Tag: Al Strokosch

Analysis: Barclay’s Breakdown Influence

Jamie Lyall takes a look at the impact John Barclay had in defence and at the breakdown when he was brought on against Japan in last week’s win, and gives his thoughts on how crucial his role is to any success in Sunday’s Springbok showdown.

World Cup Squad Preview: Forwards

As Rory has chosen to focus on the backs he has left me with the slightly easier task of looking at the forwards.

The reason this is easier is because Andy Robinson has a pretty samey starting pack and, barring injury, I can’t imagine it will change too much for the first game in the World Cup. So this means the warm-up games against Ireland and Italy will help pick a bench, and the training sessions before hand are hugely important for individuals.

So who is a dead cert to go, and who “could do better”?

Stroker Out

Alisdair Strokosch will miss the Six Nations opener against France on Sunday having failed to recover in time from an ankle injury. His place in the team will probably be taken by in-form Kelly Brown given Jason White is also currently injured. This might affect the bench though, as Brown is pretty versatile whereas the likes of Gray or Rennie who are probably in line along with Macdonald are less so. Rory Lamont is still with the squad but will not be considered for selection as he too is recovering from an ankle injury.

A full Scotland team announcement will be at tomorrow around noon and I hope to have it for you as soon as possible after that!

Who’s Carrying the Ball?

Edinburgh got a well deserved if unspectacular win at home to Munster on Friday while Glasgow laboured in the second half but eventually secured the expected four-try bonus point against Connacht, putting the Scottish teams at third and fourth in the league table. Sean Lineen has been asserting everywhere he can that Thom Evans is “back”, and with two tries (including a strong tackle-busting effort off his favourite inside ball move) who can argue?

Next weekend before a break going into the Autumn Internationals and Andy Robinson’s all important first match with Fiji, Edinburgh will try to do what Glasgow have so far failed to ie beat the Dragons (Sun 5pm S4C), while Glasgow go to Swansea to face the star-studded Ospreys (Fri 7pm BBCw) I just hope Thom Evans and Nikki Walker don’t knock so many bells out of each other that they can’t play for Scotland. It gives me  a week to think of the team I’d pick as well. I’m still not sure about the back row though. Having watched “Gloucester Scottish” play pretty much like an actual Scottish team (inept) at the weekend, two of the better players were actually Stroker and Scott Lawson (who can at least throw straight and was industrious about the park). Lots of good hits and work at the breakdown but Stroker is not really a big ball carrier though and neither is Barclay, which puts a lot of pressure on your Number 8… Big Nathan and the backs can’t do all the go-forward… On a side note, I fear an anti-Scottish backlash at Kingsholm if Redpath can’t turn the results around soon. Which would be a shame as moves south have been the making of Strokosch and Rory Lawson, and Redpath at least at assistant coaching level.

Next week’s matches could be key, especially if Max Evans continues his rapid return from injury. With Robbo’s assertion that Morrison is inked in at 12 that leaves Cairns, De Luca and Grove along with Evans if form merits it (looks good so far) competing for the 13 shirt and probably a bench spot. My current thinking would be Cairns – who stepped the normally rock solid De Villiers on Friday, although I wouldn’t pick him just for that – with Evans or De Luca on the bench but who knows what next week will show?

Odds and Sods and Lions Centres

After all the excitement of yesterday evening, tonight Edinburgh take on Cardiff at Murrayfield tonight (not on TV, but probably on BBC Radio Scotland along with a lively debate about future Scotland coaches from 8pm), while Glasgow visit Llanelli live on S4C on Saturday at 5.30pm ish with a few more of their internationals back. A couple of good games from Thom Evans could see him shoot up in the Lions reckoning, which would be nice. Also with one eye on the future, Ruaridh Jackson is starting at 10 for Glasgow with Parko (still without a contract for next season) on the bench. Edinburgh should also have newly resigned and restored prop Geoff Cross packing down in the scrum (but not against Cardiff’s Gethin Jenkins, who is rested). Cross will be looking to make up for his inauspicious test debut vs Wales in the Six Nations, one hopes…

Speaking of the future, Edinburgh and Glasgow seem to be scouring the English club game for Scottish-qualified youngsters with ex Stew-Mel and Newcastle scrum-half Ross Samson signing for Edinburgh and centre Peter Murchie signing for Glasgow from London Welsh. Samson’s signing and Ben Meyer’s exit from Edinburgh would mean I think that Edinburgh now only have one non-Scottish qualified player on their books (in Ben Gissing).

At the other end of the career spectrum, former Edinburgh scrum-half Graeme Beveridge has also announced his retirement from pro-rugby after he was let go by Bristol. He aims to have a go at coaching in the future though, so we wish him all the best with that and hope to see him plying his trade north of the border soon. Andy Henderson is also off to pastures new in Montauban after a game for the BaaBaas – it was getting crowded in the Glasgow midfield I suppose.

After their exertions last week in victory over Connacht and loss to Munster respectively, good to see a few home-based Scots creeping into the (only half serious) Sky Sports Lions Watch team of the week, as well as a few exiles. In fact this team is almost thick with Scots – that’ll never last. Big Stroker is definitely increasing the awareness of his physical talents, while I’m sorry to have missed the battle between Euan Murray and Gethin Jenkins in the scrum… plus the comments on these things are always fun to read…

With Henson now out with injury till May, it looks like Goron D’Arcy could be coming into form at just the right time to re-cement his partnership with O’Driscoll… Shanklin or possibly Jamie Roberts should keep Maxi out of the reckoning at 13 but he may have more value as a utility back than Thom. Tindall is injured too, lest we forget so if the 2×2 centres were Flutey (ugh) and D’arcy, O’ Driscoll and Shanklin, they’d probably still need a utility back who could cover centre. Step forward Maximus! Such are the discussions that the coming weeks are made of, so I’ve put up a handy countdown in order to build the hype towards the inevitable leonine let-down (but we are used to such things by now).

Have a good weekend. Next week was going to be chat about the Lions, but now we have some fantasy coach shopping to do!

So That’s The End of That, Then

Another year, another pretty miserable Six Nations for Scotland. Our celtic cousins over the sea celebrate their shiny new Grand Slam – created out of gritty Munster-like determination (and a missed penalty) rather than any sort of fantastic rugby – and those in Wales cry into their Brains after slumping to fourth in the table despite being in with a shout at the end of a fantastic deciding match. France were their usual schizophrenic selves, Italy look like they may be going backwards and England seem to be starting to develop a little unit cohesion and some decent backs whilst maintaining that indisciplined streak that lets other teams back into matches.

And so it was for Scotland in the Calcutta Cup, where Paterson and Godman kept us just about within touching distance, and a little bit more vision/ruthlessness/Ugo Monye having one leg might have seen us snatch an unlikely victory. Once again Al Strokosch put in a powerful performance, but it’s about time someone else steps up to his intensity levels. Euan Murray gave England a tough time in the scrums, but was not totally dominant even once Vickery went off. He started to show up in the loose again too, which is good. Mike Blair had probably his best game of the tournament, but that’s not saying much and sad to say that may not be enough to put him on the plane to South Africa, where in the autumn he was a certainty. Thom Evans once again set a stadium alight with a try that almost was, but he has now become the Shane Williams of Scotland – marked heavily wherever he goes. World Class Phil Godman seems to have put the “who should play 10 for Scotland” debate to bed, but the Scottish attack is still not setting the heather on fire, let alone the sunny turf of Twickenham. Credit must also go to England who finally look to be adding the ruthlessness to their game that has been missing for a while. No sense in dwelling too much on the past, so here’s what I would like to see in the future, Six Nations wise.

Let’s Have More Of:

Scotland’s Defence, for the most part. In the first half against Ireland, much of the France game and all of the Italy game the defence was solid and convincing. Al Strokosch may not put in the crowd-pleasing big hits that Jason White did, but his work rate is phenomenal – it’s the little hits, all the time, phase after phase that help us. We turned over a lot of ball with Scott Gray at 7 too. Barclay is undoubtedly the future in the position, but Gray was probably the standout man in blue during the Calcutta Cup match and it’s good to have competition for places.

Scotland scoring tries. Well, for a while at least. It was good to see Simon Danielli coming on to some form after some pretty cruel luck in the past, and you fancy in the autumn there will be real competition for back three places from the Lamont boys, Evans boys, Malkovich, Mossy etc. The A Team tour to Romania in the summer should be interesting too. Unlikely you’ll find it on TV though.

Chris Cusiter. I hope he has a couple of blinders for Perpignan to round off the season, and I hope Geech is watching.

Euan Murray destroying opposition scrums. Yeah, something to cheer about!

Andrew Cotter. Is he the new Bill McLaren? Maybe even some more of Lawrence Dallaglio who was balanced and fair in his assessments. Rob Henderson, Andy Nicol and Philip Matthews were also pretty good. The rest sadly fall into the second half of this article.

France playing sexy rugby. That first half against Ireland was brilliant, no matter what Marc Lievremont thinks.

Brian O’Driscoll being good, and like the Murphy’s not bitter. Seems to have lost the chip on his shoulder that he got from Tana Umaga, and in perfect time for the Lions.

Let’s Have Less Of:

Scotland Being Rubbish. Okay so we have a tiny player base compared to say England (apparently approx 30,000 vs 715,000 or so), but we have some decent players once it is just 22 vs 22, so why do they perform so inconsistently? Sorry Frank, but I think it comes down to coaching and confidence in their selection based on form or position. We need to be a bit sharper in midfield too. It would be interesting to see whether a new coach would persist with bruisers at 12, or go for someone with more varied angles of running and distribution like Ben Cairns or De Luca – assuming he can get over the handling issues he still seems to suffer at international level. Sir Clive Woodward probably would have brought in a team psychologist now to get to the root of it, and maybe it is ingrained in our national psyche but something needs to be done to sort it. Even change for changes sake, which worked last time.

Not picking second rows in the second row. It started off being about injuries, and ended up with the selectors painted in a giant corner in a fetching shade of red face. Kellock and Hamilton both restored balance and ballast to the lineout – think what they could do with a proper second row. Nick Mallet picking Bergamasco at 9 falls under this umbrella too.

Bickering BBC Pundits. Brian Moore, Eddie Butler, Austin Healey, Jonathan Davies – leave us alone please. Give us some pundits who can keep their flags in their back pockets and pronounce people’s names. John Inverdale telling Rafa Ibanez to be quiet because they wanted to talk about England was one of the worst things I have seen from a BBC punditry team that often seems over-burdened with “faces” – some people might use another term…

Indecision over the ball being in or out of the ruck. One thing Moore-oh gets right. Half-backs sitting guarding a ball that is clearly no longer in the ruck kills the momentum of the game. If they can put their hands on it to pass it, the ball is out. Else they are handling in the ruck, no? Let the defence at it. If a ref is shouting “ruck” every so often, it’s only a couple of extra breaths to shout “ball out” and remove the indecision.

Diving. Italians and pseudo Italians (Nigel Owen’s “drama school” quip after Danielli took a tumble was classic), I’m looking at you.

Aerial Ping Pong. Is it really the ELVs? Not really. Is it actually that the breakdowns are now (mostly) refereed according to the laws in existence and it has become a lot easier to turn over ball in contact that causes the “you make a mistake – no you make one” dialogue between full backs.

What about you? Please add your own in the comments here below. Thanks for reading during the Six Nations, we’ll be back soon with the results of the nailbiting (for the six of us involved) fantasy rugby. Then it is time for the big daddy of tours set to dominate the rugby world from now until June – the British and Irish Lions in South Africa. Check out Planet Rugby for their analysis of who’s in form now after the Six Nations has finished. Good to see a few Scots in there, I’m sure if they make the tour they can make an impact.