Scotland Full Back Trial

Hugoooooooooo vs Mossy, head to head for the Scotland full-back shirt, being given 40 minutes game-time apiece vs Llanelli Scarlets at the new Parc Y Scarlets (my Welsh is good, eh?), Sunday, 4pm ish, S4C (English commentary on the red button). Who will emerge triumphant?

My guess would be whoever plays the second half, which seems to be when Edinburgh wake up and throw the ball about. Scott MacLeod is also taking the next step in his comeback, hoping for a start to prove his fitness.

In other news, Glasgow face an Ulster team on Saturday (that one’s on Setanta) including Simon Danielli but none of their Irish starters. Cheers Matt.

Big Up Milburn Academy

In Inverness, from our old school, saying this would have been the equivalent of saying something like “that Laurence Dallaglio is a nice chap”. Oh wait. But still, props of the non-front-row variety go to Milburn rugby team members Andrew Kellock (aged 12, no relation, one imagines) and John Clark (age 13) who managed to bring their careening minibus to a safe stop after their rugby teacher collapsed at the wheel. The team were returning from dishing out a beating in Plockton – which just shows the sort of away fixture you get in Highlands rugby. With reactions that fast, a place in the Scotland team can’t be far off for those boys. We wish the teacher well for his recovery.

On a childish side-note, ‘mon the IRA (Inverness Royal Academy, not the other lot – and if our latter experiences of rugby were anything to go by, a school that probably now has a bigger tiddlywinks team than rugby team). Meet you at the quarry for a ruckus after PE.

Scotland Turn On Some Style…At Last

Scotland 26 – 6 Italy

Yesterday we saw Scotland beat Italy, led largely by the efforts of a man with an Italian name over whom many (including myself) have been guilty of indifference to in the past, and (for those watching on TV) commented on by another man with an Italian name who many of us have no doubt been gulity of downright antipathy towards in the past. Twin heroes of the day, Simon Danielli and (gulp) Lawrence Dallaglio. We’ll get to Lol later, but first let us talk (as we must) of Scotland.

We saw a fair bit less ineptitude in the basic skills than against France and almost a different team to the one that failed to turn up against Wales. The good thing was the way Scotland maintained the cutting edge and better support lines they had found at times in Paris, while chopping out some of the sloppy tackling and handling. But for a yard of pace (or a pass inside) Simon Danielli would have had a second try, and he more than made up for his knock-on a fortnight ago. With every performance he is cementing his ownership of the shirt and the same could be said of both Evans boys. Even with a hesitant interception thrown by Southwell, we now had the pace to recover the breakaway runner where 2 years ago we did not. Max or Thom didn’t get nearly enough ball, while Southwell got too much and kicked much of it away. Having found a storming running game for Edinburgh, he seems to have lost it again and kicked too much, often poorly. I think Paterson has earned his chance to start at full back against Ireland – we’ll need his boot, which would also allow Godman to concentrate on the Ireland back row that will be charging down his channel. Speaking of changes, what about Chris Cusiter starting? I’m a huge fan of Blair who has been talked up a lot for the Lions, but Cusiter has looked the sharper of the two with every game as Blair seems to go a little off the boil. Sly hunch of the day: Cusiter with an outside chance of a slot on the Lions tour? I just have a feeling he could be coming on to form at the right time and would like to see him get more of a chance to show this.

Up front, Euan Murray and Ally Kellock restored a bit of nous to the scrum and lineout, and should be definite starters in two weeks. Provided his fitness is okay, Murray is only going to improve from here. And there is something to be said for playing both Hamilton and Kellock to give real power in the set piece against Ireland. Alisdair Dickinson was much criticised in recent weeks for his scrum performances, but the Italy game allowed him to show that the set-piece is not necessarily the best showcase for his talents. With Jacobsen injured he should slot into his preferred number 1 shirt for the next game and give us a few more barnstorming runs.

The back row of Strokosch, Barclay and Taylor looked solid and settled – Taylor and the big Stroker had vastly improved games with the ball in hand. Strokosch set the tempo with strong early running while the defence and breakdown were solidly patrolled as we are coming to expect – and we will expect it to continue. The one exception to any attempts at marshalling was Sergio Parisse, who seemed to do exactly what he wanted whenever he wanted in just about every area of the pitch (legally too). The man’s performance was quite simply, stupendous and makes one think you won’t see Taylor in the Stade No 8 shirt any time soon. Stroker handed him his man of the match award last year, and but for the scoreline yesterday Parisse would almost have deserved Danielli’s award too.

While it was at times a very loose and scrappy game, Scotland showed enough style with their two well taken tries – the second involving almost the entire backline – to give us a little hope for the coming games. More hope would have been given on watching the very poor Ireland vs England game. You almost feel sorry for Martin Johnson who is struggling to build a team who just don’t seem to all want to play on the park at the same time. 14 seems to be their preferred number. A grimly determined but overly negative performance towards the end and an undeserved near victory stopped us from overtaking them on points difference, but you wonder where England go from here. Up, I suppose may be the only way. One thing is for sure, they need a new captain.

Speaking of former England captains, kudos must unfortunately go to the BBC too for unearthing a decent pundit to be the token “Italian” during coverage – one Mr Lawrence Bruno Nero Dallaglio. Undoubtedly a figure of fear and loathing for many Scots (for the most part irrationally), yesterday Dallaglio and Scotland’s own Andrew Cotter offered a great balance of wit, insight and – ooh – objectivity in their match commentary. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the back-biting ramblings of Moore and Butler which have now descended into some sort of idiotic sideshow all of their own, or the pro-Welsh carping of Jonathan Davies who was on Friday coupled with Nick Mullins who seemed to think Vincent Clerc was on the pitch for France (not in the 22). We’ll have a full school report on the pundits post tournament but for now, I know who I’d rather listen to – I never thought I’d say it was a man named Dallaglio.

Meanwhile Ireland have found their captain again, with Brian O’ Driscoll looking almost back to his pre-2005 form, possibly minus a little bit of pace and plus a slight concussion, but with that important little bit of magic intact. It’s a good job, as Ronan O’Gara had one of his notorious off days and it seemed to spread throughout the rest of his team. Despite the extremely dangerous Irish back row (who Scotland will have to keep a very close eye on) that yesterday gave only a slight indication of the damage they could do, Ireland looked a little rattled by the pressure of leading the tournament. Post match, Keith Wood said Irish coach Declan Kidney would do his utmost to install Ireland as underdogs in a couple of weeks. Whilst this is patently ridiculous, you can see his point. Neither of ours is a nation that likes to lead from the front, seemingly preferring the mantle of scrappy outsiders. Ireland are on course for a grand slam and so must be the clear favourites, even away from home. However, make no mistake,  if Scotland can keep building their level of performance and this pair don’t, Scotland COULD beat both Ireland and England.

Boss Hogg vs the A-Team

Harking back to Saturday nights as a loon, eh? The crossover episode we never saw. Captain Ally Hogg = Boss Hogg, geddit? Meanwhile below you will find the newly announced Scotland A team to face Italy A. Could Scott MacLeod use this as a springboard to launch himself back towards the full team and offer Hadden two fit locks? Would he bother using them anyway? Cairns, Lamont and Hogg are joined in the demoted ranks by Moray Low and Simon “Malkovich” Webster. It’s an interesting choice of Ruaridh Jackson at 12 (with Dewey away on Sevens duty), given he is likely to be more of a NZ style second five-eighths – those Kiwis love their fractions – than a Frank Hadden style battering ram 12 like Dewey, Henderson or Morrison. Could this be a sign of things to come? It’s good to see him getting continued exposure and I hope it continues for Glasgow. Goggsy has given great service to Scotland in the past, but shouldn’t the A-Team be locked in their shed, building a Scotland team for the future (out of some cabbages and a disused tractor)?

S Jones (Newcastle), S Webster (Edinburgh), B Cairns (Edinburgh), R Jackson (Glasgow), S Lamont (Northampton), G Ross (Saracens), M McMillan (Glasgow), Ed Kalman (Glasgow), S Lawson (Gloucester), M Low (Glasgow), S MacLeod (Edinburgh), D Turner (Glasgow), A Hogg (Edinburgh, capt), J Beattie (Glasgow), A MacDonald (Edinburgh)

Substitutes: F Thomson (Glasgow), K Traynor, C Hamilton, S Newlands, G Laidlaw, D Blair (all Edinburgh), C Kinloch (Glasgow).

The game is at McDiarmid Park, Perth, this Friday night, 7.30pm. And unless I am much mistaken, tickets will be free as they are for all this season’s A, U20 and Women’s games.

Fantasy Rugby Round 3

Don’t forget to change your teams ahead of the next round of matches. Some people (ahem, Al) suffered from making no changes in the last round… Still got Andy Goode in your team? Is Euan Murray worth the gamble? You should have got an email from scrum.com with the latest teams all handily laid out for you…

If you are in the game but wish to join our mini league see this post.

Scotland Team To Face Italy

Hot (ish) off the SRU press, here is our team:

Scotland: Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Mike Blair (Edinburgh, capt), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Jason White (Sale Sharks), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais), John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors).
Replacements: Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), Chris Cusiter (Perpignan), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh).

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).
Touch-judges: George Clancy (Ireland) and Romain Poite (France).
Television Match Official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)

He’s pretty much picked the same team as last time, with like for like swaps in Euan Murray and Al Kellock in for Al Dickinson and Jim Hamilton. We’re hoping that gives us a boost in the front row, but the same as last time with just one lock we’re still facing the 5 back-row pack proposition if Kellock picks up a knock. We may need 5 of them to keep an eye on Parisse, having said that. This time cover man Kelly Brown may be concussed too after his head knock in the Glasgow game on Friday.

In the backs I’d have liked to see Mossy and De Luca come in as I feel they have earned a chance to help speed up the onset of this “progress” Hadden keeps talking about (Paterson is somewhat immune to the out of position debate, as he may have been playing out of position for his whole career). Otherwise could we be facing more of the same over-eagerness that led to so many knock-ons last time? After all, we should fancy our chances against Italy at home more than France in Paris. My great hope for this game is that World Class Phil will step up and banish memories of the last time he started against Italy at Murrayfield with a storming performance.

My advice to all would be stop thinking about how you’re going to skin them and just concentrate on catching the ball. After that, there’s enough natural talent here for a victory. Even if half of them are out of position, at least Hadden didn’t play a flanker at 9.

Spaghetti Western

Mixed news ahead of Scotland’s crunch wooden spoon duel against Italy this weekend.

The Good: Tighthead prop Euan Murray played the full 80 minutes for Northampton in their narrow defeat against Wasps yesterday with no news of any adverse affects. In case we need backup, Moray Low had a pretty decent game for Glasgow against Cardiff on Friday too. Simon Taylor is reported to have played well in his preferred position of Number 8 for Stade at the weekend. Simon Danielli, meanwhile, was in try-scoring form for Ulster.

The Bad: Chris Cusiter seems to have been mauled by some South-Sea Island type playing for Perpignan. We await updates on the status of his knee – he did play on afterwards so hopefully he was taken off at half-time only as a precaution. Kelly Brown suffered a head knock in the Cardiff game while failing to make a tackle on Martyn Williams. In fact, most of Glasgow’s tackling in the first half of that game was bad.

The Ugly: The following all seem to have had pretty mediocre games at the weekend based on the mainstream press reports and the couple of games I saw; Ally Kellock, Ally Hogg, Ben Cairns, Chris Paterson (although these last pair did score a try each) Rory Lawson.

Buried in a rough wooden casket in the desert: To continue the cowboy theme, the following were MIA this weekend having been (presumably) released to their clubs or not in full use by the main squad: Al Strokosch, Scott Gray, Sean Lamont, Al Dickinson (left on the bench for Gloucester), Rob Dewey.

UPDATE: It turns out Rob Dewey has been drafted into the Scotland Sevens squad for Dubai.

Life Outside The Six Nations

Edinburgh field a reasonable strength team to travel to Munster this weekend including a number of international squad players released back into Andy Robinson’s care. Although the Munster team has not been announced it will probably make up for a lack of the core Ireland players with the likes of Doug Howlett, and Mafi and Tupoki in the centre so it will still represent a tough challenge for Ally Hogg and his men. This one is live on Setanta Sports 2, Saturday 7.15pm (7.30 k.o).

Edinburgh: 15 Chris Paterson, 14 Andrew Turnbull, 13 Ben Cairns, 12 Nick De Luca, 11 Mark Robertson, 10 David Blair, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Allister Hogg (captain), 7 Alan MacDonald, 6 Simon Cross, 5 Ben Gissing, 4 Craig Hamilton, 3 Ryan Grant, 2 Andrew Kelly, 1 Kyle Traynor.
Replacements: 16 Steve Lawrie, 17 Bruce McNeil, 18 Scott MacLeod, 19 Scott Newlands, 20 Ben Meyer, 21 Jim Thompson, 22 Roland Reid.

UPDATE: Glasgow team to face Cardiff. This one’s on BBC Wales if you have Sky, kickoff 1905hrs. See our TV page as usual for channel details. Again, decent team but might struggle against Cardiff’s overseas talent (Tito, Rush). Low, Kellock and Brown should be out to make an impact while McMillan will be looking for form ahead of the arrival later in the year of rejuvenated Chris Cusiter… good to see Fergus Thomson coming back, you’d think after his decent season last year he’d be in with a shout ahead of Dougie Hall if he got form and fitness back…

Glasgow: Bernardo Stortoni, Hefin O’Hare, Jose Nunez Piossek, Ruaridth Jackson, Colin Shaw, Dan Parks, Mark McMillan; Justin Va’a, Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Dan Turner, Alastair Kellock (c), Stevie Swindall, Kelly Brown, Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements: Fergus Thomson, Ed Kalman, Opeta Palepoi, Calum Forrester, Colin Gregor, Chris Kinloch, Peter Horne.

If You’re Happy And You Know It…

Michael wrote in today with a link to the following petition to remove Frank Hadden as national coach.

http://www.petitiononline.com/Frankout/petition.html

While I should point out that here at Scottish Rugby Blog we do not necessarily endorse this viewpoint that Frank Hadden should go – I’m fairly ambivalent to be honest, although considerably more likely to sign it than I was, say, last month, and I’m not sure about Al – I felt it only fair to give you, the reader, the option to make a decision for yourself should you wish to get involved.

Despite some Quixotic selections in recent weeks, my main hesitation is the lack of a current viable alternative. Where is our Warren Gatland? Our Shaun Edwards-type in Alan Tait has already gone to be replaced by another league man. With more (better?) coaches under him now, hopefully Hadden recedes to a director of rugby type role that might suit him more than as a hands on coach. Given that Andy Robinson and Sean Lineen (certainly Robinson) are more than happy where they are and more to the point best left in place as quality coaches who can develop new talent, who would you replace him with?

Give it till the end of the Six Nations, and then maybe it’ll be time to pile on.

Now The Boks Want In

Scurrilous rumours are circulating in the e-press-o-sphere (new word for you there) that the Springbok franchises are looking for a break-away from the Super 14 next year, with an entry into the Magners League being touted as the replacement. Leaving aside the fact that every one involved seems to deny anything of the sort to both The Scotsman/Evening News and the source article itself in The Australian – which means the article is basically conjecture – there are several reasons this might not work:

  • Same time-zone games mean that revenues from TV would go up at both ends. As Wayne Smith in The Australian says, “the rugby wouldn’t be as good but the bottom line would be a whole lot healthier.” Indeed the rugby would become fairly schizophrenic, switching between firm South African grounds and Firhill on a rainy Friday night. Are the Blue Bulls really going to want to play Connacht?
  • The lesser teams in a financial and rugby sense (Connacht, Dragons, and well, our two) would struggle to compete with the likes of the Sharks both financially and in a rugby sense. It is hard to see anything but a South African monopoly on the top end of the table even with Munster or Cardiff at the top of their games. Would the South Africans also make demands financially, bringing a hefty ratings slice to the table as they would?
  • It would probably screw the Italians’ chances of getting involved. For the development of the world game surely it is of more interest to help a developing rugby nation like Italy achieve parity. On the other hand, it might mean Argentina or the Pacific Islands got invited in to the Super umm, 9.
  • Adding another 5 teams to the fixture table would clog it up even further, with or without the presence of the EDF Cup (which seems to be on the way out or due for a reworking). Where do we fit all these games in when there’s barely enough time as it is? Would we have to synch our season with the Saffers, resulting in summer rugby (not such a terrible thought) and starting off with the Six Nations in the Spring? Where would it leave England, France and the Heineken Cup? It might work as the previously mooted “Rainbow Cup”, which could fill the “gulf” left by the EDF Cup but might threaten to overshadow Europe’s premier Cup competition. Nice as the idea is, with the increasing physicality and injury-laden nature of the game of Rugby Union, do we really have room for more expansion?

In other news, rumours concerning a trio of Wasps players moving to France have been confirmed. With another dedicated lock in Tom Palmer, and a utility back row in James Haskell, will this see Simon Taylor squeezed out? Maybe Wasps will want him! Is there room for him in Scotland? Sounds wonderful, but seems unlikely. Never one to give up on a challenge, Taylor will surely stay on and defend his lovely pink shirt…

UPDATE: this has, of course, now been quashed

Hot Potato – Scotland Drop The Ball Against France

With two weeks to go until the next round of Six Nations games, we Scotland fans now have a short while to sit back and gather our thoughts. So with that in mind, here are some freshly gathered ones.

Frank Hadden has asserted that Scotland will “make an impact” in this tournament, although it remains to be seen whether or not that impact will be the “thud” as we hit the bottom of the table. This impact will have to come on the back of a resounding defeat against Wales and an unlucky defeat marred by the odd dodgy decision and some pretty crap handling against France. Both types of defeat are sadly nothing new to Scotland fans, it’s the big tick in the W column that is missing. The France game was much closer to where we want to be and like the South Africa game in the Autumn, showed that we can compete with the big teams – especially if they have an off-day.

Speaking of “off-days”, how much longer are we going to have to suffer the short end of the stick from referees and officials? My assertion on spotting an Irish referee at kick-off that we would be screwed proved somewhat accurate, with debut referee George Clancy willing to give a try (resulting from obstruction and a forward pass) despite being unsighted at the time, having been tackled by Jason White. If it’s going to take officials being allowed to check further back than the act of grounding with the Video Ref for Scotland (and other smaller nations) to get parity when we need it most, I’m all for it. Jonathan Davies in the BBC’s post match forum characterised this sort of thing as whingeing – but if Wales were on the other end of a dodgy decision or two you’d never hear the end of it from him. After Alain Rolland allowing Martyn Williams to run riot last weekend, I hope the next referee is not Irish. Aren’t they supposed to be our celtic cousins?

The advantage of the type of result we saw against France is that at least we can see the specific areas needed for improvement (rather than just “everything”). Townsend has mentioned he’ll be working on those support lines but there is still some way to go. Surely “If Mike Blair Goes Through A Gap You Follow Him As Fast As You Can” is not that tricky a mantra to learn? It’s short enough to stick on a banner and hang it in the changing room. You could even stick in a couple of F-bombs to make it seem like Jim Telfer is saying it. The Evans boys are clearly on each other’s wavelengths when it comes to attack, but the rest of the team are all tuned in to different stations at times. At least Barclay was listening. Get on to Radio Mike Blair, boys – it’s a good listen as I said as far back as November. Learning not to knock on would be a good one too – that spoiled a pretty solid comeback for Danielli. And of course there’s the whole issue of not having a fully functioning pack at scrum or lineout due to some silly selection choices. That’s a relatively new one though and I hope it doesn’t last much longer than say, the middle of this week. We were all over the French line-out in the first 20 minutes, and after our only lock Jim Hamilton departed, nary a challenge. The less said about the scrum the better, but the lack of fit props in the correct position and a proper second row to push was telling. It may also have affected Ford who showed up less in the loose than he did in the early periods. Former Highland man Moray Low may have done enough to earn a start against Italy and perhaps Dickinson will revert to the bench – or Chunk’s number 1 shirt?

The defence was solid though, and the breakdown much more efficiently patrolled. Strokosch has surely done enough to get his name on the team sheet for the remaining games, although such is his enthusiasm for playing rugby we have to hope he doesn’t injure himself turning out for Gloucester this weekend – or that Hadden doesn’t use this as an excuse not to pick him. For the backline, Blair, Godman, Evans, Morrison, Evans, Paterson, Southwell was pretty effective but the ball they got was still not brilliant. Again Cusiter showed real zip with his service and we may see him appear earlier in the coming weeks as a like-for-like and captain-for-captain substitution as against Wales. Can he direct an attack as well as Blair though?

Hopefully against Italy things will be a bit better for us – we are now left with them, Ireland and England: three matches we would have targeted for a win at the start. Italy are still beatable even with a proper scrum-half and we need to make sure the little class we do have tells against them. Ireland used to be our whipping boys in the 80s and early 90s, but this team look the real deal now with a Munster-like edge up front and Leinster’s class in the backs – Heaslip in particular is starting to make a major run for the Lions 8 shirt. England still have shown little to make us truly quake but they did improve against Wales and will always be fierce comptetitors at home. A few years ago, big Nathan was seen as a penalty liability and Euan Murray was the guy who had that strange accident, discovered God and disappeared off to Northampton. Now, it turns out they are cornerstones of this team and the way we want to play. Hines and Murray can’t come back quickly enough.

UPDATE: Euan Murray is hoped to be fit to play against Italy. Other (not too serious) injuries are Simon Danielli, Phil Godman, Mike Blair, Moray Low, Jason White and Kelly Brown – all “are expected to resume training in the next two to three days” while Graeme Morrison is recovering from an ankle injury. Italy tickets are still available.

DOUBLE UPDATE: I watched the match again on BBC iPlayer and that pass was definitely forward! Chunk’s offside/onside tackle on the French scrum half that led to Kelly Brown’s “try” is much less clear cut. If the ball was out, it’s a split second thing and 9/10 times would be ruled offside. It is also increasingly clear that Phil Godman had a pretty good game – check out the pace he displays haring for the corner before extricating himself from a ruck to set up Evans’ try with his favourite inside pass. Is it just me, or is he faster than most of the other 10s on offer? Jones, O’ Gara, Goode, even Cipriani – he may not have other aspects they have to their game (yet), but I’m pretty sure he has them beaten for leg speed.