Parks and Recreation

Troubled Glasgow fly-half Dan Parks may have played his last game for Glasgow after recent troubles – a meeting with the SRU next week should clear up as to whether or not his contract will be renewed or any disciplinary action will be taken. Meanwhile Glasgow trundle on with a visit from Connacht to finish off a fairly dissappointing Magners season that has seen several of their players step up to the national rank while still struggling to achieve consistency at club level. The good results they have had – away wins in Toulose, beating Edinburgh and Heineken Cup finalists Leinster – and the incoming talent (Cusiter, Dewey) auger well for next year though. There are also a few youngsters coming through the ranks, with Ruaridh Jackson now well and truly leading the way from 10 if Parks does indeed go, along with the likes of beanpole lock Richie Gray. Perhaps look for Colin Gregor to fill in less at 9 next season and more at 10. This match is I believe on Setanta.

Edinburgh have decided to rest newly-minted Lion Mike Blair in the match against Cardiff which does not mean all that much, but if results go their way they could move up into third or even second. Other than Greg Laidlaw filling in, Andy Robinson has named a pretty strong team with the replacement of Alan Macdonald due to injury the only other major change. Ally Hogg takes over the captaincy in a game that will be shown on Sunday on S4C.

The SRU have also announced a progress report on their hunt for a head coach which doesn’t say very much of anything, other than it won’t be Mike Brewer and consequently he has chosen to seek pastures new, presumably in search of a head coaching position..

UPDATE: Parks has been fined £3000 and banned for 18 months for his driving offence. Like the last time caught in a car under the influence, he was apparently screwed by one of his mates who buggered off with a bird leaving him facing a night in a car. Mates, eh? Still, taking the decision to turn the engine on this time is not a good example to set in his position as a role model for young kicking stand-offs and interception throwers everywhere, and may turn out to have fatal repercussions for his playing career here. Al will no doubt pop up shortly and point out how Parks was never the same after an encounter with me in St Etienne…

Scotland Sevens All-Star Squad

A few Scotland stars have been called up to bolster the Scotland Sevens squads for the home legs of the IRB Sevens World Series events, in London (23 and 24 May) and Edinburgh (30 and 31 May):

Scott Forrest (Ayr) CAPTAIN, Mike Adamson (Glasgow Warriors), Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Roddy Grant (West of Scotland), Colin Gregor (Glasgow Warriors), Allister Hogg (Edinburgh), John Houston (Edinburgh), Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh), Hefin O’Hare (Glasgow Warriors), Colin Shaw (Glasgow Warriors), Jim Thompson (Edinburgh), Andrew Turnbull (Edinburgh)

London Pool C: Fiji, Kenya, USA, Scotland

Scotland 7s Pool C fixtures on day one (Saturday 23 May) of the Emirates Airline London Sevens: Kenya v Scotland (kick-off 12:41pm), Fiji v Scotland (kick-off 3:25pm), USA v Scotland (6:21pm)

Edinburgh Pool C: Kenya, England, Canada, Scotland

Scotland 7s’ Pool C fixtures on day one (Saturday 30 May) of the Emirates Airline Edinburgh Sevens Festival: England v Scotland (kick-off 12.09pm), Kenya v Scotland (3.13pm), Canada v Scotland (6.56pm)

It already looks a pretty strong squad and not short of pace even before you throw Evans into the mix. His brother Max was supposed to be in there, but he may now be out for up to 6 months with the knee injury sustained at the weekend. Here’s hoping they can grab a result on home soil and Thom doesn’t get skinned by some Kenyan/Portuguese tyro in the the quarter finals of the bowl competition.

Geech Rumoured For London Scottish – Where Next for Basil?

With the player roundabout settling down a bit, the coaching roundabout has now stepped up as clubs complete their end of year reviews. The Times yesterday posited that Ian McGeechan could be headed to London Scottish after he hangs up his Lions boots, with current employers Wasps said to be unhappy at the current performance of their team and planning to give him the heave-ho. Once again this would be quite the coup for London Scottish and another step on the road back to success. Best to do it now and give time to build a team over a couple of seasons and promotions, rather than parachuting in a top-flight coach at the last minute before (one hopes) entering the top flight. It wouldn’t harm the prospects of any young Scottish qualified players down there to have Geech showing them the ropes either. A London Scottish spokesperson told Scottish Rugby Blog, “Ian has provided valuable guidance to London Scottish in the past. However, this story is speculation. We hope that he will be able to contribute to our success in the future, but he does not have a specific role with the Club at present.” More news if we hear it.

The article also mention that Gloucester coaches Dean Ryan, and more interestingly Bryan Redpath and Carl Hogg, may also soon be out of work after this weekend given Gloucester’s failure to capitalise on strong performances when the crunch matches come around. Although I’ve read before that Basil is not much of a fan of the internecine political warfare that accompanies interacting with the SRU, I’d like to see a move back north to fill the expected coaching vacancy at Edinburgh as the next step in his coaching career… who knows, maybe Deano would like to come too?

UPDATE: Geech has definitely left Wasps, even though the Lions have been paying his wages this year so he’s just been popping in now and then. Shaun Edwards will remain at Wasps as head coach. No official word on the move to Scottish though.

Vote For Your Magners League Dream Team

Time to select the end of season Magners League Dream Team. If you want to nominate anyone, please choose your starting XV and email MagnersLeague@brand-rapport.com. Voting closes at midnight on Friday 15th May and the Magners League Dream Team for 2008/09 will be announced shortly after. The player who polls the most votes for his position will be included in the Magners League Dream Team for 2008/09. There will be a prize for the entry which most closely resembles the final Magners League Dream Team for 2008/09.

Just out of interest, this would be mine:

15 Kearney (Leinster) – close with Ben Blair and Mossy whose boots have both been hugely influential but Kearney offers slightly more in attack.
14 T Evans (Glasgow) – top try scorer in the league, pace to burn. Narrowly missed out on being a Lion in the season he got his first International cap.
13 O’ Driscoll (Leinster) – largely written off last season, has rediscovered fun and his form. Max Evans would probably be behind Shanklin in 3rd but has had a hugely encouraging season at 13.
12 Mafi (Munster) – another import to Munster that has given their backs an edge to match the forwards. Close, with Jamie Roberts and D’Arcy’s late run of form.
11 Danielli (Ulster) – has been scoring tries by the hatful for Ulster and is enjoying working under Matt Williams so much he has signed a new contract. Deserves points just for that. Tommy Bowe a close second.
10 O’ Gara (Munster) I suppose, but let’s face it there’s not been much to whoop about stand-off wise anywhere in Europe of late. Hopefully the likes of Sexton, Biggar and Jackson will make next season more exciting.
9 Blair (Edinburgh) – remember, the start of the season counts too. Dropped off a bit in the Six Nations, but still made numerous opponents look foolish/inferior throughout the season.
8 Heaslip (Leinster) – Hoggy has been solid if unspectacular and Powell/Jones keep getting edged out by Rush/Tiatia. Heaslip has really found his form this season.
7 Barclay (Glasgow) – close between him and David Wallace but it is the Scottish Rugby Blog after all.
6 Elsom (Leinster) – several towering performances in defence, a true class signing.
5 O’ Connell (Munster) – Lions captain, speaks for itself.
4 Tito (Cardiff) – a real talisman for the Blues, the ginger “Maori” was greatly missed in Cardiff’s HC loss – possibly not during the penalty shoot out though. A testament to his leadership that he earned the captaincy after only one season.
3 Jones (Ospreys) – has matured from a hairy figure of fun to an excellent prop.
2 Ford (Edinburgh) – better form in his Edinburgh shirt than during the Six Nations for Scotland. Powerful in the loose, not so accurate with the throwing.
Jenkins (Cardiff) – stand out prop in the Northern Hemisphere at the moment. Phenomenal workrate has made him leading candidate to fill the Lions 1 shirt.

Breaking News…Blair a Lion!

Breaking news…

Scotland Captain Mike Blair has been called up for the British and Irish Lions squad that travels to South Africa this summer.  Blair has been called up to replace the unfortunate Thomas O’Leary who recently broke his leg playing for his club side Munster.

Blair, who plays for Edinburgh,  was thought at the turn of the year to be a certain to travel South Africa.  However a poor Six Nations campaign and unsure performances for his club side saw him not even make the travelling party.   Blair has been a key part of the Edinburgh side that has recently gone on a five match winning streak and his performance in last weekends 43 – 3 defeat of the Dragons will have no doubt helped highlight what he can bring to the Lions party.

Fellow Scot Chris Cusiter was initially rumoured to be the front runner as a replacement but perhaps being stuck on the bench for Perpignan has hurt him (the same could be said for Dwayne Peel at Sale), while Blair has been able to take full part in Edinburgh’s recent string of consecutive victories. I am sure he will make a full contribution and if he finds the form of the autumn (where he made most of the Springbok team look a little ordinary at times) he definitely has the class and vision to be the test scrum half.

Blair will no doubt now want to push for a test place in the Lions team.  His inclusion now ups the number of Scots in the Lions squad to a (still paltry) 3.  All of us here would like to congratulate Mike on his call up and hope he’ll be able to do both himself and his country proud.

Edinburgh Back In Fourth As Glasgow Fail to Ignite

Edinburgh blasted the Dragons with a bonus-point victory at Murrayfield this weekend but Glasgow failed to do them a favour by beating an out-of-sorts Ospreys team. They did deny them a bonus point but the game was marred by Max Evans going off on a stretcher with what looked like a nasty knee injury and another schizophrenic refereeing performance from Irishman George Clancy. Ruaridh Jackson looked inventive at 10 and kicked most of his points and Lome Fa-Atau had a pretty good game on the opposite wing from Thom Evans. I have to say that Andrew Henderson looked pretty off-peak when he came off the bench with a couple of poor and late challenges – one of which he would have been carded for if Clancy wasn’t obsessing over sending off as many props as possible. The Ospreys now move third, equal on points with Leinster. Edinburgh can regain second if both those teams lose next weekend and they manage to beat Cardiff in Cardiff. Unlikely, I know. But Cardiff have a midweek game and must be on their last legs by now – paying for the silly Anglo Welsh Cup. Meanwhile Leinster face the Dragons but Ospreys have to play Munster. So third could be on and they are guaranteed to at least equal their best ever finish of fourth.

While he was always an outside chance to be called up to the Lions as a replacement for the injured Tom Shanklin – and it was interesting to hear Will Greenwood mention him as a possibility – this will almost certainly rule Maximus out. In the same game though James Hook looked pretty good from inside centre, and he might give the Lions some fly-half cover too. With Jamie Roberts going off injured in the Munster match last night too the Lions could be looking at another replacement in the centre. Speaking of which, the Sunday Times reported that former Lions scrum half and backs coach Rob Howley was dispatched to watch Chris Cusiter in Perpignan this weekend – bit of a shame as he didn’t seem to get on the pitch. Ian Macgeechan went to watch Danny Care who didn’t have the greatest game either. No word if anyone was watching Blair, as we await the rumoured announcement this week.

UPDATE: The Times is now reporting that Rob Howley was in the crowd for the Edinburgh match, which seems more likely. Someone (in the Murdoch empire) got their info wrong.

Review and Preview

This week has seen Geech face the possibility of a 3 man reshuffle to his Lions squad, with Tom Shanklin now joining Tomas O’ Leary on the injury list and Munster’s Alan Quinlan facing the possibility of a ban for gouging Leo Cullen in the Heineken Cup Semi Final. While there are a couple of Scots in the running to fill the spare 9 shirt in Cusiter and Blair, it is less likely there will be any chance of them filling the other shirts. If Quinlan is banned out of contention, Tom Croft and Ryan Jones (or Dennis Leamy) would be considered the front runners – perhaps Strokosch if he had been fit would have been in with a shout. In the backs, there is no real direct replacement for Shanks (if fit I suppose Tindall has the same amount of hair) but they might look to bring in the likes of D’Arcy or Hook as a different sort of centre. Max Evans is probably an outside bet at this stage I would say, but a demolition derby of the Ospreys at the weekend on his part would certainly help his cause… see below.

No news on when any announcements would be made, but it will probably be after this weekend’s Premiership semi-finals and round of Magners League matches.

Transfer update: Sean Lamont’s move to Llanelli has also been confirmed.

Edinburgh, still chasing an improvement on last season’s fourth place finish – they are currently on course to match that – are at home to the Dragons on Saturday. This match is not being televised. Assuming Edinburgh can beat the Dragons, on Sunday Glasgow could do them a favour by beating the Ospreys away, a result that would take the battle for the last few places down to the final weekend of the season. Ospreys vs Glasgow is on S4C at 2.30 on Sunday. These games offer the second to last opportunity for Scottish players to keep their heads bobbing above water in the Lions standby pool.

SRU Making Sense In The Autumn

Well this is a bit of welcome news in my inbox. Opponents and ticket prices for the autumn internationals – our first under the new head coach whoever that may be – have been announced. The SRU are finally pitching at the right level, and while the teams may not be such big box office draws, I think they may prove far more useful to our team development in the long term. The Test opponents are Fiji (14th Nov), Australia (21st) and Argentina (28th), and we should have a decent (but not easy) chance to beat all three if we are on form (and the Aussies are not!) despite the sides sitting at 8th, 3rd and 5th in the IRB rankings respectively. Scotland currently sit in 10th, so we get points if we beat any of them. So far, so sensible, and not an All Black whipping in sight.

Furthermore, ticket prices for all three start from £10 for adults. There’s not even a price hike for the Aussie game, and if you buy a £20 or above seat you will also get a free ticket for the Edinburgh leg of the pro-team derby, in a repeat of last year’s deal. So there’s no reason for us all not to get along and try and get decent crowds for all three – at £30 the lot, that’s the same as a cheap Six Nations ticket.

Is the SRU finally helping Scottish Rugby fans to beat those credit crunch blues?

Young Props Up Edinburgh Forwards

In other transfer news, Scotland A Tighthead (and recently released from Gloucester) prop David Young has signed for Edinburgh, who lost Gavin Kerr to Sale for next season. Good to see young talent coming home, Young should add to the mix nicely with Geoff Cross, Kyle Traynor and of course Chunk when he returns from injury. Although part of a decent contingent of Scots at Gloucester such as wee Rory, big Stroker and medium Ali Dickinson, Young was the only one of them released during the recent cull that saw some higher profile talent (Ryan Lamb, Anthony Allen) let go.

BBC Story

Dai Was Monty’s Double

It seems that Sean Lamont may be bound not for Brive, but for Parc Y Scarlets with a move to Llanelli. Injury hit Sean (but who is currently out of the Saints team on form) may yet be playing Magners League rugby next year. There’s nothing official on the Scarlets website yet so it may be another one of those rumours, in which case apologies for spreading it further.

Scotsman | Beeb

Would there have been room for him at either Edinburgh or Glasgow? Unlikely at Glasgow with the Evans boys, Fa-atau and Rob Dewey’s rumoured impending transformation into a winger. While at Edinburgh you have Malkovich Webster and Mossy who immediately spring to mind –  so there is an argument he could fit in there  – but not forgetting the likes of Turnbull, Reid, Houston and Thompson all pushing through and competing for back three spots. Still it means we’ll see more of Sean on BBC Wales’ coverage…

SRU Pulls London Scottish Academy Funding

Just got this in, seems like the SRU are no longer willing to fund London Scottish’s academy system which means they can’t afford to emply a coach any more. Given they have pulled the plug after only two years with limited (but not negligible) success, the irony given their failure to pull the plug so quickly on more spectacular failures north of the Border would be delicious, were it not so annoying. One suspects they will still provide a valuable proving ground for semi-Scottish youngsters despite the SRU’s best efforts.

London Scottish today announced that Rowly Williams will be leaving the Academy as it’s Director/Coach.

The decision is linked directly to the decision by Scottish Rugby to withdraw all funding for the academy programme at the club.

In the post since November 2007, Williams has overseen the establishing of the player development programme of young Anglo-Scots at the club. In conjunction with the Scottish Exiles, The Academy has hosted Development Group evenings during this period which have identified players, along with others by direct selection. These young players at the club have received rugby training, conditioning, game understanding and position specific skills coaching.

Steady progress was being seen – eligible players have gone on to represent the Scottish Exiles in trial matches, several have made various performance (high potential) group camps with Scottish Rugby, player Matt Heeks represented Scotland at U19 and U20 in the past two seasons and Ryan Wilson was recently selected for the Scotland U20 World Cup squad. The eight senior academy players have all represented London Scottish at 1st, 2nd and Development XV level.

Despite the decision being made, the club intends that a Player Development Programme will continue. Williams is confident that, where possible, the club will continue to develop and promote those deemed good enough onto the Scottish pathway route.

“The idea and concept of an academy here is a sound one and whilst it produced what some might see as a modest return in the 2 full years of operation, I always felt there was much more to come as the club continued its rise up the leagues. The support of Scottish Rugby was invaluable, as was that of The Friends of Scottish Rugby.”

“I’m sure some common ground will be found again soon and young Anglo-Scots will make London Scottish their team of choice and Scotland the Country they choose to represent.”

Hugo Goes to France and Monty Might Not

As reader Derek pointed out in the comments for our last impeccably titled Hugo related post, Hugo Southwell has now indeed confirmed a move to France, in particular Stade Francais where he hopes to find a spot in the team alongside former Edinburgh stablemate Simon Taylor. While the concept of Hugo in a flowery pink shirt would in principle seem awesome, I think he will need to up the consistency of his play a fair bit to pin down a regular spot at Stade.

Meanwhile the Beeb reports that Sean Lamont’s rumoured move to Brive (a club seemingly beloved of out of form Northampton players, having played recent host to Ben Cohen and Steve Thompson) has fallen through and coach Saints Jim Mallinder is now “unsure” of Sean’s future at the club. A decent run in the European Challenge Cup match against Sarries on Friday could help turn the tide.

Geech To Take His Time

While it won’t surprise you to learn that Scottish Rugby Blog’s preferred choices to fill Tomas O’ Leary’s vacant Lions shirt both hail from these shores, Ian Macgeechan has opted to wait for a week or two before naming a replacement. How will the remaining weeks of the season allow the main candidates to showcase their talents (assuming they all play in all possible games)?

Mike Blair – home game vs the Dragons and away to Cardiff who may choose to concentrate on the Heineken Cup. Plenty of opportunity to show off and guaranteed his spot in the Edinburgh team if fit. Has been steadily improving of late since a poor Six Nations but without being spectacular. Would offer a different kind of scrum-half play to Phillips (who bowled him over in the Ospreys game at the weekend) and potentially restore some magic to the Lions half-backs.

Chris Cusiter – at home to Montauban and away to Castres, plus with USAP topping the table the playoffs to follow. Plenty of opportunity to show he is battle-hardened at the top level if the Lions selectors bother to send anyone to watch him, and if he can secure a starting place in the Perpignan team having already announced his return to Glasgow. The Lions management have apparently asked for him to go on the (European Nations Cup) Scotland A Tour to stay match fit. Came off the bench during a game last weekend that saw Perpignan stage a last-minute fightback against Clermont to clinch victory. The week before he didn’t play and they lost. Coincidence? Such are the straws we love to grab.

Peter Stringer – now in Munster’s hot seat for their Heineken Cup shindig with Leinster at Croker, as well as the last two games of the season vs Cardiff and Ospreys. Will get plenty of opportunity to play in tough matches, but does he have enough to his game in comparison to the others, save a good pass and the extremely occasional bluff if the run is on, like he did to Scotland in the 6N?

Dwayne Peel – having been probably “the best in the world” in his field at the time of the last Lions tour, (just like Lee Byrne is now), Peel’s season is now over with Sale out of the running in European and Domestic competition. Other than the Welsh tour to North America, this offers him little opportunity to stay match fit before a decision is made. Given the Welsh selectors didn’t want to take a chance on his form before the 6N (when he was actually in reasonable form when he played for club and country), will the Lions team follow suit?

Danny Care – Has a Guinness Premiership semi-final vs London Irish and potentially a final too. Probably the in-form man with some high intensity stuff ahead, but can he control his rash streak enough for the Lions selectors?

An announcement should come either this week or next. In other news, heaps of people have applied for the Scotland job including 8 or so definite contenders, and Rory Lamont is rumoured to be following Philipe Saint-Andre to Toulon. Hopefully he won’t get involved in anything like this