P&J Ditches Clermont, Moves To Glasgow…And So Does Chris Cusiter

Chris Cusiter has in fact signed for Glasgow, rumours in L’Equipe to the contrary. This means they will now have former Wasp Mark McMillan (when he returns to fitness) as well as Colin Gregor to cover scrum half, perhaps a sign of the growing depth in Scottish rugby. I don’t know where it leaves Sam Pinder though, other than perhaps playing in National One. Rumours were that the SRU had offered Cusiter a record high salary to tempt him back and away from the jaws of Clermont Auvergne – whether this is the case or not remains to be seen. We’ll probably find out if the SRU declares insolvency.

With one of the best scrum halves in the world currently (yes I said it) in Mike Blair holding down the 9 shirt and the captaincy, Cusiter obviously believes he needs to be closer to Frank Hadden’s office if he is to return to his Scotland and Lion halcyon days. For those of the rest of us who don’t see much French rugby it will be interesting to see what sort of player the Francophised (not a word, I know) Cusiter is. I bet Glasgow don’t let him call the line-outs…

Clermont set to become P & J’s Favourite Rugby Team

Lovers of all things Aberdonian such as the above mentioned newspaper may be interested in rumours that Chris Cusiter is not coming “home” to Glasgow (and possibly crippling the SRU salary budget) but off to join fellow North East man Jason White at Clermont Auvergne. According to an article in French sports paper L’Equipe (and I’m paraphrasing here from the French):

This is not yet official, but Chris Cusiter should play for Clermont next season. After two years in Perpignan, the Scottish international scrum-half  (age 26, 39 caps) chose to join the Auvergne club  where he will be in competition with Morgan Parra of Bourgouin. Indeed, the French international has just signed to ASM for the four next seasons. This transfer confirms a little more the departure of Pierre Mignoni. The international (age 31, 28 caps) will leave Clermont after six years of faithful service, and should join Toulon, the club where he began his professional career.

To be honest it’s probably sensible, given Glasgow’s Mark McMillan was going well until his injury and they have backup in Colin Gregor and I suppose Sam Pinder. It might hurt his international chances but Hadden has so far been fair. When he wasn’t playing for Perpignan,  he wasn’t for Scotland either. Now he is playing and in form too, he’s back in the squad and sure to hold down at least the bench scrum half spot. Maybe out of favour Rory Lawson should come back to Glasgow instead?

Further information on some other potential Scotland transfers mentioned a while back can be found in the Telegraph, of all places, including news that Edinburgh may be after lock Scott Macleod but are definitely not after Rob Dewey… which is fair enough as locks are what they need at the moment…

France Playing Loony Tunes Again

France’s Coach Marc Lievremont has named a Six Nations squad shorn of Vincent Clerc (one of the standouts of last year), and with only one “dedicated” stand-off in Lionel Beauxis, who has not played exclusively in that position for Stade having been over shadowed by Argentinian Juan Martin Hernandez. Still, it does feature some of the usual suspects (Jauzion, Heymans, Rougerie, Elissalde, Chabal, Dusautoir) alongside those I’ve never heard of, despite watching a fair amount of European rugby this year.

Still, look what happened to us last time we said “oh check out crazy Marc, we might have a chance here”. Scotland were going to win the Six Nations by kicking off with a victory against a novice French team, and we got humped 6-27 at home. This time round, Ireland are the guinea pigs.

France squad – Backs: Maxime Medard, Clement Poitrenaud, Cedric Heymans (all Toulouse), Alexis Palisson (Brive), Julien Malzieu, Aurelien Rougerie (both Clermont-Auvergne), Yannick Jauzion, Florian Fritz (both Toulouse), Benoit Baby (Clermont-Auvergne), Maxime Mermoz (Perpignan), Lionel Beauxis (Stade Francais), Jean-Baptiste Elissalde (Toulouse), Sebastien Tillous-Borde (Castres), Morgan Parra (Bourgoin).
Forwards: Julien Bonnaire (Clermont-Auvergne), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse), Fulgence Ouedraogo, Louis Picamoles (both Montpellier), Damien Chouly (Perpignan), Sebastien Chabal (Sale), Lionel Nallet (Castres), Romain Millo-Chluski (Toulouse), Jerome Thion (Biarritz), Guilhem Guirado (Perpignan), Benjamin Kayser (Leicester), Dimitri Szarzewski (Stade Francais), Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Lionel Faure (Sale), Fabien Barcella (Biarritz), Fabien Lecouls (Toulouse).

In other news on the rest of my trawl around the Sky Sports Rugby site I found an intriguing ad offering me a 3/1 bet on England for an outright win in the Six Nations, which if had had any tea in my mouth would have made me spray it all over my screen. I also found Stuart Barnes extolling the virtues of Glasgow and John Barclay, Will Greenwood naming Glasgow in 3 of his 5 thingies “of the Week” awards and a Lions XV “Team of the Week” where Ally Kellock and Max Evans were the only Scots. Still, some of the ludicrous pro-irish XV selections in the comments were quite a laugh. Tomas O’ Leary? C’mon.

Enjoy the Heineken Cup weekend coming up in which Edinburgh are out to spoil Leinster’s party, and Glasgow are out to umm, not lose against the Dragons again. Next week I – or hopefully we, ahem – will start the Six Nations buildup, this being the time of year when Al comes out of his cave with a big bag of tuppences…

Scotland Six Nations Training Squad

Scotland coach Frank Hadden springs the odd surprise in today’s announcement of his 33 man Six Nations training squad, most notably the addition of tyro Glasgow fly-half Ruaridh Jackson, presumably rewarded for a storming game against Bath in the Heineken Cup. While it’s unlikely that Jackson will make the test 22s (barring injury), he should learn much at training at this level. It’s good that Hadden is starting to bring young players on to a big stage sooner in the same way that Australia or France have done in recent years. If he can handle it, why not? Maybe Frank has grown a pair. Or maybe it is just the influence of crazy Gregor Townsend.

Other newcomers/returnees include prop Geoff Cross and winger Simon Danielli. Absentees include Rob Dewey, Scott MacLeod and the injured Rory Lamont and Matt Mutschin who will be sad to miss out on his Six Nations debut, having come to international rugby late in his career. I’m glad to see Chris Cusiter – who has been a regular fixture for Perpignan depsite rumours of a move to Clermont with big Jason or a possible return home to Glasgow – back in the fold. Ally Kellock may also have played his way back into at least a bench spot with some recent strong, feisty performances. having said that, now that Simon Taylor is playing almost exclusively at lock for Stade, perhaps he or Jason White will get a run there. That might be the real test of how willing Hadden (who I believe sees Taylor as an 8 ) is to throw the dice.

This squad may well be trimmed down somewhat before the final selections are made for the Six Nations which kicks off against Wales on the 8th of February. What would be your team selection based on these?

Scotland squad:

Backs: Mike Blair (capt), Ben Cairns (both Edinburgh), Chris Cusiter (Perpignan), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Thom Evans, Max Evans (both Glasgow Warriors), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Sean Lamont (Northampton Saints), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Graeme Morrison, Dan Parks (both Glasgow Warriors), Chris Paterson, Hugo Southwell and Simon Webster (all Edinburgh)

Forwards: John Barclay, Kelly Brown (both Glasgow Warriors), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Craig Hamilton, Jim Hamilton (both Edinburgh), Nathan Hines (Perpignan), Allister Hogg, Allan Jacobsen (both Edinburgh), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais), Jason White (Sale Sharks).

The Emperor’s New Clothes

So the new blog theme is finally completed, I hope you like it. There may be a few little adjustments to be made here and there so if you spot anything wonky please let me know. Suggestions gratefully received for version 3.0! One thing I am working on is a “classics” header for the archive section similar to the one above but with players of a slightly older vintage. If any of you have any pictures they’d be most welcome.

I’ve also taken this opportunity to update some of the pages like the Scottish Rugby on TV list which is now a pretty comprehensive guide to watching rugby (not just Scottish) on TV in the UK. I’d still like to get channel details from readers overseas (US, Canada, Aus, NZ etc) who might want to help spread the rugby gospel and help ex-pats or interested parties keep up with the boys in navy. Not the boys in the navy, mind, though we wish them well too. The About Us page has been freshened up too, with a bit more information on how you loyal readers could help out the blog if you were so inclined.

Speaking of which, I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out we have a new social bookmarking site on our links, namely Punditit. Fraser got in touch to tell us a bit about the new site:

Punditit is a great new website that aims to make it very easy to find the sports stories on the web that are worth reading. When you find an interesting sports story anywhere on the web that you want to share, simply submit the URL to Punditit. The link will then appear on the New News page and if it gets enough votes it will move to the Front Page. As all the stories on the Front Page have been voted there by Punditit’s expert community of users you know they are worth reading. A simple concept that makes things easier for all of us, so go to Punditit get voting for Scottish Rugby Blog Stories now!

I’ve been over there and although it covers a lot of sports, rugby is definitely not shunted into the background so it’s worth a look. And we don’t have to talk about rugby all the time… I’ll be back later with news of the Scotland squad announcement due today.

Glasgow Beat Toulouse

Toulouse 26 – 33 Glasgow

Yes, you read that correctly. A historic result for Glasgow Rugby today saw Glasgow shock pre-tournament favourites and poster boys of French Club rugby Toulouse in the Heineken Cup. Not only that, but they did it in Toulouse, forcing the home crowd to suffer a range of emotions from histrionic booing through stunned silence and frantic cheering as their team chased what was in the end a losing bonus point. Glasgow opened hard and kept phenomenal pressure up on Toulouse’s attack. From a back division this skilled – Michalak, Clerc, Ellisalde, Poitrenaud among them – it was telling that their handling was made to look poor as they tried to get into  gear. Man of the Match Max Evans had a wonky moment early on as he chipped rather than cleared from his own line, but Toulouse failed to capitalise and from then on he was at the heart of Glasgow’s attack. Dan Parks, in at the last minute for promising youngster Ruaridh Jackson, did little wrong and distributed well to the powerful Morrison and threatening Evans boys. Thom Evans in particular is on a hot streak where everything he tries comes off. We can only hope the bounce of the ball will continue to go his way during the Six Nations, where he must start – his defence is now swiftly catching up on his attack. Morrison also did plenty to cement his grip on the Scotland 12 shirt. With Paterson playing at 10 for 30 mins yesterday after Godman took a hamstring knock, Parks may well yet have a part to play in Scotland’s Six Nations too.

After taking a 9-22 lead in at half time, Glasgow found themselves on the receiving end of a blistering Toulouse attack. Guy Noves emptied out his bucket marked “cavalry” and brought on the likes of Florian Fritz, Byron Kelleher and Fabian Pelous. The game was tranformed as the passes stuck (for the most part) and Glasgow’s attacking ball was stifled. Sustained pressure saw a penalty try from a scrum, a few kicks and some more typical Toulouse back play leading to a try. Here were go, you thought, as Glasgow seemed to be opened up at will by Kelleher’s darting breaks and the gap on the scoreboard closed bit by bit: normal service resumed.

Only it wasn’t. After a quick bought of fisticuffs that saw Ellisalde and Barclay sin-binned, Glasgow seemed to weather the storm. Max Evans even scored another try. The crowd went quiet as they slowly realised the unthinkable was about to happen. Toulouse were going to lose. By the time they could only kick for a losing bonus point with the last play of the game –  an undeserved victory long since out of reach thanks to Glasgow’s miserly defence – the furious booing had started. One senses it may continue for some time in the South of France.

But here in Scotland: nothing but cheering.

Friday Night Special

Edinburgh 32 – 14 Castres

Quick update on Edinburgh’s abortive Heineken Cup campaign: tonight they have claimed a decent home victory against an under-strength Castres side. Tries from Cairns, Godman, Ford and his replacement Kelly ensure a bonus point which will go nicely towards their draw seedings for next year’s competition if little else. Just back from a rib injury, Mossy got on for about half an hour – presumably at standoff – but more worrying news is Nick De Luca’s 21st minute substitution which suggests an injury of some sort. It might make the centre picks for the Six Nations a little easier I suppose, with Morrison and Cairns the clear favourites in De Luca’s absence. Injury news as we get it!

UPDATE: Godman was taken off with a hamstring knock as a precaution, so that could be worrying. Nick De Luca went off with a head knock but should be fine in a week or two.

Stephen Jones Says Something Agreeable 2 Weeks Running

There must be something in the water…

Townsend Turning
They recently announced some figures in Scotland that purported to show a major revolution in the sport north of the border, with increased numbers playing the game and watching the professional teams.

All very fine, although if you delved beneath the figures you found that, basically, Jock McTavish and his mate had started to play rugby for someone’s under-13s and that Jimmy Stewart has agreed to go to watch Edinburgh now and again provided it’s not raining.

Still, good luck to them, a Scotland rugby revival is the next key to the well-being of the RBS Six Nations and even small rises are turning a tide. And, in my opinion, that revival came a little closer last week when it was announced that Gregor Townsend, the former Scotland back, had joined Frank Hadden’s coaching set-up – this after an odd period when Townsend seemed to have been banished to the outer limits.

The choice is superb. I have always regarded Townsend as a genius, although not without flaws. He didn’t pick the best time to be born, since his deftness, passing, ability to put people into space and all-round expertise were somewhat wasted. Those outside him in the Scotland teams for which he played between 1993 and 2003 were not on his wavelength, some were not even on the same planet.

Look what happened when they gave him players to bounce off – he was able to marshal the 1997 Lions to victory in South Africa. A career that took him to Northampton, Brive and Castres also gave him a wider vision. I used to love watching him end on, to see him work his angles. His wisdom and modest manner could well herald a revival in Scotland back play and something better in terms of the scoreboard. Those are the numbers that really matter.

Full article can be found on the Times Website.

Scotland vs Ireland Looking Close to Sell-Out

A bit of actual news reporting for you here! Your faithful correspondent was up at the crack of dawn today to try and snare a couple of the last few cheap seats for Scotland’s Six Nations Clash with Ireland. By the end of the waiting process the following was clear: no “cheap” ie £30 pairs of tickets left anywhere in the stadium, let alone 4! However due to some cunning use of the “back” button (that “nearby seat finder” thing is rubbish) and randomly adding single tickets to the basket, I eventually managed to get hold of two close to each other separated only by a couple of rows in a glorious and hopeflly dry corner of the lower North Stand. This means that at least one match this Six Nations will have full Scottish Rugby Blog coverage. But probably not this particular one, as we’ll have been in the pub all day. Furthermore the SRU website reports that 4,500 tickets were sold in the first hour this morning. Reportedly first in the queue for tickets in person was a young man unwilling to reveal his identity to the SRU press office as he’d taken a sickie off work to grab the tickets. As usual no tickets are on sale on match day, so get yours now – a sensible enough policy for the big matches which usually sell out anyway but for the Autumn Ints and Italy, it’s a bit silly. They could probably pick up a few extra quid and lord knows they need it. Once those cheapest seats are all gone it’s the “luxury” of the West Stand… Tickets are also still available for Scotland vs Wales and Scotland vs Italy. You can also try our advertiser links in the top right as well so no excuse (other than impending global financial catastrophe) for not supporting the boys.

Why Ireland, you ask? Well, because we might beat them, I’d reply. And I’ve been at the last two home Calcutta Cups not to mention a couple of stiffings by the All Blacks and I’d quite like to see something fun in a full stadium. Okay beating England was fun, but hardly a rugby spectacle. Whether this wish will be fulfilled by the men in green from across the sea is another matter.

Still, the craic will be good.

Pro Team Results

Edinburgh – rubbish game of rugby – “turgid” according to BBC Ulster commentators – little atmosphere (even with Matt Williams to rib), yet Edinburgh come away with a 21-15 victory at Murrayfield after a blistering early start. Southwell, Blair and Hogg gathered the early plaudits.

Glasgow – lots of pace and running about, an exciting match right to the last play of the ball on the Dragons try line, multiple line breaks, people scoring tries from their own half and a referee who allowed rucking with the feet to the delight of the assembled BBC Scotland commentators (all forwards). Yet Glasgow are defeated 3 tries to 1 and lost 20-25.

What can you do, huh?

Toony Army Marches On

The SRU announced today via their shiny new website that former Scotland and Lions (not to mention Gala, Northampton, Brive, Warringah, Sharks etc etc) standoff and centre Gregor Townsend is to take over the coaching of Scotland’s back division for the upcoming Six Nations. While this is certain to set the fingers muttering in Al’s neck of the woods due to Gregor’s, shall we say, inconsistencies as a player, I reckon it could be a good move. Edinburgh’s backs (Godman and Cairns in particular) seem to have benefitted from his recent input by showing a bit more of a cutting edge, and his mentoring scheme of pairing young Scottish talent with past masters such as Gavin Hastings, Sean Fitzpatrick and, er, himself was the envy of many, including All Black Kevin Mealamu. And besides, Parks and World Class Phil already know plenty about throwing intercept passes and running up their own backsides.

He also has more coaching qualifications than his Lions captain and current England manager Martin Johnson, so far as I can find out.

It’s Rob Dewey Time

It’s about that time of year when the pre-Six Nations player roundabout starts, so with that in mind I have a few snippets for you.

Rob Dewey returns to Murrayfield this week (alongside former Scotland coach and silver surfer Matt Williams) with Ulster, and rumours are flying that he has begun negotiations with the SRU for a more permanent return to these shores. As yet it is unclear where he will settle his ship – The Times seems to think Glasgow, while the Scotsman seems to think Edinburgh (and also mentions they may be interested in Scott MacLeod too which – despite his other troubles – would be a good signing in rugby terms). Edinburgh already have three promising young centres in Houston, De Luca and Cairns while Glasgow would have been a more obvious choice were it not for the appearance this season of Max Evans, giving them three decent centres also (Evans, Henderson, Morrison). Where do you fit in Dewey? As a battering ram 12 it is more likely to be at Edinburgh where the midfield is a little lightweight. But will that do anyone any good with regards to the national setup? After all, there are only two shirts to fill week in, week out – so someone’s development will be hampered. I still maintain you could swap Cairns and De Luca around, but nobody listens. Also, what happened to Al’s bête noire Marcus Di Rollo? Last we heard he was stuck at Toulouse unable to play there for medical reasons, and forbidden to leave and play anywhere else. An investigation beckons…

Big Jason White is to leave Sale Sharks at the end of this season to join ASM Clermont Auvergne. Glasgow had been hopeful of returning the former Scotland skipper north of the border, but White is clearly looking to pastures new after 5-odd years in Manchester. He’ll join the likes of Elvis Vermeulen and Julien Bonnaire in the back row at Clermont.

“I was very impressed by the organization, the structures, the team and the ambitions of the club. Clermont belongs to the best European clubs and I think that it is likely here there is a real chance to gain titles. I always wanted to play in France and the prospect to discover a new culture and a new language is very exciting.” (apologies for the Babelfish translation)

No Scottish rugby on TV tonight, (unless perhaps you have Setanta) but coverage on BBC Radio Scotland as usual. Glasgow take on the Dragons who feature ex-Glasgow man Andy Hall in their squad, and will be looking to cement their form with a victory over the often troublesome Dragons. Edinburgh as mentioned above face Ulster, and feature a back row shorn of Ross Rennie (now out for the season) and Alan MacDonald (head knock) so Simon Cross and academy sevens man Roddy Grant come in. Still, Ally Hogg – who played in all of Matt Williams’ games in charge of Scotland – will be there to hold down the fort.

Stephen Jones Big Ups Big Nathan

Ahh, some sense at last. In his most recent Rolling Maul (well worth a read for many reasons, primarily it seems as something to argue with your PC screen about) the esteemed Sunday Times Rugby correspondent has highlighted Big Nathan’s possible usefulness as a Lions tourist:

Nathan Hines (Perpignan)

He has had his injury problems, he has had his moody periods – notably when he decided to retire from Scotland, although in the dire reign of Matt Williams as coach this was seen as compulsory, not disloyal.

Hines, however, is hardcore. Someone has to stand opposite Bakkies Botha on tour and give back in kind everything Bakkies dishes out, in deed or word. At present, Hines seems to be the leading candidate to out-Bakkies Bakkies. He is big, tough and uncompromising, and if you can become a hero in a tough place like Perpignan then you have it all going for you.

You can get the full thing here.