Edinburgh Cling On, Glasgow Fall Off

During whiteout conditions at Murrayfield on Saturday where the weather played a larger role than either of the teams for a chunk of the first half, Edinburgh managed to grab a victory against Bath. It was a pity the snow came in when it did, as both teams were showing a willingness to throw the ball about, but when the ball became invisible in a sea of white it became time for a game of Very Cold Hot Potato (mixed in with a little Dead Ants).

Mossy’s boot saved them as it has so often, and while I have often been reluctant to wade in on the whole Mossy at 10 thing, Godman’s form seems to be on the wane while Mossy seems to have gained a yard of pace, gets turned over in the tackle far less and his tactical kicking is miles better than it was and miles ahead of Godman. He’s surely done enough to be the front runner for the Scotland 15 shirt with Hugo a close second (who honestly believed he would be a regular at Stade?), but is he worth a look at 10 for Edinburgh as so many have suggested? (This is assuming Rory Lamont remains in the injury information black-hole he is currently in). While Robbo has been telling anyone who will listen about Scotland’s deficiencies in the 10 position, is Mossy finally worth a shout, having made his tactical game a bit, well, more Dan Parks-esque?

Speaking of Parks, he controlled the game against Gloucester extremely well in the first half while Barclay led the forwards in a masterclass in frustrating the opposition. For a game with so many Scot on Scot match-ups there was plenty of niggle, and no doubt a sign of what is to come next weekend (worryingly for Edinburgh, the Weej seem to excel in this area). Yet in the second half Gloucester came out and pretty much reversed the situation, bullying Glasgow off their 0-6 lead and the ball and sharpening up their attack enough to take the victory. A raft of late-term substitutions probably didn’t help Glasgow – much in the same way as it buggered up Edinburgh last week – with Cusiter going off and replacement McMillan then having to hide at the back with an injury while Gregor filled in at scrum half. This only served to rob Glasgow of Gregor’s running lines and pace from at the back, which they were already short of  with Thom Evans out. The Gloucester Scottish showed up well too with Scott and Rory Lawson and Al Strokosch showing good skills in attack, although Kellock and Gray were all over Lawson (hooker) at the lineout. And one more thing: does Graeme Morrison ever pass? You’d be as well playing Richie Vernon in the centre, who unveiled the pace that has Glasgow abuzz while the rest of us were initially wondering why Beattie was left on the bench in favour of a guy with two first names…

Weekend Teams

Glasgow: Bernardo Stortoni, Dave McCall, Max Evans, Graeme Morrison, DTH van der Merwe, Dan Parks, Chris Cusiter, Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Alastair Kellock, Richie Gray, Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Richie Vernon
Replacements: Fergus Thomson, Kevin Tkachuk, Ed Kalman, Dan Turner, Colin Gregor, Mark McMillan, Johnnie Beattie, Colin Shaw

Good mix in the second row and great that Richie Gray is well settled into the Glasgow team now. The wingers get a chance to show what they can do, but leaving off the front line chaps suggests either a) they are injured or b) the ball is never getting that far and Parks is going to try and nick all the points going with his boot. (UPDATE: Turns out it’s a wee knee injury to Evans).

Edinburgh: Paterson, Houston, Cairns, De Luca, Visser, Godman, Laidlaw, Traynor, Ford, Cross, Turnbull, Hamilton, MacDonald, Rennie, Newlands.
Replacements: Kelly, Jacobsen, Young, MacLeod, Callam, Samson, Robertson, Thompson

Bath are targeting this one for a win despite almost being beaten at home last weekend. With “Tony” Blair out injured, it will be interesting to see what happens if/when Godman goes off, word is that Thompson has been asked to consider filling in at 10 before… I’m also interested to see if Rennie has the same impact that Roddy Grant has been having recently… here’s to another flowing game of rugby although maybe a little less self-destruction and a little more confidence in the finishing (Cairns should definitely have been able to finish that break last week) would be nice. Where have I heard that before?

Hoggy Out, Rennie In

Busy week this one! Scottish Rugby is like buses – it makes a mess of Edinburgh city centre.

The SRU have announced that they are withdrawing from bidding for the 2013 IRB Sevens World Cup (potentially the last before it goes Olympic) due to (yet again) a lack of broadcaster interest. And Ally Hogg is to have surgery on a hip that is giving him gyp (see what I did there?) and has possibly been a factor in his form this season not being as good as last – when he played every game of the season for Edinburgh plus two sevens tournaments. On the good news side though, 23 year old openside Ross Rennie completes his comeback from injury into an Edinburgh squad alongside Roddy Grant and Alan Macdonald. Suffice to say, I think we’ve seen the last of Hoggy being shuffled to 7 as he used to be. Although with Dave Callam also almost back Ally might not find the back row slots just opening up for him when he does return, estimated to be sometime towards season’s end.

Compatibility Issues for Euan Murray

Rumours are circulating that Euan Murray may be set to confirm a new-found unwillingness to play his rugby on a Sunday, which would rule him out of selection for the tournament opener against. In the past he has been uneasy on the matter or injury has ruled him out, but both Saints and the man himself (that’s Murray, not God) are so far unwilling to comment on the matter. While Murray is undoubtedly one of the top props in the world, this puts Andy Robinson in a bit of predicament going in to his first Six Nations in charge of Scotland. Can he pick someone else (Moray Low, Geoff Cross) without them feeling they are only a place-holder until there is a game on the right day for Murray? You have to hope that anyone who is put in for that match against France will remain there throughout the tournament if they play well enough. But then again Murray does give us an edge in the scrums. Or will Robbo put the foot down and leave him out altogether a la Simon Taylor? Robbo vs God, it’s an interesting battle. Still, at least those folk who rail against Six Nations games at any time other than 3pm on a Saturday can claim him for their side.

There is an old interview done pre-last Six Nations where Murray talks a fair bit about his faith on the Scotsman site that also offers an amusing (in hindsight) Six Nations preview and even some measured debate in the comments.

UPDATE: this has now been confirmed, Murray will indeed be unavailable for selection for the opener vs France on Sunday 7th Feb.

Weekend Teams

Going to be out of Sky range this weekend but hoping to go along to the Heriots game on Saturday if I get a chance. Meanwhile here are the teams announced so far for the weekends action, plenty of Scots all round and some interesting match ups at 2, 6 and 9 in the Glasgow game. Cusiter faces his closest rivals for the national shirt in his next four games – should be interesting to see how he takes them on.

Glasgow: B Stortoni, P Murchie, M Evans, G Morrison, T Evans, D Parks, C Cusiter; J Welsh, D Hall, M Low, R Gray, D Turner, K Brown, J Barclay (capt), R Vernon.
Replacements: F Thomson, E Kalman, K Tkachuk, T Barker, C Gregor, C Forrester, M McMillan.

Gloucester: C Spencer, C Sharples, J Simpson-Daniel, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, L Vainikolo, N Robinson, R Lawson; N Wood, S Lawson, G Somerville, D Attwood, A Brown, P Buxton (capt), A Strokosch, L Narraway
Replacements: D Dawiduik, P Doran-Jones, A Dickinson, A Eustace, G Delve, D Lewis, T Voyce, T Molenaar

Edinburgh: C Paterson (capt), J Houston, B Cairns, N De Luca, T Visser, P Godman, G Laidlaw; A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross, S Turnbull, S MacLeod, A MacDonald, R Grant, S Newlands.
Replacements: A Kelly, K Traynor, D Young, C Hamilton, A Hogg, R Samson, D Blair, J Thompson.

Top Of The Table

After Leinster’s failure to topple the ever-improving Dragons at the weekend, the Scottish pro-teams go in to the Heineken Cup break first and second in the Magners League table. So congratulations to Glasgow and Edinburgh for that excellent bit of away points-grabbing, in particular the two oft-abused/unsung 10s David “Tony” Blair and King of Dans Parko Parks who both played pivotal roles. What’s more with only each other to play in the league between now and then, there’s a pretty good chance that one of the Scottish pro-teams will go into the half way point after Christmas atop the table, with the other in close attendance – along with the likes of Leinster and Ulster. It’s really great to see the teams doing so well and heading into the second half of the season with one and possibly both primed for at least a decent chance of a playoff spot come the sharp end.

This weekend attention turns to the Heineken Cup. Both Glasgow and Edinburgh need to win all their remaining games to have a chance of getting anywhere, including a possibly shift sideways into the latter stages of the Amlin Challenge Cup (might be a better bet there anyway!). For Glasgow that’s back to back against Gloucester, then the Dragons and away to Biarritz. All of which is in theory possible based on previous events, but still fairly unlikely for a team that has struggled so often with inconsistency. Still the way they toughed it out against Ulster gives me hope. Going out to the south of France with the weather turning a bit and all to play for could make for exciting times though. Good news for them too that Ruaridh Jackson came through an hour for Ayr (at full-back) on Saturday.

Edinburgh also face a team struggling in the GP, Bath (get Robinson on as a pundit!) before taking on Ulster at Ravenhill and Stade at home. With those wacky Edinburgh guys and their love of shirts that look like a tartan factory threw up and throwing it about in their own 22 anything is possible, but I fear “for zem ze vor is ova” and I reckon they will target the festive derbies for a clean sweep instead, maybe giving David Blair some more game time between now and then – he did pretty well against the Scarlets on Friday night. Or is that defeatist talk? On the Internet the walls have ears. Win against Bath at the Rec and I’ll probably change my mind again.

In terms of TV coverage, according to ERC rugby we get delayed highlights of Glasgow on Friday (this I think means “delayed until the round-up show on Sunday night”) and red button for Edinburgh on Sunday afternoon. What do you reckon – We Are The Champions or Mission: Impossible?

Inverness to host Scotland U20

Inverness Caledonian Stadium will host the opening match of Scotland’s U20s Six Nations campaign against France, and there is even a possibility of a “local” lad being in the frame in the form of a Caithness player:

Scotsman Article

Friday 5th Feb at 7.30, free entry. Wrap up warm. Very warm.

Also, the IRB have announced the ticket prices for RWC New Zealand 2011. More on this at a later date, but don’t worry they are not on sale until April.

UPDATE: And one last little snippet: Scotland have lost their opening IRB Sevens pool matches in Dubai against Fiji and Samoa, but did manage to get a draw against Zimbabwe.

Back to Magners Action

Anyone else find the Argentina game a bit dull? Okay so we were beaten and probably deserved it on the basis of the utterly forgetful second half. But for me the most exciting things about the match were the following:

  • Being able to move along three sections, thereby getting a decent West stand seat for a tenner and with no-one behind us, standing up for the whole match to get the flavour of a (deserted) terrace / keep warm.
  • Al barking in derision as Scotland’s play grew more inept and their loss grew more inevitable, scaring a young girl so that she jumped out of her seat several rows away. Apologies to you and your family, he did look scary with his moustache though didn’t he?
  • Not having to queue for a beer, due to the overall attendance being only slightly more than turn out to watch Edinburgh every week.

Disappointing, but well done to Andy Robinson for restoring a little bit of hope at one point there. Well done too to Ireland who look like just about the finished article scrapping to a win over the Boks, and also to Australia and New Zealand for nicely finishing off the autumn test period with a bit of, well, rugby. Onwards and upwards to the Six Nations for us, we hope. I reckon we can beat Italy and Wales this year at least, if Gregor can sort our backs out. Robbo seems to know how to get the forwards working, and there’s a solid defence to build around. D-fence wins Super Bowls, but you get the feeling it won’t win you a Six Nations. Would you want it to?

Congrats are also due to Ayr for getting a 28-13 victory over Rotherham in the British and Irish Cup at the weekend. Unfortunately Gael Force and Heriots lost again but just competing in that level of competition should be good for the players and if the surrounding supporters get behind them, maybe increase some revenue for the clubs as well.

On Friday night it’s back to the Magners League for Edinburgh and Glasgow, no word yet on whether Sean Lamont (who had a pretty good Autumn) will be appearing for the Scarlets. It being in Wales and on a Friday it is of course on BBC Wales. A few interesting names on the bench including youngster Ross Samson and back row man Dave Callam (remember him?) back from a long term him injury. Glasgow are fielding a decent strength team including both Evans brothers beside newcomer Alex Dunbar, while they all face fellow Scotland winger Simon Danielli in the Ulster backline.

Edinburgh Team to face Scarlets: C Paterson (captain), M Robertson, B Cairns, N De Luca, T Visser, D Blair, G Laidlaw, A Jacobsen, A Kelly, G Cross, S Turnbull, S MacLeod, A MacDonald, R Grant, S Newlands.
Replacements: Ross Ford, Kyle Traynor, Craig Hamilton, David Callam, Ross Samson, John Houston, Jim Thompson.

Glasgow Team to face Ulster: Bernardo Stortoni, Alex Dunbar, Max Evans, Graeme Morrison, Thom Evans, Dan Parks, Mark McMillan, Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Tim Barker, Richie Gray, Kelly Brown, John Barclay (capt), Richie Vernon.
Replacements: Fergus Thomson, Kevin Tkachuk, Dan Turner, Calum Forrester, Chris Cusiter, Colin Gregor, Peter Murchie

Who Was Man of the Match?

Edinburgh press releases and the Scotsman keep saying it was Phil Godman. Eh? I was sure I heard Ally Kellock being announced in the stadium. The Sunday Times had Nathan Hines. I would have given it to Barclay.

Who exactly was the man of the match last weekend – Matt Giteau? Who will it be this weekend?

Scotland Team vs Argentina

I’m very happy with this team just announced and hot off the virtual press. I think MacDonald is probably worth a first cap, he gives the back row a bit more of an attacking edge and Barclay must be shafted after the work he put in last weekend and probably deserves a rest. I am glad Grove has been kept in, and including Cairns and Evans only adds to the sense that this Scotland team is designed to be very attack minded against what has so far (with the exception of Fernandez-Lobbe) been an under-performing Argentina team.

Scotland Team to face Argentina: Rory Lamont, Sean Lamont, Ben Cairns, Alex Grove, Thom Evans, Phil Godman, Chris Cusiter (c), Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Moray Low, Nathan Hines, Alastair Kellock, Alasdair Strokosch, Johnnie Beattie, Alan MacDonald
Replacements: Dougie Hall, Kyle Traynor, Jason White, Richie Vernon, Rory Lawson, Chris Paterson, Nick De Luca

Also for those of you worrying that our game on Saturday clashes with the undeniable box office appeal of Ireland vs South Africa never fear it seems that for once BBC Scotland has come to the rescue:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00p5x9l

I’m pretty sure it will be on the red button for those of you without access to BBC Scotland. You’ll just have to tell me if the commentary is as biased as BBC Wales’ efforts, for your fearless SRBlog correspondents will be at the game sporting fearful moustaches (sponsorship most welcome at: http://uk.movember.com/mospace/247612) hoping for enough tries (15 point margin required) to get a good rankings leap out of the Autumn Internationals.

Here’s To You, Scotland

Well well well. Hopefully by now the hungovers have worn off, and the “did that really happen?” feeling has not quite worn off. And so to a little bit of post match analysis.

Scotland’s defence was magnificent – on that we can hopefully all agree. But it could quite easily have been different. Australia have put at least 30 points on us in the last few encounters and if you think of the tries they butchered, the missed kicks – including THAT one – it could quite easily have been business as usual, and I would be sitting here writing about moral victories, plucky defence, courageous losers etc. Scotland had almost no ball, and a lot of what we did get was kicked away or turned over. Ordinarily all these factors would have combined into the usual Autumn loss. So what changed? There are a few things that I noticed from between my fingers as I watched the match:

A full 80 minute performance. Usually a Scottish team hangs in there for 60-odd minutes, then there is one minor lapse in concentration, (quite often somewhere in midfield) a quick turnover and BAM the (insert Tri-Nations team here) have scored a couple of tries and put the game to bed. You almost sensed such a thing happening on Saturday, when the Wallabies kept piling attack after attack on to Scotland in the early second half, hoping that our boys would wilt. Only they didn’t. Right across the 22 man squad they tackled for the full 80 minutes, and it was only in the 81st that the unceasing battering Rocky Elsom’s men had given us finally found a chink in the armour. Immense performances from all the forwards without exception. You suspect if someone had told a lot of these players “this is what it will feel like at the end if you don’t go to sleep in the second half” this could have happened years ago.

A coach unafraid to make a hard call. Morrison had been okay in defence in the first half, but too much of the miniscule amount of ball we had was carried into contact or spilled rather than finding its way out wide, which was frankly unacceptable. At half time Robbo yanked him and stuck De Luca in instead, who repaid him with his best game in a Scotland shirt. The three centre berths for next weekend should be De Luca, Grove and Cairns in whatever order you like. Morrison was given a vote of confidence well ahead of the first team announcement and has not exactly lived up to it. Contrast this with the other guys including Grove who instantly looked at home at this level. Let’s get them going forward next weekend and see what these boys can do with some ball.

Luck. Years and years of stupid calls going against us, balls bouncing in to the arms of opposing players and kicks missing by inches were cashed in at the weekend. Everything we needed to go our way did. Everything we needed to go against Australia, did. They say good teams make their own luck, and I’m sure a lot of the pressure put on the Wallabies with our defence must have rattled them.

So basically what we have all been saying for years – if Scotland stayed focused, ditched the underperformers and got a bit of luck here and there they could compete with the top teams. All we needed was a coach that agreed with us. If Scotland can stay this passionate and intense, use that as a base for performance level and somehow hold on to some ball to play with, then we have the makings of a good – and lucky – team.

Oh and if you fancy a laugh, read this from the Sydney Morning Herald (don’t let your blood boil, it’s not worth it) and if you are interested, here are some highlights of the Scotland A game shot by the folks at Borders Rugby TV.

Legendary

That’s the first time I have seen Scotland beat Australia. Absolutely awesome performance, it was almost entirely defensive but it was full of passion and intensity. I am so proud of the players and the coaches. Al was down at Murrayfield and said that it was like St Etienne all over again, only this time at least we deserved a win. More later in the week when I recover from the shock.