Here’s To You, Scotland

Well well well. Hopefully by now the hungovers have worn off, and the “did that really happen?” feeling has not quite worn off. And so to a little bit of post match analysis.

Scotland’s defence was magnificent – on that we can hopefully all agree. But it could quite easily have been different. Australia have put at least 30 points on us in the last few encounters and if you think of the tries they butchered, the missed kicks – including THAT one – it could quite easily have been business as usual, and I would be sitting here writing about moral victories, plucky defence, courageous losers etc. Scotland had almost no ball, and a lot of what we did get was kicked away or turned over. Ordinarily all these factors would have combined into the usual Autumn loss. So what changed? There are a few things that I noticed from between my fingers as I watched the match:

A full 80 minute performance. Usually a Scottish team hangs in there for 60-odd minutes, then there is one minor lapse in concentration, (quite often somewhere in midfield) a quick turnover and BAM the (insert Tri-Nations team here) have scored a couple of tries and put the game to bed. You almost sensed such a thing happening on Saturday, when the Wallabies kept piling attack after attack on to Scotland in the early second half, hoping that our boys would wilt. Only they didn’t. Right across the 22 man squad they tackled for the full 80 minutes, and it was only in the 81st that the unceasing battering Rocky Elsom’s men had given us finally found a chink in the armour. Immense performances from all the forwards without exception. You suspect if someone had told a lot of these players “this is what it will feel like at the end if you don’t go to sleep in the second half” this could have happened years ago.

A coach unafraid to make a hard call. Morrison had been okay in defence in the first half, but too much of the miniscule amount of ball we had was carried into contact or spilled rather than finding its way out wide, which was frankly unacceptable. At half time Robbo yanked him and stuck De Luca in instead, who repaid him with his best game in a Scotland shirt. The three centre berths for next weekend should be De Luca, Grove and Cairns in whatever order you like. Morrison was given a vote of confidence well ahead of the first team announcement and has not exactly lived up to it. Contrast this with the other guys including Grove who instantly looked at home at this level. Let’s get them going forward next weekend and see what these boys can do with some ball.

Luck. Years and years of stupid calls going against us, balls bouncing in to the arms of opposing players and kicks missing by inches were cashed in at the weekend. Everything we needed to go our way did. Everything we needed to go against Australia, did. They say good teams make their own luck, and I’m sure a lot of the pressure put on the Wallabies with our defence must have rattled them.

So basically what we have all been saying for years – if Scotland stayed focused, ditched the underperformers and got a bit of luck here and there they could compete with the top teams. All we needed was a coach that agreed with us. If Scotland can stay this passionate and intense, use that as a base for performance level and somehow hold on to some ball to play with, then we have the makings of a good – and lucky – team.

Oh and if you fancy a laugh, read this from the Sydney Morning Herald (don’t let your blood boil, it’s not worth it) and if you are interested, here are some highlights of the Scotland A game shot by the folks at Borders Rugby TV.

Legendary

That’s the first time I have seen Scotland beat Australia. Absolutely awesome performance, it was almost entirely defensive but it was full of passion and intensity. I am so proud of the players and the coaches. Al was down at Murrayfield and said that it was like St Etienne all over again, only this time at least we deserved a win. More later in the week when I recover from the shock.

Scotland A 38-7 Tonga

That’s probably more of a humping than we expected. Listening to the radio commentary it sounds like the Hugo experiment worked pretty well and Thom Evans didn’t seem to get much ball. Listening to Peter Wright is always fun too. Ben Cairns had a stormer, which really puts pressure on Grove for tomorrow so I hope he responds. Great to see 3 attacking 13s developing in the Scotland back line, makes a change from recent years… good luck to the boys for tomorrow against Australia!

Hugooooooing Where Now?

Southwell at fly-half? Never saw that one coming, though apparently he has been featuring at first receiver during play for Stade. Decent enough defence and a solid left boot (some days). Could be very interesting, damn shame its not on the telly. Still if you are in the Borders and have nothing better to do on a Friday night, entry is free and kick-off is at 7.30pm, Netherdale. Someone tell us how it goes – with a bunch of full caps this team should really be able to beat the Tongans.

Scotland A Team: Jim Thompson (Edinburgh), Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh), John Houston (Edinburgh), Nikki Walker (Ospreys), Hugo Southwell (Stade Francais), Rory Lawson (captain, Gloucester), Jon Welsh (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Scott MacLeod (Edinburgh), Richie Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Alan MacDonald (Edinburgh), Allister Hogg (Edinburgh)
Replacements: Andrew Kelly (Edinburgh), Ed Kalman (Glasgow Warriors), Craig Hamilton (Edinburgh), Roddy Grant (Edinburgh), Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh), Colin Gregor (Glasgow Warriors), Mark Robertson (Edinburgh).

UPDATE: Mike Blair’s ankle injury has kept him off the bench for the full international, so Rory Lawson steps up to replace him (whether he will also assume co-captaincy remains to be seen), Greg Laidlaw moves up to start tonight and Mark McMillan comes into the vacant bench spot.

Scotland vs Australia Teams

What no Evans? Bit risky that one Robbo, but it makes my job easier…isn’t copy and paste wonderful?

Scotland team to play Australia: Rory Lamont, Sean Lamont, Alex Grove, Graeme Morrison, Simon Danielli, Phil Godman, Chris Cusiter (c), Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Moray Low, Nathan Hines, Alastair Kellock, Alasdair Strokosch, Johnnie Beattie, John Barclay.
Replacements: Dougie Hall, Kyle Traynor, Jason White, Richie Vernon, Mike Blair, Chris Paterson, Nick De Luca

UPDATE: Here’s the Australia Team: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Peter Hynes, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau, Will Genia,  Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, James Horwill, Mark Chisholm, Rocky Elsom (c), George Smith, Wycliff Palu
Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sekope Kepu, Dean Mumm, Richard Brown, Luke Burgess, Ryan Cross, James O’Connor

Ref: Roman Poite (Fra)

Might not be filled with star names but they took out last week’s man of the match David Pocock and brought in George Smith. Doesn’t get any easier..

Comfortable if Not Clinical

Scotland 23-10 Fiji

But having said that, it was more clinical than we are used to, wasn’t it? How many times have we seen the scrum-half break (usually Mike Blair) with no-one on his shoulder and the move fizzles out? This time when Cus went through the gap, pack-attack-captain Beattie was on his shoulder and lo and behold, try! While on other days a better (Aussie?) defence might have stopped that one, or the pass for Morrison’s try would have been given as forward, Scotland don’t usually get the breaks in International rugby so we’ll take them against a team that were ranked higher than us. So far, so good – a win’s a win and all that. The game and the Scotland team went a little to sleep in the second half though, and there were still signs of the odd silly error or turnover of old. The defence was up to the Fijians attempts to counter on the day, but opposition will be much stiffer next week and I think the intensity and concentration levels will need to go up a bit (hopefully the crowd levels will go up a bit too – it’s extremely poor not having some sort of ticket buying facility on the day. It’s not rocket science SRU, it means you can make more money!).

Even if Andy Robinson is a fan of big wings, there is a pretty good argument for bringing Thom Evans in for Danielli, given that pace, confidence and ball skills seemed to serve the Irish backs well against Australia yesterday (easily game of the weekend that one) and Evans has these in spades. Alex Grove made a solid debut in the 13 shirt, where he tackled well and made very few mistakes that I saw, along with a couple of nice passes that hinted at what he might offer in attack if the ball got to him more. To replace him or not if Cairns is fit possibly becomes Robinson’s biggest decision this week. On the other side, the Wallabies have ball skills up the yahoo but there is still a fair amount of inexperience in their backline so (Matt Giteau aside) it’s almost an even contest in terms of experience if Scotland can find any sort of platform with which to take them on. The improved Wallaby front row could make the scrum an even contest (or worse) but with Moray Low and Kyle Traynor on form and Euan Murray still to come back at least we’re starting to get some depth on both sides of our props department. The line-out went well despite the second rows being generally quiet but as always with Scottish hookers it could be a different story if their throwing in is challenged by the opposition (or the ref). Looking at the level of effort Ireland needed just to get a draw against Australia, it looks like quite a hill to climb for Scotland and Robinson. If we can get close enough to be in it with a few minutes left there’s a chance, but where is the Scottish Brian O’Driscoll who can create a bit of last-minute magic just when you need it most?

Oh, the lunchtime news tells me they’re going to fire the Scotland football coach (where of course it counts as news news, not sport news – which will also be all football). Maybe they should hire an Englishman? It’s working for us so far.

Scotland Team to face Fiji

Well done to Alex Grove on his debut cap, I reckon it’s a good idea to give him a shot against Fiji. More interesting even than that is the suprise absence of Thom Evans from the 22, given that he had been pretty much the creative spark for Scotland all of last season. It does put a fair bit of pressure on the back three to try and maintain the scoring form that the Evans boys seemed to help Scotland discover. Other than that though the team looks decent enough, and good to see former Highland man Moray Low gets another cap! New co-captain Chris Cusiter gets his shot to start and the Lamont boys make a return to add ballast to the backs. Ross Ford meanwhile needs to kick on from the Lions tour, sort out his throwing and bring the power carrying game (along with Hines) that can make him a real threat. Let’s not forget Fiji are above us in the IRB rankings, but we should still be looking to beat them and get Robbo’s stint as coach off to a good start. And I didn’t even mention Mossy, but he’s on the bench as 10 cover pretty much as expected.

Scotland team to play Fiji: Rory Lamont, Sean Lamont, Alex Grove, Graeme Morrison, Simon Danielli, Phil Godman, Chris Cusiter, Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Moray Low, Nathan Hines, Alastair Kellock, Alasdair Strokosch, Johnnie Beattie, John Barclay.
Replacements: Dougie Hall, Kyle Traynor, Jason White, Richie Vernon, Mike Blair, Chris Paterson, Nick De Luca

UPDATE: and here is the Fiji team announced by coach Glen Ella, who has hit out at the lack of co-operation from clubs on player release. Fiji are above us in the rankings yet we didn’t seem to have a problem getting our exiles back. They should be given every consideration for player release and it is basically pretty crappy that some nations are still seen as second class by the bigger league organisations/unions when it comes to player release, even during a recognised International season.

Fiji team: J Matavesi (Exeter); V Goneva (Vatura), G Lovobalavu (Toulon), S Bai (Clermont Auvergne, capt), N Nalaga (Clermont Auvergne); N Little (Bath), M Rauluni (Saracens); A Yalayalatabua (Navy), V Veikoso (Mavoci), D Manu (Scarlets), W Lewaravu (London Welsh), I Rawaqa (World Fighting Bulls), J Domolailai (Lomavata), A Qera (Gloucester), A Boko (Tau).
Replacements: G Dewes (Esher), S Ledua (FTG), L Nakarawa (Army Green), S Bola (Police), W Vatuvoka (Duavata), J Ratu (Cagimaira), N Roko (Yokogawa).

Also, it would be great if any of you could sponsor me in Movember please! Along with all the Wallaby team at the weekend I saw a photo that looks like Cus may be sporting some chops too, though it could just be the light. My facial hair silliness should be in evidence for the Argentina game at the end of the month, ticket availability permitting… and don’t forget to check out Front Up’s offer below!

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Double Trouble

Andy Robinson has announced Scotland is to have two captains for the autumn internationals – incumbent Mike Blair and widely touted replacement Chris Cusiter who led the A team to victory in the IRB Nations Cup. Whoever is on the pitch leads the team, presumably with the usual switch around the 60 minute mark (though I’d hope not). This seems like a sensible compromise between picking a captain months ahead of any indication of form (cf Borthwick, Steve) and not picking a captain till the team announcement which gives us nothing to get excited about in advance. Based on current form I reckon that Cusiter will be the starting captain, and think he is probably long overdue for a chance to show what he could bring to Scotland. His break is much improved (especially seeing as Blair seems to have forgotten about his) and his service seems to me a lot crisper. Team announcements for who will join them in the match squad will be next week I imagine. You can see Robbo’s full announcement here.

Rest time for most of the Scottish boys this weekend while England kick off against Australia and Wales aim for a first victory against the All Blacks in fifty-something years. Speaking of the All Blacks, anyone else think the Barbarians team to face them in the usual end of term silliness match should just be the Lions? It would be great to see how they fare on home soil. Even better if they got another crack at the Boks, but such things dreams are made of…

Who’s Carrying the Ball?

Edinburgh got a well deserved if unspectacular win at home to Munster on Friday while Glasgow laboured in the second half but eventually secured the expected four-try bonus point against Connacht, putting the Scottish teams at third and fourth in the league table. Sean Lineen has been asserting everywhere he can that Thom Evans is “back”, and with two tries (including a strong tackle-busting effort off his favourite inside ball move) who can argue?

Next weekend before a break going into the Autumn Internationals and Andy Robinson’s all important first match with Fiji, Edinburgh will try to do what Glasgow have so far failed to ie beat the Dragons (Sun 5pm S4C), while Glasgow go to Swansea to face the star-studded Ospreys (Fri 7pm BBCw) I just hope Thom Evans and Nikki Walker don’t knock so many bells out of each other that they can’t play for Scotland. It gives me  a week to think of the team I’d pick as well. I’m still not sure about the back row though. Having watched “Gloucester Scottish” play pretty much like an actual Scottish team (inept) at the weekend, two of the better players were actually Stroker and Scott Lawson (who can at least throw straight and was industrious about the park). Lots of good hits and work at the breakdown but Stroker is not really a big ball carrier though and neither is Barclay, which puts a lot of pressure on your Number 8… Big Nathan and the backs can’t do all the go-forward… On a side note, I fear an anti-Scottish backlash at Kingsholm if Redpath can’t turn the results around soon. Which would be a shame as moves south have been the making of Strokosch and Rory Lawson, and Redpath at least at assistant coaching level.

Next week’s matches could be key, especially if Max Evans continues his rapid return from injury. With Robbo’s assertion that Morrison is inked in at 12 that leaves Cairns, De Luca and Grove along with Evans if form merits it (looks good so far) competing for the 13 shirt and probably a bench spot. My current thinking would be Cairns – who stepped the normally rock solid De Villiers on Friday, although I wouldn’t pick him just for that – with Evans or De Luca on the bench but who knows what next week will show?

New Scotland Squad for Autumn

Scotland squad: John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors), Johnnie Beattie (Glasgow Warriors), Mike Blair (Edinburgh), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors), Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Nathan Hines (Leinster), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Lamont (Toulon), Sean Lamont (Scarlets), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Alan MacDonald (Edinburgh), Scott MacLeod (Edinburgh), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Hugo Southwell (Stade Francais), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors), Nikki Walker (Ospreys), Jason White (Clermont Auvergne).

Suprise ins: Alex Grove, Richie Vernon, Alan MacDonald

Surprise out: Ally Hogg, Dan Parks

Gotta admire Robbo for sticking to his guns and leaving Parks out despite him being in okay form and a distinct lack of other options with Jackson out. Is he really only having Mossy as back-up? Is he putting all the weight on the slightly off-the-boil Phil Godman or is he going to throw Mossy in at 10 at last for more than bench cover? Gotta feel for Hoggy who has been playing pretty well till recently and had repaid being given captaincy with some strong performances. Then Blair came back into the armband and strangely Edinburgh went downhill… Still it gives some indication of Robinson’s admiration for Beattie that he’s willing to give him a shot back at the 8 shirt. Either that or it’s the gauntlet being thrown down to Hogg to play his way back into the squad… So now I’ll have to have a think about who would go into the 22/23 based on that. For me the back three is trickiest – Walker is in great form but he’s been there before and not kicked on. A Lamont possibly? Evans has to be there just for the pace, give him a full Murrayfield and he’d find form I am sure. Mossy – or will he be in at 10? Or comeback king Hugooooo? More thoughts soon.

Win a Trip to the Heineken Cup

I’m away this weekend so will probably miss the games, hopefully the boys can get their campaigns back on track after disappointments on their last outings. Glasgow are still struggling with injuries but hopefully Chris Cusiter will be back from illness. New boy Peter Horne may get a start in the centre with Lineen assuring us he has the makings of a decent 12. Is a Jackson-Horne axis the future of the Scottish midfield? On the East Coast, Ally Hogg wants you all to turn out for the Ulster match and buy Anygame tickets etc etc. Will the promise of a turn in fortunes continue to draw a crowd despite the most recent evidence to the contrary?

In the meantime why not have a look at this video, there’s a chance to win a VIP trip to the Heineken Cup Final and deliver the trophy pitchside!

UPDATE: it seems indeed that the new Scotland strip involves white shorts – huzzah, our woes are at an end. Perhaps.