Six Nations Roundtable

aka The Five Thingies of Journalism. We do have a round table in the house though seriously, so Al and I sat at it post Six Nations and had a chat as we lay cringing in the rubble of Scotland’s wooden spoon near miss.

What should be done?

RB:I think we need to look at a new coaching structure for Scotland. Or new personnel in the existing structure. There seems to be a lack of tactical nous coming from players we know are better than this. I think Parks – who we have both been more supportive of than some, it has to be said – needs to only be let back into the squad if he’s playing better than Paterson or Godman and the policy adopted (half way through the tournament) of picking players on form needs to be stuck to across all positions, not just number 6, where it worked particularly well.
AK: Personally I’m going to start by going back through my family heritage and try and uncover my Tongan roots!  Calcutta Cup aside that was a minging tournament from a Scottish perspective.  I struggle to see how Hadden can keep his role as it currently stands, as the head honcho he needs to take responsibility for the debacle and he’s been culpable in a number of areas from poor choice of tactics to baffling selections of substitutes.  As the backs coach the fact that Scotland only scored 3 tries (I think) says it all.  A new head coach is needed, a new coaching structure needs to be put in place and for the love of God play form players – we just can’t afford to carry passengers!

Where Next For Scotland?

RB: Argentina is the short answer. Although more interesting could be the A team’s trip to the Churchill Cup in June, with Robinson and Lineen hopefully showing the way forward. A position in the third group of seedings for the World Cup in 2011 is looking more likely unless we upset the applecart twice over the summer away from home against the Argies.
AK: I suspect a couple of thumpings for a Scotland side over in South America.  You never know though.  In my opinion we have the players to beat Argentina but we need to go with form.  Its an opportunity to blood some new players and try a more expansive game – this means no Parks!  I don’t think we are a particularly bad team, its just they really don’t – yet – know how to play with each other.  Beyond that, who knows what will happen, much will depend on coaching structures.

Who Next for Scotland?

RB: Not sure, but I think Andy Robinson should be left where he is. A possible part-time Scotland job as with Shaun Edwards, Wasps and Wales may be the answer. The same could be said for Lineen at Glasgow. They are only just starting to get results and they should be allowed to build on that to create a strong and dare I say it confident professional core on which to found our national squads. I don’t know if that means get rid of Hadden or not, to be honest. Jake White would be unlikely to take the job if offered – though representing one of the few real challenges in rugby left to him(!) – , but there are a few decent coaches floating about. But please not Eddie O’ Sullivan. In terms of players, younger players such as De Luca, Rennie, Barclay, should be given their chance, sooner rather than later. France are blooding young players without regard for results and getting the results anyway. Who’s to say it wouldn’t work on a smaller scale?
AK: Erm…pass?  Not a clue, I agree its probably too soon for Robinson who is, in my opinion, not an international head coach – better to use his skills as a forwards coach.  Not sure if we could try and get someone like Brian Redpath involved but whether he’d leave day-to-day rugby is debatable.  I think Scotland need a team of coaches rather than this head coach figure.  I appreciate a team pulled together by ‘committee’ is risky but it may be our best way forward.  We really need a motivator in this new coaching ‘team’ so happy to take someone who’ll strip the paint of the changing rooms at half time!  At the moment I get the feeling we lack leadership, Strokosh, over time may start to take more and more on.  Players wise the future is brighter than it may seem, Edinburgh and Glasgow have a decent crop of youngsters starting to come through but now, not 2 years from now, is the time to blood new players.

Why?

RB: Because the current team aren’t playing to their potential, and that needs to start happening if interest in the game is to grow and I’m to have any hair left before I turn 30.
AK: Because what we currently have is performing below what it should be.  In my opinion this is the perfect time to take a risk.  Nothing to lose, World Cup is 3 years away and new players can get the chance to get international experience.  A new coach, a new ethos and a new spirit need to be instilled into the whole Scottish setup.  The time for consolidation is really over and Scottish rugby is crying out for someone to take the bull by the horns and make some bold, and possible brave, decisions.

When should this all happen?

RB: If you’re getting rid of Hadden, it should be as soon as possible. Or if not now, then after the Churchhill Cup and Summer Tour. Disastrous results may see that happen anyway. Not making change now may reduce the summer tour to an exercise in telling us what we already know, ie that we’re not as good as Argentina with Hadden in charge. But perhaps we could be, without him.
AK: Now.  That’s it really!  Wholesale changes need to be made, the sooner we start the better.  Not just Hadden, under-performing players need to be dropped and chances taken on players who are in form.  We go to Argentina with nothing to lose so why not start from scratch?  Ultimately whatever we do, whenever we do it, it can only get better…unless we take Matt Williams back!!!!! 

Hadden Announced as Lions Coach

Yesterday sources deep inside the British and Irish Lions camp announced a surprise front runner for the post of Lions coach in the upcoming 2009 test series against South Africa, namely visionary Scotland head coach Frank Hadden. It is believed that his preferred deputies are Brian Ashton to coach the backs, and Ulster Coach Matt Williams as forwards coach. Said team manager Gerald Davies, “we think Frank would give the Lions the direction and tactical nous needed to take on the current World Champions in their own back yard, and look forward to watching him talk about put together a great team.”

In other news, it is reported on Skynet that Leicester Fly-half Andy Goode is actually responsible for the destruction of mankind through his work on chess-playing super-computers. Little Terminator humour for you there, folks.

Transfer rumblings, Magners League Round-Up

Edinburgh defeated Connacht on Friday to move into 3rd spot in the Magners League for a day, securing a 4-try bonus point along the way after the Irish team maintained parity up to the half way point. After Munster’s win over new boss Matt William’s Ulster, they leap frog into 3rd with a game in hand and start building the momentum as only they know how.

Glasgow struggled against league leaders Leinster and failed to do their east-coast counterparts a favour as Leinster forged on in their challenge to secure the title, seeing them nearly ten points clear. Next weekend sees Edinburgh play Cardiff and the Scarlets play Leinster in match-ups that could well affect how the top of the table looks come the end of the season.

Suggestions on the Scotsman website are that both pro-teams could be looking to bring some exiles home, in Edinburgh’s case the long mooted Jim Hamilton move from Leicester, and much more interestingly Mark McMillan from Wasps to Glasgow, who in this blogger’s opinion are in fairly urgent need of a class scrum half. McMillan has been on fire for Wasps in Reddan’s Six Nations absence and would make a valuable addition to the team. Expect him to make an appearance alongside either Cusiter or Lawson in the Churchill Cup squad.

Sky Sports picks Lions Team, Scots included shocker

Stuart Barnes and Dewi Morris both picked their hypothetical Lions teams (if the match was played now not in 2009) on the Rugby Club this week, with a small Scottish contingent. Barnes picked Hines at 4 and Rory Lamont at 14, with Blair and Hogg on the bench, while Morris went for Blair and Hines on the bench and no-one in his starting XV. Myself, it would probably go something like this, fitness allowing:

Sheridan
Mears
Jenkins
Hines
O’ Callaghan
Strokosch
M. Williams
R Jones
Blair
Cipriani
S. Williams
Henson
O’ Driscoll/Shanklin
R Lamont
Murphy/Kearney

Bench: Stevens, Bennett, O’Connell/Gough/Wyn Jones (take your pick!), Haskell or Hogg, Phillips, Hook, Tait

Also, congrats to all the guys who whooped me in Six Nations Fantasy Rugby, shows what I know eh? Big shout out to Pedro who finished 3rd in the mini league.

O’Sullivan Quits Ireland

Not really Scottish news this, but of interest nonetheless. Despite having around 3 and a half years left on his contract, Eddie O’Sullivan stepped down as coach of Ireland yesterday, pre-empting the possibility that he might have been fired. It’ll be interesting to see if indeed he took the opposite tack to former England football manager Steve Maclaren and forewent any possible contract buyout by the IRFU, but at the moment it certainly looks like he did the gentlemanly thing.

Interestingly the BBC’s current short list of coaches states:

“Declan Kidney is among those tipped to take over, but Mike Ruddock, Pat Howard, Wayne Smith, Jake White and Alan Gaffney are also in the frame.”

Whether any of these would be interested in the Scotland vacancy (should it arise) would be debatable (Kidney would be unlikely, and may be the most likely successor to O’Sullivan), but certainly the likes of Pat Howard and Alan Gaffney would be interesting. Not another Aussie, I hear you say…

Team of the Tournament

1 Allan “Chunk” Jacobsen – Scotland’s only decent ball carrier in the first three games. Accounted himself well in the scrums throughout except for a wobble that led to the dubious penalty try.
2 Lee Mears – more level headed than “clown” Regan and surely the future in England’s front row. Assured performance against Ireland.
3 Martin Castrogiovanni – the same amount of tries as the entire Scotland team. Consistently passionate.
4 Ian Gough – We struggled to pick a standout lock, to be honest. So we asked Pedro to pick one. This may have been down to a lot of poor throwing by hookers, however. Hines might be in but for his costly indiscipline.
5 Scott Macleod – restored a bit of control to the Scotland lineout, and offered a more mobile option than his predecessor Hamilton.
6 Al Strokosch – Find of the tournament from Hadden’s point of view, even though everyone else knew about him. Aggression, control, good hands and ball carrying. Does the basics well – a big future in a Scotland shirt. And possibly elsewhere…?
7 Martin Williams – In rugby games where it’s “an overall team effort”, there is a rule for picking the man of the match. Give it to the No 8, the fly-half, or if Martin Williams is on the pitch, give it to him. Consistently excellent.
8 Sergio Parisse – If Mallett will be frustrated at his lack of a fly-half, he’ll be glad of players like Parisse. Taylor played well against England, but there’s a reason he’s not getting much of a game for Stade. Parisse’s girlfriend is not bad either but we couldn’t let petty jealousy take away his place in the team.
9 Mike Blair – Grown with every game. Showed maturity and intelligence in his play since being given the captaincy. Still shows up incredibly well in defence. And when allowed, gives Scotland the pace at which they need to play. Put your money on the Lion’s captaincy now before the odds shoot down.
10 Ronan O’ Gara – A tournament for steady stand-offs rather than individual brilliance. That said, he put in some stunning kicks against Wales and a classy flick on for Kearney’s try against us.
11 Shane Williams – Wales’ top try scorer ever, and player of the tournament. ‘Nuff said.
12 Gavin Henson – Finally showed some of the class he had promised early in his career. Good in defence and attack. Alan still says “meh”, though.
13 Damian Traille – Offered a re-assuring solidity to France’s inexperienced team. Formed a decent combination with Jauzion when Lievremont finally started chasing the tournament. In the last game.
14 Vincent Clerc – Another wee guy on the wing who showed some old-fashioned French class when he was picked. Still looked sharp after being shuffled to the bench and back.
15 Lee Byrne – Now a sure-footed, mammoth-booted and pacy option from full-back. A different player from his woeful performances last year. Proof that picking on form is often rewarded.

Bench: Ford, Sheridan, O’ Callaghan, Ryan Jones, Phillips, Paterson, Kearney

Coaches: Gatland, Edwards & Howley

Honourable mentions

RB: Danny Cipriani. If he’d played more than one game he’d probably be in our team at 10, having offered a glimpse of what his talents could bring. He may not be the next Jesus but he definitely had an impact when he finally got a chance. Jonny may now begin the time-honoured shuffle outwards along the backline ala Gregor Townsend.

AK: Rob Kearney – maintained his Leinster form with some storming defensive play and a great try against Scotland. May finally signal the end of the Golden Generation’s strangle-hold on the Irish back division.

Scotland team to face Italy

I have a confession. During the St Etienne debacle in October last year, I may have offered up a silent prayer to the gods (Roman gods, naturally) that if they’d let Scotland win that one so our World Cup tour stayed on track, then the Italians could have the next Six Nations win in return. So if Bortolussi’s missed kick was indeed caused by a giant invisible digit playing Subbuteo Rugby, my fellow Scotland fans you will only have me to blame if Scotland should lose by a similar twist of fate on Saturday. The Italians may be due a break. However I suppose you could claim that so were we up until last weekend, so it would be nice to see the winning ways continue for Scotland. And let’s not forget that regardless of the Ireland vs England result, this will be the Wooden Spoon decider.

With that in mind, here’s the mostly unchanged team to face the Italians in Rome next weekend, with Danielli the only new starter. It would have been nice to see (another player with an Italian name) Nick De Luca given another chance on the bench, but his time will come.

Backs: Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Simon Webster (Edinburgh), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), Nikki Walker (Ospreys), Chris Paterson (Gloucester), Mike Blair (Edinburgh, capt)

Forwards: Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Fergus Thomson (Glasgow Warriors), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Nathan Hines (Perpignan), Scott MacLeod (Llanelli Scarlets), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Allister Hogg (Edinburgh), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais)

Bench: Scott Lawson (Sale Sharks), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Craig Smith (Edinburgh), Jason White (Sale Sharks), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors)

Word is also going round that Andy Robinson’s wife allegedly told Brian Moore to “f**k off” on Saturday, which is something that no doubt many of us have wanted to do from time to time (The Scotsman comments section is rife with “here’s to you, Mrs Robinson” jokes, so I won’t bother). What with Austin Healey having footballs blasted at his, well, balls on the Rugby Club last week, it seems there is a lot of wish fulfilment going around.

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?