A Game Of Two (Scrum) Halves

With a wee ankle strain keeping him out of Saturday’s game, it looks like Tuesday may be Mike’s last chance to try and sneak on to the bench for the test. With Mike Phillips now a certainty for the 9 shirt and Harry Ellis playing solidly if unspectacularly, Mike has been short of opportunities to show what he can do – less than a full 80 minutes spread across two matches. They are both carrying slight knocks though so if fit he should be certain of a start on Tuesday. With Euan Murray and Ross Ford also largely restricted to the “midweek” team (that confusingly seems to have played on Saturdays) it could be likely that there is a strong Scottish flavour to the “not probables” who will face the Southern Kings on Tuesday – team announcement imminent. This match is on early afternoon here, so set your videos, if you still use such things. They reckon (barring injuries tomorrow) that all scrum halves will be fit for Saturday so no requirement for a late call up…

Meanwhile Chris Cusiter – who many (including myself) touted for a berth on the Lions Tour – seems to be maintaining the great form his brief appearances in the 6N suggested, leading the Scotland A team in Romania to a demolition of rugby giants Russia in a performance that left Andy Robinson happy with some things but seemingly plenty else to work on when Cusiter went off.

BBC Report

Apparently the match was screened by beleaguered broadcaster Setanta, anyone see the match/confirm this? Some of the Nations Cup games seem to be on Eurosport this week but no sign of Scotland thus far, I’ll keep you posted if I find anything.

UPDATE: Here is the Lions team to face the Southern Kings, hot off the press. Donnacha is to captain the side, and big Nathan has been sent into the back row. Still, if Mike Blair passes a fitness test on Tuesday morning this team will feature the entire Scottish contingent starting, leading to the high probability of none of them making the test side. It’s a fairly beasting pack with a much lighter feel (plenty of skill though) in the backs.

British & Irish Lions versus Southern Kings on Tuesday 16th June

15. Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland)
14. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
13. Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England)
12. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster/Ireland)
11. Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland)
10. James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
9. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
8. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
7. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
6. Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland)
5. Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
3. Euan Murray (Northampton/Scotland)
2. Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland)
1. Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks/England)

Replacements:
16. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
17. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
18. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England)
19. David Wallace (Munster/Ireland)
20. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England)
21. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
22. Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England

Jones Gets Late Call

I must be talking about a Welshman, you imagine. Correct:

British & Irish Lions Tour Manager, Gerald Davies, and Head Coach Ian McGeechan, tonight announced that Ospreys and Wales backrow forward Ryan Jones has been called into the Lions’ squad for the remainder of the tour. He will replace Ireland’s Stephen Ferris.

Commenting on the call up, Ian McGeechan said, “Ryan Jones has been called up to replace Stephen Ferris who unfortunately sustained a knee injury during Monday afternoon’s training. He twisted his right knee in a training drill and following a medical assessment it was decided that he should undergo a scan to determine the extent of the injury.”

“He had the scan on Tuesday morning that showed he had a grade two tear to his medial collateral ligament. This usually requires a four to six week recovery period and is severe enough to mean he will miss the rest of the tour. Therefore with six matches left on tour after Wednesday’s match against the Sharks we believe we need to fly out a replacement as cover for the backrow.”

“Ryan is on the standby reserve list and of course has been playing for Wales over the last few weeks in the USA and Canada. He will fit right in as he knows a lot of the players and of course he was a Lions replacement on the 2005 tour to New Zealand. In fact on that tour he showed how competitive he is as an individual by forcing his way into the Test side for all thee matches against the All Blacks.”

Ryan Jones will arrive in South Africa on Thursday 11th June and will meet up with the squad in Cape Town.

It’s unlucky for Ferris who has been playing pretty well and was definitely in with a shout of the test spot against Tom Croft, who should now be a shoo-in if he plays well tomorrow.

Heineken Cup Pools 09/10

Here are the just announced Heineken Cup Pools for next year. Edinburgh have a pool that could prove difficult with both Bath and Stade Francais – but as Glasgow showed, Bath and French clubs are nothing to be feared. Ulster could be a force if their new coach gets them ticking and Ravenhill will always be a tricky away fixture. Meanwhile Glasgow have a pool that has a pair of recent strugglers who have failed to return on their promise  – much like Glasgow themselves – and the Dragons. Lineen’s men could be in with a shout, but with the standards narrowing every year nothing can be taken for granted at this stage. I would question the BBC’s assertion that it is “joy” for the Scottish teams though. And what’s this, Shuggy – a new nickname for Hugo?

Heineken Cup Pools for 2009/10
Pool 1: Munster, Perpignan, Northampton, Treviso
Pool 2: Biarritz, Gloucester, Dragons, Glasgow
Pool 3: Leicester, Ospreys, Clermont, Viadana
Pool 4: Bath, Stade Francais, Ulster, Edinburgh
Pool 5: Toulouse, Cardiff Blues, Sale, Harlequins
Pool 6: Leinster, London Irish, Scarlets, Brive

If you are looking for info on the Scotland U20s match vs England, you can find a report here. Pretty sure there is no coverage online or off else it would be on this page. If it’s anything like the U20 Six Nations match it might have been uncomfortable viewing.

Lions Go To The Seaside

But it could be no picnic against the Sharks. Blair makes the bench: other Scots vanish without trace. Fitzgerald and Williams are given chances to show what they can do in a team that in sections (centres, back row) is starting to look like the probable test combinations. Halfpenny and Blair may get more of a chance in this game – then again, they may not. Wyn Jones gets another chance at 4 – I still think Hines has had the other outstanding performance so far in the second row but either one of them may suffer from the need to put Paul O Connell in.

British & Irish Lions Team versus Sharks on Wednesday 10th June:

15. Lee Byrne (Ospreys/Wales)
14. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland)
12. Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
11. Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland)
10. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
9. Mike Phillips (Ospreys/Wales)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland)
7. David Wallace (Munster/Ireland)
6. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England)
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
3. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
2. Lee Mears (Bath/England)
1. Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues/Wales)

Replacements:
16. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
17. Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England)
18. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
19. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
20. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
21. Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England)
22. James Hook (Cardiff Blues/Wales) (Leigh Halfpenny out injured)

UPDATE: Hook has come in for Halfpenny.

U20s edged out by Samoa, Lions Win

Scotland 14 – 17 Samoa (view coverage here)

Scotland U20s battled bravely but an inability to find the cutting edge in slippery conditions saw them beaten with a last play of the game drop goal. For large parts of the game Samoa survived on instinctive handling rather than any particular shape to their game, and once Scotland found theirs they seemed to break the gainline at will but (sound familiar) without often troubling the try line. Richie Gray at 5 and Dewar at 6 looked game around the park, while Scotland’s stand-out performer was West of Scotland’s Peter Horne with several scything runs from deep inside his own territory. Unable to capitalise on several such breaks which left Samoa’s defensive structure in tatters, they went into the closing minutes at 14-apiece and you always sensed Samoa with their 6’4″, 21 stone “19 year olds” would batter over the try line. In the end, though, it was a drop goal that sealed it.

Scotland play England on the 9th of June, it’s not being streamed live that I can see but may appear later or on Eurosport.

Cheetahs 24 – 26 British and Irish Lions

In South Africa the Lions narrowly avoided getting egg on their manes by edging out a Cheetahs side that proved far more combative than the Golden Lions who finished above them in the Super 14. Mostly the Lions were beaten to and at the breakdown, and this almost gave the Cheetahs a famous win against a Lions side with a cobbled-together feel. Hines looked sharp when he came on, the 2/3rds Scottish front row did reasonably well without being as destructive as we hoped and Mike Blair sat on the bench all afternoon. Hook looked good and kicked creatively and accurately. Other than that, not much of note.

Four Scots in 22 To Face Cheetahs

Nature metaphors continue: Lions vs Cheetahs – who will win? All four Scots in the touring party are selected to play tomorrow, with Hines and Blair on the bench and as expected our front row boys get a start alongside fellow beast Andrew Sheridan. After this match, everyone in tour will have played or at least been selected and the coaches will begin formulating ideas about test combinations – if they have not already…

British & Irish Lions Team versus Cheetahs on Saturday 6th June

15. Lee Byrne (Ospreys/Wales)
14. Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
13. Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland)
12. Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland)
11. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
10. James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
9. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England)
8. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
7. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
6. Stephen Ferris (Ulster/Ireland)
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster/Ireland)
3. Euan Murray (Northampton Saints/Scotland)
2. Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland)
1. Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks/England)

Replacements:
16. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
17. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
18. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
19. Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland)
20. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
21. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
22. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster/Ireland)

Andy Robinson is new Scotland Head Coach

So not only do we get a new shirt to wear in the autumn, there will be a new Scotland Head Coach in the form of Edinburgh’s Andy Robinson. Undoubtedly the best man for the job in the SRU’s eyes if not necessarily the highest profile, Robinson offers a combination of playing and coaching experience (World Cups, Heineken Cups, Lions) and local knowledge from his integration with the game here over the last couple of years. Andy believes he can make the difference to an underperforming Scottish team, and we all hope he can too. It has been frustrating to see talented players consistently under-perform in the navy shirt over the last few years, hopefully Andy can instill some of the killer instinct that his England teams of the past (and to some extent his recent Edinburgh teams) have shown. Robbo vs Johnno in RWC 2011 anyone? Get your cardboard Robbo with a see-you-jimmie masks now.

However the announcement will leave the odd Edinburgh supporter slightly worried about what will be in store for them in terms of coaching, having made strides since Robbo took over two years ago it would be sad to see them suffer a sub-standard appointment and regress. Hopefully the SRU will make a left-field but successful choice similar to the one that brought Andy Robinson north.

D’Arcy Called Up to Lions

British & Irish Lions Tour Manager, Gerald Davies, and Head Coach Ian McGeechan, today announced that Leinster and Irish centre Gordon D’Arcy has been called into the Lions’ squad for the remainder of the tour.

Commenting on the call up, Ian McGeechan said, “Gordon has been called up due to the fact that we have had a few injury concerns in the backs. While the injuries are being treated by the medical team we felt it prudent that we call up Gordon to provide us with extra cover in midfield.”

“Due to the short nature of this tour we have to be prepared for every eventuality. An extra back at this stage, three matches into the tour, will provide the extra depth to cover the existing injuries plus any further injuries we may encounter.”

With the likes of Keith Earls and Riki Flutey both carrying knocks, Jamie Roberts playing twice and James Hook not having had a run out yet it seems prudent to have more cover at centre. Max Evans must be gutted he picked up an injury when he did.

In other news, Glasgow have signed young (Scottish qualified) centre Peter Murchie from London Welsh.

All Change For Lions

As expected the British and Irish Lions team to face the Golden Lions on Wednesday night has been heavily rotated with only three of Saturday’s starters remaining in the shape of David Wallace (moved to 7), Tommy Bowe and Jamie Roberts. Only youngster Keith Earls was unavailable for selection after sustaining a shoulder knock. Flutey seems unlucky not to start after a strong showing from the bench on Saturday but he does have a slight strain that kept him out of training on Sunday. Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll will lead a side that features heavier (in every sense) Scottish representation in the shape of Nathan Hines, along with Ford and Murray on the bench. If the rotation continues along the lines of Geech’s policy that everyone gets a shot in the first three games, it is likely that the next one could see Murray and Ford starting with Blair coming back to the bench and probably Englishman Ellis starting at scrum half inside Hook – after that though the team will start to take shape and our boys will have to be sharp to hold on to their places…

British & Irish Lions Team versus Golden Lions on Wednesday 3rd June

15. Rob Kearney (Leinster/Ireland)
14. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys/Ireland)
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland)
12. Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
11. Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England)
10. Stephen Jones (Scarlets/Wales)
9. Mike Phillips (Ospreys/Wales)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland)
7. David Wallace (Munster/Ireland)
6. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England)
5. Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
4. Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland)
3. Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England)
2. Lee Mears (Bath/England)
1. Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues/Wales)

Replacements:
16. Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland)
17. Euan Murray (Northampton Saints/Scotland)
18. Stephen Ferris (Ulster/Ireland)
19. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
20. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England)
21. James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
22. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)

From Lionsrugby.com: The Golden Lions represent the old Transvaal and Gauteng Lions teams that have faced the British & Irish Lions 17 times since 1891. They have a reunion on the eve of Wednesday night’s fixture for the Transvaal side that beat the Lions in 1968 and have the best record of any South African team against the tourists with seven victories and a draw.