The Highs and Lows of a Scottish Weekend…

We had two wins, a draw and a loss from various national teams. Sounds alright, doesn’t it? However, the public’s opinion of Scottish rugby is shaped entirely by the fortunes of the national side. Every other result is a bonus (or a continued indicator of the fallow years to come; although thankfully this doesn’t seem to be the case!). So let’s put each result in context…

The Scottish Women’s team overcame their French counterparts 10-8 at Lasswade on Saturday giving them the perfect start to their 6N campaign. I cannot testify to knowing too much about women’s rugby, but as a result against regular opponents this looks pretty good and show that a minority, in an already minor sport, can still thrive.

Something I can testify to (allegedly) knowing about is the fortunes of the Scottish Club International side. The team fought hard to win 13-9 in an intense, if not end to end globetrotter-style, match.  Much like the Women’s match conditions didn’t favour an exciting, mercurial contest but the endeavour was there. Even 2000 folk braved the dreich Border’s weather to watch. Also, the crowd still got treated to a physical display and some hard running from the likes of Kelly and Weston as well as some great defence from Clapperton and co. What this did show was that Amateur rugby here is improving all the time and more than compares with the French opposition (although comparing myself to my opposite man on Friday night was more like comparing myself to my own father- he looked like he was in his 40’s!).

The under-20s drew 8-all with their French foils. While not the perfect score, it was better than losing! Also, the performances of highly rated youngsters like Maltman and McInally shows the potential we have here. We also have yet another Blair at 10, and lord knows we’re all hoping he proves to be a genius! Rory was at the game, so he will be better placed to tell you if they are likely to win against Wales down there, but the future may seem bright in some areas of that team.

And then there was Sunday. I, for one, am weary of over analysing, but when the shortcomings are that obvious it is rude not to point them out. We all know what they are. 1) The backline are standing so deep during second phase it is surprising they can even see Chris Cusiter. 2) While Johnnie Beattie played outstandingly well in the loose yesterday, it was verging on the cruel the longer he left the ball in the back of the scrum. 3) If a team stands in attack in two banks, most standing in a flat line and some standing in a small group deeper and wider, then we become bamboozled.  Twice Bastreaud was in the second group ready to receive passes direct from the flatter group and he scored. Once Clerc, brilliantly tap tackled by Kelly Brown and held up by Evans, broke from a similar situation. 4) Next time (i.e. against Wales) please give the ball to someone quick enough to make an inside break when facing a blitz defence.  5) Jonathan Davies is more annoying than a postal gold advert.

The good thing is, though, that it was still only 9 points we lost by. Look after the ball without forcing the play and we might be alright…maybe?!

So what did you make of the day? What would you do if you were Robbo? And what is going to unlock an equally depressed Welsh team?!

And Then Ends Again

I will still get up all excited next Saturday morning/afternoon to see what the day’s rugby brings, but sadly I fear for Scotland it may be more of the same unless they can conjure some sort of direction in midfield. I have often praised World Class Phil but I think it was fairly clear today that a fair amount of work would need to be done for the nickname to be anything other than ironic. The pack was solid in defence and I thought up against some truly world class operators in Dusautoir and Harinordoquy (or Harrydonkey as jiffy seemed to call him) the Killer B back row (Beattie in particular) all acquitted themselves pretty well. Sean Lamont seems to have rediscovered his drive at Llanelli and looked back to the player we saw in 2006. Sadly there was no repeat of that result this time but at least he had several great breaks and a try-saving tackle. Anyone who caught his little outburst as the steadicam moved around the Scotland players at the end will have heard what losing the game meant to him. There is heart in this team, but then we never really doubted that.

What Scotland lacked today was any sort of posession, territory or platform. If the lineout is not working very well then kicking (poorly) to touch will not help. I thought Richie Gray did not look out of his depth at this level when he came on and might be worth more of a shot next week. Al Kellock threw himself about as usual but big Nathan was a bit quieter than usual.  The lineout throwing was poor again.

The less said about the scrum the better but there is no doubt that Euan Murray was missed, and that without Chunk’s extra bulk along from him Moray Low struggled against a canny French pack. Would we have won the game if Murray had played? I doubt it, but a try in the last 20 when Scotland started to make breaks and they would have only been 2 points down with Mossy still on the field and sitting on a 100% kicking record, and the subdued home crowd undoubtedly would have woken up. Certainly there would have been less time wasted messing about in scrums, but really France were too good at retaining posession, and too good also at pinching ours. Their half-backs were not perfect but they made sure the game went on where they wanted it to – Scotland’s half – and from there the game was only going one way.

And So It Begins

Good luck to all our teams in action tonight (Amateur International, the Under 20s and the Scotland A Team), tomorrow (the Women) and on Sunday. I have a new piece up on scrum.com’s fanzone previewing the big game – and lauding the P & J’s headline writers. In addition to A.D who has some exciting stuff coming up in future weeks, we’ve got another new writer Gregor who will be joining us shortly and dragging the blog into the web 2.0 era, so exciting stuff coming up over the Six Nations, hopefully some live-blogging of matches via our new twitter account: twitter.com/ScotRugbyBlog. More on this next week probably.

I have been informed that the Scotland A match vs Ireland A will be on the Telly for some via red button or BBC online, click here for more info (thanks to Andrew, may your button never be red).

But if you can get along to any of the games I would urge you to go along and show support for Scottish rugby at all levels.

Now go and watch this, and tell me you aren’t ready for the Six Nations.

Scotland U20 Team

Scotland U20 Team to face France U20
Backs: Tom Brown (Edinburgh Accies), Oliver Grove (Worcester Warriors), Jonny Kennedy (Sale Sharks), Alex Dunbar (Selkirk), Dougie Fife (Currie), Alex Blair (Edinburgh Accies), Alex Black (Leeds Carnegie)
Forwards: Craig Owensen (Heriot’s), Alun Walker (Currie), Colin Phillips (Stewart’s Melville), Robert Harley (West of Scotland), Grant Gilchrist (Stirling County), Michael Maltman (Heriot’s), David Denton (Edinburgh Accies), Stuart McInally CAPTAIN (Watsonians)

Replacements: Lindsey Gibson (Melrose), George Hunter (Glasgow Hawks), Matthew Reid (Heriot’s), Callum Stidston-Nott (London Scottish), Kris Hamilton (Caithness), Matthew Scott (Currie), James Johnstone (Currie)

At Inverness Caledonian Stadium, Friday 5th February, 7.30pm

Both scrum halves are “local”, with Alex Black Inverness born and Kris Hamilton repping Caithness from “just” up the road. There are plenty of well-kent names on show, if not faces (brothers of Groves and Blairs, sons of Taits and Kennedys). Hopefully there will be a good turn out – your faithful SRBlog correspondent will be at this one although less hands-on than our correspondent in the Amateur International!

Speaking of Blairs, it seems that Mike Blair has rejected overtures from the likes of Worcester and Ulster to stick with Edinburgh for another 2 years. I suppose this means I take back what I said about him moving on being a good thing…

Scotland A Team

Look, no BA jokes!

Scotland A Team to face Ireland A: Jim Thompson, Nikki Walker, Ben Cairns, Nick De Luca, Simon Danielli, Ruaridh Jackson, Mike Blair (Captain), Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Euan Murray, Scott MacLeod, Jim Hamilton, James Eddie, Scott Gray, Roddy Grant
Replacements: Andrew Kelly, Kyle Traynor, Craig Hamilton, Fraser McKenzie, Greig Laidlaw, Rob Dewey, John Houston

At Ravenhill, Belfast, Friday 5th, 7.30pm

Scotland Team for France

Scotland Team to face France: Paterson, T Evans, M. Evans, Morrison, Lamont, Godman, Cusiter, Dickinson, Ford, Low, Hines, Kellock, Brown, Barclay, Beattie
Replacements: S Lawson, Jacobsen, R Gray, MacDonald, R Lawson, Grove, Southwell

Good to see Richie Gray gets a spot on the bench, he Southwell and Grove will be looking to make an impact for sure – Grove is probably most unlucky not to make the starting XV. Still we know that if Morrison or Evans is not up to scratch Robbo will not be afraid to haul them off at the earliest opportunity. No Dan the man Parks in sight though despite recent form – Glasgow fans does this have you worried, or are you happy enough with the Killer Bs reunited at international level?

UPDATE: France: Clement Poitrenaud (Toulouse); Benjamin Fall (Bayonne), Mathieu Bastareaud (Stade Francais), Yannick Jauzion (Toulouse), Aurelien Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne); Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), Morgan Parra (Clermont); Thomas Domingo (Clermont), William Servat (Toulouse), Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Lionel Nallet (Racing-Metro), Pascal Pape (Stade Francais), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt), Fulgence Ouedraogo (Montpellier), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz).
Replacements: Dimitri Szarzewski (Stade Francais), Luc Ducalcon (Castres), Julien Pierre (Clermont), Julien Bonnaire (Clermont), Freddie Michalak (Toulouse), David Marty (Perpignan), Vincent Clerc (Toulouse).

They obviously saw Max Evans in the team and thought, who is the biggest lump they can throw at him?

PRIMO DOUBLE UPDATE: France bench updated 5/2, thanks to Nursedude

Scottish club International Team

Club International coach Ally Donaldson has named his starting XV and subs bench for Friday nights game against France at Netherdale (7.30 ko).

Glasgow Hawks lock, Rory McKay, Dundee prop Alan Brown and Melrose pair James King (centre) and Fraser Thomson (wing) have all earned their place in the starting XV for the first time. New caps also include Gregor Wood (Watsonians), Alastair Hamilton, Andrew MacMahon (both Currie), Paul Burke and Jamie Hunter (both Ayr) on the bench.

The coaching staff are eagerly looking forward to this game and are hoping to go one better after losing by a point in last years reverse fixture. Club International team manager, Ian Rankin said: “The days of French teams supposedly not traveling well is long gone. This French team will play with the classic French style – huge powerful forwards and lightning quick backs.

“But in this starting XV we have 11 players that faced the French last season, with another two poised to play from the bench who all know what they have to face.

“It’ll be a tough assignment but hopefully we can get a big Netherdale crowd out to back the team. I’ve heard the game is of big interest in the Borders but there are a lot of clubs represented by this team.

“There’s a real connection between the clubs and their players with the clubs taking a lot of pride and pleasure in being represented in the match. I think that’ll be measurable this Friday night.”

Scottish Club International Team to face France: Harkness (Selkirk); Thomson (Melrose), Clapperton (Boroughmuir), King (Melrose), Anderson (Melrose); Wight (Melrose), Snedden (Currie); Dymock (Heriot’s), Burnett (Heriot’s), Brown (Dundee), Kelly (Ayr), McKay (Glasgow Hawks), Dalziel (Melrose) CAPTAIN, Cairns (Currie), Weston (Currie).
Replacements: Wood (Watsonians), Reid (Ayr), Hamilton (Currie), Sutherland (Ayr), Burke (Ayr), Hunter (Ayr), MacMahon (Currie).

Entry is free on the night. Why not head down to Gala and support the Club International lads?

Stroker Out

Alisdair Strokosch will miss the Six Nations opener against France on Sunday having failed to recover in time from an ankle injury. His place in the team will probably be taken by in-form Kelly Brown given Jason White is also currently injured. This might affect the bench though, as Brown is pretty versatile whereas the likes of Gray or Rennie who are probably in line along with Macdonald are less so. Rory Lamont is still with the squad but will not be considered for selection as he too is recovering from an ankle injury.

A full Scotland team announcement will be at tomorrow around noon and I hope to have it for you as soon as possible after that!

Compress for Success

It had emerged over the weekend that Graham Lowe, the director of performance rugby in Scotland, intends to review the set-up of the top division. As coaches bemoan the lack of respect club sides get and call out for a semi-professional atmosphere in Scottish club rugby people are searching for alternatives. The main drive of Lowe’s review, it could be suggested, will be to make more money from Prem 1. A concept as elusive as Julien Malzieu (yeah, it’s time to get nervous/excited about Sunday already!).

Scottish club rugby needs a new way to generate excitement. But how do you make it more sexy?! The mainstream ideal tends to be cutting the league down to a more competitive 10 team league. In fact, if The Scotsman is to be believed, the powers that be at Hawks have produced a paper calling for the league to be reformatted to include 8 teams only. This, however, looks unlikely. One; because it is improbable that all the Prem 1 powers will agree on this but also because, two; it is doubtful that Lowe would propose such a grand change so soon into his tenure that could instantly alienate up to 6 clubs as 4 are relegated and 2 denied promotion.

It is obvious that change is needed in some degree. The truth is, however, that cutting the amount of teams alone would not guarantee that the premier club rugby competition in this country is more exciting. More competitive? Definitely. More entertaining? I, for one, am not convinced.

Excitement is what generates more interest. More interest generates more coverage. More coverage generates bigger attendances and more sponsorship. In short, ladies and gentlemen, excitement brings the bucks. So Prem 1 needs to foster the pluralist notion of entertainment and rivalry within a league, preferably shortened to 10 teams. Some remit, Mr. Lowe! You’d have an easier job convincing card-happy Hines that collecting yellows in the 6N is not a good thing.

Would a play-off between the top 4 teams at the end of the season create more buzz? Would a play-off at the bottom of the league create more buzz? How do we get the BBC or STV to show more of our ‘amateur’ games? Craig Chalmers has been saying for months that play-offs (at the top half of the table at least) would not only initiate interest but give local broadcasters a better package to work with. This would definitely seem more marketable.

As well as this theory, Lowe is said to be considering an SPL-style split at a certain point in the season where the top-half teams fight for the title while the bottom-half teams scrap for survival. This would engender a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality, but seems to lack the market appeal of a shorter play-off product. Either way the mission is clear. Get more punters; thrill more punters; take cash off more punters. As a punter, I’m just hoping the league retains some of its classic rivalries while offering a fair opportunity for teams to earn a league title. And some unexpected high scoring results wouldn’t go amiss, either, thank you Mr. Director!

Premier 1 round-up

Good old Scotland! Once again the fixture list was all but wiped out at the weekend as only one match in Prem 1 survived.

Stewart’s Melville 22-53 Heriot’s
at Inverleith

In the end this was a bit of a drubbing, and had Stew Mel coach Moffat conceeding, “There isn’t a lot of pressure on us now. I think it’s fairly inevitable that we are going down so in that respect it’s just about us performing and trying to bring through some young players.”

 Stew Mel were the better team, though, in the first 15 minutes or so. They put pace onto the ball and generated momentum from the first kick-off. Ker supplied Marshall well and between them they picked their holes in the first 5 of the game, creating two tries and instilling a sense of bewilderment in the Away side. Luckily for the men in blue and white they didn’t panic. The rest of the first half saw them look after the ball and their forwards made sure the Nails backline had a platform for the rest of the game. Marshall, Ker and Henry all had accomplished games but in the end the disparity in fitness and creativity seemed to shine through. There were  too many tries from Heriot’s to analyse each one (although the pick of the bunch was ‘CJ’ Osazuwa’s rangy slide across the pitch to pop to Douglas for an easy finish).    

 Without a bonus point for Stew Mel are certain to go down but, as Moffat says, they can still enjoy themselves and with the quality they possess will most likely bounce straight back up after a season in Prem 2 (if the leagues retain their current format!)   

Stewart’s Melville: R Borthwick; A Cox, H Lingard, C Marshall, L Steele; S Ker, R Patterson; A Edmonstone, C Mackintosh, R Grant, B Leathes, S Brewster, B Tweedie, L Calder, P Hendry.
Replacements Used: A Statham, S Blackwood, C Sutherland, A Lean, J Gordon.
Heriot’s: C Goudie; B Roberts, M Nimmo, R Mill, A Douglas; R Hutton, G Wilson; A Dymock, S Burnett, W Blacklock, C Osazuwa, P O’Connor, P Eccles, C Fusaro, J Syme.
Replacements Used: F Gillies, M Welch, J Hill, J Alston, G Rutherford.

Scoring Summary
Stewart’s Melville Ker (2), Steele; Cons: Ker (2); Pen: Ker.
Heriot’s Douglas, Roberts, O’Connor (2), Goudie, Syme (2), Gillies; Cons: Wilson (5); Pen: Wilson.
SRB Man of the Match: B Roberts

That’s your lot, I’m afraid!

Good Luck Murray

No, not the Scotland shirt sponsor, or indeed Euan aka Murray Squared (Murray in a shirt saying Murray) or Moray Low aka Moray Cubed (Moray from Moray in a shirt that says Murray).

What I mean of course is good luck to Andy Murray in the Australian Open Tennis final which happens on Sunday at around 8am I think (for viewers in UK). No doubt if he wins they will try and find an excuse to parade him at Murrayfield during the upcoming Six Nations. So let’s hope so!

Premier 1 games this weekend

Games on;

Stewart’s Melville – Heriot’s
at Inverleith (ko 3pm)

Glasgow Hawks – Edinburgh Accies 
at Old Anniesland (ko 3pm)

Dundee High – Boroughmuir
at Mayfield (ko 3pm)

West of Scotland – Currie
at Burnbrae (ko 3pm)

Selkirk – Ayr
at Philiphaugh (ko 3pm)

SRB Game of the Weekend: Melrose – Watsonians
at The Greenyards (ko 2.30pm)

Having lost convincinglyagainst Heriot’s last week the ‘Rose will be hoping to bounce back against a Watsonians side refreshed by their first home victory of the season. Both of these sides thrive when running into a broken field so the tactical awareness of Wight and Ker could prove pivotal. Melrose will be wanting to explode into the game from the start, while Watsons will most likely look to build a game. ‘Sonians have had difficulty killing off opponents this season and if Melrose edge in front they could hold on til the end of the game, regardless of ‘Sonians renewed belief. The loss of influencial line-out specialist Mark Rennie cannot help the Edinburgh side, either. Let’s hope this one builds to an exciting finish.

Players to watch: Melrose’s James King and Watsonians Jonny Pelter

SRU Survey

SRU Supporter survey with a chance to win Calcutta Cup tickets:

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Don’t forget to mention Scottish Rugby Blog in your answer to #3!

Also just to complete my public service announcements for the week here are the details for any of you thinking about grabbing some last minute tickets for the France game next weekend, there are still approx 8,000 tickets available:

Tickets can be bought now – in person from the Murrayfield Ticket Centre, via the 24-hour hotline on 0844 335 3933 or online at www.scottishrugby.org (there are no ticket sales on match day).

EXTENDED TICKET CENTRE OPENING HOURS
The Murrayfield Ticket Centre opening hours are as follows:
25-29 January – 9am – 5pm
Sat 30 January – 10am – 4pm
Sun 31 January – CLOSED
1-5 February – 9am – 8pm
Sat 6 February – 10am – 5pm
Sun 7 February – 9 am onwards collections only