Category: Six Nations

6 Nations – the ill-informed view…

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

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

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

Scotland

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

Well, yes!

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

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

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

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

Predictions:

So, can Scotland win the 6 Nations?  Yes!

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

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

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

Fixtures:

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

France Playing Loony Tunes Again

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

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

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

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

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

Scotland Six Nations Training Squad

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

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

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

Scotland squad:

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

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

Toony Army Marches On

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

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

Scotland’s Six Nations Dates, Times and Officials

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

8 February, 3pm Scotland vs Wales

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

14 February 3pm France vs Scotland

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

28 February, 3pm Scotland vs Italy

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

14 March, 5pm Scotland vs Ireland

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

21 March, 3.30pm England vs Scotland

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

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

What We Learned in the Autumn

1) We shouldn’t really bother playing New Zealand, ever again. What useful purpose does it serve? It does us little good, and it gives them pointlessly easy grand slams. Think of that, we could scupper their grand slam tours without even playing a match.

2) Scotland now have a scrum that shouldn’t get pushed around. If we could get back our lineout dominance of a few years back we might be a serious threat up front. Bring back Scott Murray?

3) Nick De Luca looks like he is over his 6N hiccup and is now forming a dynamic centre partnership with Ben Cairns that augers well for the future. A lot of our players should hit their playing peak in around 3 years. Many of them already have a solid base of caps and are growing in maturity. We may not be able to just unwrap a new test-ready fly half like the All-Blacks seem to do, but I think we are managing the resources we do have well. Gregor Townsend’s mentorship scheme of the young players is a similarly excellent idea.

4) Mike Blair may be the best scrum half in the world at the moment. He outshone the best the southern hemisphere showed him, even leading a losing team. Euan Murray gave a great account of himself too, although it could be argued he didn’t face NZ’s best scrum combination. Both, along with Lee Byrne of Wales, are certain Lions if their form and fitness continue. Blair now pops up in most people’s World/Lions XVs. (Except for Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times, who picked him in his World XV but not his Lions team. Someone should point out to Mr Jones that Mike Phillips and Gavin Henson are short of fitness and form, and too busy duking it out on the streets of Cardiff to merit inclusion at this stage. Stuart Barnes didn’t pick Murray at tighthead but at least explained his reasoning! And he picked Barclay at 7, kudos.)

5) Ryan Jones is far from certain of a Lions test place, due to the barnstorming performances we have seen from Powell in the Welsh No 8 shirt. The Lions captaincy is still wide open.

5) Commentators still love mispronouncing names. Award of the season goes to John Beattie for “Cleanburger” (Adam Kleeberger of Canada). Rokocoko got a bit of a mangling from the BBC boys as well… Jonathan Davies is not alone.

6) England are having a few problems. They are probably where we were a few years ago, bottoming out on the constant wave of world rugby. Their players and management will take a while to bed in – Martin Johnson is a novice coach, remember. Let’s just hope they get it sorted. In 2012.

7) The second tier rugby nations are still getting screwed by the clubs. While the big unions can buy player release, pity poor Canada who have a core base of amateurs and can’t even get Ander Munro on release from Italy. They should shut off all club play on the continent while the Autum Internationals are on (masterplan for restructuring 4-years rugby cycle coming soon). This would undoubtedly help the likes of Italy, Georgia and Romania whose players fill in when the Frenchies are off playing tests. Georgia could quite easily have played a close full test against similarly ranked Canada rather than them getting pasted by our A and full sides respectively. Georgia might have also been beaten by Edinburgh had the floodlights at Meggetland not failed (poor show).

8) Australia will rise, and soon. Their last two games against Wales and the Baa-Baas were great fun, backed by a steely spine of solid – that’s almost not strong enough a term – defence. We could learn a lot from the Robbie Deans “soak it up then counter” school of thought. They will definitely be a force come 2011. Good job we didn’t get them in our group.

9) World XV based mostly on Autumn performances I saw: Byrne (Wal), Muliaina (NZ), De Villiers (SA), Nonu (NZ), Williams (Wal), Carter (NZ), Blair (Sco), Powell (Wal), McCaw (NZ), Burger (SA), Matfield (SA), Botha (SA), Murray (Sco), Ford (Sco), Woodcock (NZ). Honorary mention should go to the Aussies who showed up with a team rather than some individuals, so I’d pick Robbie Deans as the coach.

10) Wales are still 6N favourites. Behind them it’s a toss-up but Scotland have more than a good chance of making the top three. On current form you might hesitate to say that about England or Ireland. France, as always under Lieveremont are a mystery until they take the field. Frank Hadden has us as dark horses, and for once I’m in agreement with Franky baws. The Scots are coming.

Don’t forget there is Heineken Cup rugby on Sky this weekend again, though no Edinburgh vs Wasps on Friday night. Bath vs Glasgow is on on Sunday. Player watch as usual to follow next week. Oh, and you can add number 11) in the comments section below. We don’t bite.

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.