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?

Scotland Squad and Lions Coaches Announced

Scott Gray makes a surprise and (if he continues current form) welcome return to the Scotland National squad, while in form Max Evans and Geoff Cross make up the uncapped contingent. No real suprises otherwise but a few points:

  • Good to see Hadden’s picked some genuine 7s.
  • Not too many locks there though – Hamilton and Hines are the only genuine ones, so expect cover from Mutschin or Taylor (vindicated). Scott MacLeod may yet make it, test results/appeal pending (see previous post). No sign of Scott Murray who looked good in Montauban’s near miss against Munster.
  • All the usual suspects in the backs, though it could be Lawson that misses out rather than Cusiter this time
  • They seem to be heading for warm-weather training in Spain. With all the games being played in Novermber (including one practically in the North Sea) would they not be better training in Reykjavik?
  • For me Barclay and Euan Murray are probably the only certs in the forwards, and Blair in the backs. Highly recommended picks would be Godman, Evans and Cairns also but I guess that comes down to Hadden’s tactics. There is plenty of scope for picking a form team rather than a favourites team.
  • My starting (form) XV to face New Zealand would be: Lamont R, Evans T, Cairns, Morrison, Lamont S (maybe Mossy), Godman, Blair, Hogg, Barclay, Strokosch, Taylor, Hines, Murray, Ford, Dickinson. I imagine he’ll play Parks and Mossy in there somewhere though as Godman’s goal kicking may not be reliable enough – kicks could be our only source of points after all…

In other news of the un-surprising nature, most of Wales’ coaching staff were announced as the Lions backroom team plus team doctor and Scotsman James Robson. Gatland, Howley, Edwards and McGeechan certainly sounds bloody good on paper, even if it decimates Wales’ touring party in the summer. But then the Lions squad selection might have done that anyway. Shane Williams, James Hook, Ryan Jones and Martin Williams are all shoe-ins if you ask me. Also, Sky pundit Dick Best advocated Allan “Chunk” Jacobsen as a possible midweek Lion last weekend. The campaign starts now… and there’ll be more Lions preview stuff in the coming weeks.

MacLeod faces second drug test probe

Bit of breaking news: ahead of Frank Hadden’s announcement of his reduced squad to face New Zealand next month, lock Scott MacLeod has thrown his availability into severe doubt with the revelations that he has reportedly failed a second drug test, this time for “higher than permitted levels of testosterone”. MacLeod has insisted he is innocent and awaits the results of testing on his backup B sample. In the mean time he will be suspended from training or playing. Which makes it look even more likely that Hadden could be playing a back rower – or Scott Murray – in the second row come November. With White short of game time and Taylor playing regular first team rugby in that position, it looks like Taylor could be the answer. Unless of course Perpignan were just hiding big Nathan to keep him fresh for the Top 14 and he is fit and healthy…

Weekend Roundup

Glasgow 9-15 Toulose
In the first half this was there for the taking, but by the time the second half got into its stride so did Toulose, With a couple of moments of typical clinical brilliance from Jauzion and Skrela forcing Glasgow to chase the result, and they actually came very close on a couple of occasions. In a country where wings are now either of the “bulky and powerful” or “dancing feet and turning ball over” variety, Thom Evans is starting to look like the real deal in terms of offering genuine pace to beat people with. The Sky commentators kept blabbing on about his 100m time – reputed to be sub 11 seconds – but in fairness on most of the occasions the ball got to him he displayed it to good effect, and was unlucky not to have added to his tally of tries this season. Even David Strettle said he wouldn’t fancy chasing him down. In addition John Barclay showed that after Mike Blair, he should probably be the second name on the team-sheet with a ferocious display of tackling on the pitch – he almost managed to stop Kelleher scoring a try while simultaneously (accidentally) kicking him in the head – and refreshing candour in the press afterwards. Mention should also go to the officials, who once again let a couple of blatant forward passes go.

Stade Francais 37 – 15 Llanelli Scarlets
It’s not often you see a lock kicking, or coming in at first receiver twice in ten minutes, but Simon Taylor showed up well at 5 during another frightening display of skill from Hernandez and Parisse. With Scotland locks Hines and Macleod currently injured, might Taylor find a place there for Scotland in the Autumn?

Ospreys 15 – 9 Perpignan
A grubby little game now beset by accusations of gouging, so the less said the better. Cusiter was given little to work with in terms of go-forward from his pack but still lacked in attack, preferring simply to distribute (this may be the USAP way). He’s obviously practicing for having Dan Carter outside him, but still.

Castres 6 -13 Edinburgh
To be honest this one should have been out of site with a 4-try bonus point by half time, with Mossy and De Luca butchering a couple of chances as Edinburgh – led by Cairns in the midfield – cut Castres apart seemingly at will. The second half saw Castres come back into it and Edinburgh were forced to defend solidly for large periods, never able to regain the sort of posession that had allowed them to dominate the first half. Godman did reasonably well to keep the backs moving with some brilliant passes moving his players on to the ball at pace, and Robertson showed guts and zip on the wing. Webster had a pretty quiet game though, and may be lucky to get in the Scotland team given some of the form other wingers are in (Lamont, Evans). Hoggy showed up well too and should be in with a shout for New Zealand depending on what Hadden decides to do with Simon Taylor. This was the Edinburgh team we remember from last season, and the team that sold all those season tickets for this year. Welcome back, we hope you stick around.

Other games: MIA Bruce Douglas, it turns out, has been at Montpellier all this time. The French team were the latest on the end of a 5 point hiding from resurgent Northampton Saints. Tom Smith still proved he is the man with a last ditch try saving chase – steaming in ahead of Sean Lamont to get there and clear to touch. Rob Dewey got a whole 12 minutes on the pitch in Ulster’s 42-21 kicking from ‘Quins. Rory Lamont displayed power and control as well as some great full-back kicking skills in Sale’s loss to Munster. Still, it was a great game so we can’t complain too much. The Gloucester boys were unlucky not to come away with something in Cardiff in another great game. Al Strokosch showed up well, but I’m not sure if 7 is the best use of his talents – or if it provides the best supply of ball for Gloucester…