Heineken Cup roundup
“I’ve watched enough games involving their sides, to wonder what they actually bring to the event, because Murrayfield is like a morgue. Edinburgh and Glasgow have achieved very little over the years, and if there was any move to set up a British league in the future I don’t think that anyone would be rushing to sign up the Scottish sides.” Jonathan Davies, quoted in the Sunday Times
Okay, so he has a point – the Scottish pro sides have woefully under-performed in comparison to their Celtic brethren in recent years. Although setting up a league without the Scots would restrict his ability to mispronounce Malcolm Changleng’s name at every opportunity.
Name-calling and the non-sequitur of his opening sentence aside, the Scottish pro teams remain occasionally competitive (Glasgow beating Cardiff, Edinburgh’s away win at Ulster this weekend), and hold mid table positions in the Magners League without ever really challenging for honours. Couple that with the potential of their respective set-ups and various blends of youth and experience (Lineen with his southern hemisphere muscle, Robinson with Edinburgh’s at times fearless vitality) and it seems clear that the thing that would really help is a decent crowd to watch it all, the famed 16th man that the likes of Munster, Ulster or Llanelli can bring off the bench to help push their side over the line.
Consider Simon Taylor’s decision to move to Stade Francais into a back row that already has Remy Martin, Sergio Parisse and Mauro Bergamasco. Only now getting a game due to injuries to the others, Taylor still chose this over staying at Murrayfield, surrounded by political infighting and poor crowds. You feel the fact that Stade can sell nearly 80,000 tickets for a league game against Toulouse while Edinburgh struggle to get 4,000 for a similar fixture, at home to the Frenchmen in the Heineken Cup, may have had something to do with it. (Although this was a pretty good crowd for Edinburgh, you wonder what would happen if 80,000 people actually tried to turn up at Murrayfield for an Edinburgh match. They’d probably turn them away).
I don’t think getting rid of Edinburgh and Glasgow is the answer to getting well-supported teams. I feel it would create one or two powerful “super” clubs (ala the Old Firm) from the Premier League who the rest of Edinburgh or the Borders (and to a lesser extent Glasgow) would more than likely refuse to get behind, splitting along parochial lines, which was a problem highlighted in the demise of the Borders. Surely city based teams with no fixed club-based allegiance are the only way forward in Scotland, but they should work with the Premier League clubs, sharing players, coaches etc and Andy Robinson certainly seems to be trying to take steps to build such bridges where the SRU have tried and failed. Perhaps his credentials at club level with Bath give him credibility the SRU cannot muster.
Variously – and only in relation to club games it seems, as the atmosphere is fine on international days – Murrayfield is described as a tomb, a mausoleum, a coffin. The SRU somewhat wistfully try to convince us it’s a castle. But never a cauldron, like the Stade Geoffrey Guichard in St Etienne that managed such a ferocious atmosphere with only 30,000 people – a stadium incidentally designed like an English football ground. But Glasgow play at a smaller football ground, and they suffer from similar problems so it can’t just be that the stadium is crap. Indeed the problem may be that Murrayfield is far from crap – it boasts world-class facilities, already paid for by the SRU. Why pay out more money (that they don’t have) to move permanently?
Okay then, how about a temporary move?
It seems if Munster and the Crusaders can remain highly successful whilst still farming out the odd home game to Cork or Nelson (the Crusaders have even touted hosting games in Melbourne in the past) then surely Edinburgh or Glasgow could spread the game in their own respective catchment areas to try and build a fan-base, and perhaps prove to the SRU that there is support for the game in other areas. It worked for internationals held in Aberdeen and Perth, would it work for club games? There has been a lot in the press this weekend regarding Scotland’s poor attendances, with various solutions offered. Netherdale has been touted by Allan Massie as somewhere with the facilities to host an Edinburgh game that is closer to Edinburgh than Cork is to Limerick. And the people of the Borders might even turn up en masse just to spite the SRU for closing down their own poorly supported pro team, the Reivers.
I live in the North of Scotland, so a trip to Edinburgh every weekend is tricky for a man without a car or a bottomless wallet, but I go to matches when I am in Edinburgh, I went to France and watch as much as I can on TV. I am a Scotland rugby supporter, but feel powerless in this instance other than badgering my Edinburgh-based friends to go along. So I’ll watch the STV show on a Sunday, I’ll keep on posting and I’ll keep on saving up to go to New Zealand in 2011. But if you get the chance to go along and watch, why don’t you?
Apologies for the appalling pun in the title. I was going to try and shoehorn Brian Moore in to make it Moore-ia, so you should think yourself lucky.
UPDATE: Just noticed this on the Edinburgh website – I wonder if Robinson has been on at them, or if this is part of a new strategy:
“Nevertheless it proved to be a productive weekend for everyone involved in rugby in the Scottish capital and, we will regularly promote the local club games involving our players as we strive to strengthen the bond between Edinburgh Rugby Club and the rugby clubs of Edinburgh.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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
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.
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
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!