Scott who?

Good News: Glasgow beat the Dragons, in what is often referred to as “one for the purists” – a fairly unexciting match played in appalling weather. Still, Dan Parks kicked his goals and marshalled Glasgow to a decent away win against a Dragons side who had talked themselves up a bit in the pre-season. Mark McMillan had a shocking start to his second stint at Glasgow with a couple of dodgy passes, but felt his way into the game and was reassuringly solid by the end. Fa’atau and Stortoni looked sharp in attack and there was some solid defending all round in the Glasgow 22. Not really a day for the (Scottish) Evans boys, as although both had a few decent moments it was a bit too wet underfoot for any of their twinkly dancing feet.

Bad News: Edinburgh were outmuscled by Heineken Cup champs Munster. Didn’t catch much of the game save on the radio, but it sounded like they were hindered by poor set-piece and not actually playing until the last few minutes. Ordinarily it would be no bad thing, but we’re starting to expect more from Edinburgh, especially in front of record number of season ticket holders who will be hoping their newfound faith is to be rewarded. After De Luca had a try knocked off they got a bonus point out of it though, due to Mossy’s boot. I’m hoping he will not be relied upon too much as the season goes on.

Other News: Former Border Reiver (and single Scotland cap) Scott Gray put in a storming performance for Premiership returnees Northampton Saints on Sunday, in a game that also saw Sean Lamont’s return to rugby after almost 10 months out. Lamont made a few good runs, looked good under the high ball but in fairness didn’t get much to do in a slightly disjionted game – seems to be the pattern created by the ELVs where an unbalanced line-out becomes a bit of a risk unless you are Munster/Leicester. Northampton is also turning into a bit of a Scot-prop factory with oldest man in the Premiership Tom Smith still toiling ably away, followed by proteges Euan Murray and the oft-overlooked Barry Stewart. Back to Gray though, who put himself about in true Stroker/White style, hammering anything that moved and contributing to a few nice wee moves as required. Hopefully his season will continue in this vein and we’ll be looking at another potential Scotland back row champ. Speaking of which, I’ve a funny feeling I spotted (scrumcap-less) Simon Taylor playing in the second row for Stade’s win against Perpignan (Hines and Cusiter both on from the start). Anyone catch the game on Eurosport able to confirm – I turned over to watch Andy Murray!

An ill-informed look at what lies ahead…

So no sooner has season stopped than it’s up and running again.  A thankfully drama-free summer for Scottish Rugby and the focus (albeit a very limited focus from the nations media) has at least been on developments on the pitch and not in the boardroom.  Not that there has been much going on.  The big name transfers that have been ongoing in the rest of rugby seem to have largely passed by Scottish rugby, with incoming players not being prepared to play for the packet of sweets and a ‘See You Jimmy’ wig being offered by Edinburgh and Glasgow.  Regardless, the Scottish teams have attempted to build on the previous promising seasons and here are my quick thoughts on both:

EDINBURGH – Probably made the biggest signing of the summer by rescuing Chris Paterson from his miserable spell in England (well, it is England so you can kind of understand him being miserable!).  The addition of Jim Hamilton will also add considerable bulk to the forwards (all 19+ stones) so Robinson will no doubt be hopeful that he now has a side ready to kick on.  Last season turned into a sterling effort as Robinson’s impact started to show through in the later half of the season and Edinburgh will be realistically looking to claim their first ever Magners League championship.  They are certainly equipped with some exciting youngsters with a year’s experience under their belts and if they can get a strong start to the season, then come the end of it I think they’ll be there or thereabouts.

As for Europe there is a real opportunity that they could at last qualify from the group stage.  All 4 teams will fancy their chances but Wasps, Leinster and Castres will not be looking forward to a trip to Murrayfield.  Edinburgh are outsiders to qualify but a strong home record coupled with a slice of luck away from home could well see them become the first Scottish side to reach the later stages of Europe’s premier competition.

Predictions

Magners League – chance of the title but more likely a top 3 finish – 3rd

Heineken Cup – Mmmmmm, not sure….ach, early season optimism, 2nd in group.

Glasgow – a fairly quiet summer over in the West Coast.  The arrival of Mark McMillan from Wasps could be a major signing for our Weegie brethren who will hope that he can fill the scrum-half position which has been a troublesome area for some time.  If he can form a relationship with Dan ‘Parko’ Parks then Glasgow may then have attacking verve to trouble opposition defences.  Lineen had a decent season with Glasgow last year and, like Edinburgh, I’m sure he’ll be looking to kick on again and push harder for success in the League.  I don’t think they have the same depth as Edinburgh but Glasgow will certainly be pushing the top teams hard, and with some luck could still be in with a shout come the last run of games.

With regards to Europe I suspect 3rd in the group will be as good as it gets.  Toulouse and Bath will be hot favourites for top slot with the Dragons and Glasgow fighting it out for best of the rest.  I’m sure Glasgow will run both Toulouse and Bath close at home – indeed a sneaky win against either is possible – but away from home they might struggle, difficult to see them getting anything from trips to France or the West Country.  Still, they won’t be whipping boys and if you keep it close enough who knows what can happen.

Predictions

Magners League – outside bet for Championship glory, likely to push the top teams though so I’m going to say an improvement on last year and predict 4th.

Heineken Cup – Strong displays but not enough cutting edge will see Glasgow come 4th in my opinion.

So, there we go.  Told you it was ill informed.  Let us know what you think…enjoy the new season!

Al

Match of the Day?

It’s not quite in name at least, but it looks like the campaign for a Match of the Day for Rugby has finally scored some points, with the announcement of a highlights show to be screened on ITV4 (and repeated at an unsocial hour on ITV1) on Sundays at 6.30pm. ITV have recently acquired the rights to Guinness Premiership highlights previously held by the BBC, and the programme will be fronted by sometime BBC touchline/holiday reporter and double glazing salesman Craig Doyle. Quite what happened to our own little Scotsport version complete with handheld footage from your local rugby pitch, Doddie Weir’s trousers and the odd bit of pro-team action, we’ll never know.

Also announced was the news that several regulars from Edinburgh’s squad last season – plus a couple of newly minted pros – will be living it up in the Premier League until such time as they regain form or fitness, having not been registered as part of Edinburgh’s playing squad for the season. Big surprise on the list is Ross Rennie (injury), who presumably will be re-instated when he recovers. Roland Reid has also been left off.

And the SRU have announced that anyone buying an Autumn test ticket will be eligible for a free ticket for the Boxing Day derby between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Which is nice of them.

Your Rugby Season Starts Here

Scheduled matches to kick off the Magners League this coming Friday involving our favourite pro-teams:

Edinburgh vs Munster – this one’s on Setanta but why not pop along to the match if you’re in Edinburgh. Season ticket sales have been going well so the atmosphere should be well up on what we’ve had in the past. Buoyed most likely by Andy Robinson’s no nonsense approach, a solid (if unstarry) squad and outreach to the local clubs, this is a season in which Edinburgh have to keep improving into genuine challengers for honours. The Heineken Cup final is at “The Castle” this year, and with our pro sides (let’s face it) unlikely to be weakened by too many Lions removals it could be a good chance to do something sneaky. Munster can be slow starters, so a good home win would be the first step.

Dragons vs Glasgow – our cousins in the principality are being kind to us and showing this one on BBC Wales (Sky channel 991 for viewers in Scotland). Traditionally whipping boys just above Connacht – and our lot – they’ve recruited a fair bit in the off-season. It’s a sign of the changing times that the Magners is starting to look like the Premiership in that most teams could be able to beat most others on any given day. Still, Glasgow will be looking to cement their end of last season form (and ignore some of their pre-this-season form) and grab an early away win. It’s the away form that has dogged them and if they could improve that to go with their strong home performances they could be battling with Edinburgh for the highest Scottish finish.

We hope you’ll come along and rant with the rest of us as we follow the upcoming season, which culminates in the 2009 Lions Tour to South Africa, still arguably the special event in World Rugby besides the World Cup. Hopefully we’ll get a Scot or two on the plane…

Edinburgh Beat Wasps

Bet you never thought you’d see that headline – indeed you may not see it again this season when the Heineken Cup warms up properly. For now though, Edinburgh Rugby seem to have given the visiting Premiership champs a decent game under the new ELVs, and more importantly held out for the win in this pre-season friendly.

Mossy as predicted came on at full-back amongst a half-time bucketload of subs, but Godman still seems to have done a fair bit of the kicking. Ben Cairns worryingly may have picked up a ligament injury, but De Luca seems to have once again come through with honours against a reasonably strong Wasps side. Even better news was a good sized crowd of 4,225. Let’s hope the crowds – and the wins – continue. Next up: Bath away.

Anyone at the game?

UPDATE: In other news, Glasgow lost narrowly 15-12 to Bristol in a game that sounds a lot less fun.

Hadden hires new coaches

In news announced yesterday, Scotland have appointed two new assistant coaches to fill positions temporarily held by Andy Robinson and Alan Tait over the summer tours.

Former All Black captain Mike Brewer of NZ has been appointed as forwards coach, and former GB Rugby League International Graeme Steadman as defence coach filling the roles left by previous incumbents George Graham and aformentioned Tait.

While Brewer played a controversial role in one of Scotland’s closer results against the All Blacks, he did sterling work with Leinster’s pack last season and should he work similar magic for our national side he may be forgiven. Steadman is a less well-known figure, having worked with both Munster and Ireland in the past since crossing codes. Steadman will also work with Edinburgh, hopefully to ease the transition between their 10-12-13 defensive axis from club to international level. The SRU site claims a replacement for Mark Bitcon is being looked for in the fitness department. So, with all this blarney-flavoured news, should it be pointed out that -as was the situation with Eddie O Sullivan – there seems to be a worrying lack of appointment of a backs coach?

We all know what happened to Eddie O Sullivan…

Fantasy Rugby warming up for the new season

Okay so it’s the (ssshhhhh) Guiness Premiership we’re talking here, not our “beloved” Magners League. But you could just about field a team of exiled Scots here, or at least people who have vaguely Scottish names – Luke McAlister I’m looking at you.

I’ve even set up a Scottish Rugby Blog mini-league so if anyone wants to join in that, the name of the league is “ScottishRugbyBlog.co.uk” and the password is “optimism”. Tell all your friends. No prizes for mini-league victory other than those already offered by the sponsors, and our undying respect. Unless Al wins, in which case no prizes full stop and shame on the rest of us. I’ll be playing anyway, so if it’s by myself well that’s nothing new. But there’s plenty of room in the sandpit so why not give it a bash, you’ve got till the 6th September to get stuck in.

Word of warning – best set up your team in Internet Explorer if you can, their fancy interface only lets you pick one back if you try it in Firefox, which would be about as useful as picking Dan Parks. If he were available. Tsk.

http://www.guinnesspremiershipfantasyrugby.com

Scottish Rugby Blog is Back

Kicking down the door and shouting “Sucka” (while no-one really gets hurt) like the Mr-T of sports journalism that we are, I bid you welcome to a new season of rugger-based ramblings. Oh, wait, the season hasn’t started yet. Still, there is some stuff to report, namely that two of Scotland’s favourite sons went head to head the other night in a pre-season friendly between Sale Sharks and Perpignan. Chris Cusiter started at 9 and may or may not have played the whole game – they’re not exactly reporting the hell out of this one – while Rory Knee-Face Lamont (Batman’s new nemesis) seems to have sparked a bit of a second half fightback, scoring two tries to leave the final score a tie at 24-24. The good news is he was playing at 15, hopefully a position that Saint-Andre will give him a run at this season. Otherwise he may end up marking his brother…

Glasgow seem to have beaten Castres in a pre-season friendly, without most of their top players and trialling some of the ELVs. New signing Mark McMillan hopefully gave an indication of things to come with a late try to seal the win, whilst Colin Gregor illustrated his versatility by kicking most of his goals. Here at SRBlog Towers, we’re almost as happy to see McMillan at Glasgow as teammate Dan Parks:

Mark Mcmillan and Dan Parks

Welcome back to Scottish Rugby Blog. Come in, the water’s lovely.

Social Rugby Players from Scotland Wanted!

Friend of the SRBlog Rolf has been in touch with some details of an event he is involved in South Africa next year, the Social Rugby World Championships:

Every rugby player has at one time or another worn the boots of their rugby heroes – standing in the back garden imagining the kick that’ll win the World Cup Final for his team.

From Opunake, New Zealand to Clonakilty, Ireland the dreams remain the same. For most, these dreams fade, but for 480 social rugby players these dreams will finally be realised from 13 to 26 June 2009 when the inaugural Social Rugby World Championships kicks off in Cape Town, South Africa.

The tournament, with teams from across the globe, promises to be packed with great running rugby, good times, healthy competition and new friendships being formed.

SOCIAL RUGBY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS 2009

  • 16 international teams
  • 480 rugby players
  • 2 weeks of socialising and rugby
  • 40 matches
  • 1000’s of spectators
  • 4 finals – Cup, Plate, Bowl and Shield
  • 1 of the world’s most beautiful cities
  • 1 social outreach programme that’ll help change the lives of players and previously disadvantaged communities forever.

The groundbreaking Social Rugby World Championships – coinciding with the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa – is the perfect opportunity to make some new friends, enjoy a few games of social rugby, visit the most beautiful city in the world (our unbiased opinion) and watch the Lions in action (probably getting thumped by the current World Champions – also an unbiased opinion).

While I take issue with the Lions jibe, it sounds like a great idea so if you have a team that you think might be interested, spread the word! More details on www.srwc2009.co.za.

On other fronts, we realise we have been a bit slack lately but Wimbledon was on. Although also on summer break, Al and I have thankfully (or is that unfortunately?) not been involved in any late-night hotel-based scandals with foreign lovelies, nor re-constructive surgeries of any kind.

Like the rest of the world, we’ll be back to oval balls soon.

England Saxons team to face Scotland A

England Saxons team: Nick Abendanon, Ugo Monye, Ollie Smith, Anthony Allen, Matt Banahan, Ryan Lamb, Paul Hodgson, Alex Clarke, George Chuter, Jack Forster, Chris Jones, George Skivington, Chris Robshaw, Will Skinner (capt), Jordan Crane. Replacements: Andy Titterrell, Tom French, Stuart Hooper, Steffon Armitage, Lee Dickson, Adrian Jarvis, Ben Foden.

Scotland A team: Steve Jones, Mark Robertson, Rob Dewey, Calum MacRae, Roland Reid, Gordon Ross, Colin Gregor, Ed Kalman, Fergus Thomson (capt), David Young, Fergus Pringle, Dan Turner, James Eddie, Alan MacDonald, Stevie Swindall. Replacements: Andrew Kelly, Stuart Corsar, Jon Dunbar, Scott Newlands, Mark McMillan, David Blair, Jim Thompson

(Coverage is on Sky Sports 2, 7.45pm)

If you were just playing the “who’s name do I recognise” game between the two teams, you’d likely soil yourself. Indeed regular followers of Edinburgh and Glasgow might still be pushed to identify some of these chaps, where as the Saxons side is packed with guys in top form in the GP. But as Al and I were commenting the other day – and has been proven amongst otherwise dismal results for the national team over the last few years – a Scotland vs England match sees the formbook (but hopefully not the rulebook) thrown out the window. If Thomson leads the pack from the front, and RobDeweyTime, Gregor and Ross have a good game, there’s hope for us. If Banahan, Hodgson or Lamb get too much quick ball it may be curtains. Here’s hoping that the A team can keep the positive up-swing at the end of the season going.

Scotland beat Argentina for first time since I was 11

Argentina 14 – 26 Scotland

What a shocker, eh? Did you see that one coming? Having belatedly caught the game on pay per view through Mediazone – disgustingly the only broadcast provider willing to carry it, good on them though – I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. We could mutter about how Scotland had a chance to protect the 15 point plus lead that would have leap-frogged them over Ireland in the IRB rankings, but let’s face it considering some of the recent performances, a win’s a win. That the victory was achieved by playing pacy, running rugby, and by cutting out (most of) the errors on top of the usual solid defence made it all the sweeter.

Funny how you play World Class Phil at 10 and suddenly the emphasis is not on kicking or up-and-unders – probably a good job, as despite a pretty solid performance he did fluff a few touch kicks. Or maybe they were meant to miss touch and force the counter, you know, like Dan Carter does. He attacked the line constantly, passed flat and in front of his runners, and made one sterling break that could have quite easily made a try for Mossy in the corner but for a better timed pass. Speaking of good passes, yes Parks got on, and yes he set up a try with a sweet pass to Morrison off an interception, but by that point it was “shut up shop” time and he was patently brought on to pin the Argies in their own half with his boot. Cairns also made some great breaks, and for the first time in a Scotland shirt looked the real attacking threat we know he could be. Poor De Luca received a total of no passes that I could see. His time will come.

The forwards put in an awesome display (Barclay and Stroker acting like nightclub bouncers around the ball and generally looking up for the challenge), but despite what the rankings say this wasn’t the Argentina that finished 3rd in the World Cup. They were missing the verve of Hernandez and Corletto, and the likes of Longo and Albacete up front. Even with the backing of a passionate crowd they reverted to type-1 rugby. I also thought they didn’t dive into the ruck nearly as effectively as they did in the World Cup, and their turnover rate on our ball was much lower. Or maybe that’s just because Alain Rolland kept an eye on them after the battering they gave Mikey Blair last week.

Next weekend after the Churchill Cup Final – Scotland A vs England Saxons – Al and I will chip in with our end of season thoughts.

A chance for revenge…sort of

So, 15 points. Can we really beat Argentina by that much? Without scoring any tries? With Dan Parks at 10? Not having seen the previous game yet, I can’t really comment specifically but from the sounds of it on the radio we were solid in the set piece but bullied at the breakdown, which led to slow ball, which led to, well, the usual. It’s good to see Stroker in the press with some fire in his belly about losing games we should win, and hopefully Robinson will key the back row (and Alain Rolland) in a bit to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Much like many of you out there, it seems pretty evident to me that regardless of club form or favouritism, the team don’t fire with Parko at 10 (unless we are playing England and it is raining), so it is of little use constantly shuffling the backline when the ball never gets beyond 10 or 12. Therefore I will refrain from discussing the backs. What’s the point?

Don’t forget you can catch the Scotland A game vs Argentina A in the Churchill Cup from 9.30 tonight to see if the understudies can manage what the full team have singularly failed to do, namely beat the Argies. It was a good showing from the A team to beat a stubborn and fired-up Canada on Saturday, but the lack of familiar faces in the team compared to say the England Saxons team does highlight the lack of depth we have in Scotland once you skim off the Glasgow and Edinburgh first 22s and the current crop of big name exiles. A lot of these guys have not been playing first team professional rugby this season, and although you could argue this tour will give them valuable experience, it does show that to get the results we would all love to see, Scotland needs to find a way to sustain more than just a core of about 30-40 players – once these ranks are depleted through injury or the niceties of the French club season, we are severely short of form and experience. Even the A Team coaches have been spirited away to the main team in an effort to bolster confidence, depriving our up and coming players of what would have been a valuable learning process.

Anyway, all the best. Good luck to both teams and I hope I will be proven wrong. Al and I are off to Cardiff to pay homage at the Millennium Stadium, so we may be unavailable for comment after Saturday’s match. Feel free to leave your build-up and feedback on any of the games in the comments below – don’t forget new look Oz and England are both in action this weekend too, against the Irish and All Blacks respectively.

UPDATE: here’s the team, comments below:

Southwell, Paterson, Cairns, Morrison, Webster, Godman, Blair, Jacobsen, Ford, Murray, Mustchin, MacLeod, Strokosch, Barclay, Hogg.
Replacements: Hall, Dickinson, Kellock, Brown, Lawson, Parks, De Luca.