Category: Scotland National Team

6 Nations – the ill-informed view…

Having not had the opportunity to post for a while now I thought I had better remove my finger and provide the world with some more of my ramblings.

You guys have had it too good since New Year, having the pleasure of Rory’s well-considered musings on the game.  As with any good partnership you need the Yin and Yang – I am the screaming, cursing, bipolar (“we’re great…nah, we’re sh*te”), Townsend-sceptic rugby fan in comparison to Rory’s deer-stalker wearing, drinks out the back of the Land Rover, Townsend-lovin’ rugby toff.  As such my musings are formed purely of prejudice, half-baked ideas and a tenuous knowledge of the rules (I played in the front row, no need for rules!).

The 6 Nations are less that 2 weeks away and this year’s tournament looks like it is shaping up to be a cracker.  The Northern Hemisphere’s premier tournament is always essential viewing but this year there is a general feeling that pretty much every team has the ability to pick up results…well maybe except England!  Here are my thoughts on Scotland in the lead up to the big kick-off, look out for my views on the other teams in the coming days:

Scotland

Every year, without fail, I’ll look at the Scotland squad and think to myself that it looks pretty strong and that with a wee bit of luck this could be the year we string some result together and maybe claim a wee bit of glory.  Every year I’m wrong and the last couple of 6 Nations have seen Scotland win 2 games…out of 10!  Can this be the year where Scotland turn promise into results?

Well, yes!

Hadden has by far and away his strongest squad in his tenure as top dog.  A pack that is possibility the best in the tournament and a set of backs that, whilst not the finished article, look like they might actually score some points.  The club sides are producing good results (think Glasgow and Edinburgh winning in France) and are pushing at the right end of the Magners League.  Key to their success has been the breakthrough of a number of younger players and this has fed into the national side where an injection of fresh blood has been needed for sometime now.  Since the last 6 Nations the national team has toured Argentina picking up a win in the process and put in 2 encouraging displays in their Autumn Internationals (didn’t see the NZ game but didn’t sound great).  The game against South Africa, the world champions, showed just how far the team have come…and how far they still have to go.  We bullied the South Africans around in the pack.  The forwards were tight and very, very aggressive.  The backs ran good angles and with a little more precision could have scored more points.   That though is where they still have issue: finishing off the chances they create.  For Scotland to prosper this coming 6 Nations they need to take the form from the South Africa and Canada games and add the finishing – if, and it’s still a big if, they can do that then they may well have a very good tournament.

This Scotland team has the look of a team that is still a distance from peaking (2011 would be nice!) but if they continue to develop at the same rate as the last 12 months then the future should be good, or at least better than what has gone before.  A successful Scotland side will help ensure that the punters turn up in number ensuring more money into the SRU coffers which will then, hopefully be fed into the grass routes (and not Chris Cusiter’s pockets!) to bring on the next generation of players.

A quick note on Hadden, who like his squad, appears to have come on leaps and bounds in the last 12 months.  I’ve never been a huge fan (despite the fact he put up while Rory and I dribbling drunken nonsense to him in St Etienne) but he seems to have got a better idea of the game he wants to play.  Like most Scotland fans I’m delighted that Dan Parks has burnt the dodgy pictures he must have had of Hadden and he is no longer compelled to pick him.  Hadden has a depth of squad that has not been available to him in the last couple of years and this should allow him to develop a Plan B in the case any games are going pear shaped.  Of course this means that the excuses that Hadden has used to cover his own inadequacies are not going to wash.  This tournament will cast a fair eye over Hadden’s abilities at this level.

Finally, the backroom staff appears to be doing a good job, the pack is tight (although the lineout is still in need of work) and provide an extremely solid base for attacking the opposition.  As much as I was never a huge Townsend fan when he was a player (way too erratic) if his coaching is half as good as his thoughts on the game then we should see a back line that will trouble even the best sides in the world.

Predictions:

So, can Scotland win the 6 Nations?  Yes!

Really?  Well it’s certainly not outwith the realms of possibility and we are certainly due a run of luck in terms of injuries and the bounce of the ball…

The first game against Wales is the key.  Wales, off the back of a Grand Slam and a decent set of Autumn Internationals will be looking to start strong but Murrayfield is far from a happy hunting ground for the singing coal miners.  Presuming Scotland don’t forget how to tackle, they will fancy bloodying the noses of the Welsh and setting up a lip-smacking clash in Paris the following week.  The other home games should be winnable (the Irish are on the slide in my opinion, and Italy should still always be beatable) so a lot comes down to the trips to Paris and London.  Scotland don’t travel that well (not lately anyway!) but this is a Scotland squad filled with players who have won on French soil (albeit at club level) so Paris may not be so scary.  As for England, who knows but this could well be the year the Scots end the Twickers hoodoo!

Head: Mid table mediocrity.  Win against Ireland and Italy at home, lose in France, just miss out in a classic open running game versus Wales and a lack of composure in scoring position ultimately see us lost to England by a score.  4th / 3rd
Heart: Get off to a flyer against Wales, lose in France but pick up 3 more victories, including a gritty display at Twickers to records a long awaited victory to finish 1st or 2nd.
Arse:  Lose badly against a buoyant Welsh side, struggle for composure in France, run Ireland close but lose and face an England side that suddenly comes into form at the right time.  Sneak a win at home to Italy to avoid the wooden spoon.  5th.

Fixtures:

Scotland v Wales (Murrayfield) – Sunday 8th February, 3pm.
France v Scotland (Stade France) – Saturday 14th February, 3pm
Scotland v Italy (Murrayfield) – Saturday 28th February, 3pm
Scotland v Ireland (Murrayfield) – Saturday 14th March, 5pm
England v Scotland (Twickenham) – Saturday 21st March, 3.30pm

France Playing Loony Tunes Again

France’s Coach Marc Lievremont has named a Six Nations squad shorn of Vincent Clerc (one of the standouts of last year), and with only one “dedicated” stand-off in Lionel Beauxis, who has not played exclusively in that position for Stade having been over shadowed by Argentinian Juan Martin Hernandez. Still, it does feature some of the usual suspects (Jauzion, Heymans, Rougerie, Elissalde, Chabal, Dusautoir) alongside those I’ve never heard of, despite watching a fair amount of European rugby this year.

Still, look what happened to us last time we said “oh check out crazy Marc, we might have a chance here”. Scotland were going to win the Six Nations by kicking off with a victory against a novice French team, and we got humped 6-27 at home. This time round, Ireland are the guinea pigs.

France squad – Backs: Maxime Medard, Clement Poitrenaud, Cedric Heymans (all Toulouse), Alexis Palisson (Brive), Julien Malzieu, Aurelien Rougerie (both Clermont-Auvergne), Yannick Jauzion, Florian Fritz (both Toulouse), Benoit Baby (Clermont-Auvergne), Maxime Mermoz (Perpignan), Lionel Beauxis (Stade Francais), Jean-Baptiste Elissalde (Toulouse), Sebastien Tillous-Borde (Castres), Morgan Parra (Bourgoin).
Forwards: Julien Bonnaire (Clermont-Auvergne), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse), Fulgence Ouedraogo, Louis Picamoles (both Montpellier), Damien Chouly (Perpignan), Sebastien Chabal (Sale), Lionel Nallet (Castres), Romain Millo-Chluski (Toulouse), Jerome Thion (Biarritz), Guilhem Guirado (Perpignan), Benjamin Kayser (Leicester), Dimitri Szarzewski (Stade Francais), Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Lionel Faure (Sale), Fabien Barcella (Biarritz), Fabien Lecouls (Toulouse).

In other news on the rest of my trawl around the Sky Sports Rugby site I found an intriguing ad offering me a 3/1 bet on England for an outright win in the Six Nations, which if had had any tea in my mouth would have made me spray it all over my screen. I also found Stuart Barnes extolling the virtues of Glasgow and John Barclay, Will Greenwood naming Glasgow in 3 of his 5 thingies “of the Week” awards and a Lions XV “Team of the Week” where Ally Kellock and Max Evans were the only Scots. Still, some of the ludicrous pro-irish XV selections in the comments were quite a laugh. Tomas O’ Leary? C’mon.

Enjoy the Heineken Cup weekend coming up in which Edinburgh are out to spoil Leinster’s party, and Glasgow are out to umm, not lose against the Dragons again. Next week I – or hopefully we, ahem – will start the Six Nations buildup, this being the time of year when Al comes out of his cave with a big bag of tuppences…

Scotland Six Nations Training Squad

Scotland coach Frank Hadden springs the odd surprise in today’s announcement of his 33 man Six Nations training squad, most notably the addition of tyro Glasgow fly-half Ruaridh Jackson, presumably rewarded for a storming game against Bath in the Heineken Cup. While it’s unlikely that Jackson will make the test 22s (barring injury), he should learn much at training at this level. It’s good that Hadden is starting to bring young players on to a big stage sooner in the same way that Australia or France have done in recent years. If he can handle it, why not? Maybe Frank has grown a pair. Or maybe it is just the influence of crazy Gregor Townsend.

Other newcomers/returnees include prop Geoff Cross and winger Simon Danielli. Absentees include Rob Dewey, Scott MacLeod and the injured Rory Lamont and Matt Mutschin who will be sad to miss out on his Six Nations debut, having come to international rugby late in his career. I’m glad to see Chris Cusiter – who has been a regular fixture for Perpignan depsite rumours of a move to Clermont with big Jason or a possible return home to Glasgow – back in the fold. Ally Kellock may also have played his way back into at least a bench spot with some recent strong, feisty performances. having said that, now that Simon Taylor is playing almost exclusively at lock for Stade, perhaps he or Jason White will get a run there. That might be the real test of how willing Hadden (who I believe sees Taylor as an 8 ) is to throw the dice.

This squad may well be trimmed down somewhat before the final selections are made for the Six Nations which kicks off against Wales on the 8th of February. What would be your team selection based on these?

Scotland squad:

Backs: Mike Blair (capt), Ben Cairns (both Edinburgh), Chris Cusiter (Perpignan), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Thom Evans, Max Evans (both Glasgow Warriors), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Sean Lamont (Northampton Saints), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Graeme Morrison, Dan Parks (both Glasgow Warriors), Chris Paterson, Hugo Southwell and Simon Webster (all Edinburgh)

Forwards: John Barclay, Kelly Brown (both Glasgow Warriors), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Craig Hamilton, Jim Hamilton (both Edinburgh), Nathan Hines (Perpignan), Allister Hogg, Allan Jacobsen (both Edinburgh), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais), Jason White (Sale Sharks).

Toony Army Marches On

The SRU announced today via their shiny new website that former Scotland and Lions (not to mention Gala, Northampton, Brive, Warringah, Sharks etc etc) standoff and centre Gregor Townsend is to take over the coaching of Scotland’s back division for the upcoming Six Nations. While this is certain to set the fingers muttering in Al’s neck of the woods due to Gregor’s, shall we say, inconsistencies as a player, I reckon it could be a good move. Edinburgh’s backs (Godman and Cairns in particular) seem to have benefitted from his recent input by showing a bit more of a cutting edge, and his mentoring scheme of pairing young Scottish talent with past masters such as Gavin Hastings, Sean Fitzpatrick and, er, himself was the envy of many, including All Black Kevin Mealamu. And besides, Parks and World Class Phil already know plenty about throwing intercept passes and running up their own backsides.

He also has more coaching qualifications than his Lions captain and current England manager Martin Johnson, so far as I can find out.

Scotland’s Six Nations Dates, Times and Officials

A little dry, I know. but here they are. Grand Slam decider anyone?

8 February, 3pm Scotland vs Wales

Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Touch judges: Chris White (England), Rob Debney (England)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)

14 February 3pm France vs Scotland

Stade de France, Paris
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Touch judges: Wayne Barnes (England), Tim Hayes (Wales)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)

28 February, 3pm Scotland vs Italy

Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Touch judges: George Clancy (Ireland), Romain Poite (France)
Television match official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)

14 March, 5pm Scotland vs Ireland

Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Touch judges: Wayne Barnes (England), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Television match official: Hugh Watkins (Wales)

21 March, 3.30pm England vs Scotland

Twickenham, London
Referee: Joel Jutge (France)
Touch judges: Christophe Berdos (France), Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Television match official: Carlo Damasco (Italy)

This last one is subject to Joel Jutge passing a fitness test. Scots whistle-blower Peter Allan will man the touch line for England vs Italy and Ireland vs England, whilst David Changleng will do the same for Ireland vs France and Italy vs Wales. Which should please Jonathan Davies no end.

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 Land Dream World Cup 2011 Draw

Perhaps the 9th ranking was all part of Frank Hadden’s master plan.

Pool A:
New Zealand
France
Tonga
Canada (Americas 1)
Asia 1 (Japan?)

Pool B:
Argentina
England
Scotland
Europe 1 (Romania?)
Play Off Winner (your guess is as good as mine)

Pool C:
Australia
Ireland
Italy
Europe 2 (Portugal, Spain, Russia, Georgia?)
Americas 2 (USA?)

Pool D:
South Africa
Wales
Fiji
Samoa (Oceania 1)
Africa 1 (Namibia?)

No Southern Hemisphere biggie. Argentina, who we have recently beaten. And our cousins from south of the border – currently in disarray and against whom our form is not necessarily an indicator of result – so if we played the World Cup today I’d be quite happy. However it’s still three years away and a lot can (and will) change. At least we didn’t get New Zealand in our group again. Who’s going to upset the home team’s apple cart? Oh look, they got France again…same again, or situations reversed with the plucky home team upsetting the rampant favourites? Seems unlikely given NZ are filling the role of both. Once again Ireland are in a group of if not death then mild  trauma with Italy and the Aussies. Italy have recently pushed the Aussies close and could be the Argentina of this tournament, if they continue to mature.

Talk has already begun as to how the draw has been kind to England (which it has). It has also been kind to us, and to Argentina. A lot of people on message boards everywhere are already assuming that this group will go according to the seedings with Argentina coming out on top, and England second. My apologies, but I would say this is one of the few groups that could go in any direction and Argentina on current form would not be favourites against Scotland or England. Scotland are the 3rd seed team England did not want. Because in a Scotland vs England match, even on the other side of the planet and even if England were by that point the top team in the world, anything can happen.

See you in Dunedin? I’ll be there.

UPDATE: updated 13/07/09 as Canada have qualified

5 Reasons To Be Cheerful

1) With the mid level teams (Fiji, Samoa, Italy, Georgia) fronting up at World Cup time as the professional game grows, does it really matter who we have in our group in NZ 2011? Sure we could get a couple of stinkers, but with a young team that should be together for the next three years we might get Ireland, Argentina, or day I say it England? Sure they’d be tough matches, but it’s the World Cup. Scotland no longer belongs at the top table by right – we should have to play well enough to get there and it should be the same for all the other teams in our situation. Still, Argentina may do us a favour if they can beat ramshackle Ireland. Maybe we could swap it for a round-ball win with Diego?

2) Phil Godman is growing with every game. He distributed well, made a couple of great breaks and kicked for position with reasonable accuracy. He still made a couple of schoolboy errors at the end – I would argue they may have been down to his desperation to atone for the missed kicks that might have proven the difference between an ok result and a great one. It was a big game of what-ifs, and Phil will have felt it the most. Forget Italy a few years back, on a grey Saturday in November 2008 he will have learnt much about the true test-match pressure on an international standoff. Seeing the look on his battle-bloodied face come the final whistle, you feel that the South Africa match may be the making of Phil Godman. I certainly hope so.

3) Nick de Luca and Ben Cairns are forming a solid partnership in the centre. Again De Luca gave away an early penalty on Saturday, but after that he settled down and both put in solid defensive display. He’s had a few shockers, but I think now he has settled and needs to build on that. Now they both need a chance to show what they can do in attack against Canada. EDIT: they got it, see below.

4) We’re developing a pretty useful front row partnership in Euan Murray and Ross Ford. Let’s not forget Chunk, Dicko or Moray Low either. Stability in Scotland’s set-piece (not to mention the odd bit of supremacy) would do our chances of winning games no end of good. Mike Brewer seems to be doing his job well. He wears a suit on match day too, something Frank “one of the boys” Hadden should maybe do too.

5) Over the course of two games against the best Rugby Nations in the world, arguably, Scotland did more right than they did wrong – even without a W in the column for either of the games. With Mossy on the pitch on Saturday, we would have almost certainly beaten the World Champions. Isn’t that a reason to be cheerful?

Team to face Canada:

Rory Lamont (Sale Sharks); Simon Webster (Edinburgh), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Nikki Walker (Ospreys); Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Mike Blair (capt) (Edinburgh); Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Nathan Hines (Perpignan), Jim Hamilton (Edinburgh), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais).
Replacements: Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Matt Mustchin (Edinburgh), Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors), Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors).

Scotland Team to face Springboks

While I was posting that latest magnum opus, the team was announced for the weekend. Brother for brother swap on the wing, the rest stay as is including the bench. Malkovich Webster and the big Stroker stay in the player pool as cover for a few potential injury cases (Hines, Hamilton, Evans). Sadly no recovery in time for Simon Taylor.

Scotland team to play South Africa: Chris Paterson, Thom Evans, Ben Cairns, Nick De Luca, Rory Lamont, Phil Godman, Mike Blair (capt), Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Nathan Hines, Jim Hamilton, Jason White, John Barclay, Allister Hogg.

Replacements: Dougie Hall, Alasdair Dickinson, Matt Mustchin, Scott Gray, Rory Lawson, Dan Parks, Hugo Southwell.

Well Of Course Not

Still, for about three minutes there it looked like we might give New Zealand a game. Having watched the match since on video, most of my initial thoughts on it remain unchanged from the beery haze of Saturday.

The Good:

Euan Murray was dominant in the scrum and should cement his place in the team, and hopefully the list of Lions contenders. Alongside him Ross Ford showed up well in the loose and the lineout was solid until he was taken off. John Barclay put himself about well, but didn’t turn over quite so much ball as he might have liked. Moreover Scott Gray did when he came on. Depends on training this week, but might there be a switch or another way of bringing him into the team? Thom Evans showed excellent spirit and pace chasing balls and tackling, and of the other backs Chris Paterson actually showed up a lot more than it appeared from the stands. Once again, Mike Blair was outstanding.

The Bad:

As usual the finishing was very jittery. So jittery that we didn’t cross the line. At all. Comparing the number of fluffed tries (Lamont’s air shot, Blair’s drop, Evans’ chip, Hogg’s failure to pass out) to similar opportunities at the other end and Scotland were more in this game than you’d think. The All Blacks only created a couple of chances but took them, while ruthlessly exploiting our poor play with quick hands and thinking for their other scores. Heart can be taken from the fact that usually the good bits happen in our own 22 where it doesn’t matter. Now Scotland are making line breaks, Scotland are getting down to a few metres from the line, putting pressure on a better team. They’re just not crossing it. This time last year we looked nowhere near it. Make no mistake, Scotland will have a cutting edge soon. They can pass and handle well (there were some nice examples during the game further away from the line). I think it’s a bit of confidence and a little more concentration near the line that would see us over it.

One thing that could be improved are the supporting runners. Often the Scotland team are so far behind Mike Blair that they’re standing about admiring him  – “look at Mike go, isn’t he brilliant”. If he was wearing a Black shirt he’d have men on each shoulder pouring through the gap behind him. Too many times a Scotland man made a break only to find no passing options on either side and the move ground to a halt. Mossy was one of the few guys who showed up well in support, but sadly due to the laws of physics was not available to support himself during his excellent early run.

Big Jim played well later on, but you get the feeling he’s not quite mobile enough for the sort of game Scotland need to play. Big Jason had a few good runs and restart takes, but looked short of match fitness as you’d expect. Hopefully Simon Taylor will be fit for next week. But you still might want to try and slot Hoggy in.

Thom Evans didn’t get any ball in space, despite his incredible pace. Welcome to being a Scotland wing, Thom.

The Ugly:

Frank Hadden’s substitution policy of rotating the half-backs for no reason other than his watch tells him to. Unless Blair was injured, why bother taking him off? One could argue that the try he looked like the only prospective creator of would be more important to Scotland’s confidence than giving Parks and Lawson 10 minutes game time. Godman is another player who would have benefited from staying on. Giving him a chance should be just that.

Wayne Barnes’ refusal to give a penalty against New Zealand scrum which was crumbling under all sorts of pressure. Props were kneeling at one point. Other than that I thought Barnes had a pretty good game.

Nick De Luca’s sin binning after only 3 minutes was justified, stupidly playing the ball on the ground. I have a lot of time for him as an attacker and he put in some big hits late in the game, almost atoning for his earlier sins. But he has to cut out the silly stuff.

Also, TV people, do we have to look at Dan Carter all the time? He only played ten minutes, and at scrum half. By the end you’d think he was man of the match. Mikey Blair was nominated for IRB Player of the Year too, you know.

The Future:

Brewer seems to have instilled some solidity into the set-piece, and while the defence wasn’t quite as reactive as the All Blacks’ scramble it would take time to adjust to the new systems in any case. Perhaps given Edinburgh’s similar inability to cross the line despite masses of pressure, the benefit of the doubt should be given to backs men Hadden and Lineen. My team for next week might be:

Paterson, Evans, Cairns, De Luca, Lamont R, Godman, Blair, Hogg, Barclay, Gray, Taylor, Hines, Murray, Ford, Jacobsen

Fitness allowing, of course. You could switch Paterson and Lamont, but I think Paterson did enough to justify his place at full back regardless of goal kicking, so why not let him be rather than shuffling the poor chap again.

Improvement next weekend is a must, and it’s fairly easy to spot the area for work: scoring tries.

Zinzan ‘The Mouth’ Brooke flaps his trap..again!

Zinzan Brooke has stated on the BBC website that he hopes that the All Blacks “…beat the hell out of Scotland…“.  Fair enough, he’s a patriotic Kiwi and you’d want him to back his team.  His reason for this rather over the top, and schoolboy-esque, outburst: because those dastardly Scots didn’t play a full strength side at last year’s World Cup pool game and that hurt NZ form.  Now 2 things spring to my mind:

1) As a child Zinzan had a dog, Tuffy, who he loved dearly.  They did everything together, long walks through the stunning New Zealand countryside, warm, cosy nights in front of the log fire and off to watch the local sheep-shearing competition at the weekends.  Alas, Tuffy’s wonderful time with his dear master Zinzan was to end all too early!  One day, whilst running down the road to meet young Master Brooke a milk float came round the corner and not hearing the oncoming vehicle (electric engine…damn them!) poor Tuffy was mortally wounded.  As Zinzan help his dear Tuffy in his arms the driver of the milk float jumped out to see if the dog was ok… and to Zinzan’s horror the driver was wearing a kilt!!!  From that day on he vowed to hate Scottish rugby and all it stands for!

OR/

2)  Zinzan Brooke is a bitter man, yet another sign that some (and only a minority) in the New Zealand rugby fraternity will blame anybody else rather than their own team for underperforming at World Cup after World Cup after World Cup.  Maybe if the likes of Zinzan Brooke spent more time analysing the frailty in the All Black mentality when it comes to Webb Ellis then maybe he’d have less time, and cause, to start pointing the finger of blame at other rugby playing nations!

In summary, and to bastardise an old Stephen Fry comment:

Question – “Please provide a definition of Countryside”
Answer – “Killing Zinzan Brooke

Off on holiday from tomorrow so going to miss the game but I hope Scotland can put up a good show on Saturday and those of you who attend enjoy the game!

Maybe Frank Hadden should put Zinzan’s words up on the dressing room wall! :-)

Over and out.

Al

Scotland Team to play All Blacks…

Scotland today announced their team to line up against the All Blacks this coming Saturday.  Scotland are looking for their first ever victory against New Zealand and Frank Hadden has picked a team with a balance of experience and form players.  A total of 7 changes have been made from the team that won away in Argentina at the beginning of the summer and the likes of Sean Lamont and Jason White return to the starting line up.  The starting line-up for Saturday is:

  • A Jacobsen (Edinburgh)
  • R Ford (Edinburgh)
  • E Murray (Northampton)
  • N Hines (Perpignan)
  • J Hamilton (Edinburgh)
  • J White (Sale Sharks)
  • S Taylor (Stade Francais)
  • J Barclay (Glasgow Warriors)
  • C Paterson (Edinburgh)
  • T Evans (Glasgow Warriors)
  • B Cairns (Edinburgh)
  • N De Luca (Edinburgh)
  • S Lamont (Northampton)
  • P Godman (Edinburgh)
  • M Blair (Edinburgh)

Dan Parks has dropped to the bench with World Class Phil Godman given a starting berth and he will have a huge responsibility to ensure Scotland keep moving forward.  Given the starting line-up it would appear Scotland have gone for an experienced pack who can hopefully combat the aggression and drive of the All Blacks, and most importantly, secure ball for the backs.  Its encouraging to see such an attacking set of backs, and, in my opinion, that is a back unit capable of scoring points…whether they’ll score enough to trouble the All Blacks is the big question!

RORY UPDATE: Here’s our bench:

Replacements: Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Dickinson (Gloucester), Mustchin (Edinburgh), Gray (Northampton), Lawson (Gloucester) or McMillan (Glasgow Warriors), Parks (Glasgow Warriors), Southwell (Edinburgh).

The referee is Wayne Barnes (huzzah) assisted by Dave Pearson (boo) and Paul, um, Dix.

And the New Zealand team is as follows:  Isaia Toeava; Anthony Tuitavake, Richard Kahui, Ma’a Nonu, Joe Rokocoko; Stephen Donald, Piri Weepu; Jamie Mackintosh, Keven Mealamu (capt), John Afoa, Anthony Boric, Ali Williams, Kieran Read, Adam Thomson, Liam Messam.
Replacements: Corey Flynn, Neemia Tialata, Ross Filipo, Richie McCaw, Andy Ellis, Dan Carter, Cory Jane.

Far from the first team, but look at that bench! If Scotland are anywhere close to a result with 15 to go expect them to pour that lot on and still beat us by 40 points. Am also disappointed that Rory Lamont or the big Stroker are nowhere to be seen, having been in better form than SRBlog favourites Hugo Southwell and Big Jason. They didn’t have to pick him just so we can shout Hugooooooooooooo…

Can We Beat The All Blacks?

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

Yes We Can:

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

No We Can’t:

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

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