Friday Night Special

Edinburgh 32 – 14 Castres

Quick update on Edinburgh’s abortive Heineken Cup campaign: tonight they have claimed a decent home victory against an under-strength Castres side. Tries from Cairns, Godman, Ford and his replacement Kelly ensure a bonus point which will go nicely towards their draw seedings for next year’s competition if little else. Just back from a rib injury, Mossy got on for about half an hour – presumably at standoff – but more worrying news is Nick De Luca’s 21st minute substitution which suggests an injury of some sort. It might make the centre picks for the Six Nations a little easier I suppose, with Morrison and Cairns the clear favourites in De Luca’s absence. Injury news as we get it!

UPDATE: Godman was taken off with a hamstring knock as a precaution, so that could be worrying. Nick De Luca went off with a head knock but should be fine in a week or two.

Stephen Jones Says Something Agreeable 2 Weeks Running

There must be something in the water…

Townsend Turning
They recently announced some figures in Scotland that purported to show a major revolution in the sport north of the border, with increased numbers playing the game and watching the professional teams.

All very fine, although if you delved beneath the figures you found that, basically, Jock McTavish and his mate had started to play rugby for someone’s under-13s and that Jimmy Stewart has agreed to go to watch Edinburgh now and again provided it’s not raining.

Still, good luck to them, a Scotland rugby revival is the next key to the well-being of the RBS Six Nations and even small rises are turning a tide. And, in my opinion, that revival came a little closer last week when it was announced that Gregor Townsend, the former Scotland back, had joined Frank Hadden’s coaching set-up – this after an odd period when Townsend seemed to have been banished to the outer limits.

The choice is superb. I have always regarded Townsend as a genius, although not without flaws. He didn’t pick the best time to be born, since his deftness, passing, ability to put people into space and all-round expertise were somewhat wasted. Those outside him in the Scotland teams for which he played between 1993 and 2003 were not on his wavelength, some were not even on the same planet.

Look what happened when they gave him players to bounce off – he was able to marshal the 1997 Lions to victory in South Africa. A career that took him to Northampton, Brive and Castres also gave him a wider vision. I used to love watching him end on, to see him work his angles. His wisdom and modest manner could well herald a revival in Scotland back play and something better in terms of the scoreboard. Those are the numbers that really matter.

Full article can be found on the Times Website.

Scotland vs Ireland Looking Close to Sell-Out

A bit of actual news reporting for you here! Your faithful correspondent was up at the crack of dawn today to try and snare a couple of the last few cheap seats for Scotland’s Six Nations Clash with Ireland. By the end of the waiting process the following was clear: no “cheap” ie £30 pairs of tickets left anywhere in the stadium, let alone 4! However due to some cunning use of the “back” button (that “nearby seat finder” thing is rubbish) and randomly adding single tickets to the basket, I eventually managed to get hold of two close to each other separated only by a couple of rows in a glorious and hopeflly dry corner of the lower North Stand. This means that at least one match this Six Nations will have full Scottish Rugby Blog coverage. But probably not this particular one, as we’ll have been in the pub all day. Furthermore the SRU website reports that 4,500 tickets were sold in the first hour this morning. Reportedly first in the queue for tickets in person was a young man unwilling to reveal his identity to the SRU press office as he’d taken a sickie off work to grab the tickets. As usual no tickets are on sale on match day, so get yours now – a sensible enough policy for the big matches which usually sell out anyway but for the Autumn Ints and Italy, it’s a bit silly. They could probably pick up a few extra quid and lord knows they need it. Once those cheapest seats are all gone it’s the “luxury” of the West Stand… Tickets are also still available for Scotland vs Wales and Scotland vs Italy. You can also try our advertiser links in the top right as well so no excuse (other than impending global financial catastrophe) for not supporting the boys.

Why Ireland, you ask? Well, because we might beat them, I’d reply. And I’ve been at the last two home Calcutta Cups not to mention a couple of stiffings by the All Blacks and I’d quite like to see something fun in a full stadium. Okay beating England was fun, but hardly a rugby spectacle. Whether this wish will be fulfilled by the men in green from across the sea is another matter.

Still, the craic will be good.

Pro Team Results

Edinburgh – rubbish game of rugby – “turgid” according to BBC Ulster commentators – little atmosphere (even with Matt Williams to rib), yet Edinburgh come away with a 21-15 victory at Murrayfield after a blistering early start. Southwell, Blair and Hogg gathered the early plaudits.

Glasgow – lots of pace and running about, an exciting match right to the last play of the ball on the Dragons try line, multiple line breaks, people scoring tries from their own half and a referee who allowed rucking with the feet to the delight of the assembled BBC Scotland commentators (all forwards). Yet Glasgow are defeated 3 tries to 1 and lost 20-25.

What can you do, huh?

Toony Army Marches On

The SRU announced today via their shiny new website that former Scotland and Lions (not to mention Gala, Northampton, Brive, Warringah, Sharks etc etc) standoff and centre Gregor Townsend is to take over the coaching of Scotland’s back division for the upcoming Six Nations. While this is certain to set the fingers muttering in Al’s neck of the woods due to Gregor’s, shall we say, inconsistencies as a player, I reckon it could be a good move. Edinburgh’s backs (Godman and Cairns in particular) seem to have benefitted from his recent input by showing a bit more of a cutting edge, and his mentoring scheme of pairing young Scottish talent with past masters such as Gavin Hastings, Sean Fitzpatrick and, er, himself was the envy of many, including All Black Kevin Mealamu. And besides, Parks and World Class Phil already know plenty about throwing intercept passes and running up their own backsides.

He also has more coaching qualifications than his Lions captain and current England manager Martin Johnson, so far as I can find out.

It’s Rob Dewey Time

It’s about that time of year when the pre-Six Nations player roundabout starts, so with that in mind I have a few snippets for you.

Rob Dewey returns to Murrayfield this week (alongside former Scotland coach and silver surfer Matt Williams) with Ulster, and rumours are flying that he has begun negotiations with the SRU for a more permanent return to these shores. As yet it is unclear where he will settle his ship – The Times seems to think Glasgow, while the Scotsman seems to think Edinburgh (and also mentions they may be interested in Scott MacLeod too which – despite his other troubles – would be a good signing in rugby terms). Edinburgh already have three promising young centres in Houston, De Luca and Cairns while Glasgow would have been a more obvious choice were it not for the appearance this season of Max Evans, giving them three decent centres also (Evans, Henderson, Morrison). Where do you fit in Dewey? As a battering ram 12 it is more likely to be at Edinburgh where the midfield is a little lightweight. But will that do anyone any good with regards to the national setup? After all, there are only two shirts to fill week in, week out – so someone’s development will be hampered. I still maintain you could swap Cairns and De Luca around, but nobody listens. Also, what happened to Al’s bête noire Marcus Di Rollo? Last we heard he was stuck at Toulouse unable to play there for medical reasons, and forbidden to leave and play anywhere else. An investigation beckons…

Big Jason White is to leave Sale Sharks at the end of this season to join ASM Clermont Auvergne. Glasgow had been hopeful of returning the former Scotland skipper north of the border, but White is clearly looking to pastures new after 5-odd years in Manchester. He’ll join the likes of Elvis Vermeulen and Julien Bonnaire in the back row at Clermont.

“I was very impressed by the organization, the structures, the team and the ambitions of the club. Clermont belongs to the best European clubs and I think that it is likely here there is a real chance to gain titles. I always wanted to play in France and the prospect to discover a new culture and a new language is very exciting.” (apologies for the Babelfish translation)

No Scottish rugby on TV tonight, (unless perhaps you have Setanta) but coverage on BBC Radio Scotland as usual. Glasgow take on the Dragons who feature ex-Glasgow man Andy Hall in their squad, and will be looking to cement their form with a victory over the often troublesome Dragons. Edinburgh as mentioned above face Ulster, and feature a back row shorn of Ross Rennie (now out for the season) and Alan MacDonald (head knock) so Simon Cross and academy sevens man Roddy Grant come in. Still, Ally Hogg – who played in all of Matt Williams’ games in charge of Scotland – will be there to hold down the fort.

Stephen Jones Big Ups Big Nathan

Ahh, some sense at last. In his most recent Rolling Maul (well worth a read for many reasons, primarily it seems as something to argue with your PC screen about) the esteemed Sunday Times Rugby correspondent has highlighted Big Nathan’s possible usefulness as a Lions tourist:

Nathan Hines (Perpignan)

He has had his injury problems, he has had his moody periods – notably when he decided to retire from Scotland, although in the dire reign of Matt Williams as coach this was seen as compulsory, not disloyal.

Hines, however, is hardcore. Someone has to stand opposite Bakkies Botha on tour and give back in kind everything Bakkies dishes out, in deed or word. At present, Hines seems to be the leading candidate to out-Bakkies Bakkies. He is big, tough and uncompromising, and if you can become a hero in a tough place like Perpignan then you have it all going for you.

You can get the full thing here.

If it goes wonky then it’s all Al’s fault

Sadly this is not the case, it will in fact be me messing about under the hood. But if the site appears somewhat schizo over the next few days, please bear with me as I rejiggle it a little. I would also take this opportunity to apologise to anyone trying to join the neglected Guinness Premiership Fantasy Rugby mini-league, I promise to try and find a more successful one we can all start on an even footing for the Six Nations.

UPDATE: I have switched over to a more widget-heavy theme to reduce future maintenance so some of the features and buttons in the sidebar may have vanished temporarily. They’ll be back!

1872 Cup Goes to Edinburgh…

… but at the end of it all, it might be Glasgow left with the bigger smiles. Here’s brief rundown on each match, as taken in (without benefit of sound) at a couple of Inverness’s Setanta-bearing hostelries – plaudits to The Exchange and Fairways for sticking the game on for us.

The first leg (on Boxing Day) was the brighter affair with both teams trying to play rugby but Glasgow inexplicably failing to put anything half decent together. Consequently they found themselves on the end of a hiding in front of a record crowd. Deserved man of the match Hugo Southwell took a great try and his boot was instrumental in most of Edinburgh’s positional play. World Class Phil also stepped up to the plate with a great no-look ball that sent Malkovich Webster in for a well-taken try that put Edinburgh well on the way to their bonus point. Edinburgh played some sparkling rugby at times backed up by a strong defensive display – Cairns and De Luca were quite impressive – while Glasgow were largely MIA. Still quite a lot of handling errors and unforced turnovers, not to mention strange goings on at scrum time that Andy Robinson blamed on the rookie ref.

After first leg:

UP: Hugo Southwell (MoM), Ally Hogg, Phil Godman, Ben Cairns, Simon Webster, Thom Evans, Jim Hamilton, Nick De Luca, Colin Gregor
DOWN: Dan Parks, Graeme Morrison, Max Evans, the ref/the scrum
NO CHANGE: Mike Blair, John Barclay

The second leg at Firhill was a much steelier affair, with a fair amount of niggle in the early period – led mainly by Ally Kellock who seemed to direct most of his ire at Jim Hamilton. Kellock may have been the only man on the park tall enough to even attempt a punch on the big man, not that we condone such things. Godman kicked steadily but didn’t get much ball to work with. Parks had a much better game behind a Glasgow pack that kept an icy grip on ball at the fiercely contested breakdown, though his kicking went off-kilter a little just before he was replaced by Ruaridh Jackson. After that the game became a battle of the second strings. Overall it was more of an even contest in front of another good crowd (who mostly paid this time) but still a lot of spilled balls (and probably as many spilled pints). Again the home side had the defensive edge, with Thom Evans showing that is one area he has worked on. Glasgow turned Edinburgh over a fair bit in the ruck and there were a few poor errors from Southwell and De Luca. I still think De Luca should be swapped from 12 to 13, given Cairns’ slight edge in physicality highlighted by the great last ditch try he took from the 12 position to snatch a late losing bonus point for the visitors. That’s what the Christmas trial is for, isn’t it?

UP: John Barclay (MoM), Scott Newlands, Ben Cairns, Dan Parks (a bit), Phil Godman (well, his kicking game), Thom Evans, Graeme Morrison
DOWN: Nick De Luca, Hugo Southwell
NO CHANGE: Max Evans, Simon Webster, Kelly Brown, Ally Kellock

Best XV Over 2 legs:
Southwell, Robertson, Cairns, Morrison, Evans, Godman, Blair, Hogg, Barclay, Newlands, Hamilton, Gissing, Low, Ford, Jacobsen

Swap Newlands out for exiles big Jason or big Stroker, Robertson for Lamont or Mossy, bring in Hines and you have the makings of a team there…

Happy New Year! Look out for a slight redesign over these pages, coming to you soon.

Edinburgh and Glasgow Teams for Boxing Day Derby

It should be an interesting one, with a number of match-ups featuring the incumbent in the national jersey against his closest rival. For example, Barclay/Rennie, De Luca/Morrison, Godman/Parks or Ford/Hall. And a Scottish team is guaranteed victory, huzzah!

Edinburgh

Hugo Southwell, John Houston, Ben Cairns, Nick De Luca, Simon Webster, Phil Godman, Mike Blair (capt), Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Gavin Kerr, Craig Hamilton, Jim Hamilton, Scott Newlands, Ross Rennie, Allister Hogg.
Replacements:
Andrew Kelly, Geoff Cross/Kyle Traynor, Matt Mustchin, Alan MacDonald, Greig Laidlaw, David Blair, Jim Thompson.

Glasgow Warriors

Bernardo Stortoni, Hefin O’Hare, Max Evans, Graeme Morrison, Thom Evans, Dan Parks, Colin Gregor, Justin Va’a, Dougie Hall, Ed Kalman, Tim Barker, Alastair Kellock (capt), Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements:
Fergus Thomson, Moray Low, Dan Turner, Richie Vernon, Sam Pinder, Andrew Henderson, Ruaridh Jackson.

Make Us An Offer We Can’t Refuse

The Italian Rugby Federation has agreed that it will put forward a proposal for either 4 clubs or 2 select XVs – the more likely option – to join the Magner’s League. While in principle this will be great for Italian rugby (and delight those of our Italian readers with a hankering for all things Mossy) it does create increasing congestion in an already long rugby season. However, the Borders were until fairly recently part of the Magners League fixture list, so you could look at it as the net addition of just one team. This is why I believe two extra teams is the most sensible option in terms of both the fixture list, length of season and added expense of travel to Italy for away games. Another good idea would be to get rid of the EDF Energy Cup which should free up the schedules a bit, or perhaps relegate it to a development/under 21s tournament. None of the big clubs really seem to pay attention to it anyway, unless they happen to find themselves in the final.

The blog may be offline briefly in the next few days as we upgrade our software, but I doubt you’ll notice, such is the efficiency of our technical staff/size of our readership. If we can find a pub to watch it in (not being in Edinburgh on Boxing Day), I’ll be back with a report on the derby match between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Hoepfully it’ll be a spectacle for the neutral in front of a record crowd. Stranger things have happened.

Until then all at Scottish Rugby Blog HQ wish you a very happy Christmas and New Year.

Rory and Al

Scotland’s Six Nations Dates, Times and Officials

A little dry, I know. but here they are. Grand Slam decider anyone?

8 February, 3pm Scotland vs Wales

Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Touch judges: Chris White (England), Rob Debney (England)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)

14 February 3pm France vs Scotland

Stade de France, Paris
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Touch judges: Wayne Barnes (England), Tim Hayes (Wales)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)

28 February, 3pm Scotland vs Italy

Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Touch judges: George Clancy (Ireland), Romain Poite (France)
Television match official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)

14 March, 5pm Scotland vs Ireland

Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Touch judges: Wayne Barnes (England), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Television match official: Hugh Watkins (Wales)

21 March, 3.30pm England vs Scotland

Twickenham, London
Referee: Joel Jutge (France)
Touch judges: Christophe Berdos (France), Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Television match official: Carlo Damasco (Italy)

This last one is subject to Joel Jutge passing a fitness test. Scots whistle-blower Peter Allan will man the touch line for England vs Italy and Ireland vs England, whilst David Changleng will do the same for Ireland vs France and Italy vs Wales. Which should please Jonathan Davies no end.

A Splash in the Pool

Castres’ surprise but merited victory over Leinster last night throws a glimmer of hope to those of us Edinburgh fans who like to live fairly removed from the plane of reality. If Edinburgh get a five point victory away at Wasps tomorrow, they would jump to second in the group. If Leinster continue to nosedive when Edinburgh face them in Dublin, with a home tie against Castres who they have already beaten, Edinburgh could in fact finish well in the group which might bode well for seedings next year.

The more likely occurence is that starting tomorrow, Wasps suddenly materialise as a team, grab a stranglehold on the group and go through to the knockout stages after a showdown for the group with Leinster at Twickers. After all, that’s what everyone is telling us is going to happen…