Category: Scotland National Team

Geech named Lions Coach – Big Cat Metaphors Start Now

Today Wasps Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan is expected to be named as the head coach for the next British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2009. The former Scotland coach has become synonymous with Lions tours both as coach and player, and anyone who has seen his midweek team talks on the 2005 tour DVD – way more impressive than Woodward’s – should be assured he is the man for the job of restoring a bit of pride to Lions rugby.

Sorry, couldn’t resist it.

He also has a successful tour of South Africa under his belt which can’t hurt. Shaun Edwards – having already expressed a desire to go on this tour as his reason for taking the Wales job – is a near cert as defence coach, and Warren Gatland also likely to take a job as forwards coach in the “dream team”. All of which might leave Wasps slightly understrength come next season’s late spurt for the title, but that would be no bad thing, would it?

In other news, poor Moray Low is going to miss the Scotland tour of Argentina and his chance of a first cap due to an ankle injury sustained in the last game of the season, and Max Evans has been promoted to the main squad to join his brother, while we await word on Simon “Malkovich” Webster’s inclusion pending recovery from an injury. In the absence of the Lamont brothers, let’s hope the Evans boys can follow in the footsteps of them and the Hastings brothers and form another dynamic family duo in Scotland’s back line.

Industrial Revolution…

Friday – the weekend is just round the corner, the sun is shining, ladies up and down this fine land are stripping down to their skimpies and you can almost taste the first cold sip of lager! That’s unless you’re like me, stuck in Scottish Rugby Blog HQ waiting for something, anything, exciting to happen on the Scottish rugby front. Sure, we have a squad announced for the up coming tour of Argentina, and with 4 new caps, it’s almost raised me from a slumber. The news that Di ‘OhNo’ Rollo is making a reappearance on the international scene, albeit with the ‘A’ squad, would normally get my blood pressure rising… but today it hardly registered. Nothing, it seemed, was going to stir me from my general malaise and the only thing left to do was plug in the MP3 player and listen to the tunes and hope that they would help pass the long day…

Suddenly, as Al Green faded out, a distant orchestra could be heard through the headphones… I know that tune…damn, what is it?…where have I heard that before…?

Slowly, ever so slowly, it all becomes clearer and I can cast my mind back 6 months….

St Etienne, 28th September 2007

9am– Wake up with the most almighty hangover, not good…damn Le Glasgow for staying open so late, running out of the normal beer and only having the 8% skull-crusher left! Turn around to find Rory sharing the same bed… damn apartment organisers only providing 2 beds for 4 people! Everyone else is still asleep so I decide I’ll creep out the apartment and go and hunt down some food. The locals don’t seem too impressed with the bedraggled Scotsman who stumbles through some rudimentary French in order to get some munch. I apologise for my unkempt appearance and leave with a bag of assorted pastries and head for a park bench. Sun is just starting to break through the early morning clouds… today’s going to be a nice day.

12pm – Creep back into the apartment and people are just starting to come round. My hangover has largely gone and starting to get ready for another day of alcohol excess and, of course, the small matter of the Scotland qualification decider against the Italy. The others still have a hangover but seem to have enough energy to fill in the blanks from the previous night…damn them and damn the Italians that kept buying me beer at 4am. Still, only 9 hours till the big kick-off and no sign of nerves, got to be a good sign!

4pm – Hangover totally gone and a good wee crowd starting to gather in one of St Etienne’s town squares. Kilted, booted and starting to get excited. Only thing missing is a beer. My companions are drinking hot chocolate, water and cola – no sign of alcohol….this is not good.

4.15pm – Success!!!! Convince the folks that the best cure for their hangovers is to start on the lager. The first round in and the days excitement can begin. Get the first butterfly in the stomach, its either nerves or the jambon cru sarnie for lunch was a bad idea.

6pm – Town square is really busy. A good mix of Italians, Scots and plenty of locals. The Italians are in good voice, lots of singing and the wearing of blue colanders upon heads. The Scots are noticeably subdued, there are either all still nursing the effects f le Glasgow’s finest or the nerves are kicking in. The sun has disappeared behind a flurry of big grey clouds and the chance of rain increases – that’ll suit us though….surely!

7.30pm – Big Gavin Hasting hits the stage and mumbles something in French before trying to rouse the Scots in the crowd into action. Still subdued, nerves are now starting to take hold. Rory and I have a panicked conversation about what to do for the next 10 days if Scotland get knocked out of the World Cup! We never considered that possibility and now it is a looming consideration. Anyway, no time for such defeatist talk. Just time to down the beer and join the mass march, led by Big Gav, thats making its way out to the Stadium. Did I just feel some rain?

8pm – Nearing the stadium now, and the damn rain is on. Seems to be getting ever heavier. Good craic on the march out to the stadium and finally some renditions of Flower of Scotland are started up. The locals are hanging out of the tower blocs, waving to the fans, taking photos and one smart cookie has a lion rampant flag hanging from his balcony – good man! Round a corner and there is the Stadium, floodlights on and its looks like a good place for a battle.

8.45pm – find out seats, we are in a corner behind the posts and the stadium us functional but basic. The atmosphere is cracking, the Italians are out singing the Scots and making a heck of a racket. Amazing atmosphere and nerves are only just in control. Good news is that most of the folk around us are also Scottish with a few locals and only a couple of Italians spotted about to make up the numbers.

8.55pm– A tune comes over the stereo, not sure what it is but boy does it get the blood pumping! The rain is thumping down now, puddles are forming round the side of the pitch and its so wet I have to put on my wee red berets has been put on to try keep the rain off! Rory informs me that the music is a guy called Jean Michelle Jarre and the tune is Industrial Revolution (Part III). Need to remember to try get a copy and put on my MP3 player.

9.05pm – Game has kicked off and Scotland start well. Parks has put a couple of spiralling kicks in that have pushed the Italians back and they have coughed up a penalty and gotten a man yellow carded. Maybe this isn’t going to be that close…

9.40pm – Half time and Scotland are struggling. They’ve lost a silly try, given away a penalty and Rory Lamont has been taken to hospital with an awful looking neck injury that came from reckless play by the Italians. Jonathon Kaplan is having a horror show as the referee and misses high tackles, late tackles and even diving from the Italians. Nerves are shot, I really want to go home! Never been so nervous at a sporting event in my life. Still the game is not away from us, we’ve scored penalties and surely we will push on in the second half and grab the win.

10.10pm – Thats better, 8 points in front and we aint going to throw it away now. Heart pressure is almost back to normal and even have a wee laugh with Rory about how we had worried about Scotland losing.

10.11pm – Arse, Italian penalty and gap down to 5. Still, we should get more penalties and don’t look like gifting any more tries.

10.18pm – Christ on a bike, another Italian penalty! Gap now down to 2 and the nerves are back withfull force. Rory looks a little sick. The Italian fans are getting very loud now, they can sense victory is close and that Scotland are crumbling. The Scottish fans are sitting quiet, fingernails are gone and all that is left is to sit, grim faced, in the rain and wait for the inevitablele.

10.23pm – 7 minutes to go….COME ON SCOTLAND!!!! Only 7 minutes to hold out and we are into the Quarter Finals. No silly mistakes….

10.24pm – A bloody silly mistake, an Italian penalty. Its out on the right but its kickable….he bloody kicked an identical kick in the first half. Look at Rory, he’s going even whiter than normal and looks to have aged several years. The Italians are on top of their seats, they know the game is theirs…they’ll play Argentina in the Quarter Finals and Scotland will return home ashamed. Rory and I know our 10 days left in France will be pointless, no team in the tournament no point in being there. Gutted.

10.25pm – The kick is lined up, taken bloody ages so it has. I grab Rory’s arm and hold on for all I’m worth. The Italian runs and gets a clean contact and the ball is on its way. The ball travels about 3 meters and Rory is on his feet “He’s missed!” he screams. No he bloody hasn’t I think to myself. Poor Rory has lost his mind and is seeing things. Sure enough the ball has started wide but its curling towards the near post. Scotland tournament, our holiday all lost on a single kick of a rugby ball…arse. Rory seeing that the ball is bound for the post starts to sit down, but hold….by god the ball has stopped coming in, either the wind has caught it or it didn’t have enough on it but its starting to fade…..everyone is starting to rise….did it go over, did it go wide? A cheer comes up from the far side, is it Scots, is it Italians? The line judge…. all eyes on the line judges….forever they bloody take…empires fall…alien civilisations land, build cities, die out and disappear….bloody line judges take ages. Flags stay down….NO CONVERSTION! Ya dancer! Need a seat now, my heart can’t take this…

10.30pm– Italian pressure, they have the ball looking for space or a last gasp penalty. Scotland ahead by 2…..2 little points…not enough. Rory looks sick again. I feel sick and think my heart is about to pack in. Scotland can’t get the ball, can’t get it into touch, can’t bloody finish the game off. Troncon gets it, Troncon kicks it aimlessly into Scottish possession……Parks, being top tonight so he has, has it, sorts himself and plants the ball far down into the Italian corner, picked up by an Italian but a Scot is on him. The Italian is bundled into touch……relief! Game over, stand of seats to celebrate but get dizzy and need to sit down. Rory hasn’t moved, its been too much for him. He looks like he’s just watched carnage, is so almost was. This stress is too much, the high too high to enjoy – never ever again will I put myself through that….well, until next week and the Quarter Final!

Industrial Revolution is a tune that whenever comes on my MP3 will forever remind me of St Etienne. Sitting in the stadium waiting for the game and the elation, or should that be relief, at the result. It is also a fair description of how Scotland played on the night….industrial, ugly but ultimately effective rugby. I’ve still never seen that game back on the telly, too scared to watch it in case that damn Italian penalty goes over – that single minute of rugby is the reason I have grey hairs!!

I Ain’t Gettin On No Plane

But these guys are, to Canada for the Churchill Cup next month:

Backs: Scott Barrow (Glasgow Warriors), David Blair (Edinburgh), Marcus Di Rollo (Toulouse), Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Rob Dewey (Ulster), Colin Gregor (Glasgow Warriors), Steve Jones (Newcastle Falcons), Calum MacRae (Edinburgh), Mark McMillan (Wasps), Sam Pinder (Glasgow Warriors), Roland Reid, Mark Robertson (both Edinburgh), Gordon Ross (Saracens)

Forwards: Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Jon Dunbar (Leeds Tykes), James Eddie, Ed Kalman (both Glasgow Warriors), Andrew Kelly, Alan MacDonald (both Edinburgh), Andy Miller (Exeter), Scott Newlands (Edinburgh), Fergus Pringle (Edinburgh), Craig Smith (Edinburgh), Stevie Swindall, Fergus Thomson, Dan Turner (all Glasgow Warriors), David Young (Leicester Tigers), plus one more player who will be selected later this month.

A few names I haven’t heard of I have to admit, but most of them are the usual suspects. Injuries to the main squad have I think weakened the A team’s potential player pool, but hopefully it will give the coaching staff (disappointingly not Robinson and Lineen?) a chance to blood some of these younger players in a more competitive international environment. Alan’s old pal Di Rollo sneaking in there is interesting, he could form a good partnership with Dewey in the midfield if either are on any sort of form…

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.

Six Nations Roundtable

aka The Five Thingies of Journalism. We do have a round table in the house though seriously, so Al and I sat at it post Six Nations and had a chat as we lay cringing in the rubble of Scotland’s wooden spoon near miss.

What should be done?

RB:I think we need to look at a new coaching structure for Scotland. Or new personnel in the existing structure. There seems to be a lack of tactical nous coming from players we know are better than this. I think Parks – who we have both been more supportive of than some, it has to be said – needs to only be let back into the squad if he’s playing better than Paterson or Godman and the policy adopted (half way through the tournament) of picking players on form needs to be stuck to across all positions, not just number 6, where it worked particularly well.
AK: Personally I’m going to start by going back through my family heritage and try and uncover my Tongan roots!  Calcutta Cup aside that was a minging tournament from a Scottish perspective.  I struggle to see how Hadden can keep his role as it currently stands, as the head honcho he needs to take responsibility for the debacle and he’s been culpable in a number of areas from poor choice of tactics to baffling selections of substitutes.  As the backs coach the fact that Scotland only scored 3 tries (I think) says it all.  A new head coach is needed, a new coaching structure needs to be put in place and for the love of God play form players – we just can’t afford to carry passengers!

Where Next For Scotland?

RB: Argentina is the short answer. Although more interesting could be the A team’s trip to the Churchill Cup in June, with Robinson and Lineen hopefully showing the way forward. A position in the third group of seedings for the World Cup in 2011 is looking more likely unless we upset the applecart twice over the summer away from home against the Argies.
AK: I suspect a couple of thumpings for a Scotland side over in South America.  You never know though.  In my opinion we have the players to beat Argentina but we need to go with form.  Its an opportunity to blood some new players and try a more expansive game – this means no Parks!  I don’t think we are a particularly bad team, its just they really don’t – yet – know how to play with each other.  Beyond that, who knows what will happen, much will depend on coaching structures.

Who Next for Scotland?

RB: Not sure, but I think Andy Robinson should be left where he is. A possible part-time Scotland job as with Shaun Edwards, Wasps and Wales may be the answer. The same could be said for Lineen at Glasgow. They are only just starting to get results and they should be allowed to build on that to create a strong and dare I say it confident professional core on which to found our national squads. I don’t know if that means get rid of Hadden or not, to be honest. Jake White would be unlikely to take the job if offered – though representing one of the few real challenges in rugby left to him(!) – , but there are a few decent coaches floating about. But please not Eddie O’ Sullivan. In terms of players, younger players such as De Luca, Rennie, Barclay, should be given their chance, sooner rather than later. France are blooding young players without regard for results and getting the results anyway. Who’s to say it wouldn’t work on a smaller scale?
AK: Erm…pass?  Not a clue, I agree its probably too soon for Robinson who is, in my opinion, not an international head coach – better to use his skills as a forwards coach.  Not sure if we could try and get someone like Brian Redpath involved but whether he’d leave day-to-day rugby is debatable.  I think Scotland need a team of coaches rather than this head coach figure.  I appreciate a team pulled together by ‘committee’ is risky but it may be our best way forward.  We really need a motivator in this new coaching ‘team’ so happy to take someone who’ll strip the paint of the changing rooms at half time!  At the moment I get the feeling we lack leadership, Strokosh, over time may start to take more and more on.  Players wise the future is brighter than it may seem, Edinburgh and Glasgow have a decent crop of youngsters starting to come through but now, not 2 years from now, is the time to blood new players.

Why?

RB: Because the current team aren’t playing to their potential, and that needs to start happening if interest in the game is to grow and I’m to have any hair left before I turn 30.
AK: Because what we currently have is performing below what it should be.  In my opinion this is the perfect time to take a risk.  Nothing to lose, World Cup is 3 years away and new players can get the chance to get international experience.  A new coach, a new ethos and a new spirit need to be instilled into the whole Scottish setup.  The time for consolidation is really over and Scottish rugby is crying out for someone to take the bull by the horns and make some bold, and possible brave, decisions.

When should this all happen?

RB: If you’re getting rid of Hadden, it should be as soon as possible. Or if not now, then after the Churchhill Cup and Summer Tour. Disastrous results may see that happen anyway. Not making change now may reduce the summer tour to an exercise in telling us what we already know, ie that we’re not as good as Argentina with Hadden in charge. But perhaps we could be, without him.
AK: Now.  That’s it really!  Wholesale changes need to be made, the sooner we start the better.  Not just Hadden, under-performing players need to be dropped and chances taken on players who are in form.  We go to Argentina with nothing to lose so why not start from scratch?  Ultimately whatever we do, whenever we do it, it can only get better…unless we take Matt Williams back!!!!! 

O’Sullivan Quits Ireland

Not really Scottish news this, but of interest nonetheless. Despite having around 3 and a half years left on his contract, Eddie O’Sullivan stepped down as coach of Ireland yesterday, pre-empting the possibility that he might have been fired. It’ll be interesting to see if indeed he took the opposite tack to former England football manager Steve Maclaren and forewent any possible contract buyout by the IRFU, but at the moment it certainly looks like he did the gentlemanly thing.

Interestingly the BBC’s current short list of coaches states:

“Declan Kidney is among those tipped to take over, but Mike Ruddock, Pat Howard, Wayne Smith, Jake White and Alan Gaffney are also in the frame.”

Whether any of these would be interested in the Scotland vacancy (should it arise) would be debatable (Kidney would be unlikely, and may be the most likely successor to O’Sullivan), but certainly the likes of Pat Howard and Alan Gaffney would be interesting. Not another Aussie, I hear you say…

Team of the Tournament

1 Allan “Chunk” Jacobsen – Scotland’s only decent ball carrier in the first three games. Accounted himself well in the scrums throughout except for a wobble that led to the dubious penalty try.
2 Lee Mears – more level headed than “clown” Regan and surely the future in England’s front row. Assured performance against Ireland.
3 Martin Castrogiovanni – the same amount of tries as the entire Scotland team. Consistently passionate.
4 Ian Gough – We struggled to pick a standout lock, to be honest. So we asked Pedro to pick one. This may have been down to a lot of poor throwing by hookers, however. Hines might be in but for his costly indiscipline.
5 Scott Macleod – restored a bit of control to the Scotland lineout, and offered a more mobile option than his predecessor Hamilton.
6 Al Strokosch – Find of the tournament from Hadden’s point of view, even though everyone else knew about him. Aggression, control, good hands and ball carrying. Does the basics well – a big future in a Scotland shirt. And possibly elsewhere…?
7 Martin Williams – In rugby games where it’s “an overall team effort”, there is a rule for picking the man of the match. Give it to the No 8, the fly-half, or if Martin Williams is on the pitch, give it to him. Consistently excellent.
8 Sergio Parisse – If Mallett will be frustrated at his lack of a fly-half, he’ll be glad of players like Parisse. Taylor played well against England, but there’s a reason he’s not getting much of a game for Stade. Parisse’s girlfriend is not bad either but we couldn’t let petty jealousy take away his place in the team.
9 Mike Blair – Grown with every game. Showed maturity and intelligence in his play since being given the captaincy. Still shows up incredibly well in defence. And when allowed, gives Scotland the pace at which they need to play. Put your money on the Lion’s captaincy now before the odds shoot down.
10 Ronan O’ Gara – A tournament for steady stand-offs rather than individual brilliance. That said, he put in some stunning kicks against Wales and a classy flick on for Kearney’s try against us.
11 Shane Williams – Wales’ top try scorer ever, and player of the tournament. ‘Nuff said.
12 Gavin Henson – Finally showed some of the class he had promised early in his career. Good in defence and attack. Alan still says “meh”, though.
13 Damian Traille – Offered a re-assuring solidity to France’s inexperienced team. Formed a decent combination with Jauzion when Lievremont finally started chasing the tournament. In the last game.
14 Vincent Clerc – Another wee guy on the wing who showed some old-fashioned French class when he was picked. Still looked sharp after being shuffled to the bench and back.
15 Lee Byrne – Now a sure-footed, mammoth-booted and pacy option from full-back. A different player from his woeful performances last year. Proof that picking on form is often rewarded.

Bench: Ford, Sheridan, O’ Callaghan, Ryan Jones, Phillips, Paterson, Kearney

Coaches: Gatland, Edwards & Howley

Honourable mentions

RB: Danny Cipriani. If he’d played more than one game he’d probably be in our team at 10, having offered a glimpse of what his talents could bring. He may not be the next Jesus but he definitely had an impact when he finally got a chance. Jonny may now begin the time-honoured shuffle outwards along the backline ala Gregor Townsend.

AK: Rob Kearney – maintained his Leinster form with some storming defensive play and a great try against Scotland. May finally signal the end of the Golden Generation’s strangle-hold on the Irish back division.

Scotland team to face Italy

I have a confession. During the St Etienne debacle in October last year, I may have offered up a silent prayer to the gods (Roman gods, naturally) that if they’d let Scotland win that one so our World Cup tour stayed on track, then the Italians could have the next Six Nations win in return. So if Bortolussi’s missed kick was indeed caused by a giant invisible digit playing Subbuteo Rugby, my fellow Scotland fans you will only have me to blame if Scotland should lose by a similar twist of fate on Saturday. The Italians may be due a break. However I suppose you could claim that so were we up until last weekend, so it would be nice to see the winning ways continue for Scotland. And let’s not forget that regardless of the Ireland vs England result, this will be the Wooden Spoon decider.

With that in mind, here’s the mostly unchanged team to face the Italians in Rome next weekend, with Danielli the only new starter. It would have been nice to see (another player with an Italian name) Nick De Luca given another chance on the bench, but his time will come.

Backs: Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Simon Webster (Edinburgh), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), Nikki Walker (Ospreys), Chris Paterson (Gloucester), Mike Blair (Edinburgh, capt)

Forwards: Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Fergus Thomson (Glasgow Warriors), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Nathan Hines (Perpignan), Scott MacLeod (Llanelli Scarlets), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Allister Hogg (Edinburgh), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais)

Bench: Scott Lawson (Sale Sharks), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Craig Smith (Edinburgh), Jason White (Sale Sharks), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors)

Word is also going round that Andy Robinson’s wife allegedly told Brian Moore to “f**k off” on Saturday, which is something that no doubt many of us have wanted to do from time to time (The Scotsman comments section is rife with “here’s to you, Mrs Robinson” jokes, so I won’t bother). What with Austin Healey having footballs blasted at his, well, balls on the Rugby Club last week, it seems there is a lot of wish fulfilment going around.

Scotland Win Calcutta Cup

In other news, pig seen taking off from Heathrow…

So the boys did it against all odds and most of the expectations. We drunk rather a lot of beer and ended up in a Chinese restaurant with menus in, well, Chinese. I think we ate Jellyfish. Al is so hungover that he has gone to France for the week with Ms Al, so it is left to me to regale you with tales of derring-do from the muddy trenches of Murrayfield.

The weather was a little interesting, it seemed like four seasons in one minute at some points. This led to rainbows, and rivers of sewage on the streets of Gorgie.

Flower of Scotland was particularly well performed by the crowd. When the band stopped playing and let the crowd continue, I half expected the pipe major to clap his hands above his head and then give us a drum solo at the end.

All in all, the atmosphere was a lot less hostile than the 2006 match, even with the advent of beer at Six Nations games, and more like just another international match. Or as close to it as a Calcutta Cup match gets. Everything was good spirited as you’d hope and expect, apart from the queue-barger at the beer stall who later paid for his insolence when karma collapsed his beer carrying device. I just wish they’d stop booing the kickers, but it wasn’t as bad as last time.

Poor Rory Lamont was knocked out again, which once again took the wind out of our attacking sails a bit. Again he shows ultimate commitment, again he comes off second best to a dangerous (but possibly not malicious) tackle. The referee both times, you would think, would have a responsibility to do something about the safety of players in his care. Step forward J. Kaplan. Rory Lamont seems to have fractured his face which hopefully will not discourage his female fans, though his mother must be having a fairly torrid time of it.

We did manage to turn our little corner of the North Stand (section 18, if you must know) into the headquarters of the Hugo Southwell fan club. By the end everyone was shouting HUUUUGOOOO, even the little kid behind us who kept kicking Al’s seat. In fairness, he did have a storming game (Hugo, not the kid) which makes it a lot easier. If Mossy is on at 10, I think you could argue that Hugo needs to be on the pitch for his tactical kicking.

I don’t think we looked like scoring tries, but then neither did England. I still feared they’d sneak something soft at the end but for once I was reasonably confident in our ability to retain the ball.

As the Scotsman has already pointed out, the back row and breakdown play was a lot more solid perhaps as a result of Andy Robinson’s helping hand. Perhaps also as a result of Simon Taylor’s return to form. “Stroker” Strokosch was immense again. This blog was, to a certain extent, founded on the principles of a “drop Jason White and Simon Taylor until they deserve their places in the team once again” type conversation and on current evidence, picking players on form rather than reputation is starting to bear fruit.

I’ll probably chime in with some more thoughts through the week, including the team announcement, but for now I’ll let you get back to work/hangover (delete as applicable). It always seems kinda fuzzy this side of a Calcutta Cup victory, but it’s like the secret no-one else knows that you can just bring to the front of your thoughts to give you a pick-me-up. Do it now. We won. There, feels better, doesn’t it?

We’re Off To See The Wizard…

Okay, so Andy Murray got beaten by a Russian. And Celtic got shunted out of Europe by some “Spaniards”. But we all know what the big Scottish sporting event is this week. It’s that time of year when we once again forget about sporting skill, sporting inevitability and sporting behaviour in the interest of putting one over our cousins from south of the border.

Your Scottish Rugby Blog correspondents will be fearlessly climbing the face of the North Stand on Saturday in order to witness what we’re all hoping will be at least a decent game, although the weather forecast is poorer than Scotland’s current form. But we don’t want to get down on our team (at least until afterwards), so we’ll cheer them on with no lack of full throatedness. If any of the rest of you are going to the game, I would ask a few things:

  1. Can we please keep cheering until at least the last five minutes? I know we don’t have good songs to sing (unlike the Welsh or the Irish) and our name doesn’t have enough syllables to be chanted by over-excited fans (Italians) so we sound like a bunch of tools shouting “Scot-land” really slowly, but at least make some noise. Otherwise the away fans will sing that song about Chariots and Jerusalem. Over and over.
  2. Let’s not boo the kickers. Unless it’s the Calcutta Cup on the line with two minutes to go. Then I’ll shut the hell up and let you get on with it.
  3. Let’s keep it clean. Its not the Battle of Gogarburn.

And with that I’ll get packing, and leave you with an extract from my esteemed colleague Al’s match preview from what seems like an eternity ago:

“This game will be the usual Scotland v England heavy match, blood, guts, thunder, no little passion and a good piss up afterwards.

Heart – Scotland win
Head – England win – we beat them the last time at Murrayfield so they’ll look to get revenge, plus its England and no side in the world is jammier!”

Since 1871 the record stands thus: Scotland 41, England 66 (they seem to like that number), Draws 17.

But let’s go with our hearts, eh?

The Scotland team that scares me…

The Scotland management team today named the XV that will face up to a buoyant England side that rolls into Edinburgh off the back of a cracking win against the French. Scotland are sticking with the more mobile team but a couple of changes have been made. Simon Taylor has come in to replace the ineffective Kelly Brown and Graeme Morrison comes in at No.12 to make his first start since 2004 (v Japan). The starting XV for Saturday’s game versus the English is highlighted in Rory’s post below, but here are my thoughts:

Scotland have had a shocking tournament so far with very little to excite the faithful few that follow the side. The game against Ireland at least showed signs of limited improvement and the emergence of Strokosch was encouraging. Scotland even scored a try, a decent one at that, and looked like they could start to create chances – the next step would be to take them!

So, it’s back to Murrayfield to face up to an England side that is starting to find some form. On paper this has England win written all over it, indeed keeping the score down may be an achievement, but if Scotland will ever raise their game it’ll be against the English.

Scotland can win this game, they have the skill and the power to rattle the English, particularly at home, but confidence is at an all time low and at a time when leadership is most needed it has been sorely missing. The return of 2 times Lion Simon Taylor is a timely boost and his experience and skills around the breakdown could prove vital. Graeme Morrison has performed well for Glasgow and the Scotland ‘A’ side so is maybe due a run in the ‘top’ side but this will surely be his biggest challenge yet. The centres have been poor for Scotland all tournament and against the English will need to have passion for the fight. As Rory says in his post below the Scotland bench does not indicate a ‘festival of running rugby’ but the starting line-up has the same feel as the one that went out to move the Irish about. I feel (hope!) Scotland will look to try run the ball at the English from early, but they’ll need to show great control and, if they draw penalties, take the points whenever on offer. My main fear is that Scotland will struggle in the scrum and if this is under pressure from the start it could be a very long afternoon for the men in blue. Where Scotland may look to pressure is at the lineout which finally seemed to find some form against the Irish. Finally, one area that will need to improve is player concentration. As much as I feel Hadden has responsibility for players performance (or lack of), he cannot do much about 15 guys collectively falling asleep at restarts. Every Scotland player needs to have their ‘A’ game with them if they are to find success on the field.

The officials fill me with fear. Kaplan is god awful as anyone in St Etienne will be able to testify. He is the sort of referee that feels the game should be about him and not about the 30 guys fighting it out and worst of all is the sort of referee that refuses to let a game flow. As for Mr Damasco he has already endeared himself to Scotland fans and the less said the better…

All the odds point towards an English win, but Scotland are due some luck so maybe this Saturday will be the day that the ball breaks Scotland’s way and they can at least make a game of it. Ever onwards….good luck guys!

Over and out.
Al