Category: Scotland National Team

When you’ve got no one else to turn to..

Despite the differences between the two sports similar debates are currently going on amongst fans of Scottish football and rugby.

In football, Kris Boyd had become accustomed to being left out of big games by Rangers and chose to quit international football because he was not satisfied with being always on the bench. This was because he was seen by management as being a one dimensional player. He scored goals but his all round game wasn’t good enough to justify his selection particularly against higher skilled defences. In the end, Boyd altered his game and tried to become a more all round footballer. As a result he has forced his way into being an automatic starter for Rangers and is now being approached to reconsider his position for international selection.

But the debate goes on. Is Kris Boyd now a starter because of a lack of options at his club? Has he really changed his game that much? Does he still take away more from a team than he offers? One thing is sure. If Kris Boyd had Fernando Torres or Wayne Rooney in front of him in the pecking order there would be no debate. But as the players competing with him for selection are Kyle Lafferty and Nacho Novo, there’s hardly an embarrassment of riches available.

The same argument is being played out in Scottish international rugby with Dan Parks. While Dan Parks has always been recognised as a very strong kicker his tackling and delivery leave a lot to be desired. At club level his defensive weakness has led to Bernardo Stortoni alternating in at stand off in defensive situations, a scenario which we may see play out with Chris Paterson in Cardiff on Saturday.

Parks has been out the Scotland team for fourteen months, but he is a different player since the last time he played for Scotland and despite his weaknesses he has one strength over any other stand off available for Scotland in relation to his game management ability. There is no doubting that he has an arrogance and ability to take over the game with his kicking, a virtual guarantee of points scoring and an awareness to play the field position game to his teams strengths.

There seems little doubt from the pattern of recent selections that Robinson and Townsend would prefer their stand off be an all rounder but Parks’ selection for Cardiff on Saturday indicates a recognition by Scotland’s management that the other options available are either unproven or too risky – the product of thinking just too far outside the box. Phil Godman continues not to assert himself as his supporters would wish. Having conclusively lost two head-to-head duels with Parks in the Inter City matches over the Christmas and New Year period his performance against France was mixed at best. Considering Ruaridh Jackson as an option is jumping the gun dramatically. Though his day will come he’s just not ready to play at this level. The other options are Chris Paterson, previously written off by Robinson as a viable option at stand off, or Hugo Southwell, who doesn’t see number 10 as his preferred position although he has played there for Scotland A and is a talented player Scotland probably should utilise somewhere in their team or at least have available on the bench.

The final option is Mike Blair. He’s clearly seen as one of Scotland’s top players and while it’s no doubt tempting to see if both Blair and Cusiter can be accommodated in the starting 15 to date he’s untried in this position.

Scotland need to be more adaptable and urgently start exploring other options. In his article, “The Curious Case of Rory Hutton”, Kevin Ferrie of The Herald writes about the lack of adaptability of Scottish coaching. The fact that Dan Parks is now seen as Scotland’s best option in the playmaker position may be seen as a sad indictment on coaching in this country recognising as it does that no stand off available to us has been developed beyond his level.

At the very least, with the kicking prowess of Parks and Paterson, Scotland should be able to defend in the opposition half and kick the penalties which come their way but they won’t be a true threat at top international level until they have real attacking options. With Scotland being left with no other option but to turn to a player Robinson clearly wanted to discard from the international scene and who wasn’t in either the chosen 44 in August, the A team in Belfast or the 22 chosen against France there could be no better demonstration of our lack of progress as an attacking force at international level.

In the second guessing of the selection that will no doubt continue until Saturday, Scotland’s supporters should avoid being be too harsh on Parks because the simple fact is that now as never before we really need him to be playing at the top of his game. Rumours coming out of the camp suggest that Robinson expected to lose against France but that Wales is a match he believes Scotland can win. Let’s hope that in the critical selection of Dan Parks at stand off he’s got it right.

Welcome Back

Al, of course! Who did you think I meant? Dan who?

Welcome also to Gregor who has joined us to keep an eye on rugby happenings on the West Coast, no doubt he’ll have something for you soon, bios of all our punditry team can be found on the About Page.

Injury update to the Scotland Squad: big Jim Hamilton has jumped straight into the match XV to replace Nathan Hines who has not recovered sufficiently from a calf injury. Perhaps it is felt that it is still to early to chuck Richie Gray (who remains on the bench) in after only 10 minutes at test level, but I would think he might get a shot again on Saturday to keep building his experience. In days of yore we could have chucked him and Jackson in against Italy for a bit of craic, but now every game is must win and Italy no longer the “easy” game…

Ch..ch…ch….CHANGES!

Change, it’s a wonderful concept that has seen men elected to the highest offices and inspired development of technology from the Model T Ford to the Toyota Prius… so not always a positive thing!

For those who watched Scotland play France this past Sunday however there must have been a horrible feeling that some things never change.  Scotland were fairly beaten by a strong looking France side but Scotland had their chances.  Early in the match we failed to capitalise on being metres from the French line and on a number of occasions men would break through the French blitz defence (particularly Beattie and Lamont) only to find themselves isolated and unsupported….a bit like Gordon Brown at a Labour Party Conference.  The French on the other hand destroyed the Scottish scrum and from that they were able to build a super-solid platform from which to attack Scotland.  In Bastareaud the French have themselves a mini Lomu who, once up at full speed, was as difficult to stop as the aforementioned Prius.  In saying that, his second try, was embarrassing for more than one Scotland player as attempts to tackle were either woeful or just plain non existent.  This is a particularly Scottish problem in the 6 Nations, where we seem to specialise in missed tackles at key moments.  All in all Sundays’ game was a game that demonstrated that some things never change; it was a typical Scottish 6 Nations story…a case of what could have been.

So, looking forward Andy Robinson has been swift to embrace the idea of change and has switched the playing staff and, undoubtedly, the way Scotland will play the game this coming Saturday against a Welsh side, who themselves, are a way off top form.  Key to Saturday will be to winning the battle up front and the reintroduction of Euan Murray should provide the Scots with a much more stable platform.  If Scotland have any aspirations of winning this game they should also be looking to target the Welsh lineout which against England was nothing short of a disgrace.  The professional era has brought us many advancements, bigger, faster player, more accurate kicking and slick BBC montages but apparently it has also ushered in an era of hookers whose ability to throw into a lineout is highly questionable.  On Saturday, time after time, the Welsh were turned over in the lineout.  I would imagine this is an area Andy Robinson will be keen to attack particularly with rebirth of Dan Parks in a Scotland jersey.  This indicates (as do comments from Robinson himself) that Scotland will try and play in the Welsh half and if we can get to the Welsh lineout if could be a good source of ball in attacking positions.  The other change, I, like I’m sure all Scotland fans would like to see is Scotland finally finishing off moves.  We are very good at getting close and then blowing it.  This needs to changes and hopefully Saturday will see the Scottish efforts get rewarded.

I want to also take a quick moment to welcome Dan Parks back to the national scene.  Parks is much criticised in the Scottish game, indeed I’ve been known to given him as a hard a time as anyone, however this season he has been largely magnificent for Glasgow in the Magners League and his tactical kicking is some of the best in the world game.  I remember sitting in St Etienne after the Scotland v Italy WC2007 match and praising Parks for being the reason Scotland squeezed out of its Group.  Indeed, Rory and I had a conversation in Paris a week later (the same night this blog was born) discussing whether Parks was a candidate for Scotland captain such was his influence that tournament.  He has his flaws but he’s not half as bad as many people make out – he became the pantomime villain for the frustrated Scotland support.  I hope that he gets the full backing of every Scotland player this Saturday and I hope that Parks put of a performance that shuts up the critics and shows his new employers (Cardiff) just how lucky they will be to have them in their squad.

Good luck Scotland – we are due a result in Cardiff!

  • Head: Scotland lose by less than a score (typical) – +5 Wales
  • Heart: Scotland win by a couple of tries after things start to click – +10 Scotland
  • Arse: Scotland start well but don’t get over the line, Wales get the luck of the bounce and Scotland leave themselves open trying to chase the game – Wales + 15

Scotland Team For Cardiff

15 Chris Paterson (Edinburgh)
14 Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors)
13 Sean Lamont (Scarlets)
12 Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors)
11 Rory Lamont (Toulon)
10 Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors)
9 Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors) CAPTAIN
1 Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester)
2 Ross Ford (Edinburgh)
3 Euan Murray (Northampton Saints)
4 Nathan Hines (Leinster)
5 Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors)
6 Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors)
7 John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors)
8 Johnnie Beattie (Glasgow Warriors)

Substitutes
16 Scott Lawson (Gloucester)
17 Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh)
18 Richie Gray (Glasgow Warriors)
19 Alan MacDonald (Edinburgh)
20 Mike Blair (Edinburgh)
21 Phil Godman (Edinburgh)
22 Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors)

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland).
Touch-judges: Alain Rolland (Ireland) and Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland).
Television Match Official: Geoff Warren (England)

AARGH he almost did exactly what was I thought was required with this selection, but Morrison is still in there and Grove is nowhere to be seen. If Morrison has a donkey adventure day again what is the plan B? Parks to kick it, I guess. Still my feeling is that there is no spark in the 10-12 axis and if you were bringing Parks in, club combinations aside I think someone at least a little tricksy in the 12 shirt would have been nice… Dan will hopefully be looking to show the Cardiff faithful he is worth a punt… Suprised to see Dickinson still in, thought Chunk did enough to bolster the front row to get his start and Murray’s return was pretty much a given.

Oh and Mossy gets his 100th cap, congratulations!

UPDATE: Wales Team: Lee Byrne, Leigh Halfpenny, James Hook, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams, Stephen Jones, Gareth Cooper, Paul James, Gareth Williams, Adam Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Alun Wyn Jones, Andy Powell, Martyn Williams, Ryan Jones (Captain)
REPLACEMENTS: Huw Bennett, Gethin Jenkins, Bradley Davies, Sam Warburton, Richie Rees, Andrew Bishop, Tom Shanklin

Injury Update

This was supposed to go up yesterday but my internet crashed!

Twelve players have been added to the Scotland squad preparing for Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations Championship match against Wales in Cardiff.

Supplementing the 22 who were on duty for yesterday’s 9-18 loss to France are Mike Blair, Ben Cairns, Nick De Luca and Jim Hamilton (all Edinburgh), Dougie Hall, Ruaridh Jackson and Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Gray and Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Rory Lamont (Toulon) and Nikki Walker (Ospreys).

Those who played in yesterday’s game were involved in recovery protocols today. Scotland team doctor James Robson said he would be monitoring the progress of the following players who sustained knocks in the French match: John Beattie (hip bruising), Kelly Brown (shoulder strain), Thom Evans (calf bruising), Nathan Hines (calf strain), Graeme Morrison (leg bruising) and Chris Paterson (calf bruising).

The Scotland team to play Wales is due to be announced at 11.30am tomorrow. If you were feeling really wacky why not try something like this:

Southwell, R Lamont, S Lamont, Grove, T Evans, Paterson, Cusiter, Chunk, Ford, Murray, Kellock, Gray, Brown, Barclay, Beattie

Bench: Low, Lawson, Hines, Macdonald, Lawson, Jackson/Godman/Parks, M Evans…

No, I probably wouldn’t do all of that either if it were my job on the line, but it might be interesting: move the battering ram in the centre to the outside slot and replace him with someone who actually broke the line (and who has played there regularly this season), move Mossy inwards then fill in the gaps with fullbacks playing in France. Simple! I imagine Godman will remain though and we are unlikely to see Parks, but I could be very wrong. I think that the Sean Lamont idea is a good one as long as a) Morrison doesn’t partner him at 12 and b) we find a place for at least one Evans somewhere… All will be revealed shortly.

The Highs and Lows of a Scottish Weekend…

We had two wins, a draw and a loss from various national teams. Sounds alright, doesn’t it? However, the public’s opinion of Scottish rugby is shaped entirely by the fortunes of the national side. Every other result is a bonus (or a continued indicator of the fallow years to come; although thankfully this doesn’t seem to be the case!). So let’s put each result in context…

The Scottish Women’s team overcame their French counterparts 10-8 at Lasswade on Saturday giving them the perfect start to their 6N campaign. I cannot testify to knowing too much about women’s rugby, but as a result against regular opponents this looks pretty good and show that a minority, in an already minor sport, can still thrive.

Something I can testify to (allegedly) knowing about is the fortunes of the Scottish Club International side. The team fought hard to win 13-9 in an intense, if not end to end globetrotter-style, match.  Much like the Women’s match conditions didn’t favour an exciting, mercurial contest but the endeavour was there. Even 2000 folk braved the dreich Border’s weather to watch. Also, the crowd still got treated to a physical display and some hard running from the likes of Kelly and Weston as well as some great defence from Clapperton and co. What this did show was that Amateur rugby here is improving all the time and more than compares with the French opposition (although comparing myself to my opposite man on Friday night was more like comparing myself to my own father- he looked like he was in his 40’s!).

The under-20s drew 8-all with their French foils. While not the perfect score, it was better than losing! Also, the performances of highly rated youngsters like Maltman and McInally shows the potential we have here. We also have yet another Blair at 10, and lord knows we’re all hoping he proves to be a genius! Rory was at the game, so he will be better placed to tell you if they are likely to win against Wales down there, but the future may seem bright in some areas of that team.

And then there was Sunday. I, for one, am weary of over analysing, but when the shortcomings are that obvious it is rude not to point them out. We all know what they are. 1) The backline are standing so deep during second phase it is surprising they can even see Chris Cusiter. 2) While Johnnie Beattie played outstandingly well in the loose yesterday, it was verging on the cruel the longer he left the ball in the back of the scrum. 3) If a team stands in attack in two banks, most standing in a flat line and some standing in a small group deeper and wider, then we become bamboozled.  Twice Bastreaud was in the second group ready to receive passes direct from the flatter group and he scored. Once Clerc, brilliantly tap tackled by Kelly Brown and held up by Evans, broke from a similar situation. 4) Next time (i.e. against Wales) please give the ball to someone quick enough to make an inside break when facing a blitz defence.  5) Jonathan Davies is more annoying than a postal gold advert.

The good thing is, though, that it was still only 9 points we lost by. Look after the ball without forcing the play and we might be alright…maybe?!

So what did you make of the day? What would you do if you were Robbo? And what is going to unlock an equally depressed Welsh team?!

And Then Ends Again

I will still get up all excited next Saturday morning/afternoon to see what the day’s rugby brings, but sadly I fear for Scotland it may be more of the same unless they can conjure some sort of direction in midfield. I have often praised World Class Phil but I think it was fairly clear today that a fair amount of work would need to be done for the nickname to be anything other than ironic. The pack was solid in defence and I thought up against some truly world class operators in Dusautoir and Harinordoquy (or Harrydonkey as jiffy seemed to call him) the Killer B back row (Beattie in particular) all acquitted themselves pretty well. Sean Lamont seems to have rediscovered his drive at Llanelli and looked back to the player we saw in 2006. Sadly there was no repeat of that result this time but at least he had several great breaks and a try-saving tackle. Anyone who caught his little outburst as the steadicam moved around the Scotland players at the end will have heard what losing the game meant to him. There is heart in this team, but then we never really doubted that.

What Scotland lacked today was any sort of posession, territory or platform. If the lineout is not working very well then kicking (poorly) to touch will not help. I thought Richie Gray did not look out of his depth at this level when he came on and might be worth more of a shot next week. Al Kellock threw himself about as usual but big Nathan was a bit quieter than usual.  The lineout throwing was poor again.

The less said about the scrum the better but there is no doubt that Euan Murray was missed, and that without Chunk’s extra bulk along from him Moray Low struggled against a canny French pack. Would we have won the game if Murray had played? I doubt it, but a try in the last 20 when Scotland started to make breaks and they would have only been 2 points down with Mossy still on the field and sitting on a 100% kicking record, and the subdued home crowd undoubtedly would have woken up. Certainly there would have been less time wasted messing about in scrums, but really France were too good at retaining posession, and too good also at pinching ours. Their half-backs were not perfect but they made sure the game went on where they wanted it to – Scotland’s half – and from there the game was only going one way.

And So It Begins

Good luck to all our teams in action tonight (Amateur International, the Under 20s and the Scotland A Team), tomorrow (the Women) and on Sunday. I have a new piece up on scrum.com’s fanzone previewing the big game – and lauding the P & J’s headline writers. In addition to A.D who has some exciting stuff coming up in future weeks, we’ve got another new writer Gregor who will be joining us shortly and dragging the blog into the web 2.0 era, so exciting stuff coming up over the Six Nations, hopefully some live-blogging of matches via our new twitter account: twitter.com/ScotRugbyBlog. More on this next week probably.

I have been informed that the Scotland A match vs Ireland A will be on the Telly for some via red button or BBC online, click here for more info (thanks to Andrew, may your button never be red).

But if you can get along to any of the games I would urge you to go along and show support for Scottish rugby at all levels.

Now go and watch this, and tell me you aren’t ready for the Six Nations.

Scotland Team for France

Scotland Team to face France: Paterson, T Evans, M. Evans, Morrison, Lamont, Godman, Cusiter, Dickinson, Ford, Low, Hines, Kellock, Brown, Barclay, Beattie
Replacements: S Lawson, Jacobsen, R Gray, MacDonald, R Lawson, Grove, Southwell

Good to see Richie Gray gets a spot on the bench, he Southwell and Grove will be looking to make an impact for sure – Grove is probably most unlucky not to make the starting XV. Still we know that if Morrison or Evans is not up to scratch Robbo will not be afraid to haul them off at the earliest opportunity. No Dan the man Parks in sight though despite recent form – Glasgow fans does this have you worried, or are you happy enough with the Killer Bs reunited at international level?

UPDATE: France: Clement Poitrenaud (Toulouse); Benjamin Fall (Bayonne), Mathieu Bastareaud (Stade Francais), Yannick Jauzion (Toulouse), Aurelien Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne); Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), Morgan Parra (Clermont); Thomas Domingo (Clermont), William Servat (Toulouse), Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Lionel Nallet (Racing-Metro), Pascal Pape (Stade Francais), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt), Fulgence Ouedraogo (Montpellier), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz).
Replacements: Dimitri Szarzewski (Stade Francais), Luc Ducalcon (Castres), Julien Pierre (Clermont), Julien Bonnaire (Clermont), Freddie Michalak (Toulouse), David Marty (Perpignan), Vincent Clerc (Toulouse).

They obviously saw Max Evans in the team and thought, who is the biggest lump they can throw at him?

PRIMO DOUBLE UPDATE: France bench updated 5/2, thanks to Nursedude

Stroker Out

Alisdair Strokosch will miss the Six Nations opener against France on Sunday having failed to recover in time from an ankle injury. His place in the team will probably be taken by in-form Kelly Brown given Jason White is also currently injured. This might affect the bench though, as Brown is pretty versatile whereas the likes of Gray or Rennie who are probably in line along with Macdonald are less so. Rory Lamont is still with the squad but will not be considered for selection as he too is recovering from an ankle injury.

A full Scotland team announcement will be at tomorrow around noon and I hope to have it for you as soon as possible after that!

SRU Survey

SRU Supporter survey with a chance to win Calcutta Cup tickets:

Click here

Don’t forget to mention Scottish Rugby Blog in your answer to #3!

Also just to complete my public service announcements for the week here are the details for any of you thinking about grabbing some last minute tickets for the France game next weekend, there are still approx 8,000 tickets available:

Tickets can be bought now – in person from the Murrayfield Ticket Centre, via the 24-hour hotline on 0844 335 3933 or online at www.scottishrugby.org (there are no ticket sales on match day).

EXTENDED TICKET CENTRE OPENING HOURS
The Murrayfield Ticket Centre opening hours are as follows:
25-29 January – 9am – 5pm
Sat 30 January – 10am – 4pm
Sun 31 January – CLOSED
1-5 February – 9am – 8pm
Sat 6 February – 10am – 5pm
Sun 7 February – 9 am onwards collections only

Bits and Bobs

Scott Gray has been called up to the Scotland squad to cover Rennie and the big Stroker who are still suffering from knocks. What, no Roddy Grant? Gray has been mostly on the bench this season so who knows if he is in the form that displaced John Barclay last year or not. Should get more chances now that Neil Best is moving to Worcester. Still, I reckon Roddy would have been a cheaper train fare for the SRU’s budget to stump up… from the BBC

Richie Gray is also sitting out training after being so omnipresent vs Biarritz that Jerome Thion had to punch him in the face to make him stop, breaking his nose in the process. A citing is on the way… from the Scotsman

Edinburgh MSP Sarah Boyack has hammered BBC Scotland over its unwillingness to cover Scottish rugby. Quite right too: now that Heather the Weather has gone Reporting Scotland is pish, unless there is rugby in the sports bit – and even then it’s only five seconds less pish. Who cares who Kilmarnock have just signed? Apart from Kilmarnockians, obviously. Write to your MSP/MP and tell them to get on the case, that you are a single issue voter, that issue is rugby and if they don’t sort it out they are fired in May… from the Scotsman.

I’ve also got a preview piece up on scrum.com 6 Nations fanzone. The drums in the jungle tell me Al may be working on the SRBlog version shortly…

Scotland Six Nations Squad 2010

Forwards: John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie, Kelly Brown (all Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Richie Gray, Dougie Hall (both Glasgow Warriors), Jim Hamilton (Edinburgh), Nathan Hines (Leinster), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Alan MacDonald (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester)

Backs: Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Max Evans, Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Alex Grove (Worcester), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Sean Lamont (Scarlets), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors) and Hugo Southwell (Stade Francais).

The 30 man squad breaks down as follows:

Glasgow: 13
Edinburgh: 7
Gloucester: 4
Other Exiles: 6

All of which probably reflects Glasgow’s dominance in the league and 1872 Cup so far this season.

Dan Parks is back in, along with uncapped Weege legends in the making Ruaridh Jackson and Richie Grey. No place for the other Richie, Vernon, who is unavailable for selection along with Hoggy and Jason White, all because of injury. And presumably Rory Lamont as well, though he seems to have disappeared into a news black hole.* Some players possibly close to featuring would have been the likes of Ospreys wing Nikki Walker, Glasgow prop Jon Welsh or co-captain Mike Blair who has not recovered from his ankle injury in time to get some form together. Blair, Welsh, Jim Thompson and Ross Rennie have all been invited to attend the training camp though. Personally I think given his form this season Roddy Grant is unlucky not to have made the squad, as is Ben Cairns. While presumably Cusiter continues as captain, I wonder if secondary captaincy will be given to Rory Lawson to continue the two scrum-halves model or whether Kellock who filled in admirably in the gutsy win over Australia will be given a shot. And does this mean Hugooooooooo is the third scrum-half in the squad?

*UPDATE: read the BBC article and Rory Lamont may join up with the squad assuming his survival of a club game for Toulon next week.