It Really Is Rob Dewey Time

“Back” when Scotland and Edinburgh were one dimensional in attack and never got the ball past 12, at least you could count on Rob Dewey. When within 10 metres of the line, it would be “Rob Dewey time”. Chuck him the ball and let him have a batter – at close range he was trick to stop and you stood a good chance of crossing the line. Soon fame and injury beckoned at Ulster, and by then Scotland’s opponents had him well marshalled. Briefly last year he appeared in the Churchill Cup A Team looking almost a different player, displaying the “worrying” trait of varying his lines of running and offloading, with fairly decent results.

With Scotland having a few problems getting the ball past the number 12 shirt at times on Saturday (so much so that BBC pundit and former Ireland centre Rob Henderson had worked out most of Scotland’s Morrison-centric game plan by half time), could now be the time to announce Rob Dewey’s return to Scotland to team up with former central-belt foes the Glasgow Warriors? Yes it could. Having been shunted into a club team by loveable Aussie Matt Williams, Dewey is ready to return to this fair country and stake his claim in a Glasgow back line that next year will already have the likes of Chris Cusiter, Mark McMillan, Ruaridh Jackson, Andy Henderson, Graeme Morrison and of course both Evans brothers competing for places. Exciting times ahead for Sean Lineen’s Glasgow. If you were him you’d want to stick around there for a while rather than get involved with the muck higher up…

Speaking of which, after a considerable session in the Irish-mobbed Roseburn bar on Saturday, your fearless Scottish Rugby Blog correspondents witnessed the second half debacle at Murrayfield first hand. Hopefully Al will be here with his near-patented Big Rant later. Watch out, Frank.

Exclusive Interview with Robbie Russell

A world first Scottish Rugby Blog exclusive interview for you here. Last week former Scotland, London Irish and Saracens hooker Robbie Russell was kind enough to sit down and let us pick his brains about a few things, including Scotland’s chances tomorrow, his career highs and lows and his current business – running Shudoo, an online designer shoe store. Robbie Russell earned 28 Caps for Scotland between 1999 – 2005, including appearances at 2 Rugby World Cups.

Scottish Rugby Blog: How do you think today’s Scotland team compares with the ones you played in? Do you think we’ve got a chance against Ireland or England in the coming weeks?

Robbie Russell

Robbie Russell: I am not sure the results are as good in recent years however the team has some quality players. I don’t think there is a great difference however I may be a bit biased!

We used to have a great home record against Ireland so hopefully we can see that restored. I believe we have a real chance against both Ireland and England although I see England improving as well and that will make it tough at Twickenham.

SRB: In your career who was the toughest front row opponent you came up against – any real masters of the dark arts?

RR: I came up against plenty of tough front row players, many of whom had a few tricks up their sleeves. I think my first awakening to the dark arts of front row play came from the amateur days when playing for Aberdeen Grammar in 98.

SRB: You were born in Australia, so what did it feel like scoring a try for your adopted country (Scotland) against your country of birth (Australia) in RWC2003, which was held in Australia?

RR: It was fantastic. The whole 2003 WC experience was an amazing time. I was worried I wasn’t going to get off the bench in that game. When I got on the field I remember one of the Aussie players (Nathan Sharp who was an old uni mate) heckling a bit, so it was nice to get over the line.

SRB: That World Cup trip was when you had the idea for your shoe business too, wasn’t it?

RR: That’s correct. At the end of our campaign we had some spare days so I met with an Australian supplier and decided to import a few hundred Ugg boots and started selling them online (www.shudoo.co.uk). Being online meant I could still run the business even when away in camp with the Scotland side. We even used some of the Scotland players as models on our website in the early days!!

SRB: Both countries have a fairly small player base in competition with other sports (football in our case, any number of things in Australia’s). Apart from the odd scrum, a lot of the Aussies seem to have better basic skills than us – do you think there are there things that they do over there at a younger age (in schools for example) that the Scottish setup could look to emulate?

RR: I seriously believe the weather plays a big part and if it wasn’t for that, skill levels across the countries would be the same.

During school years, all year round you are able to go outside and play ball games of all descriptions in Australia. This really helps development and breeds a sporting culture. The weather conditions in Australia encourage taking more risks and because things come off more, you keep doing it and get better.

SRB: As a London Irish man presumably you are glad to see their resurgence in the Premiership. But as a former Saracens man, what do you think of the current revolving door of players and staff at Saracens, and rumours of it becoming basically a South African franchise?

RR: Revolving doors at Saracens is nothing new! There was plenty in my time as well.

There is always a lot of speculation about the club and they love being in the media. I am uncertain as to what is going to happen there but it will be sad if the club loses its history and disappointing for some of the boys who have served their whole careers there. I imagine it will be more concerning for the RFU, but that’s the nature of the Premiership now.

I am delighted to see the successes at London Irish. I feel they’re a great club and deserve some silverware soon.

SRB: Many thanks for your time Robbie, all the best in the future.

Scotland World Cup Dates for Your, umm, 2011 Diary

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

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

14 September:
Scotland v Europe 1, Carisbrook, Dunedin

25 September:
Argentina v Scotland, Christchurch Stadium

1 October:
England v Scotland, Eden Park, Auckland

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

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

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

Final Scotland Team

Hadden’s gone for Hamilton, with Hines on the bench. You’ve got to feel for Ally Kellock who has dropped out of the 22 altogether despite an assured lineout performance against Italy. The other bench spot goes to Nick De Luca. Match preview to follow tomorrow if I can find the time!

Meanwhile all the teams have been announced now, so don’t forget to update your Fantasy Rugby teams ASAP!

Scotland and Ireland Teams for Six Nations Clash

Frank Hadden has announced a largely unchanged Scotland rugby team to face Ireland at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Scotland: Chris Paterson, Simon Danielli, Max Evans, Graeme Morrison, Thom Evans, Phil Godman, Mike Blair (Captain), Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Locks x2 (from: Jim Hamilton, Nathan Hines, Alastair Kellock and Jason White), Alasdair Strokosch, John Barclay, Simon Taylor
Replacements: Dougie Hall, Moray Low, 18 TBC, Scott Gray, Chris Cusiter, TBC, Hugo Southwell

As expected Mossy gets the shout at 15, while Dickinson comes in for Chunk in a 1 for 1 swap – although they do represent two different types of 1. He’s held off on the lock selection to see how training goes this week. We’re all hoping Hines is fit (see my post below from earlier) so that affects the selection on the bench too. Interestingly, the other bench slot held by De Luca last week seems like it may be being held open until after fitness tests, for Rory Lamont perhaps?

Meanwhile Ireland have announced a team with 4 changes including Stringer and D’Arcy in – plenty of experience there but if it was a choice between Stringer and either of our scrum-halves, I know which one I’d pick. Strangely, in-form 8 Jamie Heaslip has been dropped to the bench. Is Kidney picking a team to target specific areas, having previously picked the same starters in the last three? Or is he penalising their sluggish performance against England?

Ireland: Kearney; Bowe, O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Fitzgerald; O’Gara, Stringer; Horan, Best, Hayes; O’Callaghan, O’Connell; Ferris, D Wallace, Leamy.
Replacements: Murphy, Wallace, O’Leary, Court, Flannery, O’Driscoll, Heaslip.

Big Nathan Hits the Comeback Trail For Realz

Welcome news ahead of this weekend that Big Nathan, Bigger Jim and even Big Rory have returned to training with the Scotland squad this week. While Hamilton would have been expected to roll in pretty soon, Lamont was not scheduled to return till April so that’s quite the surprise. It’s unlikely that he’s at full fitness just yet after his ankle injury, but good to have him back. With a lot of focus on the full-back battle between Southwell and Paterson, let’s not forget Rory is our hope for the future in that position, provided he can convince Hadden it’s where he belongs. Sale will be glad to have him back too as they lose players left, right and (inside) centre.

As for “former liability but now we love him” Nathan Hines, great news he’s back a week earlier than predicted. But then he did try and pick himself for France, just before he had knee surgery so he might be bringing the crazy. If he can prove his fitness this week, might we see him worthy of a spot on the bench? Of course it does bring up the whole argument about picking players on reputation or form again, but given the level of inconsistency in selection so far who knows. I hope he gets a chance to show his stuff in the next few weeks, with many touting him as a possible Lion. Interesting that everyone seems to have problems with kiwi Riki “Parachute” Flutey as a Lion (I would too, to be honest, given he’s just qualified for England and is now off to France) but no-one baulks at the big man from Wagga Wagga. Perhaps because he has shown no shortage of fiery commitment in his years for Scotland.

In the absence of Chunk these boys offer us a bit more ballast in the scrum. Would it be too much to ask for a team with Kellock, Hamilton and Hines on the bench that offers Scotland a full complement of second rows for the first time this tournament?

Weekend Round Up

Losing weekend for our pro-teams which was hardly inspiring, but it’s not all doom and gloom.

Glasgow were beaten by a strong Ulster team with Simon Danielli having a hand in both tries. Glasgow will however have been buoyed by the news that the Evans brothers Thom and Max are to stay at Glasgow until after RWC 2011, despite being courted by English and French clubs.

Edinburgh lost to Scott MacLeod’s old team Llanelli in a pretty dire game that was there for the taking. MacLeod had a reasonable 60 minutes before being warmly applauded from the pitch. In the battle of the full-backs, Mossy was the resounding winner simply by virtue of the fact he ran more than he kicked and when he did kick it wasn’t rubbish. Sorry Hugo, but you screwed the pooch there. Whether or not Southwell was hampered by a different set of tactics in the first half is open to debate but there was some pretty dire ping-pong and Hugo and Blair Jr did not show themselves in the best light. Worryingly, Cairns and De Luca also did not seem able to string much together in the centre although De Luca forced himself into the match as it went on. Apart from Paterson and perhaps Malkovich Webster, no-one really stepped up to say “Hoy Frank, I should be in the team.” Edinburgh were still in it at the end, and a lack of passion/commitment/skill in the first half prevented them from nicking the away result they probably deserved on the basis of the second.

Scott Gray, Sean Lamont and Euan Murray all played for Northampton in their win over Worcester, with Gray picking up both a try and a yellow card. Al Strokosch got on for the last 20 in Gloucester‘s loss to Leicester while Rory Lawson picked up a yellow card too. And Big Jason White had a pretty good game for Sale in their brilliant match with Newcastle which saw former Borders men Steve Bates and Alan Tait’s resurgent Falcons team eke out a win. That game also illustrated what a team can do with a solid scrum platform led by a class tighthead, and while our Euan is no Carl Hayman, he’s still vital to Scotland’s set piece efforts. After doing some digging online it looks like Chris Cusiter and Simon Taylor were also rested by their French teams at the weekend.

Also major plaudits should go to Ayr, who secured their first Premiership Division 1 title in 112 years of trying at the weekend, and the Scotland Sevens Squad who managed to see off Australia in final of the Plate (middle level runners up competition). The Dubai World Cup event also saw a number of upsets including Kenya beating Fiji, and (eventual winners) Wales reaching the main final against Argentina, between them having seen off New Zealand and South Africa. Wales, World Cup Winners eh?

Scotland Full Back Trial

Hugoooooooooo vs Mossy, head to head for the Scotland full-back shirt, being given 40 minutes game-time apiece vs Llanelli Scarlets at the new Parc Y Scarlets (my Welsh is good, eh?), Sunday, 4pm ish, S4C (English commentary on the red button). Who will emerge triumphant?

My guess would be whoever plays the second half, which seems to be when Edinburgh wake up and throw the ball about. Scott MacLeod is also taking the next step in his comeback, hoping for a start to prove his fitness.

In other news, Glasgow face an Ulster team on Saturday (that one’s on Setanta) including Simon Danielli but none of their Irish starters. Cheers Matt.

Big Up Milburn Academy

In Inverness, from our old school, saying this would have been the equivalent of saying something like “that Laurence Dallaglio is a nice chap”. Oh wait. But still, props of the non-front-row variety go to Milburn rugby team members Andrew Kellock (aged 12, no relation, one imagines) and John Clark (age 13) who managed to bring their careening minibus to a safe stop after their rugby teacher collapsed at the wheel. The team were returning from dishing out a beating in Plockton – which just shows the sort of away fixture you get in Highlands rugby. With reactions that fast, a place in the Scotland team can’t be far off for those boys. We wish the teacher well for his recovery.

On a childish side-note, ‘mon the IRA (Inverness Royal Academy, not the other lot – and if our latter experiences of rugby were anything to go by, a school that probably now has a bigger tiddlywinks team than rugby team). Meet you at the quarry for a ruckus after PE.

Scotland Turn On Some Style…At Last

Scotland 26 – 6 Italy

Yesterday we saw Scotland beat Italy, led largely by the efforts of a man with an Italian name over whom many (including myself) have been guilty of indifference to in the past, and (for those watching on TV) commented on by another man with an Italian name who many of us have no doubt been gulity of downright antipathy towards in the past. Twin heroes of the day, Simon Danielli and (gulp) Lawrence Dallaglio. We’ll get to Lol later, but first let us talk (as we must) of Scotland.

We saw a fair bit less ineptitude in the basic skills than against France and almost a different team to the one that failed to turn up against Wales. The good thing was the way Scotland maintained the cutting edge and better support lines they had found at times in Paris, while chopping out some of the sloppy tackling and handling. But for a yard of pace (or a pass inside) Simon Danielli would have had a second try, and he more than made up for his knock-on a fortnight ago. With every performance he is cementing his ownership of the shirt and the same could be said of both Evans boys. Even with a hesitant interception thrown by Southwell, we now had the pace to recover the breakaway runner where 2 years ago we did not. Max or Thom didn’t get nearly enough ball, while Southwell got too much and kicked much of it away. Having found a storming running game for Edinburgh, he seems to have lost it again and kicked too much, often poorly. I think Paterson has earned his chance to start at full back against Ireland – we’ll need his boot, which would also allow Godman to concentrate on the Ireland back row that will be charging down his channel. Speaking of changes, what about Chris Cusiter starting? I’m a huge fan of Blair who has been talked up a lot for the Lions, but Cusiter has looked the sharper of the two with every game as Blair seems to go a little off the boil. Sly hunch of the day: Cusiter with an outside chance of a slot on the Lions tour? I just have a feeling he could be coming on to form at the right time and would like to see him get more of a chance to show this.

Up front, Euan Murray and Ally Kellock restored a bit of nous to the scrum and lineout, and should be definite starters in two weeks. Provided his fitness is okay, Murray is only going to improve from here. And there is something to be said for playing both Hamilton and Kellock to give real power in the set piece against Ireland. Alisdair Dickinson was much criticised in recent weeks for his scrum performances, but the Italy game allowed him to show that the set-piece is not necessarily the best showcase for his talents. With Jacobsen injured he should slot into his preferred number 1 shirt for the next game and give us a few more barnstorming runs.

The back row of Strokosch, Barclay and Taylor looked solid and settled – Taylor and the big Stroker had vastly improved games with the ball in hand. Strokosch set the tempo with strong early running while the defence and breakdown were solidly patrolled as we are coming to expect – and we will expect it to continue. The one exception to any attempts at marshalling was Sergio Parisse, who seemed to do exactly what he wanted whenever he wanted in just about every area of the pitch (legally too). The man’s performance was quite simply, stupendous and makes one think you won’t see Taylor in the Stade No 8 shirt any time soon. Stroker handed him his man of the match award last year, and but for the scoreline yesterday Parisse would almost have deserved Danielli’s award too.

While it was at times a very loose and scrappy game, Scotland showed enough style with their two well taken tries – the second involving almost the entire backline – to give us a little hope for the coming games. More hope would have been given on watching the very poor Ireland vs England game. You almost feel sorry for Martin Johnson who is struggling to build a team who just don’t seem to all want to play on the park at the same time. 14 seems to be their preferred number. A grimly determined but overly negative performance towards the end and an undeserved near victory stopped us from overtaking them on points difference, but you wonder where England go from here. Up, I suppose may be the only way. One thing is for sure, they need a new captain.

Speaking of former England captains, kudos must unfortunately go to the BBC too for unearthing a decent pundit to be the token “Italian” during coverage – one Mr Lawrence Bruno Nero Dallaglio. Undoubtedly a figure of fear and loathing for many Scots (for the most part irrationally), yesterday Dallaglio and Scotland’s own Andrew Cotter offered a great balance of wit, insight and – ooh – objectivity in their match commentary. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the back-biting ramblings of Moore and Butler which have now descended into some sort of idiotic sideshow all of their own, or the pro-Welsh carping of Jonathan Davies who was on Friday coupled with Nick Mullins who seemed to think Vincent Clerc was on the pitch for France (not in the 22). We’ll have a full school report on the pundits post tournament but for now, I know who I’d rather listen to – I never thought I’d say it was a man named Dallaglio.

Meanwhile Ireland have found their captain again, with Brian O’ Driscoll looking almost back to his pre-2005 form, possibly minus a little bit of pace and plus a slight concussion, but with that important little bit of magic intact. It’s a good job, as Ronan O’Gara had one of his notorious off days and it seemed to spread throughout the rest of his team. Despite the extremely dangerous Irish back row (who Scotland will have to keep a very close eye on) that yesterday gave only a slight indication of the damage they could do, Ireland looked a little rattled by the pressure of leading the tournament. Post match, Keith Wood said Irish coach Declan Kidney would do his utmost to install Ireland as underdogs in a couple of weeks. Whilst this is patently ridiculous, you can see his point. Neither of ours is a nation that likes to lead from the front, seemingly preferring the mantle of scrappy outsiders. Ireland are on course for a grand slam and so must be the clear favourites, even away from home. However, make no mistake,  if Scotland can keep building their level of performance and this pair don’t, Scotland COULD beat both Ireland and England.

Boss Hogg vs the A-Team

Harking back to Saturday nights as a loon, eh? The crossover episode we never saw. Captain Ally Hogg = Boss Hogg, geddit? Meanwhile below you will find the newly announced Scotland A team to face Italy A. Could Scott MacLeod use this as a springboard to launch himself back towards the full team and offer Hadden two fit locks? Would he bother using them anyway? Cairns, Lamont and Hogg are joined in the demoted ranks by Moray Low and Simon “Malkovich” Webster. It’s an interesting choice of Ruaridh Jackson at 12 (with Dewey away on Sevens duty), given he is likely to be more of a NZ style second five-eighths – those Kiwis love their fractions – than a Frank Hadden style battering ram 12 like Dewey, Henderson or Morrison. Could this be a sign of things to come? It’s good to see him getting continued exposure and I hope it continues for Glasgow. Goggsy has given great service to Scotland in the past, but shouldn’t the A-Team be locked in their shed, building a Scotland team for the future (out of some cabbages and a disused tractor)?

S Jones (Newcastle), S Webster (Edinburgh), B Cairns (Edinburgh), R Jackson (Glasgow), S Lamont (Northampton), G Ross (Saracens), M McMillan (Glasgow), Ed Kalman (Glasgow), S Lawson (Gloucester), M Low (Glasgow), S MacLeod (Edinburgh), D Turner (Glasgow), A Hogg (Edinburgh, capt), J Beattie (Glasgow), A MacDonald (Edinburgh)

Substitutes: F Thomson (Glasgow), K Traynor, C Hamilton, S Newlands, G Laidlaw, D Blair (all Edinburgh), C Kinloch (Glasgow).

The game is at McDiarmid Park, Perth, this Friday night, 7.30pm. And unless I am much mistaken, tickets will be free as they are for all this season’s A, U20 and Women’s games.