Double Trouble

Andy Robinson has announced Scotland is to have two captains for the autumn internationals – incumbent Mike Blair and widely touted replacement Chris Cusiter who led the A team to victory in the IRB Nations Cup. Whoever is on the pitch leads the team, presumably with the usual switch around the 60 minute mark (though I’d hope not). This seems like a sensible compromise between picking a captain months ahead of any indication of form (cf Borthwick, Steve) and not picking a captain till the team announcement which gives us nothing to get excited about in advance. Based on current form I reckon that Cusiter will be the starting captain, and think he is probably long overdue for a chance to show what he could bring to Scotland. His break is much improved (especially seeing as Blair seems to have forgotten about his) and his service seems to me a lot crisper. Team announcements for who will join them in the match squad will be next week I imagine. You can see Robbo’s full announcement here.

Rest time for most of the Scottish boys this weekend while England kick off against Australia and Wales aim for a first victory against the All Blacks in fifty-something years. Speaking of the All Blacks, anyone else think the Barbarians team to face them in the usual end of term silliness match should just be the Lions? It would be great to see how they fare on home soil. Even better if they got another crack at the Boks, but such things dreams are made of…

Who’s Carrying the Ball?

Edinburgh got a well deserved if unspectacular win at home to Munster on Friday while Glasgow laboured in the second half but eventually secured the expected four-try bonus point against Connacht, putting the Scottish teams at third and fourth in the league table. Sean Lineen has been asserting everywhere he can that Thom Evans is “back”, and with two tries (including a strong tackle-busting effort off his favourite inside ball move) who can argue?

Next weekend before a break going into the Autumn Internationals and Andy Robinson’s all important first match with Fiji, Edinburgh will try to do what Glasgow have so far failed to ie beat the Dragons (Sun 5pm S4C), while Glasgow go to Swansea to face the star-studded Ospreys (Fri 7pm BBCw) I just hope Thom Evans and Nikki Walker don’t knock so many bells out of each other that they can’t play for Scotland. It gives me  a week to think of the team I’d pick as well. I’m still not sure about the back row though. Having watched “Gloucester Scottish” play pretty much like an actual Scottish team (inept) at the weekend, two of the better players were actually Stroker and Scott Lawson (who can at least throw straight and was industrious about the park). Lots of good hits and work at the breakdown but Stroker is not really a big ball carrier though and neither is Barclay, which puts a lot of pressure on your Number 8… Big Nathan and the backs can’t do all the go-forward… On a side note, I fear an anti-Scottish backlash at Kingsholm if Redpath can’t turn the results around soon. Which would be a shame as moves south have been the making of Strokosch and Rory Lawson, and Redpath at least at assistant coaching level.

Next week’s matches could be key, especially if Max Evans continues his rapid return from injury. With Robbo’s assertion that Morrison is inked in at 12 that leaves Cairns, De Luca and Grove along with Evans if form merits it (looks good so far) competing for the 13 shirt and probably a bench spot. My current thinking would be Cairns – who stepped the normally rock solid De Villiers on Friday, although I wouldn’t pick him just for that – with Evans or De Luca on the bench but who knows what next week will show?

New Scotland Squad for Autumn

Scotland squad: John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors), Johnnie Beattie (Glasgow Warriors), Mike Blair (Edinburgh), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors), Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Nathan Hines (Leinster), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Lamont (Toulon), Sean Lamont (Scarlets), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Alan MacDonald (Edinburgh), Scott MacLeod (Edinburgh), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Hugo Southwell (Stade Francais), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors), Nikki Walker (Ospreys), Jason White (Clermont Auvergne).

Suprise ins: Alex Grove, Richie Vernon, Alan MacDonald

Surprise out: Ally Hogg, Dan Parks

Gotta admire Robbo for sticking to his guns and leaving Parks out despite him being in okay form and a distinct lack of other options with Jackson out. Is he really only having Mossy as back-up? Is he putting all the weight on the slightly off-the-boil Phil Godman or is he going to throw Mossy in at 10 at last for more than bench cover? Gotta feel for Hoggy who has been playing pretty well till recently and had repaid being given captaincy with some strong performances. Then Blair came back into the armband and strangely Edinburgh went downhill… Still it gives some indication of Robinson’s admiration for Beattie that he’s willing to give him a shot back at the 8 shirt. Either that or it’s the gauntlet being thrown down to Hogg to play his way back into the squad… So now I’ll have to have a think about who would go into the 22/23 based on that. For me the back three is trickiest – Walker is in great form but he’s been there before and not kicked on. A Lamont possibly? Evans has to be there just for the pace, give him a full Murrayfield and he’d find form I am sure. Mossy – or will he be in at 10? Or comeback king Hugooooo? More thoughts soon.

Win a Trip to the Heineken Cup

I’m away this weekend so will probably miss the games, hopefully the boys can get their campaigns back on track after disappointments on their last outings. Glasgow are still struggling with injuries but hopefully Chris Cusiter will be back from illness. New boy Peter Horne may get a start in the centre with Lineen assuring us he has the makings of a decent 12. Is a Jackson-Horne axis the future of the Scottish midfield? On the East Coast, Ally Hogg wants you all to turn out for the Ulster match and buy Anygame tickets etc etc. Will the promise of a turn in fortunes continue to draw a crowd despite the most recent evidence to the contrary?

In the meantime why not have a look at this video, there’s a chance to win a VIP trip to the Heineken Cup Final and deliver the trophy pitchside!

UPDATE: it seems indeed that the new Scotland strip involves white shorts – huzzah, our woes are at an end. Perhaps.

Quelle différence?

Stade Francais 31-7 Edinburgh
Glasgow 18-22 Biarritz

Ugh. Edinburgh flatter to deceive (get hammered) and Glasgow come close but fail to squeeze out the result they definitely deserved. So far, so Scottish teams in the Heineken Cup. I thought there were a few positives to be taken from the weekends defeats though.

Johnnie Beattie finally took it to the next level with a great performance level that if maintained could and should see him challenge Hoggy and Simon Taylor for the Scotland No 8 shirt. Won’t matter to Jonathan Davies who can’t tell the difference.

Thom Evans is rediscovering form with every game and was a palpable threat whenever he had the ball. He just lacks the opportunities in the right spaces without his brother inside him, but Dave McCall is also getting up to speed with each game and building on his solid defence. In the Glasgow backline, Colin Gregor continues to be a hive of activity with a wee bit of flair and Rob Dewey looked a little more at home at centre than his recent home on the wing. Still, they weren’t quite able to put it together in the midfield when needed in order to win the game.

Dan Parks is at least doing what he does very well – kick the ball around Firhill on a bit of invisble string. But he still made two silly choices when the run – and scoring opportunity – was clearly on. With the Glasgow backs’ handling skills and pace, such negligence borders on the criminal. Parks can run the backline very well but it seems his instinct is still to kick. What price Ruaridh Jackson or even Colin Gregor marshalling the onslaught on Biarritz’s try line that often went unrewarded?

Glasgow’s front row is developing into a powerful scrummaging unit, and the props are both under 24 so well off propping “peak”. Still (as with Edinburgh) the lineout was fairly abysmal and led to the slightly iffy try that in the end decided the match. With Ford and Hall both having dreadful days at the lineout, who does Robbo turn to for the Scotland No 2 shirt? (Although some of the “not straight” decisions were a mile straighter than the ones allowed regularly in the scrum. However, the Feeding At  The Scrum and Lineout Equality Group (aka FATSLEG) is yet to be convened and start its world-conquering grass-roots petition, so that will have to wait – watch this space!). Glasgow are definitely gettting there, and so to Edinburgh…

Mossy looks in good form, his work on sprinting has paid off and he seems to have developed a yard of pace to go with his eye for a wee gap – he should be back at 15 on merit. Cairns looks good but rarely saw the ball. If Houston is injured, I still reckon Cairns should be playing 12 and De Luca 13. Regardless, there was some slack midfield tackling that gave Stade an unassailable lead far too early on, and Scottish teams always struggle trying to force the game.

Umm, that’s about it for Edinburgh. Okay so they won the second half 7-3 with a well taken try but by then Stade’s foot was so far off the gas that they resembled someone dropping a bucket of paint over a traffic jam (slowly) rather than the confident riot of colour and pace from the first half. Roddy Grant looks fully at home in the 15s game, and is it just me or were Edinburgh much better when Hogg was captain? Perhaps it was just poorer opposition early on in the season. Far too many handling errors, no lineout control and lack of quick ball for/from Blair basically put the dampeners on Edinburgh’s match. At least it is a game out of the way that they would not perhaps realistically have targeted as a “Win” in their battle to escape the pool, but one wonders if it will prove a damaging blow to the confidence of a team that we felt had moved forward so much under Andy Robinson.

UPDATE: Rob Dewey seems to have broken his ankle, keeping him out well past the Autumn Internationals. DTH Van Der Merwe has also broken a bone in his hand.

Heineken Cup Preview

So Europe’s finest club competition shuffles into view, unloads its wagon, sends the freaks round the back to get the candy floss machine running and erects a big top suitable for showcasing some of the finest club rugby teams known to man, and er, our lot. Here are the games on this weekend, sadly unless you have Sky you are probably screwed for watching them (most are on Sky Sports unless indicated otherwise). Several are mouthwatering:

Castres vs Toulon (Amlin Challenge Cup) Fri 5.30 – only one reason this is on the telly, and his name is Jonny. Might get a squizz at Rory Lamont in action though. At least, that’s what you think until you look at the team sheet and find that the only names you recognise are Tom May and Phil Christophers (who has been at Castres since Goggsy was). Unlucky Jonny watchers, there’s little here to get you back from the pub/work early.

Ulster vs Bath Fri 7.30pm – Ulster should be strong enough to win this one but it might help Edinburgh if Bath can nick a result at Fortress Ravenhill. Danielli is on the bench, and it’s not on the telly.

Leinster vs London Irish Fri 8pm – Could be the game of the weekend, which would leave the weekend downhill from here. Leinster’s Lions seem to have found form where their Welsh counterparts have struggled, while the non-Irish Irish are playing sparkling rugby without a host of stars. Blarney begorrah and bejesus will be in full attendance. Big Nathan starts at 5 for Leinster.

Gloucester vs Dragons Fri 8pm – if you have Sky but not Sky Sports you might catch this on S4C, Sky Sports have it on Red Button though so whether there is an English commentary is open to debate. Practically a local derby, it should see Gloucester win but given their form of late who knows? Would a Dragons win help Glasgow in the group? Dicko, the two Lawsons and the big Stroker all start for Redpath’s men.

Cardiff vs Harlequins Sat 1.35pm – Battle of the slow starters, but if they live up to last season’s play it could be so much better. Little Scottish interest but doesn’t mean it won’t be work a watch. But wouldn’t you rather watch…

Stade Francais vs Edinburgh Sat 1.35pm (2.35pm local) – What to say? Things were looking pretty good up until the Ospreys last week. But Moffat’s put the proper team back together and if they can find some of their early season spark against a Stade side who have been struggling until recently then Edinburgh could sneak a home result. Home field advantage with the accompanying razmatazz could be irresistable though. Several of the guys who have impressed so far – Cairns, Grant, Houston, Robertson have a real opportunity to stake a place for caps here. No sign of a Stade team yet so Hugo may yet make an appearance. Red Button on Sky for this one.

Edinburgh: Chris Paterson, Mark Robertson, Ben Cairns, John Houston, Tim Visser, Phil Godman, Mike Blair (capt), Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Craig Hamilton, Scott MacLeod, Alan MacDonald, Roddy Grant, Allister Hogg. Replacements: Andrew Kelly, Kyle Traynor, Ryan Grant, Steven Turnbull, Scott Newlands, Greig Laidlaw, Nick De Luca, Steve Jones.

UPDATE: Hugo is indeed starting at 15 against his former teammates.

Scarlets vs Brive Sat 3pm – Chance for Sean Lamont to continue his try scoring form. Not on telly anywhere.

ASM Clermont Auvergne vs Viadana Sat 3pm – Little known Scot Garry Law appears at full back for Viadana while big Jason White could be in the as yet unannounced team. Not on TV.

Glasgow vs Biarritz OPB Sat 3.45pm – having (apart from a blip at the Dragons) mostly maintained the consistency that often eludes them, Glasgow have a real chance to lay down an early marker provided the team have shaken off the big that has dogged Chris Cusiter and Kelly Brown in particular. Jon Welsh continues to impress although Rob Dewey needs to find a bit more spark to convince us he can play at wing. Talk coming out of the camp is good, and as usual it depends if the French come to play or not. Biarritz should be pool favourites, so a win would send a message out to the other teams, both of whom should be beatable. Hard to tell who a kicking fest would favour, Parks or the French who should have siege gun Traille on side, but it could turn out to be another one of those tight games that see Parks turn from liability into lifeline.

Glasgow Warriors: Bernardo Stortoni, Rob Dewey, Dave McCall, Graeme Morrison, Thom Evans, Dan Parks, Chris Cusiter, Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Tim Barker, Alastair Kellock (capt), Richie Vernon, John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements:Fergus Thomson, Ed Kalman, Kevin Tkachuk, Dan Turner, Kelly Brown, Hefin O’Hare, Colin Gregor, DTH van der Merwe.

Northampton vs Munster Sat 6pm – another of those “could be a classic” matches so often thrown up by this tournament. No Euan Murray yet and no Tom Smith now either, but the ever reliable Scott Gray continues to add to Robbo’s back row riches.

Leicester vs Ospreys Sun 1245pm – And another one. Nikki Walker continues a rich vein of form and the Ospreys are starting to spark in a backline that should be a match for any team, even the Tigers at Welford Road. If they don’t fire though, expect Leicester to win, ugly or otherwise.

Toulose vs Sale Sharks Sun 3pm (4pm local) – Should be a comfortable win for Toulose, but could out of form Sale cap the weekend with an upset?

Phew. I won’t be doing that every Friday. Enjoy the weekend!

Singing In The Rain

Well done to Edinburgh for a good result away from home facing down an admittedly poor Cardiff team and coping with the usual performance from G. Clancy esq. Did I say Edinburgh? Oh, I meant Glasgow. Telling the difference between the Scottish pro teams must be getting hard for poor old BBC Wales, who made several references to John Beattie, Firhill, and playing Biarritz next week during the coverage of Edinburgh’s pisspoor display against the Ospreys. Granted, Beattie (junior, I can only imagine) and Ally Hogg may share a hairdresser and Edinburgh have “Aberdeen” on their shirts to confuse matters further, but it’s pretty commentary standards (never mind the bias).  This gave me something to get excited about and shout at the telly for (not really the TV’s fault I suppose), given I was long past the point of shouting at Edinburgh’s general ineptitude.

Roddy Grant looked sharper at the breakdown than pretty much the whole team put together, and Ospreys turned Edinburgh over almost at will. A few chances went begging but inability to (or lack of desire to) keep ball proved pretty foolish against an international class (and in many places Lions/world class) backline who promptly cut them to shreds. Good to see Nikki Walker looking sharp though. Godman kicked perfectly from tee so Mossy was not missed in that regard, but as one of the chaps pointed out on the BBC boards, his marshalling of the defensive line was sorely absent. Stand in full back and new signing Steve Jones didn’t cover himself in glory, shall we say, but he should not be the scapegoat.

Meanwhile new Glasgow full back Peter Horne got one kick of the ball on Saturday and sclaffed it into touch, but as it was to end the match I can’t really complain. Still, it’s a good sign for a youngster that he looked thoroughly disappointed in himself even for something that had no bearing on the game. The match had long since been won by the combined work of Colin Gregor and Thom Evans behind a sturdy pack effort and this time Glasgow did not surrender their half time lead. Huzzahs all round for pseudo-Highlander Moray Low’s boot up field that eventually led to Johnnie Beattie’s try (see Jonathan, he was playing for Glasgow). With Cusiter undoubtedly the best 9 Glasgow have, perhaps they should find somewhere else to bring Gregor’s skills into play on a more regular basis – 10 or 15 perhaps?

Big Nathan looks like he would have had fun during the Leinster 30-0 demolition of Munster that brought several tries, a bit of controversy and no doubt plenty of niggle. A much better range of highlights from STV this week too – they are learning a game of rugby is not just the penalty offences that lead to points and I reckon it’s getting better.

Next weekend – Heineken Cup!

Edinburgh Steel Themselves For Europe

Edinburgh team to face Ospreys: Steve Jones, Mark Robertson, Nick De Luca, John Houston, Tim Visser, Phil Godman, Mike Blair (capt), Allan Jacobsen, Andrew Kelly, Geoff Cross, Craig Hamilton, Scott MacLeod, Scott Newlands, Alan MacDonald, Allister Hogg. Replacements: Ross Ford, Ryan Grant, Steven Turnbull, Roddy Grant, Greig Laidlaw, David Blair, Ben Cairns.

At first glance at this squad you think, what the hell is Rob Moffat doing? Just when momentum was needed and Edinburgh were looking sharp, he’s taken out most of the players in form like Ben Cairns and Roddy Grant leaving Edinburgh looking slightly under strength for an encounter against a star-powered Ospreys side who are starting to splutter into life. But then you look at the fixture list for the next month – Stade at the pink palace followed by Ulster who were only narrowly beaten last time out. After that they’ve got Munster, so it doesn’t really get “easier” until the visit of the Dragons in November, and you write them off at your peril. Besides, Edinburgh still have Blair and Godman at half-back, and you suspect Blair in particular will be keen to match up against the man who dominated the scrum half berth on the Lions tour, Mike Phillips. Houston, Visser and Robertson are still there and so is Hoggy, all fit and playing well. The Ospreys on Sunday is arguably the least important fixture of the coming month and based on that, well, it looks not a bad team.

Hopefully this team selection is not a reflection that the squad is crocked after 4 weeks, and instead means Edinburgh aim to make a real stab at the Heineken Cup, the stage on which true rugby respectability is earned in Europe. Let’s face it, second in the Magners last year or not, in the pre-match punditry you won’t hear many people giving them a chance of progressing out of their pool – if they even show the Scottish matches at all. The other regions (Munster, Leinster, Cardiff) have stepped up and earned some respect for their clubs and for Celtic rugby. Now it is the turn of the Scots to do their bit.

Pro Teams On TV This Weekend

In addition to STVs ever improving highlights package on Sunday, this weekend you can also catch the Cardiff vs Glasgow game on S4C at 1820 on Saturday and Ospreys vs Edinburgh on Sunday at 1550, giving you the full selection of Scottish pro rugby excitement to clog up your social schedule. While to some extent normal service resumed with both teams losing last weekend – you could hear the roars of despair coming out of Murrayfield from down the road at fellow SRBlogger Al’s birthday party – Edinburgh still top the table (what my Australian friends would call the ladder) and will be looking to finish off an Ospreys team that Glasgow should have put away. Roddy Grant, Phil Godman and Ben Cairns continue to look sharp as does Mossy’s play with ball in hand, and I think Nick De Luca may struggle to get off the bench when Houston is making powerful breaks at 12. Much of the Edinburgh back division looks to have kicked on from last year and some of the less well known names may be challenging the overly familiar from recent years (Walker, Webster, Lamont) for Scotland squad places.

Glasgow can put some of their inconsistencies down to a bout of flu running through the squad but still lacked concentration at key moments of the match. Seemingly it was ever thus, so I wonder what more Sean Lineen can do to fix it? He has tried both giving the team a chance to make amends and droppings en masse (as it were) but neither with much success. Cusiter still looks good when not ill, Rob Dewey looked pretty good with a solid break up the middle, and would perhaps merit a run in the centre until either Peter Murchie or Max Evans is fit (which should be pretty soon). Especially as he won’t get much ball stuck out on the wing with Parks kicking inside of him.

Is This The New Scotland Home Strip?

No sign of this anywhere else so it may be something of an exclusive, but blog reader and NYC based Scotland fan David H wrote in with a discovery he made on a US rugby website selling what appears to be the (as of now unannounced let alone unreleased) new Scotland home strip:

Maybe since it’s a US-based company they didn’t get the memo to not sell it yet:

New Scotland Strip

It looks very much like a blue version of the new away kit, which interestingly the site does not sell.

Thanks for the heads up! I quite like the faded bit under the arms, very web 2.0. I still hope they pair it with white shorts like the good old days, but I doubt it. Thoughts, anyone?

Edinburgh Still Top

Congrats to Edinburgh who scraped a win at Ulster over the weekend. Things are looking good if they can still nick an away victory even whilst under the kosh and in front of a partisan crowd. Mossy seems to have kicked well and Mark Robertson continues to look sharp. Good also to see a World Class drop goal from Phil, I hope he’s been practicing as it is one thing (among many) we could use for Scotland. As long as he doesn’t start trying from inside his own half ala Hernandez or Franc Steyn.

Glasgow were beaten by their bogey team the Dragons, while in other more surprising news perennial underachievers Connacht beat Cardiff who now find themselves draped over the bottom of the league table.

Catch the highlights show here (UK only).

Meanwhile in the absence of someone stepping forward to fill the role of Top 14 correspondent, I did a bit of digging on Eurosport site and managed to find that Rory Lamont played at the weekend (at fullback) for Toulon in their defeat of Toulose. Jonny is back to his best, according to Al’s nemesis Freddie Michalak. Speaking of Al, happy birthday for tomorrow big man! While digging I couldn’t see any sign of Hugo at Stade but that is less than surprising given the depth of their squad and recent coaching turnaround. Haskell seems to have been in Stade’s back row while Simon Taylor was MIA (as was Big Jason for Clermont), and Andy Henderson stayed on the bench for Montauban.

I was hoping to catch the Leinster game this week as I will be down in the big smoke and wanted to see if Edinburgh can make it four in a row and stay atop the table, but alas stupid Setanta scheduling has the kickoff at 630pm which clashes with an important social engagement. Whatever happened to 3pm on a Saturday?