Category: World of Rugby

News from around the game, ie outwith Scotland.

Stephen Jones Says Something Agreeable 2 Weeks Running

There must be something in the water…

Townsend Turning
They recently announced some figures in Scotland that purported to show a major revolution in the sport north of the border, with increased numbers playing the game and watching the professional teams.

All very fine, although if you delved beneath the figures you found that, basically, Jock McTavish and his mate had started to play rugby for someone’s under-13s and that Jimmy Stewart has agreed to go to watch Edinburgh now and again provided it’s not raining.

Still, good luck to them, a Scotland rugby revival is the next key to the well-being of the RBS Six Nations and even small rises are turning a tide. And, in my opinion, that revival came a little closer last week when it was announced that Gregor Townsend, the former Scotland back, had joined Frank Hadden’s coaching set-up – this after an odd period when Townsend seemed to have been banished to the outer limits.

The choice is superb. I have always regarded Townsend as a genius, although not without flaws. He didn’t pick the best time to be born, since his deftness, passing, ability to put people into space and all-round expertise were somewhat wasted. Those outside him in the Scotland teams for which he played between 1993 and 2003 were not on his wavelength, some were not even on the same planet.

Look what happened when they gave him players to bounce off – he was able to marshal the 1997 Lions to victory in South Africa. A career that took him to Northampton, Brive and Castres also gave him a wider vision. I used to love watching him end on, to see him work his angles. His wisdom and modest manner could well herald a revival in Scotland back play and something better in terms of the scoreboard. Those are the numbers that really matter.

Full article can be found on the Times Website.

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.

Make Us An Offer We Can’t Refuse

The Italian Rugby Federation has agreed that it will put forward a proposal for either 4 clubs or 2 select XVs – the more likely option – to join the Magner’s League. While in principle this will be great for Italian rugby (and delight those of our Italian readers with a hankering for all things Mossy) it does create increasing congestion in an already long rugby season. However, the Borders were until fairly recently part of the Magners League fixture list, so you could look at it as the net addition of just one team. This is why I believe two extra teams is the most sensible option in terms of both the fixture list, length of season and added expense of travel to Italy for away games. Another good idea would be to get rid of the EDF Energy Cup which should free up the schedules a bit, or perhaps relegate it to a development/under 21s tournament. None of the big clubs really seem to pay attention to it anyway, unless they happen to find themselves in the final.

The blog may be offline briefly in the next few days as we upgrade our software, but I doubt you’ll notice, such is the efficiency of our technical staff/size of our readership. If we can find a pub to watch it in (not being in Edinburgh on Boxing Day), I’ll be back with a report on the derby match between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Hoepfully it’ll be a spectacle for the neutral in front of a record crowd. Stranger things have happened.

Until then all at Scottish Rugby Blog HQ wish you a very happy Christmas and New Year.

Rory and Al

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.

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

More light…

Further gloom in the scrum half department as McMillan has picked up a training injury too, although he is expected to recover and Lawson may not be as bad as first feared.

Interesting to see NZ have picked Carter and Smith in the centre for the warm up against Oz. Looking at their squad backs, even if they look to blood younger inexperienced players – which they may well do vs Scotland – they will still pose a big threat. Which makes me want to pee my pants a little seeing as I have a ticket.

New Zealand team to face Australia: Mils Muliaina, Hosea Gear, Conrad Smith, Dan Carter, Sitiveni Sivivatu; Stephen Donald, Jimmy Cowan; Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Neemia Tialata, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (capt), Rodney So’oialo.
Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Greg Somerville, Anthony Boric, Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Ma’a Nonu, Isaia Toeava.

Hadden hires new coaches

In news announced yesterday, Scotland have appointed two new assistant coaches to fill positions temporarily held by Andy Robinson and Alan Tait over the summer tours.

Former All Black captain Mike Brewer of NZ has been appointed as forwards coach, and former GB Rugby League International Graeme Steadman as defence coach filling the roles left by previous incumbents George Graham and aformentioned Tait.

While Brewer played a controversial role in one of Scotland’s closer results against the All Blacks, he did sterling work with Leinster’s pack last season and should he work similar magic for our national side he may be forgiven. Steadman is a less well-known figure, having worked with both Munster and Ireland in the past since crossing codes. Steadman will also work with Edinburgh, hopefully to ease the transition between their 10-12-13 defensive axis from club to international level. The SRU site claims a replacement for Mark Bitcon is being looked for in the fitness department. So, with all this blarney-flavoured news, should it be pointed out that -as was the situation with Eddie O Sullivan – there seems to be a worrying lack of appointment of a backs coach?

We all know what happened to Eddie O Sullivan…

Fantasy Rugby warming up for the new season

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Okay so it’s the (ssshhhhh) Guiness Premiership we’re talking here, not our “beloved” Magners League. But you could just about field a team of exiled Scots here, or at least people who have vaguely Scottish names – Luke McAlister I’m looking at you.

I’ve even set up a Scottish Rugby Blog mini-league so if anyone wants to join in that, the name of the league is “ScottishRugbyBlog.co.uk” and the password is “optimism”. Tell all your friends. No prizes for mini-league victory other than those already offered by the sponsors, and our undying respect. Unless Al wins, in which case no prizes full stop and shame on the rest of us. I’ll be playing anyway, so if it’s by myself well that’s nothing new. But there’s plenty of room in the sandpit so why not give it a bash, you’ve got till the 6th September to get stuck in.

Word of warning – best set up your team in Internet Explorer if you can, their fancy interface only lets you pick one back if you try it in Firefox, which would be about as useful as picking Dan Parks. If he were available. Tsk.

http://www.guinnesspremiershipfantasyrugby.com

Social Rugby Players from Scotland Wanted!

Friend of the SRBlog Rolf has been in touch with some details of an event he is involved in South Africa next year, the Social Rugby World Championships:

Every rugby player has at one time or another worn the boots of their rugby heroes – standing in the back garden imagining the kick that’ll win the World Cup Final for his team.

From Opunake, New Zealand to Clonakilty, Ireland the dreams remain the same. For most, these dreams fade, but for 480 social rugby players these dreams will finally be realised from 13 to 26 June 2009 when the inaugural Social Rugby World Championships kicks off in Cape Town, South Africa.

The tournament, with teams from across the globe, promises to be packed with great running rugby, good times, healthy competition and new friendships being formed.

SOCIAL RUGBY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS 2009

  • 16 international teams
  • 480 rugby players
  • 2 weeks of socialising and rugby
  • 40 matches
  • 1000’s of spectators
  • 4 finals – Cup, Plate, Bowl and Shield
  • 1 of the world’s most beautiful cities
  • 1 social outreach programme that’ll help change the lives of players and previously disadvantaged communities forever.

The groundbreaking Social Rugby World Championships – coinciding with the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa – is the perfect opportunity to make some new friends, enjoy a few games of social rugby, visit the most beautiful city in the world (our unbiased opinion) and watch the Lions in action (probably getting thumped by the current World Champions – also an unbiased opinion).

While I take issue with the Lions jibe, it sounds like a great idea so if you have a team that you think might be interested, spread the word! More details on www.srwc2009.co.za.

On other fronts, we realise we have been a bit slack lately but Wimbledon was on. Although also on summer break, Al and I have thankfully (or is that unfortunately?) not been involved in any late-night hotel-based scandals with foreign lovelies, nor re-constructive surgeries of any kind.

Like the rest of the world, we’ll be back to oval balls soon.

A chance for revenge…sort of

So, 15 points. Can we really beat Argentina by that much? Without scoring any tries? With Dan Parks at 10? Not having seen the previous game yet, I can’t really comment specifically but from the sounds of it on the radio we were solid in the set piece but bullied at the breakdown, which led to slow ball, which led to, well, the usual. It’s good to see Stroker in the press with some fire in his belly about losing games we should win, and hopefully Robinson will key the back row (and Alain Rolland) in a bit to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Much like many of you out there, it seems pretty evident to me that regardless of club form or favouritism, the team don’t fire with Parko at 10 (unless we are playing England and it is raining), so it is of little use constantly shuffling the backline when the ball never gets beyond 10 or 12. Therefore I will refrain from discussing the backs. What’s the point?

Don’t forget you can catch the Scotland A game vs Argentina A in the Churchill Cup from 9.30 tonight to see if the understudies can manage what the full team have singularly failed to do, namely beat the Argies. It was a good showing from the A team to beat a stubborn and fired-up Canada on Saturday, but the lack of familiar faces in the team compared to say the England Saxons team does highlight the lack of depth we have in Scotland once you skim off the Glasgow and Edinburgh first 22s and the current crop of big name exiles. A lot of these guys have not been playing first team professional rugby this season, and although you could argue this tour will give them valuable experience, it does show that to get the results we would all love to see, Scotland needs to find a way to sustain more than just a core of about 30-40 players – once these ranks are depleted through injury or the niceties of the French club season, we are severely short of form and experience. Even the A Team coaches have been spirited away to the main team in an effort to bolster confidence, depriving our up and coming players of what would have been a valuable learning process.

Anyway, all the best. Good luck to both teams and I hope I will be proven wrong. Al and I are off to Cardiff to pay homage at the Millennium Stadium, so we may be unavailable for comment after Saturday’s match. Feel free to leave your build-up and feedback on any of the games in the comments below – don’t forget new look Oz and England are both in action this weekend too, against the Irish and All Blacks respectively.

UPDATE: here’s the team, comments below:

Southwell, Paterson, Cairns, Morrison, Webster, Godman, Blair, Jacobsen, Ford, Murray, Mustchin, MacLeod, Strokosch, Barclay, Hogg.
Replacements: Hall, Dickinson, Kellock, Brown, Lawson, Parks, De Luca.

Battle of the Nicknames – Malkovich and Munchkin called up

Simon Webster are the latest additions to the tour party for Argentina, with the fleet-footed winger being declared fit after a hamstring injury and Edinburgh lock (but New Zealand born) Matt Mustchin added to boost the second row numbers. Mustchin’s inclusion will no doubt raise eyebrows in some quarters – he only just qualifies on residency – but if the Kiwis prefer South Sea Islanders, then why not give us the spare Kiwis, many of whom will be sporting Scottish ancestors more likely than not… Sure, it’s not strictly cricket, but then neither is putting the ball into the scrum squint – and that happens, too.

In other news, George Graham has confirmed he will not be staying with the SRU after being largely scapegoated for the poor Six Nations showing – Alan Tait has since been re-positioned and re-hired for Argentina – and is eyeing up positions with Munster and Newcastle among others. Steve Bates, the former Borders head coach, has been installed “permanently” as Director of Rugby and is looking for a forwards coach (and a defence coach too if Tait should grow weary of his role north of the border), so Graham may indeed opt for the rough and tumble of the Premiership. He has expressed a desire to be Scotland coach one day, so best of luck George.

I Ain’t Gettin On No Plane

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

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

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

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

The Shape of Things to Come – new ELVs

Starting in August, the ELVs (Experimental Law Variations) for Rugby Union will be given a global trial. Some of them we have seen already in the Super 14, and most of the more controversial ones were slapped down. A total of 13 of the proposed 23 are to be trialled, which will more than likely result in their adoption thereafter. Here they are in all their glory:

ELVs to be trialled worldwide

Assistant Referees

  • Assistant Referees can assist referees in any manner required when appointed by a match organiser. Not sure if this refers to touch judges. Does this mean the time keeper can point out spear tackles?

Posts and flags around the field

  • The corner posts are no longer considered to be in touch in-goal except when a ball is grounded against the post. This may make Shane Williams and Mark Cueto very happy.

Lineout and throw

  • If a team puts the ball back into their own 22 and the ball is subsequently kicked directly into touch there is no gain of ground. This will hopefully encourage counter-attacking and discourage aerial ping-pong. Expect a few wingers to forget about this one and put their fullback under undue pressure.
  • A quick throw may be thrown in straight or towards the throwing team’s own goal line. They are rarely straight anyway. Again this should encourage counter-attacking.
  • There is no restriction on the number of players who can participate in the lineout from either side (minimum of two). Allows you to pile on the pressure to the opponents throw on a tight 5 metre lineout to try and steal attacking ball. Just don’t then maul it (see below). Might bring some interesting tactical choices to be exploited – who do you leave out, will it leave a gap etc?
  • The receiver in a lineout must stand 2 metres back from the lineout. Meh.
  • The player who is in opposition to the player throwing in the ball may stand in the area between the 5 metre line and touch line but must be 2 metres away from the lineout. Might give speedy hookers a chance to rampage down the touchline.
  • Lineout players may pre-grip a jumper before the ball is thrown in. Will this really give anyone an advantage? May lead to an outbreak of bluffing by means of pre-emptive shirt grabbing.
  • The lifting of lineout jumpers is permitted. Wait, what? Isn’t this permitted already? I guess this must be an ELV that is already in trial, as they do it every week. Checking the rule book (as of 2007) turns out no, they are just allowed to support players that have already jumped 8ft in the air.

Maul

  • Players are able to defend a maul by pulling it down. Endless up the jumper rugby should become a thing of the past. Opponents of this law claim it is dangerous, and gives advantage to weaker packs. Should suit Scotland, then. No, wait, we have a bunch of brutes. I am outraged, outraged I say.
  • Remove reference in Law to heads and shoulders not to be lower than hips. Knees and toes, knees and toes. Sorry, I fell asleep there.

Scrum

  • Introduction of an offside line five metres behind the hindmost feet of the scrum. Presumably this is to give players at 10 and 12 more time to fire up their backline with exciting attacking moves, or to ease the likelihood of a Dan Parks chargedown. Master of the blitz defence Shaun Edwards will no doubt find a way around it.
  • Scrum half offside lines (must be in close proximity to the scrum as present Law or must retreat five metres). Not sure what this will change.

They left out making almost everything penalty-wise a free kick – got to give the forwards a chance for a breather – and allowing handling in the ruck, which were two of the more controversial proposals. We will see the free-kick thing trialled in the Northern Hemisphere at some point though.

Disappointed to see that they made not putting the ball into the scrum straight legal. Oh, no, wait…they didn’t.