What We Learned in the Autumn

1) We shouldn’t really bother playing New Zealand, ever again. What useful purpose does it serve? It does us little good, and it gives them pointlessly easy grand slams. Think of that, we could scupper their grand slam tours without even playing a match.

2) Scotland now have a scrum that shouldn’t get pushed around. If we could get back our lineout dominance of a few years back we might be a serious threat up front. Bring back Scott Murray?

3) Nick De Luca looks like he is over his 6N hiccup and is now forming a dynamic centre partnership with Ben Cairns that augers well for the future. A lot of our players should hit their playing peak in around 3 years. Many of them already have a solid base of caps and are growing in maturity. We may not be able to just unwrap a new test-ready fly half like the All-Blacks seem to do, but I think we are managing the resources we do have well. Gregor Townsend’s mentorship scheme of the young players is a similarly excellent idea.

4) Mike Blair may be the best scrum half in the world at the moment. He outshone the best the southern hemisphere showed him, even leading a losing team. Euan Murray gave a great account of himself too, although it could be argued he didn’t face NZ’s best scrum combination. Both, along with Lee Byrne of Wales, are certain Lions if their form and fitness continue. Blair now pops up in most people’s World/Lions XVs. (Except for Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times, who picked him in his World XV but not his Lions team. Someone should point out to Mr Jones that Mike Phillips and Gavin Henson are short of fitness and form, and too busy duking it out on the streets of Cardiff to merit inclusion at this stage. Stuart Barnes didn’t pick Murray at tighthead but at least explained his reasoning! And he picked Barclay at 7, kudos.)

5) Ryan Jones is far from certain of a Lions test place, due to the barnstorming performances we have seen from Powell in the Welsh No 8 shirt. The Lions captaincy is still wide open.

5) Commentators still love mispronouncing names. Award of the season goes to John Beattie for “Cleanburger” (Adam Kleeberger of Canada). Rokocoko got a bit of a mangling from the BBC boys as well… Jonathan Davies is not alone.

6) England are having a few problems. They are probably where we were a few years ago, bottoming out on the constant wave of world rugby. Their players and management will take a while to bed in – Martin Johnson is a novice coach, remember. Let’s just hope they get it sorted. In 2012.

7) The second tier rugby nations are still getting screwed by the clubs. While the big unions can buy player release, pity poor Canada who have a core base of amateurs and can’t even get Ander Munro on release from Italy. They should shut off all club play on the continent while the Autum Internationals are on (masterplan for restructuring 4-years rugby cycle coming soon). This would undoubtedly help the likes of Italy, Georgia and Romania whose players fill in when the Frenchies are off playing tests. Georgia could quite easily have played a close full test against similarly ranked Canada rather than them getting pasted by our A and full sides respectively. Georgia might have also been beaten by Edinburgh had the floodlights at Meggetland not failed (poor show).

8) Australia will rise, and soon. Their last two games against Wales and the Baa-Baas were great fun, backed by a steely spine of solid – that’s almost not strong enough a term – defence. We could learn a lot from the Robbie Deans “soak it up then counter” school of thought. They will definitely be a force come 2011. Good job we didn’t get them in our group.

9) World XV based mostly on Autumn performances I saw: Byrne (Wal), Muliaina (NZ), De Villiers (SA), Nonu (NZ), Williams (Wal), Carter (NZ), Blair (Sco), Powell (Wal), McCaw (NZ), Burger (SA), Matfield (SA), Botha (SA), Murray (Sco), Ford (Sco), Woodcock (NZ). Honorary mention should go to the Aussies who showed up with a team rather than some individuals, so I’d pick Robbie Deans as the coach.

10) Wales are still 6N favourites. Behind them it’s a toss-up but Scotland have more than a good chance of making the top three. On current form you might hesitate to say that about England or Ireland. France, as always under Lieveremont are a mystery until they take the field. Frank Hadden has us as dark horses, and for once I’m in agreement with Franky baws. The Scots are coming.

Don’t forget there is Heineken Cup rugby on Sky this weekend again, though no Edinburgh vs Wasps on Friday night. Bath vs Glasgow is on on Sunday. Player watch as usual to follow next week. Oh, and you can add number 11) in the comments section below. We don’t bite.

Scotland Land Dream World Cup 2011 Draw

Perhaps the 9th ranking was all part of Frank Hadden’s master plan.

Pool A:
New Zealand
France
Tonga
Canada (Americas 1)
Asia 1 (Japan?)

Pool B:
Argentina
England
Scotland
Europe 1 (Romania?)
Play Off Winner (your guess is as good as mine)

Pool C:
Australia
Ireland
Italy
Europe 2 (Portugal, Spain, Russia, Georgia?)
Americas 2 (USA?)

Pool D:
South Africa
Wales
Fiji
Samoa (Oceania 1)
Africa 1 (Namibia?)

No Southern Hemisphere biggie. Argentina, who we have recently beaten. And our cousins from south of the border – currently in disarray and against whom our form is not necessarily an indicator of result – so if we played the World Cup today I’d be quite happy. However it’s still three years away and a lot can (and will) change. At least we didn’t get New Zealand in our group again. Who’s going to upset the home team’s apple cart? Oh look, they got France again…same again, or situations reversed with the plucky home team upsetting the rampant favourites? Seems unlikely given NZ are filling the role of both. Once again Ireland are in a group of if not death then mild  trauma with Italy and the Aussies. Italy have recently pushed the Aussies close and could be the Argentina of this tournament, if they continue to mature.

Talk has already begun as to how the draw has been kind to England (which it has). It has also been kind to us, and to Argentina. A lot of people on message boards everywhere are already assuming that this group will go according to the seedings with Argentina coming out on top, and England second. My apologies, but I would say this is one of the few groups that could go in any direction and Argentina on current form would not be favourites against Scotland or England. Scotland are the 3rd seed team England did not want. Because in a Scotland vs England match, even on the other side of the planet and even if England were by that point the top team in the world, anything can happen.

See you in Dunedin? I’ll be there.

UPDATE: updated 13/07/09 as Canada have qualified

5 Reasons To Be Cheerful

1) With the mid level teams (Fiji, Samoa, Italy, Georgia) fronting up at World Cup time as the professional game grows, does it really matter who we have in our group in NZ 2011? Sure we could get a couple of stinkers, but with a young team that should be together for the next three years we might get Ireland, Argentina, or day I say it England? Sure they’d be tough matches, but it’s the World Cup. Scotland no longer belongs at the top table by right – we should have to play well enough to get there and it should be the same for all the other teams in our situation. Still, Argentina may do us a favour if they can beat ramshackle Ireland. Maybe we could swap it for a round-ball win with Diego?

2) Phil Godman is growing with every game. He distributed well, made a couple of great breaks and kicked for position with reasonable accuracy. He still made a couple of schoolboy errors at the end – I would argue they may have been down to his desperation to atone for the missed kicks that might have proven the difference between an ok result and a great one. It was a big game of what-ifs, and Phil will have felt it the most. Forget Italy a few years back, on a grey Saturday in November 2008 he will have learnt much about the true test-match pressure on an international standoff. Seeing the look on his battle-bloodied face come the final whistle, you feel that the South Africa match may be the making of Phil Godman. I certainly hope so.

3) Nick de Luca and Ben Cairns are forming a solid partnership in the centre. Again De Luca gave away an early penalty on Saturday, but after that he settled down and both put in solid defensive display. He’s had a few shockers, but I think now he has settled and needs to build on that. Now they both need a chance to show what they can do in attack against Canada. EDIT: they got it, see below.

4) We’re developing a pretty useful front row partnership in Euan Murray and Ross Ford. Let’s not forget Chunk, Dicko or Moray Low either. Stability in Scotland’s set-piece (not to mention the odd bit of supremacy) would do our chances of winning games no end of good. Mike Brewer seems to be doing his job well. He wears a suit on match day too, something Frank “one of the boys” Hadden should maybe do too.

5) Over the course of two games against the best Rugby Nations in the world, arguably, Scotland did more right than they did wrong – even without a W in the column for either of the games. With Mossy on the pitch on Saturday, we would have almost certainly beaten the World Champions. Isn’t that a reason to be cheerful?

Team to face Canada:

Rory Lamont (Sale Sharks); Simon Webster (Edinburgh), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Nikki Walker (Ospreys); Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Mike Blair (capt) (Edinburgh); Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Nathan Hines (Perpignan), Jim Hamilton (Edinburgh), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais).
Replacements: Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Matt Mustchin (Edinburgh), Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors), Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors).

Building a Tank from a Shopping Trolley

Bad A-Team related joke time again. Yesterday the backup team gave the Georgians a doing (under the tutelage of Andy Robinson, Gregor Townsend and Shade Munro) in front of a pretty small crowd at Firhill. The early scheduling of 6ish was apparently at the behest of TV behemoth BBC Alba. Surely an extra hour would have nearly doubled the crowd to the usual solid Friday night support? However it was on the TV so for that we can be thankful. They give with one hand and take with the other. In fact, the viewing experience was similar to watching Welsh counterpart S4C, complete with pitchside interviews conducted in English. I haven’t worked out the Gaelic for Seren Y Gem yet, but I will. Al’s drinking game suggested below could also have been improved with a “James Jones” bonus round in honour of the Welsh referee.

It was a pretty good squad we had, and strong performances from Richie Vernon, Rob Dewey and Mark McMillan saw a comfortable victory against a Georgia team far from their World Cup near-glory. Nikki Walker still turned over a few balls in contact though. Georgia go on to play Edinburgh on Tuesday and may find themselves up against many of the same players and coaches with potentially the same result. There were a couple of darn good tries though (including a great solo effort from Max Evans) and it was very encouraging to see the support lines in full effect with Scotland players (forwards and backs) streaming through gaps in search of tries, and using well timed passes and angles of running. Let’s hope we see the same from the full team this afternoon. Having seemingly revitalised World Class Phil, is Gregor Townsend going to prove – along with Andy Robinson – one of the coaching jewels hidden in Scotland’s tarnished crown?

Rugby in Gaelic on TV…

Hey folks, as Rory says below – happy birthday to us!  Time for our terrible two’s!

Can the standard of writing get any lower?!?

Anyway, my esteemed comrade is away from a PC and can’t bring you the exciting news – rugby in Gaelic!  BBC Alba are showing the Scoland A team’s game against Georgia tonight so if you’ve got nothing else to do and see how the boys do against the full Georgia side.

If the game is a howler at least the commentary should provide giggles or a drinking game i.e. every time an English word, instead of a Gealic word, is used you take a drink – do they have a Gaelic term for Scrum?

Spurious Self Congratulation

It turns out that this is our 101st Post. Furthermore, the Scottish Rugby Blog was 1 year old on the 7th November. A pity we couldn’t celebrate with a victory at the weekend, but hey. October was our second biggest month ever for visitors, so thanks for reading, everyone, and thank you to all the other bloggers, sites and advertisers that have been in touch over the last year. Here’s to the future of the blog, and Scottish Rugby.

Scotland Team to face Springboks

While I was posting that latest magnum opus, the team was announced for the weekend. Brother for brother swap on the wing, the rest stay as is including the bench. Malkovich Webster and the big Stroker stay in the player pool as cover for a few potential injury cases (Hines, Hamilton, Evans). Sadly no recovery in time for Simon Taylor.

Scotland team to play South Africa: Chris Paterson, Thom Evans, Ben Cairns, Nick De Luca, Rory Lamont, Phil Godman, Mike Blair (capt), Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Nathan Hines, Jim Hamilton, Jason White, John Barclay, Allister Hogg.

Replacements: Dougie Hall, Alasdair Dickinson, Matt Mustchin, Scott Gray, Rory Lawson, Dan Parks, Hugo Southwell.

Well Of Course Not

Still, for about three minutes there it looked like we might give New Zealand a game. Having watched the match since on video, most of my initial thoughts on it remain unchanged from the beery haze of Saturday.

The Good:

Euan Murray was dominant in the scrum and should cement his place in the team, and hopefully the list of Lions contenders. Alongside him Ross Ford showed up well in the loose and the lineout was solid until he was taken off. John Barclay put himself about well, but didn’t turn over quite so much ball as he might have liked. Moreover Scott Gray did when he came on. Depends on training this week, but might there be a switch or another way of bringing him into the team? Thom Evans showed excellent spirit and pace chasing balls and tackling, and of the other backs Chris Paterson actually showed up a lot more than it appeared from the stands. Once again, Mike Blair was outstanding.

The Bad:

As usual the finishing was very jittery. So jittery that we didn’t cross the line. At all. Comparing the number of fluffed tries (Lamont’s air shot, Blair’s drop, Evans’ chip, Hogg’s failure to pass out) to similar opportunities at the other end and Scotland were more in this game than you’d think. The All Blacks only created a couple of chances but took them, while ruthlessly exploiting our poor play with quick hands and thinking for their other scores. Heart can be taken from the fact that usually the good bits happen in our own 22 where it doesn’t matter. Now Scotland are making line breaks, Scotland are getting down to a few metres from the line, putting pressure on a better team. They’re just not crossing it. This time last year we looked nowhere near it. Make no mistake, Scotland will have a cutting edge soon. They can pass and handle well (there were some nice examples during the game further away from the line). I think it’s a bit of confidence and a little more concentration near the line that would see us over it.

One thing that could be improved are the supporting runners. Often the Scotland team are so far behind Mike Blair that they’re standing about admiring him  – “look at Mike go, isn’t he brilliant”. If he was wearing a Black shirt he’d have men on each shoulder pouring through the gap behind him. Too many times a Scotland man made a break only to find no passing options on either side and the move ground to a halt. Mossy was one of the few guys who showed up well in support, but sadly due to the laws of physics was not available to support himself during his excellent early run.

Big Jim played well later on, but you get the feeling he’s not quite mobile enough for the sort of game Scotland need to play. Big Jason had a few good runs and restart takes, but looked short of match fitness as you’d expect. Hopefully Simon Taylor will be fit for next week. But you still might want to try and slot Hoggy in.

Thom Evans didn’t get any ball in space, despite his incredible pace. Welcome to being a Scotland wing, Thom.

The Ugly:

Frank Hadden’s substitution policy of rotating the half-backs for no reason other than his watch tells him to. Unless Blair was injured, why bother taking him off? One could argue that the try he looked like the only prospective creator of would be more important to Scotland’s confidence than giving Parks and Lawson 10 minutes game time. Godman is another player who would have benefited from staying on. Giving him a chance should be just that.

Wayne Barnes’ refusal to give a penalty against New Zealand scrum which was crumbling under all sorts of pressure. Props were kneeling at one point. Other than that I thought Barnes had a pretty good game.

Nick De Luca’s sin binning after only 3 minutes was justified, stupidly playing the ball on the ground. I have a lot of time for him as an attacker and he put in some big hits late in the game, almost atoning for his earlier sins. But he has to cut out the silly stuff.

Also, TV people, do we have to look at Dan Carter all the time? He only played ten minutes, and at scrum half. By the end you’d think he was man of the match. Mikey Blair was nominated for IRB Player of the Year too, you know.

The Future:

Brewer seems to have instilled some solidity into the set-piece, and while the defence wasn’t quite as reactive as the All Blacks’ scramble it would take time to adjust to the new systems in any case. Perhaps given Edinburgh’s similar inability to cross the line despite masses of pressure, the benefit of the doubt should be given to backs men Hadden and Lineen. My team for next week might be:

Paterson, Evans, Cairns, De Luca, Lamont R, Godman, Blair, Hogg, Barclay, Gray, Taylor, Hines, Murray, Ford, Jacobsen

Fitness allowing, of course. You could switch Paterson and Lamont, but I think Paterson did enough to justify his place at full back regardless of goal kicking, so why not let him be rather than shuffling the poor chap again.

Improvement next weekend is a must, and it’s fairly easy to spot the area for work: scoring tries.

Zinzan ‘The Mouth’ Brooke flaps his trap..again!

Zinzan Brooke has stated on the BBC website that he hopes that the All Blacks “…beat the hell out of Scotland…“.  Fair enough, he’s a patriotic Kiwi and you’d want him to back his team.  His reason for this rather over the top, and schoolboy-esque, outburst: because those dastardly Scots didn’t play a full strength side at last year’s World Cup pool game and that hurt NZ form.  Now 2 things spring to my mind:

1) As a child Zinzan had a dog, Tuffy, who he loved dearly.  They did everything together, long walks through the stunning New Zealand countryside, warm, cosy nights in front of the log fire and off to watch the local sheep-shearing competition at the weekends.  Alas, Tuffy’s wonderful time with his dear master Zinzan was to end all too early!  One day, whilst running down the road to meet young Master Brooke a milk float came round the corner and not hearing the oncoming vehicle (electric engine…damn them!) poor Tuffy was mortally wounded.  As Zinzan help his dear Tuffy in his arms the driver of the milk float jumped out to see if the dog was ok… and to Zinzan’s horror the driver was wearing a kilt!!!  From that day on he vowed to hate Scottish rugby and all it stands for!

OR/

2)  Zinzan Brooke is a bitter man, yet another sign that some (and only a minority) in the New Zealand rugby fraternity will blame anybody else rather than their own team for underperforming at World Cup after World Cup after World Cup.  Maybe if the likes of Zinzan Brooke spent more time analysing the frailty in the All Black mentality when it comes to Webb Ellis then maybe he’d have less time, and cause, to start pointing the finger of blame at other rugby playing nations!

In summary, and to bastardise an old Stephen Fry comment:

Question – “Please provide a definition of Countryside”
Answer – “Killing Zinzan Brooke

Off on holiday from tomorrow so going to miss the game but I hope Scotland can put up a good show on Saturday and those of you who attend enjoy the game!

Maybe Frank Hadden should put Zinzan’s words up on the dressing room wall! :-)

Over and out.

Al

Scotland Team to play All Blacks…

Scotland today announced their team to line up against the All Blacks this coming Saturday.  Scotland are looking for their first ever victory against New Zealand and Frank Hadden has picked a team with a balance of experience and form players.  A total of 7 changes have been made from the team that won away in Argentina at the beginning of the summer and the likes of Sean Lamont and Jason White return to the starting line up.  The starting line-up for Saturday is:

  • A Jacobsen (Edinburgh)
  • R Ford (Edinburgh)
  • E Murray (Northampton)
  • N Hines (Perpignan)
  • J Hamilton (Edinburgh)
  • J White (Sale Sharks)
  • S Taylor (Stade Francais)
  • J Barclay (Glasgow Warriors)
  • C Paterson (Edinburgh)
  • T Evans (Glasgow Warriors)
  • B Cairns (Edinburgh)
  • N De Luca (Edinburgh)
  • S Lamont (Northampton)
  • P Godman (Edinburgh)
  • M Blair (Edinburgh)

Dan Parks has dropped to the bench with World Class Phil Godman given a starting berth and he will have a huge responsibility to ensure Scotland keep moving forward.  Given the starting line-up it would appear Scotland have gone for an experienced pack who can hopefully combat the aggression and drive of the All Blacks, and most importantly, secure ball for the backs.  Its encouraging to see such an attacking set of backs, and, in my opinion, that is a back unit capable of scoring points…whether they’ll score enough to trouble the All Blacks is the big question!

RORY UPDATE: Here’s our bench:

Replacements: Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Dickinson (Gloucester), Mustchin (Edinburgh), Gray (Northampton), Lawson (Gloucester) or McMillan (Glasgow Warriors), Parks (Glasgow Warriors), Southwell (Edinburgh).

The referee is Wayne Barnes (huzzah) assisted by Dave Pearson (boo) and Paul, um, Dix.

And the New Zealand team is as follows:  Isaia Toeava; Anthony Tuitavake, Richard Kahui, Ma’a Nonu, Joe Rokocoko; Stephen Donald, Piri Weepu; Jamie Mackintosh, Keven Mealamu (capt), John Afoa, Anthony Boric, Ali Williams, Kieran Read, Adam Thomson, Liam Messam.
Replacements: Corey Flynn, Neemia Tialata, Ross Filipo, Richie McCaw, Andy Ellis, Dan Carter, Cory Jane.

Far from the first team, but look at that bench! If Scotland are anywhere close to a result with 15 to go expect them to pour that lot on and still beat us by 40 points. Am also disappointed that Rory Lamont or the big Stroker are nowhere to be seen, having been in better form than SRBlog favourites Hugo Southwell and Big Jason. They didn’t have to pick him just so we can shout Hugooooooooooooo…

Can We Beat The All Blacks?

After the widely derided World Cup ‘B’ Team played against New Zealand on their last visit to Murrayfield, it will be interesting to test our full XV against the might All Blacks. Your fearless Scottish Rugby Blog correspondent will be in attendance. But can we (unlike Scubbsy) man up, and get a result?

Yes We Can:

  • They have lost a few first choice players. Either to the Northern Hemisphere (Chris Jack, Carl Hayman, Luke McAllister et al) and to injury (Andrew Hore). The frightening strength in depth of the pre-World Cup era in depth seems to be absent. After another choke in the World Cup, Kiwi support for Graeme Henry is balanced on a knife edge and depends only, you feel, on the results they get. For the first time, the All Blacks seem almost fallible.
  • We get them first. They will be fresh in the country, getting used to the crappy weather we have made our national speciality. They definitely looked a little rusty against Australia. The big one for them is in four weeks against England. We’re just a warm up. Regardless of what they might say, they won’t be targeting this as a tough match. Let’s hope we can catch them off guard with a decent performance before they gel too well. Our players are mostly match sharp and some (Murray, Barclay, Taylor, Blair, Rory Lamont, Thom Evans) are in pretty good – even great – form.
  • The All Black set piece was looking a little ropey against the Aussies. If Euan Murray can continue his current form perhaps he can reverse the current tales of front row woe that we are used to. Hadden’s choice of second row might of course affect our ability in this area too. My choice would be MacLeod and Taylor, but that is looking less likely. If we can get parity and hold our defence, we have a chance. A slim one, but a chance.
  • Wayne Barnes is the referee. While one hopes that he is not anxious to make amends to the nation of the Long White Cloud for allowing that forward pass, he has been solid all season and is one of the referees who is definitely upholding the new protocols regarding the breakdown. We’ve been playing under them all season. The Kiwis have only had the ANZ Cup and one Bledisloe Cup test to get used to the much stricter refereeing of that area. In particular, flopping over the ball to protect it is an area that could see Richie McCaw either deliver a masterclass (from which John Barclay will learn much) or be penalised off the park.

No We Can’t:

  • It’s the All Blacks, for pete’s sakes. We’ve never beaten them. Ever. Played 27, lost 25, drawn 2. The last draw was in 1983. We haven’t bothered going there on a summer tour since 2000. It’s no fun getting whipped on your summer holiday.
  • The frightening strength in depth only seems to be absent because we haven’t heard of any of them this side of the world. Let’s face it, Stephen Donald would walk into the Scotland XV. He even kicks a bit like Parko. Corey Jane may sound like a girl’s name, but as Al pointed out once, so does Nikki Walker. Whichever back three they play it will be talented, very fast and there on merit. Can we say the same?
  • We’ll probably play Dan Parks. You don’t have to play a kicking game under the new ELVs, but it does seem to happen a fair bit. Ergo Hadden may feel he must play Parks. It’s the fashion. Nevermind the sense that Mike Brewer talks about wanting to score tries. We’ll probably also play some other guys short of match practice or form  (White, Webster, Paterson) ahead of less experienced, in-form players.
  • Scotland have only had a few days to work together. Some of our likely inclusions (Strokosch, Rory Lamont) have been disruptively recalled to their clubs this weekend. Lamont was not picked for Sale yesterday, so he didn’t really need to go. It doesn’t help.
  • Our strength in depth is also frightening, in a different sense. Possible Kiwi frailties in the centre could be countered if we had a few more experienced operators in that area. If he’s given a chance, this test series could be the making of Ben Cairns, not to mention Nick De Luca. These matches would be ideal for giving these guys and Max Evans chance to get experience at test level. But because of the pressure for World Cup seedings (is it really going to happen?) Hadden may opt for the conservative route. Our one area of genuine depth, the back row – is the area where they have Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo.

In short, Scotland will have to play the game of their lives simply to stay in contention. Putting aside the World Cup draw (even as a third seed, we could still end up with a group involving say, Argentina and Ireland which wouldn’t be that scary) there’s nothing to lose, and with a little luck, a little slice of history to gain.

More light…

Further gloom in the scrum half department as McMillan has picked up a training injury too, although he is expected to recover and Lawson may not be as bad as first feared.

Interesting to see NZ have picked Carter and Smith in the centre for the warm up against Oz. Looking at their squad backs, even if they look to blood younger inexperienced players – which they may well do vs Scotland – they will still pose a big threat. Which makes me want to pee my pants a little seeing as I have a ticket.

New Zealand team to face Australia: Mils Muliaina, Hosea Gear, Conrad Smith, Dan Carter, Sitiveni Sivivatu; Stephen Donald, Jimmy Cowan; Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Neemia Tialata, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (capt), Rodney So’oialo.
Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Greg Somerville, Anthony Boric, Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Ma’a Nonu, Isaia Toeava.

Thank goodness for strength in depth

Bad news for Scotland’s squad preparations for the “autumn” (it’s already winter here in the north) internationals came yesterday with announcements that scrum halves Chris Cusiter (thumb), Rory Lawson (ribs) and centre Graeme Morrison would all be unavailable. Luckily Mark McMillan is able to step into the breach – he’s been in form for Glasgow, and it’s good to have a Heineken Cup winner and former U21 captain to call on. It’s a big blow for Cusiter, who always seems like he gets injured just as he is hitting form. Nikki Walker will also join the squad, having been released by the Ospreys. Morrison’s absence leaves the midfield looking a little lightweight – especially considering they may have to face big lads like Nonu and De Villiers running at them – could it be Rob Deweytime again?