Geech set to announce Lions replacements today

Replacements on tour for Jerry Flannery and Leigh Halfpenny will be announced later today – watch this space!

Jim Telfer has tipped Ross Ford as the ideal man for the job, while former Lions hooker Keith Wood has gone for Rory Best. Meanwhile Chris Paterson’s name has appeared out of nowhere since Halfpenny was pulled (temporarily) presumably for his prowess as a kicker. I’d be tempted to go with Armitage or Evans myself, thought it is hard to argue against Mossy’s kicking stats…

Magners Dream Team Scot Free

Here is the Magners League Dream Team as officially announced. Surprisingly despite Thom Evans being the top try scorer in the league and Edinburgh finishing second, there is no Scottish representation in the team. Still, they were probably all drinking cider when they made the list, weren’t they?

The Magners League Dream Team 2008/09

1. Gethin Jenkins – Cardiff Blues
2. Jerry Flannery – Munster
3. Adam Jones – Ospreys
4. Paul O’Connell – Munster
5. Alun Wyn Jones – Ospreys
6. Rocky Elsom – Leinster
7. Martyn Williams – Cardiff Blues
8. Jamie Heaslip – Leinster
9. Mike Phillips – Ospreys
10. Ronan O’Gara – Munster
11. Leigh Halfpenny – Cardiff Blues
12. Lifeimi Mafi – Munster
13. Brian O’Driscoll – Leinster
14. Tommy Bowe – Ospreys
15. Lee Byrne – Ospreys

In other news:

Head coach Matt “Silver Fox” Williams has parted company with Irish province Ulster to return home to Australia. Pity he’s just a wee bit too late to apply for the job of Scotland Coach.

Chris Paterson has been voted the 2008-9 Player of the Season by Scotland Rugby Supporters Club following the Scottish Rugby Awards dinner at Murrayfield, with new Edinburgh signing Roddy Grant winning Sevens player of the year. No sign of their Magners Player of the season Max Evans in the dream team above either.

Lions Fall Off The Ark Two by Two

Or three, perhaps. More players have joined Tomas O’Leary and Tom Shanklin on the list of Lions casualties, and the tour has not even started.

Alan Quinlan’s ban for gouging was upheld, so he will not tour to South Africa. Non-surprise of the year is that Tom Croft will replace him, offering something different in the back row including excellence in the lineout (and additional cover in the second row). Perhaps it is a sign of Scottish decline that our traditional area of strength – the back row – offers no immediate candidate with Strokosch out injured.

In other news hooker Jerry Flannery and winger Leigh Halfpenny both have injuries. Halfpenny’s is not too serious and although he is to be replaced, he will re-join the tour when recovered. This could be an opening for Thom Evans or Chris Paterson to sneak on tour, although the favourite would seem to be Delon Armitage, with Mark Cueto another possibility. Alongside Irishman Rory Best, Scotland hooker Ross Ford is one of the favourites to replace Flannery who has chipped a bone in his elbow in training. Ford would certainly add some grunt and physicality – plus familiarity with Euan Murray – in the front row, however his line-out throwing might be a concern against the likes of Victor Matfield.

Edinburgh beat Cardiff to finish Second

Cardiff 14 – 36 Edinburgh

Edinburgh put together a solid performance in defence coupled with some excellent counter-attacking rugby to snatch a record second place finish in the Magners League with an away victory in the last match to be played at Cardiff Arms Park. A few decisions from Irish ref Simon McDowell that were controversial to the home crowd but on the face of it probably correct helped too – notably a penalty try and sin-binning for the deliberate knock down of a pass to Godman about 2 metres from the line. That gave Edinburgh the space they needed to keep the scoreboard operator awake and turn the match in their favour. After a lot of loose play, several knock-ons and turnovers by both sides in the first half, this period proved decisive. It was also great to see a Scottish side capitalising on opposition mistakes with a degree of ruthlessness often absent from the national side.

Ally Hogg put in a captain’s performance at the breakdown alongside youngster Roddy Grant and was turning over ball almost at will against a Cardiff side shorn of much of its international talent. Ross Ford and Geoff Cross both had good games too, although Ford missed the odd lineout throw. Phil Godman marshalled his backs well on the counter in a loose game that suited Webster’s and Mossy’s style, although he didn’t always get the best service from scrum half Laidlaw in crunch situations. Nick De Luca popped up everywhere in  midfield, putting in some good defensive work and grabbing the interception try that put the result beyond doubt – regardless of the ability Cardiff have to conjure late points that scared Leicester so.

To be fair it was mostly a second string that faced Edinburgh here, the same sorts of second strings that the bigger clubs can afford to field. Such second strings allowed the results to go Edinburgh’s way earlier in the weekend (Ospreys losing to Munster and Leinster losing to the Dragons), and is probably a sign that at least until the play-off system next season Heineken Cup Rugby is still the bigger prize for the larger clubs. Edinburgh would have been guaranteed a play-off spot anyway if the system had been in place this year – probably facing Munster or Leinster if the usual 1 v 4, 2 v  3 model is followed.

At the end of the match, as Hugo Southwell came on for his last appearance in an Edinburgh shirt, the heavens above Cardiff opened as if to signal their displeasure not to see a home victory, but it was to be Edinburgh and Andy Robinson’s day. As the Blues and their fans prepared to mark the obsolescence of one of Rugby’s old icons in the shape of the Arms Park and celebrate their current successes past and present at season’s end, the match was largely forgotten by the locals in a matter of minutes. For Edinburgh though, the last trip home from Cardiff Arms Park will be a memorable, very happy one.

Robinson Snaps Up Ansbro for A Team

In form Northampton Saints centre Joe Ansbro has been called up to the Scotland A Team squad to play in the IRB Nations Cup. Ansbro, born in Glasgow, but eligible to play for England too, will be representing the fair nation of Scotland for the first time. And you never know, with Max Evans out injured for a while, perhaps it is significant that Robinson has five centres in his squad to develop strength in that area. Glasgow bound Chris Cusiter will lead the tour, with vice-captain Ross Ford also included at the behest of the Lions managment to retain match sharpness.

Matches will be played against Russia, Uruguay and France A during the tournament.

Scotland A

Joe Ansbro (Northampton Saints), David Blair (Edinburgh), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh), Stuart Corsar (Doncaster Knights), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Chris Cusiter (capt, Perpignan), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Rob Dewey (Ulster), James Eddie (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (vice captain, Edinburgh), Roddy Grant (Edinburgh), Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors), Craig Hamilton (Edinburgh), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Al Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Alan MacDonald (Edinburgh), Scott Newlands (Edinburgh), Jim Thompson (Edinburgh), Kyle Traynor (Edinburgh), Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors) and Simon Webster (Edinburgh).

Parks and Recreation

Troubled Glasgow fly-half Dan Parks may have played his last game for Glasgow after recent troubles – a meeting with the SRU next week should clear up as to whether or not his contract will be renewed or any disciplinary action will be taken. Meanwhile Glasgow trundle on with a visit from Connacht to finish off a fairly dissappointing Magners season that has seen several of their players step up to the national rank while still struggling to achieve consistency at club level. The good results they have had – away wins in Toulose, beating Edinburgh and Heineken Cup finalists Leinster – and the incoming talent (Cusiter, Dewey) auger well for next year though. There are also a few youngsters coming through the ranks, with Ruaridh Jackson now well and truly leading the way from 10 if Parks does indeed go, along with the likes of beanpole lock Richie Gray. Perhaps look for Colin Gregor to fill in less at 9 next season and more at 10. This match is I believe on Setanta.

Edinburgh have decided to rest newly-minted Lion Mike Blair in the match against Cardiff which does not mean all that much, but if results go their way they could move up into third or even second. Other than Greg Laidlaw filling in, Andy Robinson has named a pretty strong team with the replacement of Alan Macdonald due to injury the only other major change. Ally Hogg takes over the captaincy in a game that will be shown on Sunday on S4C.

The SRU have also announced a progress report on their hunt for a head coach which doesn’t say very much of anything, other than it won’t be Mike Brewer and consequently he has chosen to seek pastures new, presumably in search of a head coaching position..

UPDATE: Parks has been fined £3000 and banned for 18 months for his driving offence. Like the last time caught in a car under the influence, he was apparently screwed by one of his mates who buggered off with a bird leaving him facing a night in a car. Mates, eh? Still, taking the decision to turn the engine on this time is not a good example to set in his position as a role model for young kicking stand-offs and interception throwers everywhere, and may turn out to have fatal repercussions for his playing career here. Al will no doubt pop up shortly and point out how Parks was never the same after an encounter with me in St Etienne…

Scotland Sevens All-Star Squad

A few Scotland stars have been called up to bolster the Scotland Sevens squads for the home legs of the IRB Sevens World Series events, in London (23 and 24 May) and Edinburgh (30 and 31 May):

Scott Forrest (Ayr) CAPTAIN, Mike Adamson (Glasgow Warriors), Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Roddy Grant (West of Scotland), Colin Gregor (Glasgow Warriors), Allister Hogg (Edinburgh), John Houston (Edinburgh), Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh), Hefin O’Hare (Glasgow Warriors), Colin Shaw (Glasgow Warriors), Jim Thompson (Edinburgh), Andrew Turnbull (Edinburgh)

London Pool C: Fiji, Kenya, USA, Scotland

Scotland 7s Pool C fixtures on day one (Saturday 23 May) of the Emirates Airline London Sevens: Kenya v Scotland (kick-off 12:41pm), Fiji v Scotland (kick-off 3:25pm), USA v Scotland (6:21pm)

Edinburgh Pool C: Kenya, England, Canada, Scotland

Scotland 7s’ Pool C fixtures on day one (Saturday 30 May) of the Emirates Airline Edinburgh Sevens Festival: England v Scotland (kick-off 12.09pm), Kenya v Scotland (3.13pm), Canada v Scotland (6.56pm)

It already looks a pretty strong squad and not short of pace even before you throw Evans into the mix. His brother Max was supposed to be in there, but he may now be out for up to 6 months with the knee injury sustained at the weekend. Here’s hoping they can grab a result on home soil and Thom doesn’t get skinned by some Kenyan/Portuguese tyro in the the quarter finals of the bowl competition.

Geech Rumoured For London Scottish – Where Next for Basil?

With the player roundabout settling down a bit, the coaching roundabout has now stepped up as clubs complete their end of year reviews. The Times yesterday posited that Ian McGeechan could be headed to London Scottish after he hangs up his Lions boots, with current employers Wasps said to be unhappy at the current performance of their team and planning to give him the heave-ho. Once again this would be quite the coup for London Scottish and another step on the road back to success. Best to do it now and give time to build a team over a couple of seasons and promotions, rather than parachuting in a top-flight coach at the last minute before (one hopes) entering the top flight. It wouldn’t harm the prospects of any young Scottish qualified players down there to have Geech showing them the ropes either. A London Scottish spokesperson told Scottish Rugby Blog, “Ian has provided valuable guidance to London Scottish in the past. However, this story is speculation. We hope that he will be able to contribute to our success in the future, but he does not have a specific role with the Club at present.” More news if we hear it.

The article also mention that Gloucester coaches Dean Ryan, and more interestingly Bryan Redpath and Carl Hogg, may also soon be out of work after this weekend given Gloucester’s failure to capitalise on strong performances when the crunch matches come around. Although I’ve read before that Basil is not much of a fan of the internecine political warfare that accompanies interacting with the SRU, I’d like to see a move back north to fill the expected coaching vacancy at Edinburgh as the next step in his coaching career… who knows, maybe Deano would like to come too?

UPDATE: Geech has definitely left Wasps, even though the Lions have been paying his wages this year so he’s just been popping in now and then. Shaun Edwards will remain at Wasps as head coach. No official word on the move to Scottish though.

Vote For Your Magners League Dream Team

Time to select the end of season Magners League Dream Team. If you want to nominate anyone, please choose your starting XV and email MagnersLeague@brand-rapport.com. Voting closes at midnight on Friday 15th May and the Magners League Dream Team for 2008/09 will be announced shortly after. The player who polls the most votes for his position will be included in the Magners League Dream Team for 2008/09. There will be a prize for the entry which most closely resembles the final Magners League Dream Team for 2008/09.

Just out of interest, this would be mine:

15 Kearney (Leinster) – close with Ben Blair and Mossy whose boots have both been hugely influential but Kearney offers slightly more in attack.
14 T Evans (Glasgow) – top try scorer in the league, pace to burn. Narrowly missed out on being a Lion in the season he got his first International cap.
13 O’ Driscoll (Leinster) – largely written off last season, has rediscovered fun and his form. Max Evans would probably be behind Shanklin in 3rd but has had a hugely encouraging season at 13.
12 Mafi (Munster) – another import to Munster that has given their backs an edge to match the forwards. Close, with Jamie Roberts and D’Arcy’s late run of form.
11 Danielli (Ulster) – has been scoring tries by the hatful for Ulster and is enjoying working under Matt Williams so much he has signed a new contract. Deserves points just for that. Tommy Bowe a close second.
10 O’ Gara (Munster) I suppose, but let’s face it there’s not been much to whoop about stand-off wise anywhere in Europe of late. Hopefully the likes of Sexton, Biggar and Jackson will make next season more exciting.
9 Blair (Edinburgh) – remember, the start of the season counts too. Dropped off a bit in the Six Nations, but still made numerous opponents look foolish/inferior throughout the season.
8 Heaslip (Leinster) – Hoggy has been solid if unspectacular and Powell/Jones keep getting edged out by Rush/Tiatia. Heaslip has really found his form this season.
7 Barclay (Glasgow) – close between him and David Wallace but it is the Scottish Rugby Blog after all.
6 Elsom (Leinster) – several towering performances in defence, a true class signing.
5 O’ Connell (Munster) – Lions captain, speaks for itself.
4 Tito (Cardiff) – a real talisman for the Blues, the ginger “Maori” was greatly missed in Cardiff’s HC loss – possibly not during the penalty shoot out though. A testament to his leadership that he earned the captaincy after only one season.
3 Jones (Ospreys) – has matured from a hairy figure of fun to an excellent prop.
2 Ford (Edinburgh) – better form in his Edinburgh shirt than during the Six Nations for Scotland. Powerful in the loose, not so accurate with the throwing.
Jenkins (Cardiff) – stand out prop in the Northern Hemisphere at the moment. Phenomenal workrate has made him leading candidate to fill the Lions 1 shirt.

Breaking News…Blair a Lion!

Breaking news…

Scotland Captain Mike Blair has been called up for the British and Irish Lions squad that travels to South Africa this summer.  Blair has been called up to replace the unfortunate Thomas O’Leary who recently broke his leg playing for his club side Munster.

Blair, who plays for Edinburgh,  was thought at the turn of the year to be a certain to travel South Africa.  However a poor Six Nations campaign and unsure performances for his club side saw him not even make the travelling party.   Blair has been a key part of the Edinburgh side that has recently gone on a five match winning streak and his performance in last weekends 43 – 3 defeat of the Dragons will have no doubt helped highlight what he can bring to the Lions party.

Fellow Scot Chris Cusiter was initially rumoured to be the front runner as a replacement but perhaps being stuck on the bench for Perpignan has hurt him (the same could be said for Dwayne Peel at Sale), while Blair has been able to take full part in Edinburgh’s recent string of consecutive victories. I am sure he will make a full contribution and if he finds the form of the autumn (where he made most of the Springbok team look a little ordinary at times) he definitely has the class and vision to be the test scrum half.

Blair will no doubt now want to push for a test place in the Lions team.  His inclusion now ups the number of Scots in the Lions squad to a (still paltry) 3.  All of us here would like to congratulate Mike on his call up and hope he’ll be able to do both himself and his country proud.

Edinburgh Back In Fourth As Glasgow Fail to Ignite

Edinburgh blasted the Dragons with a bonus-point victory at Murrayfield this weekend but Glasgow failed to do them a favour by beating an out-of-sorts Ospreys team. They did deny them a bonus point but the game was marred by Max Evans going off on a stretcher with what looked like a nasty knee injury and another schizophrenic refereeing performance from Irishman George Clancy. Ruaridh Jackson looked inventive at 10 and kicked most of his points and Lome Fa-Atau had a pretty good game on the opposite wing from Thom Evans. I have to say that Andrew Henderson looked pretty off-peak when he came off the bench with a couple of poor and late challenges – one of which he would have been carded for if Clancy wasn’t obsessing over sending off as many props as possible. The Ospreys now move third, equal on points with Leinster. Edinburgh can regain second if both those teams lose next weekend and they manage to beat Cardiff in Cardiff. Unlikely, I know. But Cardiff have a midweek game and must be on their last legs by now – paying for the silly Anglo Welsh Cup. Meanwhile Leinster face the Dragons but Ospreys have to play Munster. So third could be on and they are guaranteed to at least equal their best ever finish of fourth.

While he was always an outside chance to be called up to the Lions as a replacement for the injured Tom Shanklin – and it was interesting to hear Will Greenwood mention him as a possibility – this will almost certainly rule Maximus out. In the same game though James Hook looked pretty good from inside centre, and he might give the Lions some fly-half cover too. With Jamie Roberts going off injured in the Munster match last night too the Lions could be looking at another replacement in the centre. Speaking of which, the Sunday Times reported that former Lions scrum half and backs coach Rob Howley was dispatched to watch Chris Cusiter in Perpignan this weekend – bit of a shame as he didn’t seem to get on the pitch. Ian Macgeechan went to watch Danny Care who didn’t have the greatest game either. No word if anyone was watching Blair, as we await the rumoured announcement this week.

UPDATE: The Times is now reporting that Rob Howley was in the crowd for the Edinburgh match, which seems more likely. Someone (in the Murdoch empire) got their info wrong.

Review and Preview

This week has seen Geech face the possibility of a 3 man reshuffle to his Lions squad, with Tom Shanklin now joining Tomas O’ Leary on the injury list and Munster’s Alan Quinlan facing the possibility of a ban for gouging Leo Cullen in the Heineken Cup Semi Final. While there are a couple of Scots in the running to fill the spare 9 shirt in Cusiter and Blair, it is less likely there will be any chance of them filling the other shirts. If Quinlan is banned out of contention, Tom Croft and Ryan Jones (or Dennis Leamy) would be considered the front runners – perhaps Strokosch if he had been fit would have been in with a shout. In the backs, there is no real direct replacement for Shanks (if fit I suppose Tindall has the same amount of hair) but they might look to bring in the likes of D’Arcy or Hook as a different sort of centre. Max Evans is probably an outside bet at this stage I would say, but a demolition derby of the Ospreys at the weekend on his part would certainly help his cause… see below.

No news on when any announcements would be made, but it will probably be after this weekend’s Premiership semi-finals and round of Magners League matches.

Transfer update: Sean Lamont’s move to Llanelli has also been confirmed.

Edinburgh, still chasing an improvement on last season’s fourth place finish – they are currently on course to match that – are at home to the Dragons on Saturday. This match is not being televised. Assuming Edinburgh can beat the Dragons, on Sunday Glasgow could do them a favour by beating the Ospreys away, a result that would take the battle for the last few places down to the final weekend of the season. Ospreys vs Glasgow is on S4C at 2.30 on Sunday. These games offer the second to last opportunity for Scottish players to keep their heads bobbing above water in the Lions standby pool.