Heineken Cup roundup
Just out of interest, I compiled a team of the players in the training squad who are not compatible with a Fortress Scotland type policy. Though it has a glut of 6s and not much else in the back row, in most other areas it looks ok:
A Dickinson (Gloucester), S Lawson (Sale), E Murray (Northampton), N Hines (Perpignan), S Murray (Montauban), A Strokosch (Gloucester), S Taylor (Stade Francais), J White (Sale)
C Cusiter (Perpignan), C Paterson (Gloucester),R Dewey (Ulster), M Di Rollo (Toulouse), S Lamont (Northampton), N Walker (Ospreys), R Lamont (Sale)
BENCH / NOT USED
R Lawson (Gloucester), G Ross (Saracens), S Danielli (Ulster), J Hamilton (Leicester), S MacLeod (Llanelli)
Also I’d like you all to welcome my good buddy Al, who will contribute the occasional piece as the season goes on. The idea for this blog was germinated between ourselves on a walk through the streets of Paris after Scotland’s defeat to Argentina. And finally there’s a guide to the silly nicknames we use for players, not all of which are in popular circulation. So for your ease of reading you can find this at the top.
Don’t forget Edinburgh & Glasgow are both on the telly (Sky Sports on Friday night and Sunday) this weekend, some chat will be forthcoming afterwards!
World Cup 2007 – phew, what a tournament! The scrummage was intense, the rivalry between two passionate set of combatants, the immense handling skills – all to the backing track of rousing renditions of national anthems. Yup, getting to and fro the bar in Le Glasgow Bar the night before the Scotland v Italy match was a sight to behold and some of the handling skill on display was immense – 4 pints, 2 nips and a bag of crisps all expertly carried by one brave soul through the heaving masses. Awe-inspiring. Then there was some rugby too.
Somewhere in a Paris bar in the aftermath of Scotland’s defeat to the fantastic Pumas this blog was dreamt up – the bastard love-child of too much red wine and a sober realisation that, for us, RWC ’07 was over. I have a fuzzy memory of making a commitment to write regularly and passionately about all things rugby related, and also to produce a ‘tour-de-force’ argument vaunting the merits of Dan Parks (it’s still my intention – honest guv’!). Alas, like so many of Scotland’s free-flowing attacking movements, my promise has not been fulfilled and it has taken until now to chip in (sorry Rory!).
Scotland’s announced a new training squad on Wednesday 5th December in preparation for the upcoming 6 Nations. A lot of familiar faces (White, Paterson, Parks), chances for some that thought maybe their chance was gone (World-Class Phil) and a couple of new faces (Low and Rennie sounds like a folk outfit!). There was also Di Ohno…sorry, I meant Di Rollo. Overall impressions are that this was a fairly predictable collection of players that have been put together and this is probably a good thing. Teams need consistency, to grow to understand each other’s games and gain a proper appreciation of what each other can do (and can’t do – note to Godman: that means no long throws on your 22).
So, using my renowned psychic powers, I have come up with the XV that I think will possibly, if the stars are aligned correctly, start Scotland’s first 6 Nations game against France (Murrayfield, 3pm, 3rd February 2008).
15 Paterson – Mr Reliable, kicks goals for fun. Needs to add more to the rest of his game but as long as continues to be the kicker Wilkinson dreams of being then he is first pick for me.
14 Evans – not seen much (ok, anything) of Evans this season but led to believe he has been playing well for a Glasgow side that have a chance of challenging for Magners glory.
13 Webster – big fan of Malkovich, adds a dynamism that is lacking from the team – big question is where to play him, adds a threat centre field but suffers from butter-fingers at the crucial moment. Has the ability to get the crowd on their feet and Scotland need some flair.
12 Dewey – young, big and could be a big player for Scotland in the future. Looking at the long term development of the game the likes of Dewey need to be given time on the field at international level.
11 R Lamont – providing he can stop using his head as a trampoline, he could be a big player in the next 6 Nations. His up’n’unders scare the living daylights out of some full-backs, just needs to cut out silly errors and gain some game savvy – again game time at this level is important.
10 Parks – the most important ass-patter in Scottish Rugby. The sort of player you want to choke with one hand and give an ass-pat with the other. Can control a game with his tactical kicking but has no pace and gives nothing creative with ball in hand. Still an essential player for Scotland though.
9 Cusiter – almost went for Blair here but think Scotland need more creativity at the breakdown and Cusiter is able to pick holes in defences – experience of French rugby with Perpignan should help also.
8 Hogg – adds experience and a sense of composure to the forwards, also a threat with the ball in hand going forward.
7 Barclay – another young ‘un but needs time at this level. Adds bulk to the team and, like Dewey, could go onto become and important player for Scotland.
6 White – El Capitan, immense for Scotland for a number of years now, inspirational 2 years ago in the 6 Nations and for a long time the only world class player we had (sorry Phil!). Have to say at RWC ’07 I wasn’t convinced by his leadership, choices were fine most of the time but needs to do more to motivate the players on the pitch – especially in games where he isn’t breaking opponents into little bits.
5 Hines – the nastiest man in a Scotland shirt, would use his Gran as a weapon if he thought it would gain a couple of metres. For me a must start – even if he’s only on the pitch 70 minutes!
4 Hamilton – adds bulk, and lots of it. Scotland showed at the World Cup that they can operate fairly well behind a big pack and it’s important the likes of Hamilton are in the team to even up the odds in the scrum be a big hitter in the loose.
3 Low – like Evans I haven’t seen him play this season but is another one who I have heard good things about. Every selection needs a surprise choice – this is mine!
2 Ford – think he is pretty accurate at the lineout but a question over how he stands up in the scrum, Hall (if fit) could take this place.
1 Jacobsen – Meant to be playing ok and deserves another chance in a Scotland top.
So there we have it, my XV for the first game v France. Will be interesting to see what the line-up will actually be – only 2 months to wait! Will be interested to hear what other peoples XV would be, so leave a post and let us know what you think…
Frank Hadden announced his training squad yesterday, so here’s my team based on that. A few notes – this is the squad I would pick today based on current form, based on what I have seen/read/heard (so there may be a slight Edinburgh bias until I get a chance to see Glasgow on TV at the weekend) and injuries not an issue!
1 Gavin Kerr (Edinburgh), maybe? Findhorn’s own Moray Low will be pressuring for a spot in the front row soon though.
2 R Ford (Edinburgh) His line-out throwing seems to have regressed, but if he can sort that he offers more going forward than the other candidates.
3 E Murray (Northampton) Learning at the feet of Tom Smith seems to be a worthwhile trade-off for first division rugby.
4 N Hines (Perpignan) Bit of grunt up front, nuff said. His twin Jim Hamilton will be pushing him though.
5 S Murray (Montauban) Saw a clip of Montauban scoring tries, and Murray was popping up everywhere. Perhaps he is enjoying himself over there?
6 J White (Sale) Lost a bit of form during the World Cup, but competition for places at Sale should keep him sharp.
7 R Rennie (Edinburgh) Outstanding young player has really shone in the last few weeks. A proper open-side, not involved in the recent drubbing at Leicester. This weekend will be a test, but he will continue to improve under Andy Robinson’s tutelage.
8 A Hogg (Edinburgh) Give him a shot in his preferred position. Or if not, let one of the young tykes (Callam, Beattie, Brown) have a go.
9 C Cusiter (Perpignan) Based on the spirit showed off the bench in the World Cup. Even if he wouldn’t let me buy him a drink in Le Glasgow (sensible chap, that beer was crazy). Blair is playing well again for Edinburgh though, so as usual it’s mostly a toss-up between the two.
10 C Paterson (Gloucester) If they’re prepared to give him a chance, shouldn’t we be? And he has to be in for his kicking.
11 S Webster (Edinburgh) This was one of the trickier ones, but let Malkovich and his dancing shoes into the game with De Luca and Rory Lamont and we might have some real penetration. Failing that stick Mossy in here and play Parks or Godman at 10.
12 A Henderson (Glasgow) I had high hopes for Rob Dewey, but he is having an off time at Ulster (like their whole team) and Henderson is usually consistent.
13 N De Luca (Edinburgh) Another young form player who has to be blooded sometime. Could he be the answer to the 13 problem at long last, unlike his similarly monikered compatriot now bench-warming at Toulouse?
14 N Walker (Ospreys) His international performances have been poop, but surely eventually his Opsprey’s form will translate? With Sean Lamont underperforming since 2006 (and injured), this could be Walker’s chance. If not, the likes of Thom Evans are waiting in the wings.
15 R Lamont (Sale) Too much of an attacking threat not to be in the team. Sorry, Hugo.
16 D Hall (Glasgow) or maybe Scott Lawson. Or maybe Fergus Thomson, who has played more games than both of them.
17 A Jacobsen (Edinburgh) A few barnstorming games from Edinburgh show how much Chunk missed going to the World Cup.
18 J Hamilton (Leicester) The seemingly aborted move to Edinburgh would have been nice, but he still offers valuable beef to the pack wherever he plays his club rugby.
19 S Taylor (Stade Francais) Needs to find his hunger again. The same could be said of S Lamont, also not present!
20 M Blair (Edinburgh) Come 6 Nations time, may actually be the front runner again.
21 D Parks (Glasgow) I actually felt sorry for moving Parko to the bench. How times have changed.
22 H Southwell (Edinburgh) HUUUUUUGOOOOOOO. I actually heard someone other than myself shout this once. The grass-roots movement starts here.
Agree? Disagree? Who’s in your 22?
“I’ve watched enough games involving their sides, to wonder what they actually bring to the event, because Murrayfield is like a morgue. Edinburgh and Glasgow have achieved very little over the years, and if there was any move to set up a British league in the future I don’t think that anyone would be rushing to sign up the Scottish sides.” Jonathan Davies, quoted in the Sunday Times
Okay, so he has a point – the Scottish pro sides have woefully under-performed in comparison to their Celtic brethren in recent years. Although setting up a league without the Scots would restrict his ability to mispronounce Malcolm Changleng’s name at every opportunity.
Name-calling and the non-sequitur of his opening sentence aside, the Scottish pro teams remain occasionally competitive (Glasgow beating Cardiff, Edinburgh’s away win at Ulster this weekend), and hold mid table positions in the Magners League without ever really challenging for honours. Couple that with the potential of their respective set-ups and various blends of youth and experience (Lineen with his southern hemisphere muscle, Robinson with Edinburgh’s at times fearless vitality) and it seems clear that the thing that would really help is a decent crowd to watch it all, the famed 16th man that the likes of Munster, Ulster or Llanelli can bring off the bench to help push their side over the line.
Consider Simon Taylor’s decision to move to Stade Francais into a back row that already has Remy Martin, Sergio Parisse and Mauro Bergamasco. Only now getting a game due to injuries to the others, Taylor still chose this over staying at Murrayfield, surrounded by political infighting and poor crowds. You feel the fact that Stade can sell nearly 80,000 tickets for a league game against Toulouse while Edinburgh struggle to get 4,000 for a similar fixture, at home to the Frenchmen in the Heineken Cup, may have had something to do with it. (Although this was a pretty good crowd for Edinburgh, you wonder what would happen if 80,000 people actually tried to turn up at Murrayfield for an Edinburgh match. They’d probably turn them away).
I don’t think getting rid of Edinburgh and Glasgow is the answer to getting well-supported teams. I feel it would create one or two powerful “super” clubs (ala the Old Firm) from the Premier League who the rest of Edinburgh or the Borders (and to a lesser extent Glasgow) would more than likely refuse to get behind, splitting along parochial lines, which was a problem highlighted in the demise of the Borders. Surely city based teams with no fixed club-based allegiance are the only way forward in Scotland, but they should work with the Premier League clubs, sharing players, coaches etc and Andy Robinson certainly seems to be trying to take steps to build such bridges where the SRU have tried and failed. Perhaps his credentials at club level with Bath give him credibility the SRU cannot muster.
Variously – and only in relation to club games it seems, as the atmosphere is fine on international days – Murrayfield is described as a tomb, a mausoleum, a coffin. The SRU somewhat wistfully try to convince us it’s a castle. But never a cauldron, like the Stade Geoffrey Guichard in St Etienne that managed such a ferocious atmosphere with only 30,000 people – a stadium incidentally designed like an English football ground. But Glasgow play at a smaller football ground, and they suffer from similar problems so it can’t just be that the stadium is crap. Indeed the problem may be that Murrayfield is far from crap – it boasts world-class facilities, already paid for by the SRU. Why pay out more money (that they don’t have) to move permanently?
Okay then, how about a temporary move?
It seems if Munster and the Crusaders can remain highly successful whilst still farming out the odd home game to Cork or Nelson (the Crusaders have even touted hosting games in Melbourne in the past) then surely Edinburgh or Glasgow could spread the game in their own respective catchment areas to try and build a fan-base, and perhaps prove to the SRU that there is support for the game in other areas. It worked for internationals held in Aberdeen and Perth, would it work for club games? There has been a lot in the press this weekend regarding Scotland’s poor attendances, with various solutions offered. Netherdale has been touted by Allan Massie as somewhere with the facilities to host an Edinburgh game that is closer to Edinburgh than Cork is to Limerick. And the people of the Borders might even turn up en masse just to spite the SRU for closing down their own poorly supported pro team, the Reivers.
I live in the North of Scotland, so a trip to Edinburgh every weekend is tricky for a man without a car or a bottomless wallet, but I go to matches when I am in Edinburgh, I went to France and watch as much as I can on TV. I am a Scotland rugby supporter, but feel powerless in this instance other than badgering my Edinburgh-based friends to go along. So I’ll watch the STV show on a Sunday, I’ll keep on posting and I’ll keep on saving up to go to New Zealand in 2011. But if you get the chance to go along and watch, why don’t you?
Apologies for the appalling pun in the title. I was going to try and shoehorn Brian Moore in to make it Moore-ia, so you should think yourself lucky.
UPDATE: Just noticed this on the Edinburgh website – I wonder if Robinson has been on at them, or if this is part of a new strategy:
“Nevertheless it proved to be a productive weekend for everyone involved in rugby in the Scottish capital and, we will regularly promote the local club games involving our players as we strive to strengthen the bond between Edinburgh Rugby Club and the rugby clubs of Edinburgh.”
Slim updates all rolled into one this week – I had a busy weekend! I also got a chance to watch STV’s new rugby programme imaginitively titled “Scotsport Rugby” which happens on a Sunday around 6, for those of you that have missed out so far. While I’m still not sure who Richie Gray is, it’s good to see Rugby back on the telly in Scotland, and I think it’s something we should all get behind.
Leicester 39-0 Edinburgh
Leicester were up 15-0 after 15 minutes, with a new strategy from Loffreda that seemed to involve offloading before/in the tackle, and Edinburgh being crap. Still, a Leicester team more interesting to watch would be no bad thing. Goode’s kicking was anything but, which kept Edinburgh in sight, but they compounded their lack of possession with errors and penalties for holding on and Leicecster’s pressure proved too much to bear for Robinson’s men.
Edinburgh seemed to perform better in the second half – not least when reduced to 13 men, but never quite pulled together enough to penetrate Leicester’s defence (even when the Tigers fell asleep towards the end of the game).
Once again, a Scottish team show an inability to perform two weeks in a row – disappointing.
Glasgow 41-31 Viadana
Closer than you would hope, Glasgow let them get back to 24 all before closing the game out. Still, it shows high standards that Sean Lineen is still not happy with a bonus point win. Reports describe that
Glasgow were pretty sloppy.
Mossy got a whole half an hour on the pitch for Gloucester and made a good account of himself at 10, during which they closed out a close game against the Ospreys. Rory Lawson was once again very good, and Nikki Walker also had quite a good game for the Welsh team in the first half at least before it tightened up. Al “Stroker” Strokosch was lucky not to be sin-binned/sent off for a sneaky trip though.
Perpignan vs Treviso, Chris Cusiter got his first start for USAP, while Hines came off the bench after his sin-binning last week
Rory Lamont scored two tries for Sale in their Challenge Cup Victory. Look for him (on the wing, sadly) in Sale’s match vs Worcester live on TV on Thursday, no doubt we’ll see Luke McAlister winging
lots of miss passes to him on his debut for Sale. Please note, we do not condone the use of a miss pass as an effective attacking tactic.
Still no sign of Simon Taylor in Stade Francais 22 for their defeat to Bristol(!), but with Parisse and Bergamasco both picking up leg injuries he might get a chance for some game-time soon!
Next Heineken Cup weekend 7th-9th December, both sides are being shown: Edinburgh vs Leinster and Glasgow vs Biarritz. Start bricking it now.
Who got a game, and who didn’t.
Chris Paterson – came on for 5 minutes in the convincing win against Ulster.
Al Strokosch – played well for most of the Ulster game as part of a Gloucester pack building in confidence.
Rory Lawson played most of the game for Gloucester in an assured performance that allowed his fly-half to control the game completely.
Rob Dewey – went off still nursing the knee injury, in the defeat to Gloucester.
Nathan Hines – Sin-binned, which may not come as a surprise!
Chris Cusiter – came on as a sub for Perpignan at about 75 minutes
Nikki Walker – played the full 80 for the Ospreys in their victory against perennial European lazy boys Bourgouin.
Scott Murray – played for Montauban at the weekend vs Gran Parma.
Scott Macleod – played for Llanelli in the 10-try festival at Clermont Auvergne
Euan Murray – came off the bench on 51 minutes for Northampton in the first division.
Missing in Action: Simon Taylor, Scott Lawson, Rory Lamont (ankle injury), Sean Lamont (knee injury), Simon Danielli, Marcus Di Rollo, Gordon Ross (bench vs Glasgow) Bruce Douglas (bench for Llanelli)
Edinburgh 15-19 Toulouse
Edinburgh were unlucky to lose this one – if David Blair had kicked a few more points this game would have been a first major scalp for Edinburgh. However, it’s unfair to lay the blame for what might have been at the foot of the diminutive Edinburgh fly-half, as this was another reasonably assured performance from him, and in general Edinburgh handled well with far fewer knock-ons and dropped balls than we are used to. There were still a few turnovers at the breakdown which they will be worried about, but a refreshing unwillingness to kick showcased a young Edinburgh team unafraid to throw it about a bit: backs and forwards alike offloading in the tackle and moving forward with zest. Nick De Luca scored a great try – going past Jauzion in the process – proving that he is developing as a centre offering a genuine attacking threat born of pace and speed, rather than brute strength.
Saracens 33-31 Glasgow
Parks early penalty gave Glasgow a lead, but from then on it was a case of weathering the first half storm. Thom Evans went off with a head knock, depriving the Warriors of some zip on the wing, and Saracens seemed to have all the luck from that point. Glasgow came out fired up in the second half and clawed back 6 points through Parks, but Farrell seemed to be orchestrating slick attacks all over the park and it wasn’t long before Saracens had stretched the lead again, by seemingly too great a margin for Glasgow to come back from. Glasgow never gave up though with late converted tries from O’Hare and Al Kellock securing a well deserved bonus point and causing jitters amongst the home support. Five more minutes of pressure and Parko might have drop-goaled a sneaky victory, but alas (again) Glasgow are searching for a victory against Saracens.
It is heartening to see the pro-teams still (or in some cases starting to) play with spirit and determination even when facing defeat. Soon though, they will have to start getting results.
No, not him, the older one. The one you would have worried about if it had been this time last year. Sean “Monty” Lamont has picked up a knee ligament injury at Northampton which will keep him out for the rest of the season. Seems to be cruciate ligament damage from some of the articles online, so maybe they’ll pack him off to Vermont as they did with Jason White and Charlie Hodgson.
This puts him out of Scotland’s plans for the Six Nations, which may give Nikki Walker the run on the wing that he has been craving – and I feel he needs to build some confidence at international level. Of course Hadden may just put Webster/Paterson back out there and move Di Rollo/Webster back into the centre, but might this be an opportunity to build further experience into his expanded squad?
All the best to Monty for a quick recovery, and we hope you come back fitter, and stronger and with some fire in your belly to recapture your form of the 2006 Six Nations (and the bit in between when you scored 4 tries in one game for Saints).
So, the rugby World Cup is over and attention once again turns to club rugby, in particular this weekend sees a start to the European competitions, the Challenge Cup and the ever more popular Heineken Cup (H-Cup for beer-averse readers in France). If some of the club sides can slip off the shackles of recent international playing styles then there could be some cracking rugby played, and that’s why we’re all here really isn’t it?
Are the English and French clubs too powerful in every sense of the word? Will a Scottish team win a game, let alone progress to the group stages? Will Steven Berkoff recite some Shakespeare to get Sky viewers pumped up?
Once again Edinburgh find themselves in a pool of death. Once again with Toulouse. This year, however, they find themselves without a host of the internationals they fielded last season – moved to pastures new – a beefed up front row with Ross Ford in at hooker and a fledgling back division looking to try and find a cutting edge for Scottish rugby. Even if they pull off three wins at home (the mostly empty Murrayfield) they still face the monumental challenges of winning away at either Toulouse or Leicester’s Welford Road, and the marginally-easier-but-still-a-little-tricky Leinster, who will be looking to make amends for the Irish backs poor showing in the World Cup. Will Andy Robinson have a successful cup run? Instinct says no, but if he’s looking to blood young talent – in Blair junior he may have a standoff who can kick goals and run an attack – it may just prove beneficial to Scotland in the future.
Players to watch: David Blair, Nick De Luca, Simon “Malkovich” Webster.
Of the two, Glasgow have more of a chance if they can win all their home games and maybe sneak an away win somewhere other than Viadana. Glasgow played Saracens several times last year and came close, but the Glasgow squad is a lot stronger this year with Gibson and Fa’atau as well as a few Borders strays, and Parks seemingly on a run of confidence following some good World Cup performances and kicking Ulster to death last week. They are an outside chance to sneak out of the group if they can beat Saracens (twice?!), but I don’t know how far they can go after that.
Players to watch: Dan “Parko” Parks, Thom Evans, Darryl Gibson
Although the two Scottish pro-sides are unlikely to progress out of the group stage (though we live in hope), there may still be Scottish interest available in the later stages, so we’ll do our best to keep you updated.
This weekend (all TV matches on Sky Sports) you can see:
Sale v Montpellier 7.30pm Challenge Cup – can Rory Lamont keep up his recent try scoring run for Sale, not to mention his place in the team? Jason White returns to the team, Lamont may earn a place on the bench after coming back from an ankle knock. No sign of Scott Lawson in the team. Lots of other
Ulster v Gloucester 8pm Heineken Cup – Paterson, Lawson, Strokosch, Dickinson may feature, though Paterson seems once again resigned to fate as a goal kicker and utility back rather than the stand-off he was rumoured to be signed as. But with the mercurial Ryan Lamb in the 10 shirt he’d have his work cut out to pin that position down anyway. What might have been, Ryan. Rob Dewey and Simon Danielli may feature for Ulster.
Perpignan v Dragons (Sky Interactive) 8pm Heineken Cup – Will Chris Cusiter get a game after his start against Albi last week? Captain and fellow Scot Nathan Hines should also feature, as may World Cup winner Percy Montgomery. You’d fancy USAP to win this one.
Leinster v Leicester Tigers 1pm Heineken Cup – Big Jim Hamilton may get a run in this one, but not much Scottish interest, other than giving the bookies some idea of the points differential Edinburgh may face in the later pool stages. Could be a great game though, so watch it anyway.
Edinburgh v Toulouse 3.30pm Heineken Cup – Can Andy Robinson’s black and red army (as the SRU’s marketers like to put it) pull together the victory they have searched for under his control? They get closer to a result with each passing game, but it seems unlikely with such a young back division facing Toulouse’s class and experience. But that may make them fearless, and the best time to play the French is early on at home. Plus they all get to have a pop at Marcus Di Rollo.
Wasps v Munster 5.30pm Heineken Cup – Another potentially mouth-watering clash between two club giants. Wasps have started the premiership a little slowly, but they (almost) always turn up for European matches.
Auch v Bath 7.45pm Challenge Cup
Cardiff Blues v Bristol 1pm Heineken Cup – The strongest team so far in the Magners League, Cardiff will be looking to get a result here and they should manage it at home.
Clermont v Llanelli 1pm Heineken Cup – Scott Macleod may continue his run of fine form in a red shirt, which has till now not really been replicated for Scotland. Bruce Douglas also followed him to this region of Wales, still most likely reeling from the recent death of legend Ray Gravell.
Not on the TV but you might find them on the radio online:
Saracens vs Glasgow (Sunday 3pm, Radio Only) Heineken Cup – Glasgow need to start strong (see above). Fingers crossed!
Hello, you friendly people. Welcome to our Scottish Rugby Blog, where we will hold forth on all matters relating to rugby, especially the areas affecting those of us doomed to watch it in Scotland… Feel free to join in with comments, and let us know if there are any areas you feel we could be addressing.