Heineken Cup Update

I’ll keep this brief so you can read Al’s awe-inspiring Six Nations preview below. I was going to call this article “Stephen Jones can suck my poop”.

Glasgow managed a narrow victory against Viadana (pop. approx 17,000, and led by Al’s boogeyman Kaine Robertson), but no sign of the 4 try bonus point that was so vital if they are to fluke their way out of the group stages. Especially with Saracens going so well (5 points against Biarritz), Glasgow will need to get a bonus point victory against them next week. This group could go down to the wire next weekend. Brown, Barclay and Beattie looked like they might have picked up a few knocks though…

Edinburgh weren’t given a hope by anyone against Leicester after a 39-0 drubbing in the away leg – so I’m looking forward to seeing the highlights of that one on Sunday night as they outplayed the Tigers and emerged thoroughly victorious! 5,800 people turned up and Radio Leicester thought only about a thousand were travelling support, so hopefully the crowds will keep improving. With Parks not amazing against Viadana while Godman scored a try and kicked accurately, could World Class Phil once again be the saviour of Scottish standoffery?

Please leave some comments if you are an actual human being, but spammers don’t bother I only delete them!

Al’s All-Singing But Hopefully No Dancing Six Nations Preview

Part I – Best Xmas Present….Ever!

I remember Christmas growing up being all about the lead up to the big day and whether or not Santa Claus had paid attention to the letter sent in June with my demands for Christmas presents. Sure, as the years go by this anticipation has faded slightly – especially since the demand is now mainly for cold hard cash – but you still hope to get what you asked for. Along with the sock and a knitted jumper from Auntie Agnes there was the good stuff, the ZX Spectrum, the BMX racer and the Eagle-Eye Action Man. I’ve spent most of last year on my absolute best behaviour to try and ensure that Santa had no reason to screw me out of the good stuff and sure enough the fat jolly fellow came through with the full list of goodies. Little did I know that my main Christmas wish for the last 2 years was also to be granted…

Having participated in the usual seasonal over-indulgence I had returned to work with a heavy heart and a pickled liver and have been looking for any distraction to help me through the long days manacled to my desk. Tuesday granted such a distraction with the announcement of Scotland’s 6 Nations training squad. Whilst the headline was all about Scott Murray’s exclusion from the squad (more about that later) the real news, and proof of a benevolent god, was that Marcus Di ‘Ohno’ Rollo was missing! For the last couple of years Di Ohno has been the epitome of a shirt filler, offering Scotland nothing except filling a space…badly. His calling card was missed tackles, fumbled balls and the attacking verve of post-box. For what feels like an eternity now (although probably only a couple of years) I’ve prayed to the rugby gods to have mercy and have cursed them everytime a Scotland squad was announced with Di Ohno’s name included. How he managed to masquerade as an international rugby player is one of life’s great mysteries but he must also be given some credit, for his omission was not made by Hadden but rather by the player himself. Having managed to only muster a solitary minutes play since moving to France, Di Ohno has seen the light and, ironically, given his greatest contribution to the Scotland cause by removing himself from it. For that Marcus I salute you.

Despite all that there is still a chance he could make a comeback. Maybe playing in France will sharpen his basic skills and add a new dimension to his game but for that to happen he needs game time and he just isn’t getting that at present.

As for Scott Murray I would expect to see him return at some point. At only 31 he can still compete at the international level and his experience (87 caps) will always be a valuable commodity. It will be interesting to see how the Scottish lineout works without his commanding presence – Hadden admits the competition for the 2nd row is fierce but if the lineout and scrum struggle he may well need to turn to the experience of Murray to help balance out the youth. Like Di Rollo he should benefit from playing in France and I suspect he will be back in the national side at some point.

Part II – A Chance to Shine…

Last years 6 Nations was all about building up for the World Cup in France and as such (even though finishing with the wooden spoon was horrific) I think fans were able to at least point to a continuing requirement for development of a squad which had its eyes firmly set on the World Cup. This year Frank Hadden and the boys won’t have such a cushion, fans will expect results, especially at home and look for a big improvement away from home. Scotland go into the tournament coming off the back of a fairly successful – if not ground breaking – World Cup. The tournament in France (and Scotland and Wales!) saw the emergence of Rory Lamont as a real threat from the back and Dan Parks finally proved that at the international level he can indeed cut the mustard (see vs Italy in St Etienne). The most encouraging thing about this Scotland team is that there is a real sense of development. The training squad has 6 uncapped faces yet the squad doesn’t feel like a major overhaul. Rather it’s a transition from the old to the new, players in form for their clubs and for the first time in years I think there is competition for place across the squad. The improvements in the domestic professional sides also points towards progress – not awe inspiring, zero-to-hero transformations, but the forming of good solid units able to hold their own in European competition and challenge in the Magners League. The exodus from Edinburgh during the summer was alarming but Andy Robinson has done a sterling job in both building that team back up to where it can compete and has started to rebuild his own reputation after his England debacle. I never bought into the ‘Fortress Scotland’ policy and I, personally, feel that the exodus of Scotland players to French and English leagues will only expand their experience and help improve the skill levels.

So, with no further ado, here is a quick look at what I think could happen over the course of the championship:

Scotland v France (3pm, Sunday 3rd February, Murrayfield) – France come into the game on the back of a mixed but ultimately disappointing World Cup and having lost some big players (Ibanez, Dominici). As ever it depends which French side decides to turn up, the side that is full of flair and incisive running angles, or the side that can’t handle a rugby ball covered in super glue! If Scotland can put real pressure on the breakdown areas then France are vulnerable, they showed at the World Cup that they can be forced into errors and with Chris Paterson in the side Scotland are well positioned to take advantage of any penalties coming their way. I see this a game where the Scots will try to exercise a varied kicking game aiming for two areas. Firstly I think Dan Parks looking to kick long either for territory and touch or kicking behind the backs to turn the defence. Parks game came of age at the World Cup and he’ll surely look to direct the game from the back. Secondly I think Scotland will look (through Rory Lamont in particular) to kick the up-and-under either right of top of the French backs or in the no-mans-land between the forwards and backs if the game becomes stretched. They’ll surely look to his and Webster’s pace to be able to reach the man as he receives the ball in an attempt to either turn-over or draw the penalty.

Predictions: Heart – Scotland win.
Head – Scotland win, it’s a home match so think that’ll swing it.

Wales v Scotland (2pm, Saturday 9th February, Millennium Stadium) – Christ, I struggle to predict this. Scotland’s 2nd game in 6 days is at the magnificent Millennium Stadium and should see a close match. If the French are mixed then the Welsh are positively schizophrenic in terms of performance. The Welsh have the ability in the backs to destroy pretty much any team they come up against but are equally as likely to do an Elmer Fudd impersonation and have a ‘shoot themselves in the face with a shotgun’ type calamity. New coach in place, so will be interesting to see what reaction they get to that. I think Scotland will dominate the pack (for once – ed.) and possibly the breakdown (as they did last year) but Wales will always pose a threat on the counter. I was at the Wales game last year and they were as poor a side as I have seen in a long time, totally dominated by Scotland for large parts of the match and poor James Hook looked like a lost child in Tesco the Saturday before Xmas. The passion of the Welsh crowd could (should?) make a difference in the game this time round.

Heart – Scotland win
Head – Welsh win – close match but some magic from the Welsh backs will be too much for Scotland

Ireland v Scotland (5pm, Saturday 23rd February, Croke Park) – One word sums up Ireland at the World Cup – insipid! Truly awful, plunged new depths of awfulness and the much vaunted world class players contrived to look more suited to Gaelic Football than Rugby! So this should be an easy victory for Scotland. Well, no, probably not. If you were to draw a bell curve both these sides would be a the same level but at different ends – Scotland are a team on the make, developing with each game and progressing all the time whilst the Irish have seen it all and are, for too many players, past their best. This should make for an interesting battle but I suspect there will only be a score or so between the teams. It’ll be a scrappy, forward-orientated type affair but a lot will depend on Ireland’s big creative players and whether they can show the magic of previous years. At the World Cup they only ended up putting themselves under pressure when trying to run from deep and you suspect that they are a collection of players rather than a team. Scotland could kick them to death as the Irish of late have looked ragged and prone to coughing up penalties, but I’d also look to Scotland’s backs being able to open up the Irish. Another cracking atmosphere in store at Croke Park. Anyone got a ticket?

Heart – Scotland win
Head – Scotland win – think this Scotland side have too much for the current Irish squad and work better as a unit.

Scotland v England (3.15pm, Saturday 8th March, Murrayfield) – The big one. Good v Evil. Balanced opinion v hyperbole. Wooden spoon holders v World Cup finalists. Congrats to the English for getting to the World Cup Final. Commiserations to the rest of rugby civilisation for being forced to watch the worst side ever to reach a World Cup final. Funny side the English, lost a lot of players recently but by all accounts the youngsters coming up are pretty decent. Much like Scotland they have a developing squad where evolution, rather than revolution, is the policy. Brian Ashton seems to be doing a decent job with someone else’s squad but it’ll be interesting to see where their points come from. The addition of big Vainikolo is interesting and brave. Ripping up the Guinness Premiership with 8 tries so far he has the potential to be a star (along with Sackey) for the English, but can he cut it at international level? Ashton maintains that his lack of kicking ability is not a problem saying something along the lines of why should a 6″2′ 18 stone winger want to kick the ball? Well, lots of reasons really. Defensively it’ll be a huge step up and whilst he’s big Scotland also have big wingers these days who won’t be afraid to challenge Vainikolo. I fully expect the Scots to try and pressure him heavily and force him into kicking. Otherwise 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!

Italy v Scotland (1pm, Saturday 15th March, Rome) – Scotland Grand Slam decider…maybe! Or maybe not. Italy are a decent side who have improved beyond recognition in the last few years, demonstrated by just how disappointed they were to not get out of the groups at the World Cup. In saying that I still expect Scotland to have too much. Kaine Robertson scares the living daylights out of me but without Troncon to lead, you wonder just how they will get on in this tournament. At home they are a good side and usually try to attack the opposition but this leaves them open to wiser teams to hit on the counter. The victory for Scotland in the World Cup was scrappy and hard fought but it shouldn’t have been. Indeed in that game if Scotland had played more sensibly the match could have been over
inside the first 20 minutes. The one advantage to this game is that it won’t be marred by the awful refereeing of Kaplan who single-handedly destroyed the game at the World Cup. Italy are no mugs but they are not great at the back and can be forced into silly errors. It will be interesting to see if Italy maintain their antics of diving from the World Cup? Its not something we need to see in rugby. Great supporters, good team, poor sportsmanship. If Scotland play their game they should win barring any major mistakes (World Class Phil lookin’ at you…again!).

Heart – Scotland win
Head – Scotland win – no mistakes guys…..please!

So there you go – ill-informed nonsense in the best possible way! If my heart is right Scotland will romp to Grand Slam glory. It’s not outwith the realms of possibility (if not probability), this is a 6 Nations in flux this year and I would hope to see a strong showing from the Scotland team. We can certainly beat all the other teams but it’s about stringing together some results, and ultimately I suspect that where we will fall down. I can see us winning 3 games and finishing 3rd or 2nd with the English doing enough for the tournament win. Wouldn’t be a surprise if the table is very congested and teams take point off each other. From the Scotland team I just want to see continued progress and some more attacking verve – play to our strengths and let teams worry about us, rather than the other way round.

Finally, let me just say that above all I just want to see good rugby, strong defences and imaginative attacks. I hope all those who are coming to watch rugby at Murrayfield have a good time in Edinburgh (even if your team gets cuffed) and enjoy the rugby folks!

Over and out…

Al

Review of the Year

Happy New Year from all here at the Scottish Rugby Blog!

Well, that’s 2007 out of the way. And while we don’t like to dwell in the past much (unless we get to live in 1990 all the time), here’s a look back at some of our personal highlights of 2007.

The Six Nations and the Heineken Cup of last season were pretty disappointing. 6 minutes of separation from some of the first XV’s brain cells against Italy and it went very wrong indeed. Phil Godman’s career has only just begun to recover, and Chris Cusiter had to go and live in France. At home and in Europe, Glasgow were good in patches, while Edinburgh Rugby turned into the lamp-post in some sort of farcical pissing contest between the SRU and the Carruthers brothers. Who would have thought that you would be glad to see Edinburgh back under central control? We also lost the Borders, depriving Scotland’s rugby heartland of pro rugby.

However this season, things are starting to look up. We have the most settled squad and coaching team of any nation together with some young talents straining to be unleashed on the bigger stage. Both remaining pro teams having beefed up their squads, and a large number of our other players are now further afield playing high stakes, high intensity rugby with real pressure for places – and only some of them from the bench. Andy Robinson seems to be making an effort to build bridges with the rugby community in Edinburgh, while Sean Lineen already has a committed if small support and a win against Biarritz (should’ve been two) under his belt. A home win against Saracens could see them through to the Heineken Cup knockout stages. 6,200 people turned out for the derby match last weekend – might the Scottish public finally be paying attention?

Al in St EtienneRugby World Cup 2007 – who says the French can’t do hospitality? French lads handing out booze from rucksacks, locals looking on in bemusement and waving saltires from their balconies, Le Glasgow providing a bewildering blend of Scottish craic, French cuisine and crazy German beer so potent that Rory Lawson couldn’t hold on to his pen. And that was just St Etienne. Okay so we didn’t get to the semis and we could have. (Should have?) But it was my first World Cup in person, we met a bunch of the squad and generally had a whale of a time, best summed up by attached photo of Al augmenting the local sculpture.

Other highlights of the World Cup:

Chris Paterson is the world’s best kicker. Despite what the Sunday Times might think.
Japan’s tries against Wales. Forget the yankee dude skinning Habana, this (one of two) was the best of the Tournament. [youtube link]
The day the Northern hemisphere kicked back. New Zealand and the Aussies finally found common ground – both going out in the same day. Due to a misreading of the draw Al and I found ourselves cheering for England in some Firkin Bar in Paris, laughing as our southern cousins ordered magners at €7 a pop. As it turns out in the end I was unable to stop myself from cheering England on, and the scenes later that night in Paris – when France did the unthinkable and killed the king before the coronation we had all been assured – were unforgettable.
England not winning the World Cup. Despite having garnered a fair amount of good will (see previous item) it would have been a bit of a travesty if a team showing nothing in the way of previous form for 3.5 years had suddenly come out “the best in the world” and then gone on about it for the next 4 years. Justice, I feel, was served by a Springbok team that had the belief AND the skill. I am however gutted Bobby Skinstad didn’t get a chance to play in the final. It would have made a hell of a movie.
The Minnows Spread the Word, and the Word is Rugby. Any tournament that gets football crazy countries like Argentina and Portugal talking about Rugby is to the benefit of the game. It is a bonus that they did so by producing spirited performances in Portugal’s case, and in Argentina’s by punching so far above their perceived weight that it may alter the structure of world rugby.Here’s to the next one.

Tune of the Year: Industrial Revolution Pt II (Orchestral) – Jean Michel Jarre. Instant France flashbacks.

Man of the Year: Chris Paterson. For kicking 19 from 19, and also for talking to me and Al – and many other Scotland fans – when he could quite easily have been in his hotel bed asleep.

Man of Next Year: Nick De Luca. Undoubtedly, you didn’t hear it here first. Or if you’re more of a forwards man, Ross Rennie, John Barclay or Moray Low…

This year we aim to grow the blog into your number one source for chat and opinion regarding Scottish Rugby, so here’s to 2008! Stick with us, and please let us know any suggestions you may have about the blog.

Who Dares Wins

Unless you lose. Not that we endorse wanton gambling or anything, but James at the Rugby Blog has been in touch to say that they’re running an offer in conjunction with Betfair offering you good deals on Six Nations betting. So if you think that Marcus Di Rollo will win the most Man of the Match awards or you think Chunk will be the leading try-scorer of the Six Nations, why not follow this link and put your money where your mouth is? There are prizes and everything.

Also I should probably mention the sterling performances put in by our pro-teams last weekend. When Biarritz fluked a result against Glasgow I felt almost as gutted as when the Argies knocked us out of RWC ’07 – only at least the Argies deserved to beat us. So that’s the performance we asked for in my last post – even Sean Lineen thought they had won in the interview he gave afterwards on the radio. John Barclay also made me reconsider my choice at 7 in the fantasy XV I posted a while back. Meanwhile Edinburgh made Leinster look like, well, Ireland, and got the win that we asked for too. Robinson seems to have put a bit of steel in the Edinburgh team, and I like it. All I need now is some snow and it’s a merry Christmas.

In other unexpected news (“cruelly” ignored on the Rugby Club yesterday) Frank Hadden got a new contract for 12 months or more, presumably any extension depending on what’s happening with the SRU this time next year rather than if he’s been any good or not. Brian Ashton got a similar deal from the RFU, which was a less certain outcome – though probably the right one. Give them both a chance at a complete World Cup cycle – all the 6 Nations are going through upheaval of one sort or another, hell Scotland are practically the most settled team, and injuries have taken care of a couple of players who were treading water perhaps forcing Hadden into a more adventurous selection policy. So Hadden, Ashton – I wonder if Betfair will give you the odds on who lasts the longest?

‘Mon the boys

Here’s to the Scottish teams doing well this weekend. This means a win for Edinburgh on the Saturday against Leinster, and a decent game (bonus point) for Glasgow on Friday. If Parks kicks his touch and Biarritz forget to turn up again though, it could be the shock of the tournament. Both games are on Sky (red button Friday night for Glasgow, or you can watch Nikki Walker make Ulster look bad again) so if you can’t make it to Biarritz (ahem) or Murrayfield then watch it on the TV! If you prefer not to watch Edinburgh vs Leinster, Chris Cusiter is due to start for Perpignan alongside big Nathan (and Percy) in the match against London Irish, also on Sky Sports red button.

Player Watch: No appearances tonight for Jason White or Rory Lamont in Sale’s win over Bayonne. So Rory was unable to extend his 7 tries in 6 games streak – I suppose from St Andre’s point of view, why play him at full-back when he’s a try machine on the wing? However Scott Lawson finally got a wee run in Sale colours, and though wasn’t able to do much he made a few good tackles and his line-out throws were spot on.

Also thanks to our first commenters on the blog, here’s to many more!

More XV Nonsense, and welcome Al

Just out of interest, I compiled a team of the players in the training squad who are not compatible with a Fortress Scotland type policy. Though it has a glut of 6s and not much else in the back row, in most other areas it looks ok:

FORWARDS
A Dickinson (Gloucester), S Lawson (Sale), E Murray (Northampton), N Hines (Perpignan), S Murray (Montauban), A Strokosch (Gloucester), S Taylor (Stade Francais), J White (Sale)

BACKS
C Cusiter (Perpignan), C Paterson (Gloucester),R Dewey (Ulster), M Di Rollo (Toulouse), S Lamont (Northampton), N Walker (Ospreys), R Lamont (Sale)

BENCH / NOT USED
R Lawson (Gloucester), G Ross (Saracens), S Danielli (Ulster), J Hamilton (Leicester), S MacLeod (Llanelli)

Also I’d like you all to welcome my good buddy Al, who will contribute the occasional piece as the season goes on. The idea for this blog was germinated between ourselves on a walk through the streets of Paris after Scotland’s defeat to Argentina. And finally there’s a guide to the silly nicknames we use for players, not all of which are in popular circulation. So for your ease of reading you can find this at the top.

Don’t forget Edinburgh & Glasgow are both on the telly (Sky Sports on Friday night and Sunday) this weekend, some chat will be forthcoming afterwards!

Crystal Ball or Crystal Meths?

World Cup 2007 – phew, what a tournament! The scrummage was intense, the rivalry between two passionate set of combatants, the immense handling skills – all to the backing track of rousing renditions of national anthems. Yup, getting to and fro the bar in Le Glasgow Bar the night before the Scotland v Italy match was a sight to behold and some of the handling skill on display was immense – 4 pints, 2 nips and a bag of crisps all expertly carried by one brave soul through the heaving masses. Awe-inspiring. Then there was some rugby too.

Somewhere in a Paris bar in the aftermath of Scotland’s defeat to the fantastic Pumas this blog was dreamt up – the bastard love-child of too much red wine and a sober realisation that, for us, RWC ’07 was over. I have a fuzzy memory of making a commitment to write regularly and passionately about all things rugby related, and also to produce a ‘tour-de-force’ argument vaunting the merits of Dan Parks (it’s still my intention – honest guv’!). Alas, like so many of Scotland’s free-flowing attacking movements, my promise has not been fulfilled and it has taken until now to chip in (sorry Rory!).

Scotland’s announced a new training squad on Wednesday 5th December in preparation for the upcoming 6 Nations. A lot of familiar faces (White, Paterson, Parks), chances for some that thought maybe their chance was gone (World-Class Phil) and a couple of new faces (Low and Rennie sounds like a folk outfit!). There was also Di Ohno…sorry, I meant Di Rollo. Overall impressions are that this was a fairly predictable collection of players that have been put together and this is probably a good thing. Teams need consistency, to grow to understand each other’s games and gain a proper appreciation of what each other can do (and can’t do – note to Godman: that means no long throws on your 22).

So, using my renowned psychic powers, I have come up with the XV that I think will possibly, if the stars are aligned correctly, start Scotland’s first 6 Nations game against France (Murrayfield, 3pm, 3rd February 2008).

Backs:
15 Paterson – Mr Reliable, kicks goals for fun. Needs to add more to the rest of his game but as long as continues to be the kicker Wilkinson dreams of being then he is first pick for me.
14 Evans – not seen much (ok, anything) of Evans this season but led to believe he has been playing well for a Glasgow side that have a chance of challenging for Magners glory.
13 Webster – big fan of Malkovich, adds a dynamism that is lacking from the team – big question is where to play him, adds a threat centre field but suffers from butter-fingers at the crucial moment. Has the ability to get the crowd on their feet and Scotland need some flair.
12 Dewey – young, big and could be a big player for Scotland in the future. Looking at the long term development of the game the likes of Dewey need to be given time on the field at international level.
11 R Lamont – providing he can stop using his head as a trampoline, he could be a big player in the next 6 Nations. His up’n’unders scare the living daylights out of some full-backs, just needs to cut out silly errors and gain some game savvy – again game time at this level is important.
10 Parks – the most important ass-patter in Scottish Rugby. The sort of player you want to choke with one hand and give an ass-pat with the other. Can control a game with his tactical kicking but has no pace and gives nothing creative with ball in hand. Still an essential player for Scotland though.
9 Cusiter – almost went for Blair here but think Scotland need more creativity at the breakdown and Cusiter is able to pick holes in defences – experience of French rugby with Perpignan should help also.

Forwards:
8 Hogg – adds experience and a sense of composure to the forwards, also a threat with the ball in hand going forward.
7 Barclay – another young ‘un but needs time at this level. Adds bulk to the team and, like Dewey, could go onto become and important player for Scotland.
6 White – El Capitan, immense for Scotland for a number of years now, inspirational 2 years ago in the 6 Nations and for a long time the only world class player we had (sorry Phil!). Have to say at RWC ’07 I wasn’t convinced by his leadership, choices were fine most of the time but needs to do more to motivate the players on the pitch – especially in games where he isn’t breaking opponents into little bits.
5 Hines – the nastiest man in a Scotland shirt, would use his Gran as a weapon if he thought it would gain a couple of metres. For me a must start – even if he’s only on the pitch 70 minutes!
4 Hamilton – adds bulk, and lots of it. Scotland showed at the World Cup that they can operate fairly well behind a big pack and it’s important the likes of Hamilton are in the team to even up the odds in the scrum be a big hitter in the loose.
3 Low – like Evans I haven’t seen him play this season but is another one who I have heard good things about. Every selection needs a surprise choice – this is mine!
2 Ford – think he is pretty accurate at the lineout but a question over how he stands up in the scrum, Hall (if fit) could take this place.
1 Jacobsen – Meant to be playing ok and deserves another chance in a Scotland top.

So there we have it, my XV for the first game v France. Will be interesting to see what the line-up will actually be – only 2 months to wait! Will be interested to hear what other peoples XV would be, so leave a post and let us know what you think…

Al

Potential Scotland XV

Frank Hadden announced his training squad yesterday, so here’s my team based on that. A few notes – this is the squad I would pick today based on current form, based on what I have seen/read/heard (so there may be a slight Edinburgh bias until I get a chance to see Glasgow on TV at the weekend) and injuries not an issue!

1 Gavin Kerr (Edinburgh), maybe? Findhorn’s own Moray Low will be pressuring for a spot in the front row soon though.
2 R Ford (Edinburgh) His line-out throwing seems to have regressed, but if he can sort that he offers more going forward than the other candidates.
3 E Murray (Northampton) Learning at the feet of Tom Smith seems to be a worthwhile trade-off for first division rugby.
4 N Hines (Perpignan) Bit of grunt up front, nuff said. His twin Jim Hamilton will be pushing him though.
5 S Murray (Montauban) Saw a clip of Montauban scoring tries, and Murray was popping up everywhere. Perhaps he is enjoying himself over there?
6 J White (Sale) Lost a bit of form during the World Cup, but competition for places at Sale should keep him sharp.
7 R Rennie (Edinburgh) Outstanding young player has really shone in the last few weeks. A proper open-side, not involved in the recent drubbing at Leicester. This weekend will be a test, but he will continue to improve under Andy Robinson’s tutelage.
8 A Hogg (Edinburgh) Give him a shot in his preferred position. Or if not, let one of the young tykes (Callam, Beattie, Brown) have a go.
9 C Cusiter (Perpignan) Based on the spirit showed off the bench in the World Cup. Even if he wouldn’t let me buy him a drink in Le Glasgow (sensible chap, that beer was crazy). Blair is playing well again for Edinburgh though, so as usual it’s mostly a toss-up between the two.
10 C Paterson (Gloucester) If they’re prepared to give him a chance, shouldn’t we be? And he has to be in for his kicking.
11 S Webster (Edinburgh) This was one of the trickier ones, but let Malkovich and his dancing shoes into the game with De Luca and Rory Lamont and we might have some real penetration. Failing that stick Mossy in here and play Parks or Godman at 10.
12 A Henderson (Glasgow) I had high hopes for Rob Dewey, but he is having an off time at Ulster (like their whole team) and Henderson is usually consistent.
13 N De Luca (Edinburgh) Another young form player who has to be blooded sometime. Could he be the answer to the 13 problem at long last, unlike his similarly monikered compatriot now bench-warming at Toulouse?
14 N Walker (Ospreys) His international performances have been poop, but surely eventually his Opsprey’s form will translate? With Sean Lamont underperforming since 2006 (and injured), this could be Walker’s chance. If not, the likes of Thom Evans are waiting in the wings.
15 R Lamont (Sale) Too much of an attacking threat not to be in the team. Sorry, Hugo.

16 D Hall (Glasgow) or maybe Scott Lawson. Or maybe Fergus Thomson, who has played more games than both of them.
17 A Jacobsen (Edinburgh) A few barnstorming games from Edinburgh show how much Chunk missed going to the World Cup.
18 J Hamilton (Leicester) The seemingly aborted move to Edinburgh would have been nice, but he still offers valuable beef to the pack wherever he plays his club rugby.
19 S Taylor (Stade Francais) Needs to find his hunger again. The same could be said of S Lamont, also not present!
20 M Blair (Edinburgh) Come 6 Nations time, may actually be the front runner again.
21 D Parks (Glasgow) I actually felt sorry for moving Parko to the bench. How times have changed.
22 H Southwell (Edinburgh) HUUUUUUGOOOOOOO. I actually heard someone other than myself shout this once. The grass-roots movement starts here.

Agree? Disagree? Who’s in your 22?

How do you solve a problem like Murray-a (field)?

“I’ve watched enough games involving their sides, to wonder what they actually bring to the event, because Murrayfield is like a morgue. Edinburgh and Glasgow have achieved very little over the years, and if there was any move to set up a British league in the future I don’t think that anyone would be rushing to sign up the Scottish sides.” Jonathan Davies, quoted in the Sunday Times

Okay, so he has a point – the Scottish pro sides have woefully under-performed in comparison to their Celtic brethren in recent years. Although setting up a league without the Scots would restrict his ability to mispronounce Malcolm Changleng’s name at every opportunity.

Name-calling and the non-sequitur of his opening sentence aside, the Scottish pro teams remain occasionally competitive (Glasgow beating Cardiff, Edinburgh’s away win at Ulster this weekend), and hold mid table positions in the Magners League without ever really challenging for honours. Couple that with the potential of their respective set-ups and various blends of youth and experience (Lineen with his southern hemisphere muscle, Robinson with Edinburgh’s at times fearless vitality) and it seems clear that the thing that would really help is a decent crowd to watch it all, the famed 16th man that the likes of Munster, Ulster or Llanelli can bring off the bench to help push their side over the line.

Consider Simon Taylor’s decision to move to Stade Francais into a back row that already has Remy Martin, Sergio Parisse and Mauro Bergamasco. Only now getting a game due to injuries to the others, Taylor still chose this over staying at Murrayfield, surrounded by political infighting and poor crowds. You feel the fact that Stade can sell nearly 80,000 tickets for a league game against Toulouse while Edinburgh struggle to get 4,000 for a similar fixture, at home to the Frenchmen in the Heineken Cup, may have had something to do with it. (Although this was a pretty good crowd for Edinburgh, you wonder what would happen if 80,000 people actually tried to turn up at Murrayfield for an Edinburgh match. They’d probably turn them away).

I don’t think getting rid of Edinburgh and Glasgow is the answer to getting well-supported teams. I feel it would create one or two powerful “super” clubs (ala the Old Firm) from the Premier League who the rest of Edinburgh or the Borders (and to a lesser extent Glasgow) would more than likely refuse to get behind, splitting along parochial lines, which was a problem highlighted in the demise of the Borders. Surely city based teams with no fixed club-based allegiance are the only way forward in Scotland, but they should work with the Premier League clubs, sharing players, coaches etc and Andy Robinson certainly seems to be trying to take steps to build such bridges where the SRU have tried and failed. Perhaps his credentials at club level with Bath give him credibility the SRU cannot muster.

Variously – and only in relation to club games it seems, as the atmosphere is fine on international days – Murrayfield is described as a tomb, a mausoleum, a coffin. The SRU somewhat wistfully try to convince us it’s a castle. But never a cauldron, like the Stade Geoffrey Guichard in St Etienne that managed such a ferocious atmosphere with only 30,000 people – a stadium incidentally designed like an English football ground. But Glasgow play at a smaller football ground, and they suffer from similar problems so it can’t just be that the stadium is crap. Indeed the problem may be that Murrayfield is far from crap – it boasts world-class facilities, already paid for by the SRU. Why pay out more money (that they don’t have) to move permanently?

Okay then, how about a temporary move?

It seems if Munster and the Crusaders can remain highly successful whilst still farming out the odd home game to Cork or Nelson (the Crusaders have even touted hosting games in Melbourne in the past) then surely Edinburgh or Glasgow could spread the game in their own respective catchment areas to try and build a fan-base, and perhaps prove to the SRU that there is support for the game in other areas. It worked for internationals held in Aberdeen and Perth, would it work for club games? There has been a lot in the press this weekend regarding Scotland’s poor attendances, with various solutions offered. Netherdale has been touted by Allan Massie as somewhere with the facilities to host an Edinburgh game that is closer to Edinburgh than Cork is to Limerick. And the people of the Borders might even turn up en masse just to spite the SRU for closing down their own poorly supported pro team, the Reivers.

I live in the North of Scotland, so a trip to Edinburgh every weekend is tricky for a man without a car or a bottomless wallet, but I go to matches when I am in Edinburgh, I went to France and watch as much as I can on TV. I am a Scotland rugby supporter, but feel powerless in this instance other than badgering my Edinburgh-based friends to go along. So I’ll watch the STV show on a Sunday, I’ll keep on posting and I’ll keep on saving up to go to New Zealand in 2011. But if you get the chance to go along and watch, why don’t you?

Apologies for the appalling pun in the title. I was going to try and shoehorn Brian Moore in to make it Moore-ia, so you should think yourself lucky.

UPDATE: Just noticed this on the Edinburgh website – I wonder if Robinson has been on at them, or if this is part of a new strategy:

“Nevertheless it proved to be a productive weekend for everyone involved in rugby in the Scottish capital and, we will regularly promote the local club games involving our players as we strive to strengthen the bond between Edinburgh Rugby Club and the rugby clubs of Edinburgh.”

Heineken Cup Player Watch AND Pro-Team Round Up

Slim updates all rolled into one this week – I had a busy weekend! I also got a chance to watch STV’s new rugby programme imaginitively titled “Scotsport Rugby” which happens on a Sunday around 6, for those of you that have missed out so far. While I’m still not sure who Richie Gray is, it’s good to see Rugby back on the telly in Scotland, and I think it’s something we should all get behind.

Leicester 39-0 Edinburgh

Leicester were up 15-0 after 15 minutes, with a new strategy from Loffreda that seemed to involve offloading before/in the tackle, and Edinburgh being crap. Still, a Leicester team more interesting to watch would be no bad thing. Goode’s kicking was anything but, which kept Edinburgh in sight, but they compounded their lack of possession with errors and penalties for holding on and Leicecster’s pressure proved too much to bear for Robinson’s men.

Edinburgh seemed to perform better in the second half – not least when reduced to 13 men, but never quite pulled together enough to penetrate Leicester’s defence (even when the Tigers fell asleep towards the end of the game).

Once again, a Scottish team show an inability to perform two weeks in a row – disappointing.

Glasgow 41-31 Viadana

Closer than you would hope, Glasgow let them get back to 24 all before closing the game out. Still, it shows high standards that Sean Lineen is still not happy with a bonus point win. Reports describe that
Glasgow were pretty sloppy.

Player Watch

Mossy got a whole half an hour on the pitch for Gloucester and made a good account of himself at 10, during which they closed out a close game against the Ospreys. Rory Lawson was once again very good, and Nikki Walker also had quite a good game for the Welsh team in the first half at least before it tightened up. Al “Stroker” Strokosch was lucky not to be sin-binned/sent off for a sneaky trip though.

Perpignan vs Treviso, Chris Cusiter got his first start for USAP, while Hines came off the bench after his sin-binning last week

Rory Lamont scored two tries for Sale in their Challenge Cup Victory. Look for him (on the wing, sadly) in Sale’s match vs Worcester live on TV on Thursday, no doubt we’ll see Luke McAlister winging
lots of miss passes to him on his debut for Sale. Please note, we do not condone the use of a miss pass as an effective attacking tactic.

Still no sign of Simon Taylor in Stade Francais 22 for their defeat to Bristol(!), but with Parisse and Bergamasco both picking up leg injuries he might get a chance for some game-time soon!

Next Heineken Cup weekend 7th-9th December, both sides are being shown: Edinburgh vs Leinster and Glasgow vs Biarritz. Start bricking it now.

Player Watch

Who got a game, and who didn’t.

Chris Paterson – came on for 5 minutes in the convincing win against Ulster.
Al Strokosch – played well for most of the Ulster game as part of a Gloucester pack building in confidence.
Rory Lawson played most of the game for Gloucester in an assured performance that allowed his fly-half to control the game completely.

Rob Dewey – went off still nursing the knee injury, in the defeat to Gloucester.

Nathan Hines – Sin-binned, which may not come as a surprise!
Chris Cusiter – came on as a sub for Perpignan at about 75 minutes

Nikki Walker – played the full 80 for the Ospreys in their victory against perennial European lazy boys Bourgouin.

Scott Murray – played for Montauban at the weekend vs Gran Parma.

Scott Macleod – played for Llanelli in the 10-try festival at Clermont Auvergne

Euan Murray – came off the bench on 51 minutes for Northampton in the first division.

Missing in Action: Simon Taylor, Scott Lawson, Rory Lamont (ankle injury), Sean Lamont (knee injury), Simon Danielli, Marcus Di Rollo, Gordon Ross (bench vs Glasgow) Bruce Douglas (bench for Llanelli)

Pro Team Round-Up

Edinburgh 15-19 Toulouse

Edinburgh were unlucky to lose this one – if David Blair had kicked a few more points this game would have been a first major scalp for Edinburgh. However, it’s unfair to lay the blame for what might have been at the foot of the diminutive Edinburgh fly-half, as this was another reasonably assured performance from him, and in general Edinburgh handled well with far fewer knock-ons and dropped balls than we are used to. There were still a few turnovers at the breakdown which they will be worried about, but a refreshing unwillingness to kick showcased a young Edinburgh team unafraid to throw it about a bit: backs and forwards alike offloading in the tackle and moving forward with zest. Nick De Luca scored a great try – going past Jauzion in the process – proving that he is developing as a centre offering a genuine attacking threat born of pace and speed, rather than brute strength.

Saracens 33-31 Glasgow

Parks early penalty gave Glasgow a lead, but from then on it was a case of weathering the first half storm. Thom Evans went off with a head knock, depriving the Warriors of some zip on the wing, and Saracens seemed to have all the luck from that point. Glasgow came out fired up in the second half and clawed back 6 points through Parks, but Farrell seemed to be orchestrating slick attacks all over the park and it wasn’t long before Saracens had stretched the lead again, by seemingly too great a margin for Glasgow to come back from. Glasgow never gave up though with late converted tries from O’Hare and Al Kellock securing a well deserved bonus point and causing jitters amongst the home support. Five more minutes of pressure and Parko might have drop-goaled a sneaky victory, but alas (again) Glasgow are searching for a victory against Saracens.

It is heartening to see the pro-teams still (or in some cases starting to) play with spirit and determination even when facing defeat. Soon though, they will have to start getting results.