted tries from O’Hare and Al Kellock securing a well deserved bonus point and causing jitters amongst the home support. Five more minutes of pressure and Parko might have drop-goaled a sneaky victory, but alas (again) Glasgow are searching for a victory against Saracens.

It is heartening to see the pro-teams still (or in some cases starting to) play with spirit and determination even when facing defeat. Soon though, they will have to start getting results.

From Behind the Couch – Heineken Cup Preview 2007

So, the rugby World Cup is over and attention once again turns to club rugby, in particular this weekend sees a start to the European competitions, the Challenge Cup and the ever more popular Heineken Cup (H-Cup for beer-averse readers in France). If some of the club sides can slip off the shackles of recent international playing styles then there could be some cracking rugby played, and that’s why we’re all here really isn’t it?

Are the English and French clubs too powerful in every sense of the word? Will a Scottish team win a game, let alone progress to the group stages? Will Steven Berkoff recite some Shakespeare to get Sky viewers pumped up?

Edinburgh Rugby

Once again Edinburgh find themselves in a pool of death. Once again with Toulouse. This year, however, they find themselves without a host of the internationals they fielded last season – moved to pastures new – a beefed up front row with Ross Ford in at hooker and a fledgling back division looking to try and find a cutting edge for Scottish rugby. Even if they pull off three wins at home (the mostly empty Murrayfield) they still face the monumental challenges of winning away at either Toulouse or Leicester’s Welford Road, and the marginally-easier-but-still-a-little-tricky Leinster, who will be looking to make amends for the Irish backs poor showing in the World Cup. Will Andy Robinson have a successful cup run? Instinct says no, but if he’s looking to blood young talent – in Blair junior he may have a standoff who can kick goals and run an attack – it may just prove beneficial to Scotland in the future.
Players to watch: David Blair, Nick De Luca, Simon “Malkovich” Webster.

Glasgow Warriors

Of the two, Glasgow have more of a chance if they can win all their home games and maybe sneak an away win somewhere other than Viadana. Glasgow played Saracens several times last year and came close, but the Glasgow squad is a lot stronger this year with Gibson and Fa’atau as well as a few Borders strays, and Parks seemingly on a run of confidence following some good World Cup performances and kicking Ulster to death last week. They are an outside chance to sneak out of the group if they can beat Saracens (twice?!), but I don’t know how far they can go after that.
Players to watch: Dan “Parko” Parks, Thom Evans, Darryl Gibson

Although the two Scottish pro-sides are unlikely to progress out of the group stage (though we live in hope), there may still be Scottish interest available in the later stages, so we’ll do our best to keep you updated.

This weekend (all TV matches on Sky Sports) you can see:

Thursday 8th

Sale v Montpellier 7.30pm Challenge Cup – can Rory Lamont keep up his recent try scoring run for Sale, not to mention his place in the team? Jason White returns to the team, Lamont may earn a place on the bench after coming back from an ankle knock. No sign of Scott Lawson in the team. Lots of other

Friday 9th

Ulster v Gloucester 8pm Heineken Cup – Paterson, Lawson, Strokosch, Dickinson may feature, though Paterson seems once again resigned to fate as a goal kicker and utility back rather than the stand-off he was rumoured to be signed as. But with the mercurial Ryan Lamb in the 10 shirt he’d have his work cut out to pin that position down anyway. What might have been, Ryan. Rob Dewey and Simon Danielli may feature for Ulster.

Perpignan v Dragons (Sky Interactive) 8pm Heineken Cup – Will Chris Cusiter get a game after his start against Albi last week? Captain and fellow Scot Nathan Hines should also feature, as may World Cup winner Percy Montgomery. You’d fancy USAP to win this one.

Saturday 10th

Leinster v Leicester Tigers 1pm Heineken Cup – Big Jim Hamilton may get a run in this one, but not much Scottish interest, other than giving the bookies some idea of the points differential Edinburgh may face in the later pool stages. Could be a great game though, so watch it anyway.

Edinburgh v Toulouse 3.30pm Heineken Cup – Can Andy Robinson’s black and red army (as the SRU’s marketers like to put it) pull together the victory they have searched for under his control? They get closer to a result with each passing game, but it seems unlikely with such a young back division facing Toulouse’s class and experience. But that may make them fearless, and the best time to play the French is early on at home. Plus they all get to have a pop at Marcus Di Rollo.

Wasps v Munster 5.30pm Heineken Cup – Another potentially mouth-watering clash between two club giants. Wasps have started the premiership a little slowly, but they (almost) always turn up for European matches.

Auch v Bath 7.45pm Challenge Cup

Sunday 11th

Cardiff Blues v Bristol 1pm Heineken Cup – The strongest team so far in the Magners League, Cardiff will be looking to get a result here and they should manage it at home.

Clermont v Llanelli 1pm Heineken Cup – Scott Macleod may continue his run of fine form in a red shirt, which has till now not really been replicated for Scotland. Bruce Douglas also followed him to this region of Wales, still most likely reeling from the recent death of legend Ray Gravell.

Not on the TV but you might find them on the radio online:

Saracens vs Glasgow (Sunday 3pm, Radio Only) Heineken Cup – Glasgow need to start strong (see above). Fingers crossed!