Scotland Win Calcutta Cup

In other news, pig seen taking off from Heathrow…

So the boys did it against all odds and most of the expectations. We drunk rather a lot of beer and ended up in a Chinese restaurant with menus in, well, Chinese. I think we ate Jellyfish. Al is so hungover that he has gone to France for the week with Ms Al, so it is left to me to regale you with tales of derring-do from the muddy trenches of Murrayfield.

The weather was a little interesting, it seemed like four seasons in one minute at some points. This led to rainbows, and rivers of sewage on the streets of Gorgie.

Flower of Scotland was particularly well performed by the crowd. When the band stopped playing and let the crowd continue, I half expected the pipe major to clap his hands above his head and then give us a drum solo at the end.

All in all, the atmosphere was a lot less hostile than the 2006 match, even with the advent of beer at Six Nations games, and more like just another international match. Or as close to it as a Calcutta Cup match gets. Everything was good spirited as you’d hope and expect, apart from the queue-barger at the beer stall who later paid for his insolence when karma collapsed his beer carrying device. I just wish they’d stop booing the kickers, but it wasn’t as bad as last time.

Poor Rory Lamont was knocked out again, which once again took the wind out of our attacking sails a bit. Again he shows ultimate commitment, again he comes off second best to a dangerous (but possibly not malicious) tackle. The referee both times, you would think, would have a responsibility to do something about the safety of players in his care. Step forward J. Kaplan. Rory Lamont seems to have fractured his face which hopefully will not discourage his female fans, though his mother must be having a fairly torrid time of it.

We did manage to turn our little corner of the North Stand (section 18, if you must know) into the headquarters of the Hugo Southwell fan club. By the end everyone was shouting HUUUUGOOOO, even the little kid behind us who kept kicking Al’s seat. In fairness, he did have a storming game (Hugo, not the kid) which makes it a lot easier. If Mossy is on at 10, I think you could argue that Hugo needs to be on the pitch for his tactical kicking.

I don’t think we looked like scoring tries, but then neither did England. I still feared they’d sneak something soft at the end but for once I was reasonably confident in our ability to retain the ball.

As the Scotsman has already pointed out, the back row and breakdown play was a lot more solid perhaps as a result of Andy Robinson’s helping hand. Perhaps also as a result of Simon Taylor’s return to form. “Stroker” Strokosch was immense again. This blog was, to a certain extent, founded on the principles of a “drop Jason White and Simon Taylor until they deserve their places in the team once again” type conversation and on current evidence, picking players on form rather than reputation is starting to bear fruit.

I’ll probably chime in with some more thoughts through the week, including the team announcement, but for now I’ll let you get back to work/hangover (delete as applicable). It always seems kinda fuzzy this side of a Calcutta Cup victory, but it’s like the secret no-one else knows that you can just bring to the front of your thoughts to give you a pick-me-up. Do it now. We won. There, feels better, doesn’t it?

We’re Off To See The Wizard…

Okay, so Andy Murray got beaten by a Russian. And Celtic got shunted out of Europe by some “Spaniards”. But we all know what the big Scottish sporting event is this week. It’s that time of year when we once again forget about sporting skill, sporting inevitability and sporting behaviour in the interest of putting one over our cousins from south of the border.

Your Scottish Rugby Blog correspondents will be fearlessly climbing the face of the North Stand on Saturday in order to witness what we’re all hoping will be at least a decent game, although the weather forecast is poorer than Scotland’s current form. But we don’t want to get down on our team (at least until afterwards), so we’ll cheer them on with no lack of full throatedness. If any of the rest of you are going to the game, I would ask a few things:

  1. Can we please keep cheering until at least the last five minutes? I know we don’t have good songs to sing (unlike the Welsh or the Irish) and our name doesn’t have enough syllables to be chanted by over-excited fans (Italians) so we sound like a bunch of tools shouting “Scot-land” really slowly, but at least make some noise. Otherwise the away fans will sing that song about Chariots and Jerusalem. Over and over.
  2. Let’s not boo the kickers. Unless it’s the Calcutta Cup on the line with two minutes to go. Then I’ll shut the hell up and let you get on with it.
  3. Let’s keep it clean. Its not the Battle of Gogarburn.

And with that I’ll get packing, and leave you with an extract from my esteemed colleague Al’s match preview from what seems like an eternity ago:

“This game will be the usual Scotland v England heavy match, blood, guts, thunder, no little passion and a good piss up afterwards.

Heart – Scotland win
Head – England win – we beat them the last time at Murrayfield so they’ll look to get revenge, plus its England and no side in the world is jammier!”

Since 1871 the record stands thus: Scotland 41, England 66 (they seem to like that number), Draws 17.

But let’s go with our hearts, eh?

Cipriani’s chance turns to a Pumpkin…

Breaking news today that Danny Cipriani, the new Wunderkind of English rugby, has been dropped from the English squad to play Scotland this coming Saturday. According to reports Cipriani was seen sneaking out of a nightclub after midnight and Brian Ashton has taken the hump with Cipriani’s late night escapade and has dumped him out the squad. Cipriani will now line up for Wasps at the weekend.

Reports that Cipriani was seen canoodling with Jodie Marsh on the back of a giant pumpkin pulled by a team of mice in waiters jackets have yet to be confirmed…

For the benefit of the scottishrugbyblog.co.uk lawyers that last comment was for humorous purposes!

Over and out…
Al

The Scotland team that scares me…

The Scotland management team today named the XV that will face up to a buoyant England side that rolls into Edinburgh off the back of a cracking win against the French. Scotland are sticking with the more mobile team but a couple of changes have been made. Simon Taylor has come in to replace the ineffective Kelly Brown and Graeme Morrison comes in at No.12 to make his first start since 2004 (v Japan). The starting XV for Saturday’s game versus the English is highlighted in Rory’s post below, but here are my thoughts:

Scotland have had a shocking tournament so far with very little to excite the faithful few that follow the side. The game against Ireland at least showed signs of limited improvement and the emergence of Strokosch was encouraging. Scotland even scored a try, a decent one at that, and looked like they could start to create chances – the next step would be to take them!

So, it’s back to Murrayfield to face up to an England side that is starting to find some form. On paper this has England win written all over it, indeed keeping the score down may be an achievement, but if Scotland will ever raise their game it’ll be against the English.

Scotland can win this game, they have the skill and the power to rattle the English, particularly at home, but confidence is at an all time low and at a time when leadership is most needed it has been sorely missing. The return of 2 times Lion Simon Taylor is a timely boost and his experience and skills around the breakdown could prove vital. Graeme Morrison has performed well for Glasgow and the Scotland ‘A’ side so is maybe due a run in the ‘top’ side but this will surely be his biggest challenge yet. The centres have been poor for Scotland all tournament and against the English will need to have passion for the fight. As Rory says in his post below the Scotland bench does not indicate a ‘festival of running rugby’ but the starting line-up has the same feel as the one that went out to move the Irish about. I feel (hope!) Scotland will look to try run the ball at the English from early, but they’ll need to show great control and, if they draw penalties, take the points whenever on offer. My main fear is that Scotland will struggle in the scrum and if this is under pressure from the start it could be a very long afternoon for the men in blue. Where Scotland may look to pressure is at the lineout which finally seemed to find some form against the Irish. Finally, one area that will need to improve is player concentration. As much as I feel Hadden has responsibility for players performance (or lack of), he cannot do much about 15 guys collectively falling asleep at restarts. Every Scotland player needs to have their ‘A’ game with them if they are to find success on the field.

The officials fill me with fear. Kaplan is god awful as anyone in St Etienne will be able to testify. He is the sort of referee that feels the game should be about him and not about the 30 guys fighting it out and worst of all is the sort of referee that refuses to let a game flow. As for Mr Damasco he has already endeared himself to Scotland fans and the less said the better…

All the odds point towards an English win, but Scotland are due some luck so maybe this Saturday will be the day that the ball breaks Scotland’s way and they can at least make a game of it. Ever onwards….good luck guys!

Over and out.
Al

Scotland Team announced to play England, hopefully whilst facing in the right direction

No Scott Murray, but Stroker deservedly keeps his place. Interesting choices in the centres too. The shape of the bench suggests Hadden’s not expecting a festival of running rugby and means several players drop right out, including all our specialist open-sides. Good to see Rory Lawson get a shout though.

H Southwell
R Lamont
S Webster
G Morrison
N Walker
C Paterson
M Blair (captain)
A Jacobsen
R Ford
E Murray
N Hines
S MacLeod
A Strokosch
S Taylor
A Hogg

Substitutes: F Thomson, A Dickinson, C Smith, J White, K Brown, R Lawson, D Parks.

The referee is Jonathan Kaplan, who almost screwed us out of the World Cup, and Mr Damasco the touch judge has already “distinguished” himself in the TMO box once this tournament. Oh deary deary me?

The England team that scares me.

Okay, so whatever England team they pick for the weekend will scare me. But just for fun here’s a team that might tempt me to sell my ticket to and Englishman and run for the hills.

Sheridan
Mears
Stevens
Shaw
Kennedy
Haskell
Lipman
Narraway
Care
Wilkinson
Vainakolo
Flood
Tait
Simpson Daniel
Cipriani

Actually that’s probably just about possible with the training squad they have. Though I admit they would be vastly short on experience. More quaking through the week.

Dreigiauing the Bottom of the Barrel

Don’t forget, Edinburgh vs Dragons is on BBC2 Wales (channel 991 on Sky Digital if memory serves) tonight from 7pm. Edinburgh are fielding a pretty decent team (including Rennie, De Luca and Godman) that should be in with a shout of getting a win, although the Dragons are looking for their double over Edinburgh this season, having won at Murrayfield in October when Andy Robinson was only weeks into the job.

In other news, it turns out Gregor “Toony” Townsend has begun to coach the Edinburgh backs one day a week, in particular focusing on imparting his 82 caps worth of knowledge to the Edinburgh standoffs Blair, Godman and Warnock. More positive news coming out of the Edinburgh camp. Although I can hear Al choking on his lunch from here. Let’s just forget about the national team for a week and hopefully we’ll be rewarded with a victory tonight!

Also diminutive ball-ferret Donnie Macfadyen makes a long-awaited comeback for Glasgow vs Ospreys tonight in a game refereed by a Mr J Kaplan (with the Super 14 trialling the ELVs, I suppose all the officials currently north of the equator are kept here even in the off weeks to avoid confusion). Here’s hoping there are soon three dedicated open-sides for the Scotland selectors to choose from – all the best to Donnie and the Glasgow boys tonight.

Apologies for the appalling pun in the title, but you’d expect nothing less from us by now.

UPDATE WITH TONIGHT’S RUGBY RESULTS:

Dragons 10 – 10 Edinburgh
Not the most stunning of games, but the wind was pretty appalling. The Dragons failed to capitalise on the wind advantage in the second half and put Edinburgh away, but Edinburgh possibly should have made more of chances in the first half. Cairns scored a good try and World Class Phil was as sparky as the weather allowed, but worryingly Nick De Luca may have picked up an ankle sprain which led to his substitution on the first half.

Glasgow 9 – 6 Ospreys
Caught the end of this on Internet radio, Glasgow sounded like they were putting up a good fight (Moray Low especially) exciting finish although again not much of a try fest, and again very poor weather. Macfadyen made it through 62 minutes before coming off for John Barclay, and the crowd sounded in good form too. However I was a little concerned at all the BBC Scotland reports of Moray Walker and Edinburgh playing the Llanelli Dragons. Come on, guys.

Scotland Rugby Player doesn’t fail doping test, fills in form wrong

News is just breaking that a Scotland Rugby Union player has failed a drugs test of some sort. As if things weren’t bad enough… anyway we’ll avoid unhealthy (and possibly actionable) speculation and bring you more news as we get it, so keep an eye out!

UPDATE: The BBC are reporting that a player has been retrospectively cleared following some sort of form-filling mix up. So we can all put our toys back in the pram now, it just seems like a bureaucratic bungle rather than anything malicious.

UPDATE: Apparently the player involved is Scott Macleod (who is asthmatic) the incident revolves around special dispensation (a T.U.E, or Therapeutic Use Exemption) to use different types of inhaler, and it has already been cleared up to the satisfaction of UK Sport and an independent judicial committee.

Of TV Shows and Computer Games. Oh, and Rugby.

Ireland 34-13 Scotland

Okay, so first things first. Scotland were pretty poor on Super Saturday. You all saw it, so there’s not much point in spending the rest of my afternoon telling you what you already know. Feel free to get it off your chest in the comments section below. Italy looked more like scoring tries with their backs moves than Scotland, and they were on the end of a thumping by the continuing resurgence of Wales. Make no mistake, barring a fluke (as it would have to be) against England in two weeks – a game your fearless SRBlog correspondents will be attending, so you don’t have to – the Italy game will be the wooden spoon decider. And we’ll probably lose it. Scotland had a solid 20 minutes of possession and territory at the start of the Ireland game, several clear cut scoring opportunities to get our Six Nations back on track and yet came away with nothing. Ireland were in our 22 once or twice and came away with the points, setting up the lead they built on in the second half. And that’s the difference. Well, that and Geordan Murphy – if O’ Sullivan doesn’t pick him at full-back against Wales on that form, Ireland will be in worse shape than we are, direction-wise.

There were a few positives. Al Strokosch had a great game, and should get another chance at 6 whether Jason White is fit or not. They both play week-in, week-out against the England back row in the GP but Strokosch is currently the one playing well against them. Ross Rennie came off the bench and made a nuisance of himself at the breakdown, winning two penalties rather than giving them away (unlike his rash and bearded contemporary Mr Hines, who to be fair put in a lot of work otherwise). Our lineout showed signs of a return to form in both attack and defence, and the scrum didn’t get shunted about as much as I had feared. And for the first time, Chunk wasn’t our best attacking player. Sorry, Chunk. There were way fewer skills errors – in the backs the ball was moved around with intent – 94 completed passes in the first half, the stats told us.

But that’s just it. It moved around, and mostly side to side. For 20 minutes. Simon Malkovich Webster broke the try duck late in the game, but we never really looked like scoring more. We know Rory Lamont can score tries – he was on an average of one a game for Sale before the Six Nations kicked off, and on the wing too. Nikki Walker has 4 this season for Ospreys, and DeLuca 4 for Edinburgh. So why can’t they do it for Scotland? (DeLuca’s one is easy, he hasn’t been thrown a decent pass yet.) Even Frank Hadden couldn’t explain why in his post match interview – but should he not be the one with the answers?

Okay, so maybe the coaches have shored up the basic handling errors somewhat, and given the team a more suitable style, but the lapses in concentration were worrying, dissipating any momentum and gifting away points at key moments. Would they concentrate a little more if they thought their places in the 22, not just the starting XV were under threat? Compare them to the Scotland A team, coached by messrs Robinson and Lineen who ran in 10 tries by playing offloading rugby (roll on the Churchill Cup). In the PC game Battlefield 2, your commander has a catchphrase he barks at you every five minutes: “start fighting, or I’ll find someone who can.” While big Nathan might take that a little too literally, it seems to be working with regard to Warren Gatland’s ruthless rotation policy – like season one of Spooks, not even the stars are safe.

And on a day when even Brian Ashton was seen punching the air, and Nick Mallett punching walls, would Frank Hadden inject a little more passion if he, too, was under threat?

Board the rafts, head out of exile, Scotland set sail for the Emerald Isle….

Ireland v Scotland, Croke Park (Dublin), 5pm, Saturday 23rd February

On the day that Fidel Castro decided to retire his Marxist Beard, and spark jubilation amongst the exiled Cubans in Florida, so I also decided to take myself out of my self-imposed rugby exile and started building myself up for the next round of 6 Nations matches. The Scotland side in this championship has born an uncanny resemblance to so many of the flimsy rafts that, over the last few years, have set sail from Cuba to a new life in the US of A. Like these makeshift rafts the Scotland side have been rudderless, fragile and far too easily overwhelmed by the waves of opposition attack.

This tournament has brought nothing but heartbreak for those in the dark blue but the time has come to look to the future and hopefully the shoots of progress can be demonstrated against the Irish at Croke Park this coming Saturday. The team need to learn the lessons from the French and Welsh games (don’t drop the ball would be a marked improvement) and look to try and attack the Irish at every opportunity. Scotland today announced their team (well nearly all of it) and on first appearances it appears far more mobile:

1. Allan Jacobsen
2. Ross Ford
3. Euan Murray
4. Nathan Hines
5. Scott MacLeod
6. Alasdair Strokosh
7. TBC
8. TBC

9. Mike Blair (C)
10. Chris Paterson
11. Rory Lamont
12. Andy Henderson
13. Simon Webster
14. Nikki Walker
15 Hugoooooooooo Southwell

The likes of Dan Parks, Jim Hamilton and Nick De Luca have dropped to the bench whilst Jason White, who has been off form, is out with a head injury but not a poke in the eye…wink wink, nudge nudge). Both 7 and 8 have yet to be decided on as the coaches wait on fitness test for John Barclay. Some points of note:

The Pack – much more mobile than the last couple of games. The addition of MacLeod and Strokosch will take some of the weight out the pack but should make it a much more mobile unit. Strokosch has been in good form for Gloucester and his appetite to carry the ball over the gain line should prove invaluable. With White having been off form hopefully Strokosch can be the man to put in the big hits. Because of the reduced size in the pack hopefully we will see something more dynamic from the forwards who have disappointed all tournament. The lineout will also need to greatly improve because unless Scotland can secure good possession from set pieces the team will continue to struggle as an attacking force.

7 & 8 – Who will fill these positions? The coaching staff are waiting on the fitness of John Barclay so that suggests that if passed fit then he will start at 7. That leaves 3 players fighting it out for the
remaining position in the starting XV; Ally Hogg, Kelly Brown and Ross Rennie. My gut instinct is to go with Ally Hogg, he’s big, he’s fairly mobile, he’s experienced and will at least show passion for the job. I
think Kelly Brown is probably out of the running as he was poor (as was the whole team) against Wales so that leaves Hogg and Rennie. As a back row that would certainly be interesting and a damn site more attacking than what we’ve had in the last two games.

Mike Blair – Blair has been handed the starting berth at 9 and has also been named captain in Jason Whites absence. This is an interesting choice as I would have preferred someone more vocal like Nathan Hines as el Capitan (ok, generally only on the pitch for 70 minutes but certainly a leader!). Blair has been unspectacular and my preference would be for a change in this position. I feel that as good a player as Blair can be he is not attacking enough and the evidence of this tournament supports this. His persistent slowing down of ball and his apparent inability to choose the right pass will mean that the pressure is on him to perform. Another bad performance may see more vocal calls for Cusiter’s inclusion in the next starting XV.

The Backs – Some very interesting decisions here. Rory Lamont (the housewives favourite) has been moved out to the wing and this could be an inspired decision – but it will depend on the ball getting that far. If the ball can reach Lamont (and Walker for that matter) in anything resembling room he has the ability to beat his man. Defensively he is sound so it may help shore up Scotland in the wide areas. Webster in at centre is demonstrative of a Scotland side set up to attack, he’ll get on the ball in the game and he’ll need to be in the frame of mind to try and find the gaps in the Ireland defence. The same can be said of Paterson who’s game time at 10 has been limited but this, at least, guarantee’s his ability to spot a gap will be utilised to the full. Nick de Luca has dropped out which is a shame but his confidence is shot so maybe the chance to be the impact player off the bench would suit him better.

It is apparent from this team that Scotland have looked at the teams succeeding in the tournament so far (France and Wales) and realised that a loose, almost off-the-cuff, method of playing is paying dividends. Do Scotland have the players to do this? On paper yes, they can run and basic errors are down to concentration so there is no reason that Scotland can’t play free flowing rugby. It can’t be any worse than what has gone before. In saying all this the focus really switches onto Hadden. He’s putting out a team that is set up to, finally, attack and throw the rugby ball about. His insistence on keeping it tight seems to have waned but is this the act of a desperate man? Possibly, certainly his tenure as Scotland coach has never looked so weak and this could be his last act to save both Scotland’s tournament and his job. He’s answered some of his critics with this team but he now needs to demonstrate he has the ability to motivate his players and squeeze a good performance out of a group which has been horribly mis-firing.

Finally a quick note of the officials. Its a Franco-Welsh affair with the ref and TMO from France (Ref: Christophe Berdos, TMO: Romain Poite) and the line being Welsh (Nigel Owens, Hugh Watkins). Hopefully the TMO takes his glasses and a copy of the rules with him.

So, will Saturday see a revolutionary Scotland performance or will it turn into another Bay of Pigs? Who knows, that’s the fun (the pain!) of watching this Scotland team but all I want is performance full of heart….and a try or two would be nice!! Enjoy the game.

Over and Out.

Dean Ryan’s Express

So, Chris Paterson just played over 50 minutes at stand-off for Gloucester. As I type this, he came off the pictch seemingly to be replaced by a streaker. Mossy missed two conversions (that with hindsight would have sealed victory), fluffed a couple of restarts – the commentators review said his performance was “mixed”. Not the ideal preparation for the man who we hope will fire our attacking ambitions against Ireland next weekend – he was given his chance, and didn’t shower himself in glory. What, Chris Paterson missed kicks? But then so did Phil Godman in Edinburgh’s narrow loss to Munster, and he wasn’t known for his kicking in the first place – though it seems vastly improved. Do we dare take the same risks at international level?

Mossy will probably get the nod, and it’s probably about time he was given a shot, even if it’s not clear that he is ready for all that the role of international 10 will demand of him. Godman may also not be ready. But can they really offer us less in attack than Parks? Southwell still offers a good tactical kicking option, with Paterson or Godman able to cover the fullback’s space when that’s going on. So at least one of them should be brought in, if you ask me. Meanwhile on the same Cherry and Whites team as CP, you have Alisdair Strokosch and Rory Lawson, Scotsmen in the form of their lives, who will probably not even get slots in the starting 22.

“Stroker” has the problem of playing in Jason White’s position. But White has looked off-colour thus far, and if the Scotland team were truly picked on form it would be hard to argue against giving the ex-Edinburgh man his chance at the 6 shirt. He offers power going forward, enthusiasm for the workload and crunching, crowd-pleasing tackles – sound familiar? Of the other possible occupants (if you were to bench the current captain), neither is a natural 6 – indeed Hogg seems to be coming on to a bit of form at 8, his preferred position, so I would argue he should stay there, and make it a coin-toss between Brown and Strokosch at 6.

Rory Lawson finds himself in another of Scotland’s few areas of genuine depth, scrum half. Al (and my dad) may disagree with me, but Mike Blair has done little wrong thus far in the tournament. Mind you, he hasn’t done anything truly brilliant either – on a par with his team mates. For me Blair still offers a better attacking threat than Cusiter with ball in hand, and the number of try saving tackles he has made for club and country proves him sure in defence too. Still if you wanted a cross between Cusiter and Blair – nuggety defence, a good break, barking at the forwards and swift distribution to boot, for me Lawson might be the go-to guy. (Might it may be time to retire the scrum-half as terrier metaphor? Bill McLaren, we salute you.)

So basically it seems to come down to the old question regarding selection – change for changes sake? Bring in the young guns all at once, or drip feed them into the team to build their experience but keep some steady heads? Which approach will keep the media, the bosses or the supporters yearning for a sense of direction at bay the longest? Does it mean we will have to wait for Nick De Luca to settle in (or be dropped) before Rennie, or Cairns, or Beattie or Evans get their turn in a Scotland shirt? Lievremont picked almost a whole team of tyros for France, and said “go out and play”. The guys I just mentioned, as well as Lawson or Strokosch, would certainly fit into an old Frank Hadden team, the ones that just went out and played, freeing the shackles of the overly prescriptive Williams era. You could argue that what you do is blood them all early on in an easy game, then drip feed the seasoned pros back into the team as the tournament goes on. It seems to be working for France, to get the results that every coach needs to ensure he has the time to oversee his own masterplan to fruition in time for the next World Cup or Six Nations, the building blocks of coaching careers. But for Scotland there are no longer any easy games in the Six Nations. And that’s the final question:

Does Frank Hadden have his own masterplan?

UPDATE: check out Gloucester Rugby for a report on the game.