U20s edged out by Samoa, Lions Win

Scotland 14 – 17 Samoa (view coverage here)

Scotland U20s battled bravely but an inability to find the cutting edge in slippery conditions saw them beaten with a last play of the game drop goal. For large parts of the game Samoa survived on instinctive handling rather than any particular shape to their game, and once Scotland found theirs they seemed to break the gainline at will but (sound familiar) without often troubling the try line. Richie Gray at 5 and Dewar at 6 looked game around the park, while Scotland’s stand-out performer was West of Scotland’s Peter Horne with several scything runs from deep inside his own territory. Unable to capitalise on several such breaks which left Samoa’s defensive structure in tatters, they went into the closing minutes at 14-apiece and you always sensed Samoa with their 6’4″, 21 stone “19 year olds” would batter over the try line. In the end, though, it was a drop goal that sealed it.

Scotland play England on the 9th of June, it’s not being streamed live that I can see but may appear later or on Eurosport.

Cheetahs 24 – 26 British and Irish Lions

In South Africa the Lions narrowly avoided getting egg on their manes by edging out a Cheetahs side that proved far more combative than the Golden Lions who finished above them in the Super 14. Mostly the Lions were beaten to and at the breakdown, and this almost gave the Cheetahs a famous win against a Lions side with a cobbled-together feel. Hines looked sharp when he came on, the 2/3rds Scottish front row did reasonably well without being as destructive as we hoped and Mike Blair sat on the bench all afternoon. Hook looked good and kicked creatively and accurately. Other than that, not much of note.

Four Scots in 22 To Face Cheetahs

Nature metaphors continue: Lions vs Cheetahs – who will win? All four Scots in the touring party are selected to play tomorrow, with Hines and Blair on the bench and as expected our front row boys get a start alongside fellow beast Andrew Sheridan. After this match, everyone in tour will have played or at least been selected and the coaches will begin formulating ideas about test combinations – if they have not already…

British & Irish Lions Team versus Cheetahs on Saturday 6th June

15. Lee Byrne (Ospreys/Wales)
14. Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
13. Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland)
12. Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland)
11. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
10. James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
9. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England)
8. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
7. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
6. Stephen Ferris (Ulster/Ireland)
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster/Ireland)
3. Euan Murray (Northampton Saints/Scotland)
2. Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland)
1. Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks/England)

Replacements:
16. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
17. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
18. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
19. Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland)
20. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
21. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
22. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster/Ireland)

Andy Robinson is new Scotland Head Coach

So not only do we get a new shirt to wear in the autumn, there will be a new Scotland Head Coach in the form of Edinburgh’s Andy Robinson. Undoubtedly the best man for the job in the SRU’s eyes if not necessarily the highest profile, Robinson offers a combination of playing and coaching experience (World Cups, Heineken Cups, Lions) and local knowledge from his integration with the game here over the last couple of years. Andy believes he can make the difference to an underperforming Scottish team, and we all hope he can too. It has been frustrating to see talented players consistently under-perform in the navy shirt over the last few years, hopefully Andy can instill some of the killer instinct that his England teams of the past (and to some extent his recent Edinburgh teams) have shown. Robbo vs Johnno in RWC 2011 anyone? Get your cardboard Robbo with a see-you-jimmie masks now.

However the announcement will leave the odd Edinburgh supporter slightly worried about what will be in store for them in terms of coaching, having made strides since Robbo took over two years ago it would be sad to see them suffer a sub-standard appointment and regress. Hopefully the SRU will make a left-field but successful choice similar to the one that brought Andy Robinson north.

D’Arcy Called Up to Lions

British & Irish Lions Tour Manager, Gerald Davies, and Head Coach Ian McGeechan, today announced that Leinster and Irish centre Gordon D’Arcy has been called into the Lions’ squad for the remainder of the tour.

Commenting on the call up, Ian McGeechan said, “Gordon has been called up due to the fact that we have had a few injury concerns in the backs. While the injuries are being treated by the medical team we felt it prudent that we call up Gordon to provide us with extra cover in midfield.”

“Due to the short nature of this tour we have to be prepared for every eventuality. An extra back at this stage, three matches into the tour, will provide the extra depth to cover the existing injuries plus any further injuries we may encounter.”

With the likes of Keith Earls and Riki Flutey both carrying knocks, Jamie Roberts playing twice and James Hook not having had a run out yet it seems prudent to have more cover at centre. Max Evans must be gutted he picked up an injury when he did.

In other news, Glasgow have signed young (Scottish qualified) centre Peter Murchie from London Welsh.

All Change For Lions

As expected the British and Irish Lions team to face the Golden Lions on Wednesday night has been heavily rotated with only three of Saturday’s starters remaining in the shape of David Wallace (moved to 7), Tommy Bowe and Jamie Roberts. Only youngster Keith Earls was unavailable for selection after sustaining a shoulder knock. Flutey seems unlucky not to start after a strong showing from the bench on Saturday but he does have a slight strain that kept him out of training on Sunday. Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll will lead a side that features heavier (in every sense) Scottish representation in the shape of Nathan Hines, along with Ford and Murray on the bench. If the rotation continues along the lines of Geech’s policy that everyone gets a shot in the first three games, it is likely that the next one could see Murray and Ford starting with Blair coming back to the bench and probably Englishman Ellis starting at scrum half inside Hook – after that though the team will start to take shape and our boys will have to be sharp to hold on to their places…

British & Irish Lions Team versus Golden Lions on Wednesday 3rd June

15. Rob Kearney (Leinster/Ireland)
14. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys/Ireland)
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland)
12. Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
11. Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England)
10. Stephen Jones (Scarlets/Wales)
9. Mike Phillips (Ospreys/Wales)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland)
7. David Wallace (Munster/Ireland)
6. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England)
5. Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
4. Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland)
3. Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England)
2. Lee Mears (Bath/England)
1. Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues/Wales)

Replacements:
16. Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland)
17. Euan Murray (Northampton Saints/Scotland)
18. Stephen Ferris (Ulster/Ireland)
19. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
20. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England)
21. James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
22. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)

From Lionsrugby.com: The Golden Lions represent the old Transvaal and Gauteng Lions teams that have faced the British & Irish Lions 17 times since 1891. They have a reunion on the eve of Wednesday night’s fixture for the Transvaal side that beat the Lions in 1968 and have the best record of any South African team against the tourists with seven victories and a draw.

Scots Give Strong Showing in Sevens

… Mike Blair, not so much.

Scotland’s patchwork Sevens squad did the nation proud and narrowly missed out on beating IRB series winners South Africa to a place in their first cup final. In front of a home crowd sunning its pasty white self beneath rare Scottish sunshine (tops off at the first opportunity as expected), the Scots gave another edge of the seat viewing experience typified by the physicality of Ally Hogg and Sean Lamont. It seemed to be their extra muscle and experience that gave the more specialised skills of sevens regulars such as Colin Gregor, Roddy Grant, Greg Laidlaw and Jim Thompson room to flourish in victories over last week’s winners England, as well as Canada and Samoa. A controversial group-stage loss to Kenya (with the winning try coming after Laidlaw being punished for “throwing the ball in to touch” while seemingly catching the ball when tackled in touch) might have given them an “easier” semi-final had the result gone differently, but as it was Scotland stood up to the possibility of annihilation by the champions bravely and the South Africans were only able to clinch victory in extra time.

Meanwhile in South Africa, the British and Irish Lions tour kicked off fairly quietly, with most of South Africa seemingly watching the Bulls destroy the Chiefs in the Super 14 final instead. A half-full Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace (we should change our stadium to Murrayfield Sports Palace) nearly saw an upset with the touring side putting in a pretty ropey first performance against a fired up Royal XV. Defeat to what was essentially a third-tier team was avoided thanks to Lee Byrne who single-handedly wrestled the match back under the control of the Lions with some expert kicking and a brilliant solo try. Mike Blair had a fairly nervy start, and although eventually he settled into things with a chargedown, a good break (only halted by a tap tackle) and some good work under the high ball, his service was a bit slow and put under constant harrying pressure by his opposite number. If it’s any consolation, Mike Phillips’ passing was not much better when he came on, and Ronan O’Gara coped well with the variety of strange passes he received throughout the match to haul in 22 points. A good test of O’Connell’s leadership and he threw himself into the latter stages of the game to help the Lions seal victory. Full rundown of the match can be found here.

Blair in first Lions Team of the Tour

Tour Manager Gerald Davies today announced his first British and Irish Lions XV to face the Royal XV in Rustenburg on Saturday, with Mike Blair handed the starting scrum-half berth in a team including tour captain Paul O’Connell. The other Scots are left out (Euan Murray is being rested). Blair’s half back partner will be Ronan O’ Gara. Several of the players such as Blair, and probably Shane Williams, will be looking to show they are back on form in a back division with a distinctly Welsh flavour.

15. Lee Byrne (Ospreys/Wales)
14. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys/Ireland)
13. Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland)
12. Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
11. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
10. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
9. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
8. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
7. Martyn Williams (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
6. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
3. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
2. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
1. Andrew Sheridan (Sales Sharks/England)

Replacements:
16. Lee Mears (Bath/England)
17. Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England)
18. Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
19. Stephen Ferris (Ulster/Ireland)
20. Mike Phillips (Ospreys/Wales)
21. Stephen Jones (Scarlets/Wales)
22. Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England)

Monty Steps In to Sevens Squad

After punching above their weight in reaching the semi final of the IRB World Sevens at Twickers last week, the Scotland Sevens squad move on to Murrayfield this week hoping for a repeat of the good performance on home turf. Having watched Scotland throw away a winnable match against Kenya I went out thinking “oh well, same old same old” only to return and find they had beaten Fiji and humped the USA setting up a quarter against Portugal. They won through that (just) to face a semi with Auld Enemies England. The game was probably there for the winning at points, had Thom Evans not been ruled out, but in the end England were too strong – they went on to win the competition.

So with Thom Evans out with a foot problem, for this weekend’s squad coach Stephen Gemmell has called in new Scarlets man Sean Lamont, who represents a different sort of winger but who will hopefully be more than up to the challenge. Ally “played every game this season and still volunteering for Sevens” Hogg and Roddy “Ginger Warrior” Grant give them a good shout at the breakdown (such as it is in Sevens) so hopefully we can see some good results at Murrayfield. First group game up is a chance for revenge against England. Tickets for both days still available, naturally. And for those of you outwith spitting distance of Edinburgh, full coverage is on Sky apart from when the Lions are on.

In other Murrayfield news, Edinburgh have signed Scotland A, ex Borders and Newcastle full back and sometime fly-half Steve Jones to swell their ranks with the departure of Hugo to France. Robbo has also signed Dutch wing Tim Visser from the Falcons, his first non-Scottish signing of the season.

Meanwhile reports of team spirit being forged in South Africa seem positive, with Donnacha O’C saying it already feels like a club side. Let’s hope they don’t play like one. Big Nathan has been put in charge of rooming arrangements – good move putting Ross Ford with Paul O Connell. When is Nathan going to be roomed with O’Gara? And Warren Gatland has announced his intention not to publically slag anyone off (the Irish?) this time out. First game up on Saturday against the Royal XV, team announcement on Thursday around 2. Anyone getting excited yet?

PS If there are any Scottish fans going out to SA on tour, please get in touch (details on About Us page) – we’d love for you to do some reporting either out there or when you get back.

UPDATE: It is actually possible to watch all the Sevens on Saturday, Sky is just channel hopping it. So you can still record Scotland’s glory.

Lions: Ford to Replace Flannery

This just in from the Lions: Scotland hooker Ross Ford was today announced by British & Irish Lions Tour Manager, Gerald Davies, as the tour replacement for the injured Irish hooker Jerry Flannery.

Davies said, “Munster hooker Jerry Flannery tore ligaments in his left elbow in training on Wednesday that unfortunately ruled him out of the tour. His place in the tour squad is taken by Edinburgh’s 25-year old hooker Ross Ford who played in all five of Scotland’s 2009 Six Nations championship matches.” While this statistic in itself may not be something to be particularly proud of, well done to Ross, I am sure he will make a great contribution to the tour and it will bring his game on greatly although Flannery is a big loss.

Commenting on the replacement Head Coach Ian McGeechan said, “Jerry has had a terrific season and he anchored the Irish scrum during Ireland’s Six Nations Grand Slam season. It is disappointing that after selection for the Lions his season should end with a pre-tour injury.”

“Injuries are a part of the game and while very distressing for the affected player we as a squad have to accept them as a fact of life. It is a part of the game we play. We are focussed on moving forward, concentrating on the task at hand and the first match.”

“Ross is a terrific player and he will naturally slot straight in as hooker. I look forward to welcoming him into camp tonight,” added McGeechan.

The replacement player for Leigh Halfpenny will be announced in due course.

Barring anything awful happening to Euan Murray playing for Northampton in tonight’s European Challenge Cup final, that brings the total number of Scottish players in the party to 4, which already makes it better than the last tour, sort of. That match is on Sky Sports, k.o. 1945. Also of interest may be “The Invincibles” a new film documenting the 1974 Lions tour of South Africa which is also on Sky Sports tonight and tomorrow, should be worth a watch.