Fantasy Rugby Round 3

Don’t forget to change your teams ahead of the next round of matches. Some people (ahem, Al) suffered from making no changes in the last round… Still got Andy Goode in your team? Is Euan Murray worth the gamble? You should have got an email from scrum.com with the latest teams all handily laid out for you…

If you are in the game but wish to join our mini league see this post.

Scotland Team To Face Italy

Hot (ish) off the SRU press, here is our team:

Scotland: Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Mike Blair (Edinburgh, capt), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Jason White (Sale Sharks), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais), John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors).
Replacements: Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), Chris Cusiter (Perpignan), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh).

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).
Touch-judges: George Clancy (Ireland) and Romain Poite (France).
Television Match Official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)

He’s pretty much picked the same team as last time, with like for like swaps in Euan Murray and Al Kellock in for Al Dickinson and Jim Hamilton. We’re hoping that gives us a boost in the front row, but the same as last time with just one lock we’re still facing the 5 back-row pack proposition if Kellock picks up a knock. We may need 5 of them to keep an eye on Parisse, having said that. This time cover man Kelly Brown may be concussed too after his head knock in the Glasgow game on Friday.

In the backs I’d have liked to see Mossy and De Luca come in as I feel they have earned a chance to help speed up the onset of this “progress” Hadden keeps talking about (Paterson is somewhat immune to the out of position debate, as he may have been playing out of position for his whole career). Otherwise could we be facing more of the same over-eagerness that led to so many knock-ons last time? After all, we should fancy our chances against Italy at home more than France in Paris. My great hope for this game is that World Class Phil will step up and banish memories of the last time he started against Italy at Murrayfield with a storming performance.

My advice to all would be stop thinking about how you’re going to skin them and just concentrate on catching the ball. After that, there’s enough natural talent here for a victory. Even if half of them are out of position, at least Hadden didn’t play a flanker at 9.

Spaghetti Western

Mixed news ahead of Scotland’s crunch wooden spoon duel against Italy this weekend.

The Good: Tighthead prop Euan Murray played the full 80 minutes for Northampton in their narrow defeat against Wasps yesterday with no news of any adverse affects. In case we need backup, Moray Low had a pretty decent game for Glasgow against Cardiff on Friday too. Simon Taylor is reported to have played well in his preferred position of Number 8 for Stade at the weekend. Simon Danielli, meanwhile, was in try-scoring form for Ulster.

The Bad: Chris Cusiter seems to have been mauled by some South-Sea Island type playing for Perpignan. We await updates on the status of his knee – he did play on afterwards so hopefully he was taken off at half-time only as a precaution. Kelly Brown suffered a head knock in the Cardiff game while failing to make a tackle on Martyn Williams. In fact, most of Glasgow’s tackling in the first half of that game was bad.

The Ugly: The following all seem to have had pretty mediocre games at the weekend based on the mainstream press reports and the couple of games I saw; Ally Kellock, Ally Hogg, Ben Cairns, Chris Paterson (although these last pair did score a try each) Rory Lawson.

Buried in a rough wooden casket in the desert: To continue the cowboy theme, the following were MIA this weekend having been (presumably) released to their clubs or not in full use by the main squad: Al Strokosch, Scott Gray, Sean Lamont, Al Dickinson (left on the bench for Gloucester), Rob Dewey.

UPDATE: It turns out Rob Dewey has been drafted into the Scotland Sevens squad for Dubai.

Life Outside The Six Nations

Edinburgh field a reasonable strength team to travel to Munster this weekend including a number of international squad players released back into Andy Robinson’s care. Although the Munster team has not been announced it will probably make up for a lack of the core Ireland players with the likes of Doug Howlett, and Mafi and Tupoki in the centre so it will still represent a tough challenge for Ally Hogg and his men. This one is live on Setanta Sports 2, Saturday 7.15pm (7.30 k.o).

Edinburgh: 15 Chris Paterson, 14 Andrew Turnbull, 13 Ben Cairns, 12 Nick De Luca, 11 Mark Robertson, 10 David Blair, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Allister Hogg (captain), 7 Alan MacDonald, 6 Simon Cross, 5 Ben Gissing, 4 Craig Hamilton, 3 Ryan Grant, 2 Andrew Kelly, 1 Kyle Traynor.
Replacements: 16 Steve Lawrie, 17 Bruce McNeil, 18 Scott MacLeod, 19 Scott Newlands, 20 Ben Meyer, 21 Jim Thompson, 22 Roland Reid.

UPDATE: Glasgow team to face Cardiff. This one’s on BBC Wales if you have Sky, kickoff 1905hrs. See our TV page as usual for channel details. Again, decent team but might struggle against Cardiff’s overseas talent (Tito, Rush). Low, Kellock and Brown should be out to make an impact while McMillan will be looking for form ahead of the arrival later in the year of rejuvenated Chris Cusiter… good to see Fergus Thomson coming back, you’d think after his decent season last year he’d be in with a shout ahead of Dougie Hall if he got form and fitness back…

Glasgow: Bernardo Stortoni, Hefin O’Hare, Jose Nunez Piossek, Ruaridth Jackson, Colin Shaw, Dan Parks, Mark McMillan; Justin Va’a, Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Dan Turner, Alastair Kellock (c), Stevie Swindall, Kelly Brown, Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements: Fergus Thomson, Ed Kalman, Opeta Palepoi, Calum Forrester, Colin Gregor, Chris Kinloch, Peter Horne.

If You’re Happy And You Know It…

Michael wrote in today with a link to the following petition to remove Frank Hadden as national coach.

http://www.petitiononline.com/Frankout/petition.html

While I should point out that here at Scottish Rugby Blog we do not necessarily endorse this viewpoint that Frank Hadden should go – I’m fairly ambivalent to be honest, although considerably more likely to sign it than I was, say, last month, and I’m not sure about Al – I felt it only fair to give you, the reader, the option to make a decision for yourself should you wish to get involved.

Despite some Quixotic selections in recent weeks, my main hesitation is the lack of a current viable alternative. Where is our Warren Gatland? Our Shaun Edwards-type in Alan Tait has already gone to be replaced by another league man. With more (better?) coaches under him now, hopefully Hadden recedes to a director of rugby type role that might suit him more than as a hands on coach. Given that Andy Robinson and Sean Lineen (certainly Robinson) are more than happy where they are and more to the point best left in place as quality coaches who can develop new talent, who would you replace him with?

Give it till the end of the Six Nations, and then maybe it’ll be time to pile on.

Now The Boks Want In

Scurrilous rumours are circulating in the e-press-o-sphere (new word for you there) that the Springbok franchises are looking for a break-away from the Super 14 next year, with an entry into the Magners League being touted as the replacement. Leaving aside the fact that every one involved seems to deny anything of the sort to both The Scotsman/Evening News and the source article itself in The Australian – which means the article is basically conjecture – there are several reasons this might not work:

  • Same time-zone games mean that revenues from TV would go up at both ends. As Wayne Smith in The Australian says, “the rugby wouldn’t be as good but the bottom line would be a whole lot healthier.” Indeed the rugby would become fairly schizophrenic, switching between firm South African grounds and Firhill on a rainy Friday night. Are the Blue Bulls really going to want to play Connacht?
  • The lesser teams in a financial and rugby sense (Connacht, Dragons, and well, our two) would struggle to compete with the likes of the Sharks both financially and in a rugby sense. It is hard to see anything but a South African monopoly on the top end of the table even with Munster or Cardiff at the top of their games. Would the South Africans also make demands financially, bringing a hefty ratings slice to the table as they would?
  • It would probably screw the Italians’ chances of getting involved. For the development of the world game surely it is of more interest to help a developing rugby nation like Italy achieve parity. On the other hand, it might mean Argentina or the Pacific Islands got invited in to the Super umm, 9.
  • Adding another 5 teams to the fixture table would clog it up even further, with or without the presence of the EDF Cup (which seems to be on the way out or due for a reworking). Where do we fit all these games in when there’s barely enough time as it is? Would we have to synch our season with the Saffers, resulting in summer rugby (not such a terrible thought) and starting off with the Six Nations in the Spring? Where would it leave England, France and the Heineken Cup? It might work as the previously mooted “Rainbow Cup”, which could fill the “gulf” left by the EDF Cup but might threaten to overshadow Europe’s premier Cup competition. Nice as the idea is, with the increasing physicality and injury-laden nature of the game of Rugby Union, do we really have room for more expansion?

In other news, rumours concerning a trio of Wasps players moving to France have been confirmed. With another dedicated lock in Tom Palmer, and a utility back row in James Haskell, will this see Simon Taylor squeezed out? Maybe Wasps will want him! Is there room for him in Scotland? Sounds wonderful, but seems unlikely. Never one to give up on a challenge, Taylor will surely stay on and defend his lovely pink shirt…

UPDATE: this has, of course, now been quashed

Hot Potato – Scotland Drop The Ball Against France

With two weeks to go until the next round of Six Nations games, we Scotland fans now have a short while to sit back and gather our thoughts. So with that in mind, here are some freshly gathered ones.

Frank Hadden has asserted that Scotland will “make an impact” in this tournament, although it remains to be seen whether or not that impact will be the “thud” as we hit the bottom of the table. This impact will have to come on the back of a resounding defeat against Wales and an unlucky defeat marred by the odd dodgy decision and some pretty crap handling against France. Both types of defeat are sadly nothing new to Scotland fans, it’s the big tick in the W column that is missing. The France game was much closer to where we want to be and like the South Africa game in the Autumn, showed that we can compete with the big teams – especially if they have an off-day.

Speaking of “off-days”, how much longer are we going to have to suffer the short end of the stick from referees and officials? My assertion on spotting an Irish referee at kick-off that we would be screwed proved somewhat accurate, with debut referee George Clancy willing to give a try (resulting from obstruction and a forward pass) despite being unsighted at the time, having been tackled by Jason White. If it’s going to take officials being allowed to check further back than the act of grounding with the Video Ref for Scotland (and other smaller nations) to get parity when we need it most, I’m all for it. Jonathan Davies in the BBC’s post match forum characterised this sort of thing as whingeing – but if Wales were on the other end of a dodgy decision or two you’d never hear the end of it from him. After Alain Rolland allowing Martyn Williams to run riot last weekend, I hope the next referee is not Irish. Aren’t they supposed to be our celtic cousins?

The advantage of the type of result we saw against France is that at least we can see the specific areas needed for improvement (rather than just “everything”). Townsend has mentioned he’ll be working on those support lines but there is still some way to go. Surely “If Mike Blair Goes Through A Gap You Follow Him As Fast As You Can” is not that tricky a mantra to learn? It’s short enough to stick on a banner and hang it in the changing room. You could even stick in a couple of F-bombs to make it seem like Jim Telfer is saying it. The Evans boys are clearly on each other’s wavelengths when it comes to attack, but the rest of the team are all tuned in to different stations at times. At least Barclay was listening. Get on to Radio Mike Blair, boys – it’s a good listen as I said as far back as November. Learning not to knock on would be a good one too – that spoiled a pretty solid comeback for Danielli. And of course there’s the whole issue of not having a fully functioning pack at scrum or lineout due to some silly selection choices. That’s a relatively new one though and I hope it doesn’t last much longer than say, the middle of this week. We were all over the French line-out in the first 20 minutes, and after our only lock Jim Hamilton departed, nary a challenge. The less said about the scrum the better, but the lack of fit props in the correct position and a proper second row to push was telling. It may also have affected Ford who showed up less in the loose than he did in the early periods. Former Highland man Moray Low may have done enough to earn a start against Italy and perhaps Dickinson will revert to the bench – or Chunk’s number 1 shirt?

The defence was solid though, and the breakdown much more efficiently patrolled. Strokosch has surely done enough to get his name on the team sheet for the remaining games, although such is his enthusiasm for playing rugby we have to hope he doesn’t injure himself turning out for Gloucester this weekend – or that Hadden doesn’t use this as an excuse not to pick him. For the backline, Blair, Godman, Evans, Morrison, Evans, Paterson, Southwell was pretty effective but the ball they got was still not brilliant. Again Cusiter showed real zip with his service and we may see him appear earlier in the coming weeks as a like-for-like and captain-for-captain substitution as against Wales. Can he direct an attack as well as Blair though?

Hopefully against Italy things will be a bit better for us – we are now left with them, Ireland and England: three matches we would have targeted for a win at the start. Italy are still beatable even with a proper scrum-half and we need to make sure the little class we do have tells against them. Ireland used to be our whipping boys in the 80s and early 90s, but this team look the real deal now with a Munster-like edge up front and Leinster’s class in the backs – Heaslip in particular is starting to make a major run for the Lions 8 shirt. England still have shown little to make us truly quake but they did improve against Wales and will always be fierce comptetitors at home. A few years ago, big Nathan was seen as a penalty liability and Euan Murray was the guy who had that strange accident, discovered God and disappeared off to Northampton. Now, it turns out they are cornerstones of this team and the way we want to play. Hines and Murray can’t come back quickly enough.

UPDATE: Euan Murray is hoped to be fit to play against Italy. Other (not too serious) injuries are Simon Danielli, Phil Godman, Mike Blair, Moray Low, Jason White and Kelly Brown – all “are expected to resume training in the next two to three days” while Graeme Morrison is recovering from an ankle injury. Italy tickets are still available.

DOUBLE UPDATE: I watched the match again on BBC iPlayer and that pass was definitely forward! Chunk’s offside/onside tackle on the French scrum half that led to Kelly Brown’s “try” is much less clear cut. If the ball was out, it’s a split second thing and 9/10 times would be ruled offside. It is also increasingly clear that Phil Godman had a pretty good game – check out the pace he displays haring for the corner before extricating himself from a ruck to set up Evans’ try with his favourite inside pass. Is it just me, or is he faster than most of the other 10s on offer? Jones, O’ Gara, Goode, even Cipriani – he may not have other aspects they have to their game (yet), but I’m pretty sure he has them beaten for leg speed.

Good Luck Chuck

Quick round-up: Scotland U20s were trounced fairly comprehensively by the French, 30-3. The Scotland Club International side lost to their French counterparts by only a point 13-12, so unlucky there guys. No word on the A team score as yet but with Ruaridh Jackson at 10, Cairns as captain the 35-10 scoreline was pretty disappointing (after 14-3 at half time). Lineen on the radio blamed the tries conceded on the breakdown and scrum, so worrying signs there.

Below are some headlines we would like to see come Sunday:

Evans Above
Manna from Evans
French Strokosched Over the Head
Max-Imum Impact
Phil Man-God
Poitrenaud Use Against Rampant Scots

And some we wouldn’t:

Jason White-wash
Scots Left Singing Les Blues on Valentines Day
Have you Haddenough Yet?
Simon Dani-hell’s Bells

Any Editors that want to use any of these for the Sunday papers, you are more than welcome.

All the best to the boys tomorrow. I’m actually less hesitant about our chances than against Wales. We may get beaten if the French play properly and if they play very well then we could be in trouble, but if they don’t show up then we have a definite chance. The Toulouse back line should hold no fear for the Evans brothers in particular, and I hope Mike Blair can have a good game and lead from the front.

Your country is counting on you to restore some pride. Remember the Toony flip? Go for it lads.

UPDATE: Report on the A Team game on Planet Rugby.

A-Team Ready To Jump in Slow Motion Over The Camera… ahem, I mean, Rock

Newly demoted Ben Cairns and Sean Lamont get a chance to prove that the selector’s don’t know what they are talking about when they take to the field vs Ireland A tomorrow night at the RDS, Dublin, (k.o 7.30pm). Some new faces in the pack which means Ally Hogg gets a chance to “rest” this weekend. Young Glasgow hope Ruairidh Jackson is given a chance to lead the team’s attack from 10 after only two professional starts and it’s a clear sign he is being groomed for, well, something. Possibly being shuffled around the backline until he is near retirement age?

SCOTLAND A (v Ireland A): S Jones (Newcastle); S Lamont (Northampton), B Cairns (Edinburgh) capt, R Dewey (Ulster), J Thompson (Edinburgh); R Jackson, M McMillan; E Kalman, F Thomson (all Glasgow), D Young (Gloucester), C Hamilton (Edinburgh), D Turner (Glasgow), S Newlands (Edinburgh), J Beattie (Glasgow), A MacDonald (Edinburgh). Subs: S Lawson (Gloucester), S Corsar (Rotherham), S MacLeod (Edinburgh), S Swindall (Glasgow), G Laidlaw (Edinburgh), G Ross (Saracens).

Not much chance of finding this one on telly anywhere as it might be fun, but if there is I’ll keep you posted. It could well be on the radio though.

UPDATE: Don’t forget to make changes to your Fantasy Teams ahead of the weekend!

Le Team…

Hadden never makes changes…ever!

Well, except this time.

Scotland have made 5 changes to the starting XV for this Saturday’s game against the French in Paris. In come both Max and Thom Evans to the starting line-up, joined by Simon Danielli, Alasdair Strokosch and Alasdair Dickinson. The full team for the game is:

First XV:

1. Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh)
2. Ross Ford (Edinburgh)
3. Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester)
4. Jason White (Sale)
5. Jim Hamilton (Edinburgh)
6. Alasdair Strokosh (Gloucester)
7. John Barclay (Glagow)
8. Simon Taylor (Stade Francais)

9. Mike Blair (Edinburgh)
10. Phil Godman (Edinburgh)
11. Thom Evans (Glasgow)
12. Graeme Morrison (Glasgow)
13. Max Evans (Glasgow)
14. Simon Danielli (Ulster)
15. Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh)

Replacements:
Dougie Hall (Glasgow); Moray Low (Glasgow); Kelly Brown (Glasgow); Scott Gray (Northampton); Chris Cusiter (Perpignan); Chris Paterson (Edinburgh); Nick De Luca (Edinburgh)

Having only had a few minutes to digest I’ve a couple of thoughts.

Firstly this looks like a side set up to attack, the backs are quick and have natural finishers. The choice of Danielli is interesting, didn’t see that one coming but fits with the policy of one big and one not so big (there is no small in international rugby!) winger. Obviously no Paterson again and, considering his decent performance against the Welsh, that is slightly surprising. He does however allow you to put more depth on the bench as he can cover a number of positions. The additions of both Evans boys is encouraging and if they can get decent ball they have the skills and sheer pace to frighten the French.

Happy to see Strokosch in the starting line-up, he’ll certainly add a bit of bite and God help a Frenchman on the wrong side of a ruck! He’ll feel he has a point to prove after missing out against the Welsh and we can only hope he channels his aggression and passion in a more productive manner than Geoff Cross. Disappointed to see that White has kept is starting slot. Nothing against him, he is a cracking player, but this is not his strongest position and he looks like he is lacking match fitness. Surely a fit and ready Ally Kellock would have better? Moray Low doesn’t quite make the starting XV but at least he is on the bench and edges towards the elusive first cap.

Overall I’m pretty happy – this is a team that should have been selected last week. If we had Murray and Hines I’d be very optimistic about going to France. As it is the main worry for me is the pack’s ability to secure good quick ball and put pressure on the French forwards. If, and I think it is a pretty huge if, the pack can perform at the top level we have a back unit that can trouble any side in the competition. If I was French I’d look at that side and look at that back unit and be fairly apprehensive as the way the French play the game leaves them open to attack by speed. This Scotland line-up is quick. There are points in this side but so much comes down to ensuring protection for Blair and Godman.

Much happier this week, and whilst not optimistic of a Scottish victory this squad at least makes me think it’s going to be a damn good game. One thing is for sure, come Saturday evening we’ll know for sure whether Scotland are moving in the right direction and whether Frank Hadden has a future in his post as national coach.

The Life of Doh!

(aka The Frank Hadden Story)

Stupid.

That’s the one word that describes so much of Scotland’s performance last Saturday, from the coaching staff down to the players. Scottish rugby are the masters of turning gold in crap, whether that is on the pitch, on the management bench or up in the comfort of the padded seats for the Blazers.

Scotland botched the whole start to the 6 Nations and were on the back foot from the minute the team was announced. There was genuine excitement in the lead up to the tournament and whilst it would have been nice to fantasise about Grand Slam heroics, most Scotland fans were just looking forward to a steady showing, a couple of wins and sign of greater attacking intent. Instead Hadden chose a side that was a mix of players playing out of position and, in some cases, out of form. As soon as the squad was announced the wind was taken out the sails as it was apparent that Hadden had gone for a lot of the old familiar faces that have been at the heart of the Scotland team over the last couple of disappointing seasons.

To compound this the players generally failed to rise to the occasion and in a couple of cases they made suicidal decisions. Simon Webster was a man under a lot of pressure: a public outcry (even if not reflected in the national press) had surrounded his inclusion instead of the on form (on fire?) Thom Evans. With this in mind, it is understandable that he was eager to put on a display and to make a mark. Alas, having lined his man up he decided to tackle like an idiot, failing to lead with his shoulder and choosing instead his napper. As a result he knocked himself out, and it is surprising that he managed to last as long as he did. Geoff Cross had a debut to forget, literally. Anyone who saw him during the national anthems would have seen how much the occasion meant to him and I was hopeful he would go on to have a good debut. Unfortunately events overtook him and in the end his challenge on a flying Welshman was both reckless and feckless.

So where does this leave us with just 4 days to go until they face the French in Paris?

The easy option is to say that that we’re doomed.

However, all might not be lost. For 20 minutes at the end of the game on Sunday, Scotland started to play a lot flatter and were able to attack the Welsh line. Max Evans scored a corker of a try and I was quite impressed with Paterson when he came on. The key this weekend will be the pack. It is essential that Strokosch is brought back in as his ability to battle and be aggressive will be vital to securing the breakdown. The Welsh were continually flopping over onto the Scottish side of the ruck, and whilst the ref chose not to punish this, the Scottish forwards should have made sure they didn’t want to do this twice. Instead they stood back and did nothing and the whole performance suffered from a lack of controlled and focussed aggression. The news that Hines is not available is a blow but there are suitable direct replacements waiting in the wings and I for one would very much like to see Kellock get a game. He will at least provide expert knowledge of the position and also isn’t afraid to stick the boot in if necessary.

In the backs out should go Lamont (looked off-pace and uninterested), Webster (injured and ineffective) and, unfortunately, Cairns. Cairns had a decent game but since he got almost no service he had little chance to shine and with Max Evans performing so well when he came on you have to feel that Evans has earned the start. Also coming in should be Paterson on one wing and Thom Evans on the other.

Like Rory I thought Cusiter came on and gave a very strong performance. He looked like he got the backs playing flatter and as a result the speed in which Scotland attacked, and broke the gain line, was actually fairly impressive. Cusiter also has the knowledge of the French game and his time overseas has obviously improved his game. However, unlike Rory, I’d stick with Blair. This is a guy who was nominated for world player of the year and whilst he didn’t have a great performance against the Welsh he was another player who was totally undermined by the misfiring pack (thanks Frank!). He deserves another start.

The French lost on Saturday in a cracking match against the Irish but they looked like they had a soft belly. Don’t get me wrong I think they pose a big attacking threat but if made to face a back line full of pace I believe there are weaknesses that the Scotland team can target. To me the French looked off the pace in the final 20 minutes, so if Scotland can stay within 10 points going into the last quarter they will have a chance to get something from the game.

Finally, one request to the Scotland team – make sure the first tackle counts. Too many times on Sunday it took multiple Scotland players to halt the Welsh and if we allow the French the opportunity to off-load in the tackle we leave ourselves open to attack. Hit your men and hit them hard (but not hard enough to knock yourself out cold!).

My head says that France will probably win this game but I do think Scotland can go to Paris and put on a good performance. If they perform to their true abilities then a result might just come.

I’ll be back later once Hadden has announced the squad – fingers crossed he doesn’t make the same mistakes as last week.

Hines Not on the Comeback Trail, Actually

A report up on Scrum.com gives us the skinny that unfortunately Big Nathan will not make it back in time for the France game, as he now requires exploratory surgery on his injured knee. There’s more on the BBC too. This is a big blow for us, more so now that we know how much we missed him against Wales. The pressing question now becomes: is Hadden fool enough to mess about two weeks running? Will he pick a proper lock (Kellock) this time, or at least a back rower with recent experience and form in the position (Taylor)? Either would be more suitable than Jason White who looked short of pace and form. After all, they have both won matches in France this year playing in that position. I’d be tempted to include Cusiter ahead of Blair for the same reason. He looked very sharp, and he’ll know the French players he faces (unlike the rest of us).

A delayed team announcement tomorrow should reveal all. Murray is out till at least the Italy game and everyone else who was a worry seems to have trained in full, but Hadden is waiting on news of head-cases Cross and Webster. Here’s a time saving tip for you Frank: don’t worry about Simon, he’s clearly not going to have “trained well this week” and probably doesn’t know which planet he is on, so there’s no excuse to put him in ahead of Thom Evans. There, that was easy, wasn’t it?