If They Let Me Pick The Lions

I probably still wouldn’t put any Scots in there, save for Big Nathan – the only man to step up his game on tour so far. With the Springboks picking the Beast in the front row, its a real shame Murray is not fit as he was starting to come onto a game, and he really took the Beast to the cleaners in the autumn if I remember correctly.

So here is the team that I would pick – the real one will be announced tomorrow:

15 Byrne – Big boot, great countering and a fearless pair of hands.
14 Kearney – Competition with Byrne for place at the back has brought back the old attacking Rob Kearnery who we missed in the Six Nations. Stick him on the wing, though I suspect Geech et al will go with Monye.
13 O’ Drsicoll – Along with Roberts, the first two names on the team sheet. Still slower than he used to be, but showing all the fire and skill of old. Useful at the breakdown too.
12 Roberts – Not a bad time to find the form of his life. Hopefully his shoulder holds up. Already showed signs of a partnership with BOD in a couple of games, hopefully they are now fully ready for a searching test of it.
11 Bowe – Sorry for writing you off initially Tommy, I stand converted. Folks got excited about Halfpenny and Earls being selected, but Bowe is the find of the tour so far.
10 Jones – O’Gara is a reliable option but Jones has sparked the attack more successfully so far on tour. Understanding with a Welsh (7) 9 10 12 axis could be important. Pity Hook got injured when he did, would have liked to seen him in form to compete here.
9 Philips – I don’t like how he always piles into rucks but so far the only one in decent form
8 Heaslip – Powell has played much better since some adjustments were made to his personal tactics, but Heaslip has still been the more solid player.
7 Williams – need someone to compete on the floor and his link play with Philips and Jones could be key. Wouldn’t be disappointed if they put Wallace in though.
6 Croft – Pierre Spies like pace and agility, could be just the ticket going forward. Great option in the lineout too.
5 O’Connell – Needs to step up his game to prove he is worthy of the mantle Lions captain. We suspect he is, but he needs to prove it.
4 Wyn Jones – Hines is probably too knackered having started the last two games, otherwise I might well have stuck him in. Shaw is pushing hard too but Alun just edges it for his lineout skill. Does leave the second row a little short of grunt though.
3 Vickery – Murray made a bit of a late surge in the scrums then picked up an ankle injury. Could yet feature but for now Vickery is the outstanding candidate.
2 Mears – near faultless in the lineout and showed up well in the loose. A bit lightweight against a guy with the same name as a battleship but Ford hasn’t taken his chances.
1 Jenkins – pushed hard by Sheridan but Jenkins workrate in defence is phenomenal, and offers a bit of cover for tighthead too.

Bench: Rees, Jones, Hines, Wallace, Blair, O’Gara, Fitzgerald

Missing Hook on the bench here – where’s the magic spark? For this I would be tempted to slot Blair on the bench, but I doubt this will happen and they will go with nuggety Ellis. Fitzgerald has looked sharp and pacey so far and offers cover in a few positions. Nathan is unlucky not to start but fatigure from playing back to back should see him rested (much as I am sure he would hate that). Flutey is another bench option, I don’t think now is the time to throw Keith Earls into the maelstrom of test rugby. Monye would be unlucky to miss out but in reality he will probably make Geech’s test team,which will probably also see Shaw on the bench rather than Nathan.

Who would you pick? Be back tomorrow to see what Geech thinks of my selection.

Broussow Gets Second Crack At Lions

The Cheetahs flanker Heinrich Broussow, who almost single handedly buggered up the Lions perfect tour record, has been given a late call up to the Springbok squad as cover for possibly injured Schalk Burger. He may yet have to fight for a place behind utility forward Danie Roussow but hopefully the extra B in his name will give him the edge he needs.

Over in the Lions camp, Shane Williams has been hit with a stomach bug. As he has not travelled for the match against the Southern Kings – Tommy Bowe is in his place as cover – this will leave the Lions scrum half options severely limited today – especially if Mikey Blade fails a fitness test this morning. Time to parachute crazy Chris Cusiter in methinks.

The injuries are starting to tell a little (Flutey’s knee, Kearney’s dead leg, practically everyone’s shoulders) but the hope is still that most players will be available for Test selection, the result of which should be announced on Wednesday. As a reminder, so far Ferris and Halfpenny have left the party, Ryan Jones should never have joined it due to being concussed and O’ Leary, Shanklin, Flannery and Quinlan were left at home what seems like so long ago!

UPDATE: Ugo Monye will join the team, and Shane has recovered sufficiently to take his place on the bench.

Ansbro Gets Starting Slot for A-Team

Looks like Captain Chris Cusiter is being saved for the possibly decisive France A match later in the week. Alongside promising Saints centre Joe Ansbro, John Houston and Calum Forrester will get their first A grade international caps. Ansbro forms an exciting centre partnership with Nick De Luca, and they will be looking to improve on the play of Alex Grove and Ben Cairns who seemed to have a good time of it against Russia.

Scotland A team to play Uruguay:

Jim Thompson (Edinburgh), John Houston (Edinburgh), Joe Ansbro (Northampton Saints), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Simon Webster (Edinburgh), David Blair (Edinburgh), Rory Lawson (capt, Gloucester), Stuart Corsar (Doncaster), Andrew Kelly (Edinburgh), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), James Eddie (Glasgow Warriors), Al Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Calum Forrester (Glasgow Warriors), Roddy Grant (Edinburgh), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors).
Replacements: Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Craig Hamilton (Edinburgh), Alan MacDonald (Edinburgh), Chris Cusiter (Perpignan), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Rob Dewey (Ulster).

A Game Of Two (Scrum) Halves

With a wee ankle strain keeping him out of Saturday’s game, it looks like Tuesday may be Mike’s last chance to try and sneak on to the bench for the test. With Mike Phillips now a certainty for the 9 shirt and Harry Ellis playing solidly if unspectacularly, Mike has been short of opportunities to show what he can do – less than a full 80 minutes spread across two matches. They are both carrying slight knocks though so if fit he should be certain of a start on Tuesday. With Euan Murray and Ross Ford also largely restricted to the “midweek” team (that confusingly seems to have played on Saturdays) it could be likely that there is a strong Scottish flavour to the “not probables” who will face the Southern Kings on Tuesday – team announcement imminent. This match is on early afternoon here, so set your videos, if you still use such things. They reckon (barring injuries tomorrow) that all scrum halves will be fit for Saturday so no requirement for a late call up…

Meanwhile Chris Cusiter – who many (including myself) touted for a berth on the Lions Tour – seems to be maintaining the great form his brief appearances in the 6N suggested, leading the Scotland A team in Romania to a demolition of rugby giants Russia in a performance that left Andy Robinson happy with some things but seemingly plenty else to work on when Cusiter went off.

BBC Report

Apparently the match was screened by beleaguered broadcaster Setanta, anyone see the match/confirm this? Some of the Nations Cup games seem to be on Eurosport this week but no sign of Scotland thus far, I’ll keep you posted if I find anything.

UPDATE: Here is the Lions team to face the Southern Kings, hot off the press. Donnacha is to captain the side, and big Nathan has been sent into the back row. Still, if Mike Blair passes a fitness test on Tuesday morning this team will feature the entire Scottish contingent starting, leading to the high probability of none of them making the test side. It’s a fairly beasting pack with a much lighter feel (plenty of skill though) in the backs.

British & Irish Lions versus Southern Kings on Tuesday 16th June

15. Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland)
14. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
13. Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England)
12. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster/Ireland)
11. Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland)
10. James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
9. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
8. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
7. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
6. Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland)
5. Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
3. Euan Murray (Northampton/Scotland)
2. Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland)
1. Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks/England)

Replacements:
16. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
17. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
18. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England)
19. David Wallace (Munster/Ireland)
20. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England)
21. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
22. Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England

Jones Gets Late Call

I must be talking about a Welshman, you imagine. Correct:

British & Irish Lions Tour Manager, Gerald Davies, and Head Coach Ian McGeechan, tonight announced that Ospreys and Wales backrow forward Ryan Jones has been called into the Lions’ squad for the remainder of the tour. He will replace Ireland’s Stephen Ferris.

Commenting on the call up, Ian McGeechan said, “Ryan Jones has been called up to replace Stephen Ferris who unfortunately sustained a knee injury during Monday afternoon’s training. He twisted his right knee in a training drill and following a medical assessment it was decided that he should undergo a scan to determine the extent of the injury.”

“He had the scan on Tuesday morning that showed he had a grade two tear to his medial collateral ligament. This usually requires a four to six week recovery period and is severe enough to mean he will miss the rest of the tour. Therefore with six matches left on tour after Wednesday’s match against the Sharks we believe we need to fly out a replacement as cover for the backrow.”

“Ryan is on the standby reserve list and of course has been playing for Wales over the last few weeks in the USA and Canada. He will fit right in as he knows a lot of the players and of course he was a Lions replacement on the 2005 tour to New Zealand. In fact on that tour he showed how competitive he is as an individual by forcing his way into the Test side for all thee matches against the All Blacks.”

Ryan Jones will arrive in South Africa on Thursday 11th June and will meet up with the squad in Cape Town.

It’s unlucky for Ferris who has been playing pretty well and was definitely in with a shout of the test spot against Tom Croft, who should now be a shoo-in if he plays well tomorrow.

Heineken Cup Pools 09/10

Here are the just announced Heineken Cup Pools for next year. Edinburgh have a pool that could prove difficult with both Bath and Stade Francais – but as Glasgow showed, Bath and French clubs are nothing to be feared. Ulster could be a force if their new coach gets them ticking and Ravenhill will always be a tricky away fixture. Meanwhile Glasgow have a pool that has a pair of recent strugglers who have failed to return on their promiseĀ  – much like Glasgow themselves – and the Dragons. Lineen’s men could be in with a shout, but with the standards narrowing every year nothing can be taken for granted at this stage. I would question the BBC’s assertion that it is “joy” for the Scottish teams though. And what’s this, Shuggy – a new nickname for Hugo?

Heineken Cup Pools for 2009/10
Pool 1: Munster, Perpignan, Northampton, Treviso
Pool 2: Biarritz, Gloucester, Dragons, Glasgow
Pool 3: Leicester, Ospreys, Clermont, Viadana
Pool 4: Bath, Stade Francais, Ulster, Edinburgh
Pool 5: Toulouse, Cardiff Blues, Sale, Harlequins
Pool 6: Leinster, London Irish, Scarlets, Brive

If you are looking for info on the Scotland U20s match vs England, you can find a report here. Pretty sure there is no coverage online or off else it would be on this page. If it’s anything like the U20 Six Nations match it might have been uncomfortable viewing.

Lions Go To The Seaside

But it could be no picnic against the Sharks. Blair makes the bench: other Scots vanish without trace. Fitzgerald and Williams are given chances to show what they can do in a team that in sections (centres, back row) is starting to look like the probable test combinations. Halfpenny and Blair may get more of a chance in this game – then again, they may not. Wyn Jones gets another chance at 4 – I still think Hines has had the other outstanding performance so far in the second row but either one of them may suffer from the need to put Paul O Connell in.

British & Irish Lions Team versus Sharks on Wednesday 10th June:

15. Lee Byrne (Ospreys/Wales)
14. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland)
12. Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
11. Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland)
10. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
9. Mike Phillips (Ospreys/Wales)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland)
7. David Wallace (Munster/Ireland)
6. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England)
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
3. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
2. Lee Mears (Bath/England)
1. Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues/Wales)

Replacements:
16. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
17. Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England)
18. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
19. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
20. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
21. Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England)
22. James Hook (Cardiff Blues/Wales) (Leigh Halfpenny out injured)

UPDATE: Hook has come in for Halfpenny.

U20s edged out by Samoa, Lions Win

Scotland 14 – 17 Samoa (view coverage here)

Scotland U20s battled bravely but an inability to find the cutting edge in slippery conditions saw them beaten with a last play of the game drop goal. For large parts of the game Samoa survived on instinctive handling rather than any particular shape to their game, and once Scotland found theirs they seemed to break the gainline at will but (sound familiar) without often troubling the try line. Richie Gray at 5 and Dewar at 6 looked game around the park, while Scotland’s stand-out performer was West of Scotland’s Peter Horne with several scything runs from deep inside his own territory. Unable to capitalise on several such breaks which left Samoa’s defensive structure in tatters, they went into the closing minutes at 14-apiece and you always sensed Samoa with their 6’4″, 21 stone “19 year olds” would batter over the try line. In the end, though, it was a drop goal that sealed it.

Scotland play England on the 9th of June, it’s not being streamed live that I can see but may appear later or on Eurosport.

Cheetahs 24 – 26 British and Irish Lions

In South Africa the Lions narrowly avoided getting egg on their manes by edging out a Cheetahs side that proved far more combative than the Golden Lions who finished above them in the Super 14. Mostly the Lions were beaten to and at the breakdown, and this almost gave the Cheetahs a famous win against a Lions side with a cobbled-together feel. Hines looked sharp when he came on, the 2/3rds Scottish front row did reasonably well without being as destructive as we hoped and Mike Blair sat on the bench all afternoon. Hook looked good and kicked creatively and accurately. Other than that, not much of note.

Four Scots in 22 To Face Cheetahs

Nature metaphors continue: Lions vs Cheetahs – who will win? All four Scots in the touring party are selected to play tomorrow, with Hines and Blair on the bench and as expected our front row boys get a start alongside fellow beast Andrew Sheridan. After this match, everyone in tour will have played or at least been selected and the coaches will begin formulating ideas about test combinations – if they have not already…

British & Irish Lions Team versus Cheetahs on Saturday 6th June

15. Lee Byrne (Ospreys/Wales)
14. Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
13. Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland)
12. Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland)
11. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
10. James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
9. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England)
8. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
7. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
6. Stephen Ferris (Ulster/Ireland)
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster/Ireland)
3. Euan Murray (Northampton Saints/Scotland)
2. Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland)
1. Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks/England)

Replacements:
16. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
17. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
18. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
19. Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland)
20. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
21. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
22. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster/Ireland)

Andy Robinson is new Scotland Head Coach

So not only do we get a new shirt to wear in the autumn, there will be a new Scotland Head Coach in the form of Edinburgh’s Andy Robinson. Undoubtedly the best man for the job in the SRU’s eyes if not necessarily the highest profile, Robinson offers a combination of playing and coaching experience (World Cups, Heineken Cups, Lions) and local knowledge from his integration with the game here over the last couple of years. Andy believes he can make the difference to an underperforming Scottish team, and we all hope he can too. It has been frustrating to see talented players consistently under-perform in the navy shirt over the last few years, hopefully Andy can instill some of the killer instinct that his England teams of the past (and to some extent his recent Edinburgh teams) have shown. Robbo vs Johnno in RWC 2011 anyone? Get your cardboard Robbo with a see-you-jimmie masks now.

However the announcement will leave the odd Edinburgh supporter slightly worried about what will be in store for them in terms of coaching, having made strides since Robbo took over two years ago it would be sad to see them suffer a sub-standard appointment and regress. Hopefully the SRU will make a left-field but successful choice similar to the one that brought Andy Robinson north.