Category: Rugby World Cup

Scotland World Cup Dates for Your, umm, 2011 Diary

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So here are the dates of Scotland’s World Cup games and locations for 2011. At least it allows us to start planning already! It looks like we get to go all over, to Invercargill, Dunedin, Christchurch and then Auckland for the biggie…and perhaps beyond? Although it means back to back matches with the two top seeds, it’s nice of them to put that one last – it could become an all or nothing encounter at the Cake Tin. Imagine the intense craziness of the St Etienne game… versus England? I’m having a panic attack just thinking about it.

10 September:
Scotland v Play-off winner, Rugby Park Stadium, Invercargill

14 September:
Scotland v Europe 1, Carisbrook, Dunedin

25 September:
Argentina v Scotland, Christchurch Stadium

1 October:
England v Scotland, Eden Park, Auckland

Quarter-final Two: 8 October
Winner Pool B v Runner-up Pool A
(Christchurch Stadium)

Quarter-final Four: 9 October
Winner Pool A v Runner-up Pool B
(Christchurch Stadium)

In other news, the Evans boys and Euan Murray have just announced the signing of new contracts with Glasgow and Northampton respectively.

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

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

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.

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!!

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?

Review of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

Other highlights of the World Cup:

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

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

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

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

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