Scrum.com Fantasy XVs Updated

You can now log in and see how your team did, and if you haven’t already signed up there is probably still time to do so here. Reader Kieran has stormed into an early lead due to the somewhat risky selection of Andy Goode at 10 – a selection that may not last long once the tournament rolls on I suspect. You get 15 changes across the whole tournament / 5 max in any one round, so choose your timings carefully. Is Shane Williams worth leaving in as an injury risk? Wednesday should see the next lot of squads announced so you’ll probably want to hold off till then before ditching all the English guys about to get hammered by on-form Wales…or will you jump on the Ireland bandwagon?

Scrum.com have also very kindly asked me to post some tidbits on their 6 Nations Fan Blog section, so once that is up and going you’ll get some additional and largely exclusive ramblings from me over there.

5 Really Stupid Things Scotland Did

For the most part you could argue that for “Scotland” you could read Frank Hadden…

1) Only having one lock on the park. With an already weakened scrum, Jason White played with a bit of heart but wasn’t really the answer in the lineout. Gough and Jones were pretty dominant for Wales in an area we had (before the loss of Hines and rash selections) hoped to target. If he had to play a back rower in the second, surely it would be Simon Taylor who has been doing it all season? Ally Kellock has been playing well for Glasgow, with no little amount of fire in his belly. He’s been in the wilderness long enough – surely it is time for him to return and give some grunt alongside big Jim Hamilton?

2) Early substitutions of Cairns and Barclay. Peter Wright apparently left the commentary box in disgust when Barclay went off. I’m pretty sure “aperplexed” is not a word, but as it combines “apoplectic” and “perpelexed” quite nicely it sums up what was, I am sure, the mood of many. Barclay had been relatively solid to that point, and while his replacement Scott Gray did well, surely one of the cornerstones of our defence and more importantly the one who sets the tone for the forwards (in the absence of Hines and Strokosch) should not come off just when we are getting into the game. The expression on Barclays face as he went off summed it up. I believe the expression was: WTF? While Max Evans did pretty well when he came on, scoring a great try past both Byrne AND Williams, Cairns wasn’t given a chance. I counted about 2 passes he received in 50 minutes. Surely if the crash ball through Morrison wasn’t working he could have had a bit of a chance, or failing a chance, a pass? Now that Max Evans has made his mark, Cairns would under normal circumstances have to fight for his place back from Evans. Having said that I would still stick with Cairns as he has a slight edge defensively but Evans is pushing hard. This being a Frank Hadden team though you could see Andrew Henderson in the team next week for all we know.

3) Not picking Strokosch or Thom Evans. Max’s late try seemed a little like an “I told you so” (though that was not the language I used when I first expressed this thought) from the Evans family to Mr Hadden. His pace and lack of fear set a little spark in the crowd which in turn spurred on the team. “Win the crowd. You will win your freedom” Olly Reed said in Gladiator. Shadows and dust Max Evans, shadows and dust. Imagine what we could have done with two Evans boys in that end period. The big Stroker should definitely come in at 6, with Barclay preserved at 7. Without Hines, Scotland were a blunt-edged instrument in the forwards. Strokes could be the man to return that edge, given his tendency to use anger as a motivating factor. Pick who you like at 8, it’s a tough call between Brown Hogg or Taylor as none of them was outstanding while not being terrible. I’d probably go with Taylor.

4) Playing like headless chickens. So eager to try and fix things after a ropey start, they were knocking balls on, playing Chunk at first receiver (actually not unsuccessful sometimes) or rushing headlong into dangerous tackles. Dr Cross, in particular, will have little to remember (if he can) of his debut cap. Two poor tackles and twenty minutes in and the bench was half empty and the set piece in even worse shape. The Mossy debate was put to bed early as he was forced on to the pitch – where he had a pretty good game and nearly scored two tries. You do wonder though if Evans or Lamont would have had the power to get over for the first of those. Where was the controlled aggression of the Argentina tests or the autumn internationals. Still in Gloucester? Lamont had another off day, and if you were being really out of your gourd inventive you could have an Evans on each wing which keeps Cairns in the backline too. It’s more likely to be another Mossy shuffle though, as we’ll now have forgotten we had confidence in Godman’s goal kicking 24 hours ago even though he wasn’t tested yesterday.

5) Playing the backline too deep. This was the biggie, the final nail in the coffin of an already consumptive corpse. Godman likes to play on the gain line for Edinburgh, yet yesterday he sat way too deep. On instruction perhaps – was that the plan to beat Wales: to sit off their blitz defence rather than try and get in behind them? Is it any surprise that Parks, Hadden’s standoff of choice, likes to sit deep too? Morrison had little chance to make an impact on quick ball as the Welsh defensive line had plenty of time to size him up. Cusiter came on and it seemed like he had instructions to get them flatter. And it worked. This one can be fixed simply – allow Godman to play flat. Giving Cusiter a start at 9 might be a good call given his familiarity with the French and the obvious boost he gave to Scotland’s game. We had talked up Mike Blair but he had a curious off day – he’ll be back I’m sure. With Southwell at 15 you have a big kicker who can sit deep if your plan is to kick. But if you are going forward, you want Godman flat where he is much more dangerous. The solution is NOT to bring Parks in and get him playing flat (or deep). Give Godman a decent game plan playing flat and he should be fine. Don’t be too worried about blitz defences, interceptions or any of that. It happens. Trust in the skills of the players – confidence comes from the top. Regardless of what he says in post-match interviews about how confident he is, Mr Hadden’s game plan is not inspiring confidence either in players or fans. I think we are all sick of seeing feckless and overly conservative Scotland teams, yet we know these players can play fired up, aggressive and attacking rugby. So who is not pushing the ignite switch?

Feel free to add numbers 6-10 below as we lick our wounds and look “forward” to France next week. While one never likes to say I told you so, if there is one message reverberating around the message boards it is that. Do we amateur pundits really know more than the coach this time? It beggars belief.

My team for France would be:
Jacobsen, Ford, Dickinson, Kellock (Hines if fit?), Hamilton, Strokosch, Barclay, Taylor, Cusiter (c), Godman, Evans, Morrison, Cairns, Evans, Southwell with Low, Hall, White, Hogg, Blair, Paterson, Lamont on the bench.

A version of this post also appears on scrum.com

Good Omens?

Scotland U20 18 – 17 Wales U20

See, it’s easy really. I knew there was some rugby on TV tonight but I missed it. Still you can get a BBC report here.

Let’s hope it’s a good omen. Speaking of which, Wales have never lost a Six Nations game Gavin Henson has started. But he’s not starting on Sunday anymore, having been pulled due to a calf strain (his replacement is Tom Shanklin). Interesting – or just straw clutching?

Good luck to Italy tomorrow, and for that matter to England I hope they manage to sort something out. France and Ireland too, here’s looking forward to a great Six Nations. See you on the other side with a roundup.

Stephen Jones Was Not Down In Jungleland

Seems that by being sent to cover England’s infamous “spit roast” tour in NZ last summer, the esteemed Sunday Times pundit missed the Boss at Cardiff Millenium Stadium. Don’t agree with his top 20 songs. Where is Jungleland, Tenth Avenue Freezeout, No Surrender or Dancing in the Dark?

Scottish Rugby Blog 1, Sunday Times 0.

UPDATE: speaking of the mainstream press, it seems that The Scotsman may be planning some live blogging for Scotland’s upcoming Six Nations matches. If you can’t catch it on TV or live online, then there would be worse ways to get a blow by blow of the games. I only say “seems” as I found this site in our stats, but I can’t find any links to it elsewhere…

Will we be vindicated once again?

Just a quick post to let you know that BBC Wales have very kindly/foolishly asked me to present the armchair Scottish pundit’s viewpoint on the team announcements and Six Nations in general on their Good Evening Wales show this evening. Listen out if you can!

UPDATE: You can listen to it here for I’m not sure how long – possibly until 6:34pm Wednesday 11th February. I’m not sure if this will work outside the UK. I’m going to try and get a copy to post up here.

DOUBLE UPDATE: My bit was just before 6pm, I think it’s about 1hr50m into the thing.

Scotland and Wales Announce Teams

That sound you can hear is Mr Expectation, Mr Hope and Mrs Triple-Crown running out of the door, leaving Mr Uhohherewegoagain nursing his pint in the corner.

Is it just me or is this not quite the team we had hoped for? Shorn of Hines, Murray and Strokosch that pack looks a bit cobbled together and out of position, and without Evans at 14 a little short of killer instinct in the backs. It puts an awful lot of pressure on Godman as goalkicker and playmaker. It could just be me, as it’s not that much different to the team I picked earlier in the week and a lot of the calls were close. If there is an injury to Thom that would explain things, but otherwise his exclusion seems dangerously close to folly. I hope this team can prove me wrong…

Scotland team:
Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh), Simon Webster (Edinburgh), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow), Sean Lamont (Northampton), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Mike Blair (Edinburgh), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Jason White (Sale), Jim Hamilton (Edinburgh), Ally Hogg (Edinburgh), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais), John Barclay (Glasgow)

Replacements: Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), Chris Cusiter (Perpignan), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors)

Wales team: Lee Byrne (Ospreys); Leigh Halfpenny (Blues), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Gavin Henson (Ospreys), Shane Williams (Ospreys); Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Ospreys); Gethin Jenkins (Blues), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Ian Gough (Ospreys), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Ryan Jones (Ospreys, capt), Martyn Williams (Blues), Andy Powell (Blues).
Replacements: Tom Shanklin (Blues), James Hook (Ospreys), Dwayne Peel (Sale), John Yapp (Blues), Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Dragons), Dafydd Jones (Scarlets).

UPDATE: I’m not the only one, check out some of the comments about Evans absence on the Scotsman website… There seems to be a sense that if it doesn’t pan out, Frank Hadden is digging a rather large hole for himself on the (unused) Murrayfield back pitches…

UPDATE: Also now that the teams are announced you can make adjustments to your fantasy XVs. For example you can take out Evans and Murray. Bet they don’t let you select your half backs as Mauro Bergomasco and Andy Goode

My Scotland Team Set for “Glory”

This would be the team I announce tomorrow, and here’s why:

15 – Chris Paterson. This was trickier than I thought, which is a good thing. Hugo has been on fire recently, but before the recent rib injury, so was Mossy. Frank Hadden is looking for maturity of decision making from this team, having identified that as the difference between Scotland and South Africa in the Autumn. Scotland’s record cap holder displayed this in spades in the gritty Heineken Cup defeat to Leinster, out-foxing a charging Rob Kearney on a couple of occasions and showing a better ball retention than Paterson of old. Hugo on the other hand does still have a little rash streak. If Scotland are going to live up to their potential this has to be brought under control. Then of course, there’s the kicking. It’s almost a flip of a coin between Hugo’s educated left boot and Mossy’s goal kicking. Sadly we need the points more.

14 – Thom Evans. Time for Thom to step up and make people take notice. Blistering pace, a much improved defence and now the chance to show some of these other chaps (Shane Williams, Rob Kearney) he means business. Named by Stuart Barnes in his Lions XV at the weekend on the back of just 3 caps – although credited as a Welshman! He’s been in miraculous form for Glasgow and the ball seems to bounce his way almost every time. If Hadden is looking for luck, Evans should be the rabbit’s foot he needs.

13 – Ben Cairns. There’s a lot of talk about Max Evans at the moment, and both he and Cairns seem to have jumped De Luca as the bright young things of Scottish centre play. In a tournament where they could come up against the likes of O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Jauzion or Wales powerhouse Jamie Roberts, I think the extra grit in Cairns’ defence gives him the odds over the naivete Evans has been known to show (although he is improving quickly under Lineen). Given a free reign and a little outside space to work in, Cairns could be devastating.

12. – Graeme Morrison. Shown some fine form recently, and will add some bulk to a backline outside him that for once is more pace and raw talent than raw meat. Will need to keep breaking the line though as a Hadden-style 12 should or he’ll soon find himself back in the shark tank with the circling young bloods in the squad such as De Luca, Dewey and Houston. De Luca may be the ideal choice, but he’s never shown ideal form at international level. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t get a run at some point though.

11 – Sean Lamont. Scored a wonderful wingers try recently for the Saints and needs to recapture the form of a couple of years ago. A chance for him to escape the glare of brother Rory’s halo and prove why he’s worth his place in a Scotland team getting younger by the minute. Remember the Sean Lamont who scored 4 tries in one game for Northampton in between Six Nations victories over France and England? Go on Seanie, have a wee run…

10 – Phil Godman. Hopefully the Dan Parks thing has been put to bed. Yes he is reliable, sometimes. Yes he is frequently very good for Glasgow. But Scotland just play better with a mazy runner like World Class Phil bringing them on to the ball. With an attacking back division they need an attacking fly half. Godman has improved his positional and goal kicking too (as has Paterson) making the usual arguments for Parks’ inclusion less relevant. A couple of steady games (dare we hope for a victory?) and the shirt should be his for some time to come. At least until Glasgow’s young pretender Ruaridh Jackson gets picked for a Scotland squad. Oh, wait…

9 – Mike Blair. Probably the form scrum half in Europe over the winter despite a relatively poor showing from the pro-teams. Mike Philips and Danny Care are up there, but there is a coolness to Blair’s game that sets him apart – and keeps him on the pitch head up, rather than in the sin bin or at the bottom of a ruck. Being captain gives him the chance to set the pace and the others will follow if they can keep up. Good to see Chris Cusiter coming back to form and if there is an injury he’ll be chasing hard to get his old shirt back.

8 – Simon Taylor. Damn this one was tricky, as I’m a big fan of Hoggy and Kelly Brown has been playing pretty well for Glasgow (at 6). There’s Johnny Beattie too. There is a wee niggle in my mind that Taylor has been playing at lock all season. In the end Taylor has too much class to leave him out – witness his textbook tackle in the recent Stade vs Perpignan game and a couple of solid performances in the autumn. Hogg and Brown may once again suffer for their back-row versatility and it’s a coin toss for the bench spot.

7 – John Barclay. One of the easiest choices. Hadden fumbled about without a proper 7 for long enough, now he has several itching to get on the pitch. Consistently solid, aggressive yet organised, with good awareness – and sick of losing. His battles with Martin Williams at 7 in the first match and with David Wallace in March could well set the tone for Scotland’s Six Nations, and possibly the Lions tour too.

6 – Al Strokosch. You could pick any one of Jason White, the Big Stroker, Kelly Brown (again), Ally Hogg (again); even Scott Newlands has been in good form. Al Strokosch has been consistent if unexciting for Gloucester so far this season, but in terms of regular playing at 6 it’s between him and Brown. I’ve gone for Strokosch’s extra fire here but he is not yet quite the player he was last season when walked into the Italy dressing room and handed his man of the match award to Sergio Parisse after the Italy game. That shows a level of commitment and sportsmanship that can only be applauded.

5 – Jim Hamilton. In great form since his return to the fold at Edinburgh. Adds tremendous bulk to the front five and is starting to take on a little ball carrying now too. Given his proportions, this makes him hard to stop.

4 – Nathan Hines. News he did not train on Monday is a little concerning. The man from Wagga Wagga has been a fixture on the team sheet since his return from international exile. Continued knee problems could see a last minute replacement by Al Kellock who on recent form may manage to bring a similar amount of niggle as Big Nathan.

3 – Euan Murray. One of the first choices on many team sheets as a result of his sterling play since moving to Northampton to learn at the feet of the great Tom Smith. Recent news of a rib injury could open up a spot for Geoff Cross or Moray Low to make their mark but from Scotland’s point of view Murray has to be fit!

2 – Ross Ford. Offers a lot both in attack and defence. Dougie Hall is coming back to a bit of form after the switch to Glasgow while last season’s incumbent Fergus Thompson has dropped off a bit. Ford is the front runner by some distance, and offers good handling and running as an auxiliary back-row type. In the absence of the bulky back divisions we have seen in the past, forwards like Ford and Hines will need to step up for their share of the ball.

1 – Allan Jacobsen. He might not be praised at Murray’s level but still a capable pair of hands who shows up well in attack. In fact, in last year’s Six Nations he was about the only one who showed up in attack. We can but hope that this year’s brand of Scotland team will allow Chunk to concentrate a little more on the scrummaging. There are a number of younger props coming through though, so Chunk may do well to hold them off.

Bench: Geoff Cross, Dougie Hall, Ally Kellock, Ally Hogg, Chris Cusiter, Max Evans, Hugo Southwell

There are only 2,800 odd tickets left. Go on, you know you want one. A full Murrayfield would really help the team: I’d be there were it not for previous commitments. Damn those commitments.

Six Nations Fantasy Rugby

Hey people, we’d love you to join us playing Six Nations fantasy rugby to pit our amateur punditry skills against one another. It’s a free game, you can sign up here:

http://scrum.fantasyleague.com/

The deadline for teams is (I think) Saturday the 7th before the first game kicks off. Once I’ve set up a mini-league I’ll post the PIN you’ll need to join it in the comments section. I can’t promise a prize for the winner but you never know… if you’re really good I suppose you might win a Land Rover.

Murray Could Be A Worry

BBC reports that great white hope of Scottish propping Euan Murray is recovering from a rib injury and could make him a doubt for our opening Six Nations game. This would be a bit of a blow to be honest, as the scrum was hopefully going to be one of our key strengths in the upcoming tournament. We wish him a swift recovery!

You can read the full story here.

Another One Back in the Fold

Scott Macleod has announced he is signing for Edinburgh, part of the SRU’s growing effort to herd in some of our lost sheep and get them playing rugby in the Scottish meadow again. Apologies for the over-extended pastoral metaphor there.

He has recently been out of favour for Llanelli following a second drugs testing incident – both of which he has been cleared over and only recently got back on to the bench. It’s a shame as he was playing a blinder down there for a while and was a fixture in their second row. However Edinburgh could always use more locks and with the pairing of Jim Hamilton and Scott MacLeod they now have some real potential there. No word on Rob Dewey’s mooted move to Glasgow as yet, but the SRU are definitely pushing to have a core of players in country where their availability can be controlled.

6 Nations – the ill-informed view…

Having not had the opportunity to post for a while now I thought I had better remove my finger and provide the world with some more of my ramblings.

You guys have had it too good since New Year, having the pleasure of Rory’s well-considered musings on the game.  As with any good partnership you need the Yin and Yang – I am the screaming, cursing, bipolar (“we’re great…nah, we’re sh*te”), Townsend-sceptic rugby fan in comparison to Rory’s deer-stalker wearing, drinks out the back of the Land Rover, Townsend-lovin’ rugby toff.  As such my musings are formed purely of prejudice, half-baked ideas and a tenuous knowledge of the rules (I played in the front row, no need for rules!).

The 6 Nations are less that 2 weeks away and this year’s tournament looks like it is shaping up to be a cracker.  The Northern Hemisphere’s premier tournament is always essential viewing but this year there is a general feeling that pretty much every team has the ability to pick up results…well maybe except England!  Here are my thoughts on Scotland in the lead up to the big kick-off, look out for my views on the other teams in the coming days:

Scotland

Every year, without fail, I’ll look at the Scotland squad and think to myself that it looks pretty strong and that with a wee bit of luck this could be the year we string some result together and maybe claim a wee bit of glory.  Every year I’m wrong and the last couple of 6 Nations have seen Scotland win 2 games…out of 10!  Can this be the year where Scotland turn promise into results?

Well, yes!

Hadden has by far and away his strongest squad in his tenure as top dog.  A pack that is possibility the best in the tournament and a set of backs that, whilst not the finished article, look like they might actually score some points.  The club sides are producing good results (think Glasgow and Edinburgh winning in France) and are pushing at the right end of the Magners League.  Key to their success has been the breakthrough of a number of younger players and this has fed into the national side where an injection of fresh blood has been needed for sometime now.  Since the last 6 Nations the national team has toured Argentina picking up a win in the process and put in 2 encouraging displays in their Autumn Internationals (didn’t see the NZ game but didn’t sound great).  The game against South Africa, the world champions, showed just how far the team have come…and how far they still have to go.  We bullied the South Africans around in the pack.  The forwards were tight and very, very aggressive.  The backs ran good angles and with a little more precision could have scored more points.   That though is where they still have issue: finishing off the chances they create.  For Scotland to prosper this coming 6 Nations they need to take the form from the South Africa and Canada games and add the finishing – if, and it’s still a big if, they can do that then they may well have a very good tournament.

This Scotland team has the look of a team that is still a distance from peaking (2011 would be nice!) but if they continue to develop at the same rate as the last 12 months then the future should be good, or at least better than what has gone before.  A successful Scotland side will help ensure that the punters turn up in number ensuring more money into the SRU coffers which will then, hopefully be fed into the grass routes (and not Chris Cusiter’s pockets!) to bring on the next generation of players.

A quick note on Hadden, who like his squad, appears to have come on leaps and bounds in the last 12 months.  I’ve never been a huge fan (despite the fact he put up while Rory and I dribbling drunken nonsense to him in St Etienne) but he seems to have got a better idea of the game he wants to play.  Like most Scotland fans I’m delighted that Dan Parks has burnt the dodgy pictures he must have had of Hadden and he is no longer compelled to pick him.  Hadden has a depth of squad that has not been available to him in the last couple of years and this should allow him to develop a Plan B in the case any games are going pear shaped.  Of course this means that the excuses that Hadden has used to cover his own inadequacies are not going to wash.  This tournament will cast a fair eye over Hadden’s abilities at this level.

Finally, the backroom staff appears to be doing a good job, the pack is tight (although the lineout is still in need of work) and provide an extremely solid base for attacking the opposition.  As much as I was never a huge Townsend fan when he was a player (way too erratic) if his coaching is half as good as his thoughts on the game then we should see a back line that will trouble even the best sides in the world.

Predictions:

So, can Scotland win the 6 Nations?  Yes!

Really?  Well it’s certainly not outwith the realms of possibility and we are certainly due a run of luck in terms of injuries and the bounce of the ball…

The first game against Wales is the key.  Wales, off the back of a Grand Slam and a decent set of Autumn Internationals will be looking to start strong but Murrayfield is far from a happy hunting ground for the singing coal miners.  Presuming Scotland don’t forget how to tackle, they will fancy bloodying the noses of the Welsh and setting up a lip-smacking clash in Paris the following week.  The other home games should be winnable (the Irish are on the slide in my opinion, and Italy should still always be beatable) so a lot comes down to the trips to Paris and London.  Scotland don’t travel that well (not lately anyway!) but this is a Scotland squad filled with players who have won on French soil (albeit at club level) so Paris may not be so scary.  As for England, who knows but this could well be the year the Scots end the Twickers hoodoo!

Head: Mid table mediocrity.  Win against Ireland and Italy at home, lose in France, just miss out in a classic open running game versus Wales and a lack of composure in scoring position ultimately see us lost to England by a score.  4th / 3rd
Heart: Get off to a flyer against Wales, lose in France but pick up 3 more victories, including a gritty display at Twickers to records a long awaited victory to finish 1st or 2nd.
Arse:  Lose badly against a buoyant Welsh side, struggle for composure in France, run Ireland close but lose and face an England side that suddenly comes into form at the right time.  Sneak a win at home to Italy to avoid the wooden spoon.  5th.

Fixtures:

Scotland v Wales (Murrayfield) – Sunday 8th February, 3pm.
France v Scotland (Stade France) – Saturday 14th February, 3pm
Scotland v Italy (Murrayfield) – Saturday 28th February, 3pm
Scotland v Ireland (Murrayfield) – Saturday 14th March, 5pm
England v Scotland (Twickenham) – Saturday 21st March, 3.30pm