With injuries abound and a number of candidates available Brodie Smithers looks at Scott Johnson’s options at centre.
Courtesy of the folks at ScottishRugbyTV, you can check out a wee selection of highlights from Scotland A’s match at Netherdale last Friday where they successfully beat Eddie O’Sullivan’s USA Eagles 25-0. Great to see Alex Grove and Ben Cairns going well in the centre, which coupled with Ansbro’s good showing against the Boks and Max Evans’ anticipated return gives Robbo a few selection headaches ahead of Samoa. If you are wondering who the spare giant second row is, that is full back Jack Cuthbert…
(Video requires Quicktime)
The only new face is Jim Thompson, although it’s good to see Alex Grove back challenging for the centre spots. The Scotsman touts rumours that he may be set for Edinburgh which would be interesting as they already have Houston, Cairns and De Luca all competing in the midfield. Cairns has (again) missed out here though. Big Nathan has been granted compassionate leave to return to Oz, with the option of joining up at a later date – we wish him and his family well.
Scotland squad for Argentina tour:
Backs: Blair (Edinburgh), Cusiter (capt, Glasgow), Danielli (Ulster), De Luca (Edinburgh), M Evans (Glasgow), Godman (Edinburgh), Grove (Worcester), S Lamont (Scarlets), R Lawson (Gloucester), Morrison (Glasgow), Parks (Glasgow), Southwell (Stade Francais), Thompson (Edinburgh).
Forwards: Barclay (Glasgow), Beattie (Glasgow), Brown (Glasgow), Dickinson (Gloucester), Ford (Edinburgh), Gray (Glasgow), Hamilton (Edinburgh), Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Kellock (Glasgow), S Lawson (Gloucester), Low (Glasgow), MacDonald (Edinburgh), Murray (Northampton), Strokosch (Gloucester).
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:
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.
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.
That’s probably more of a humping than we expected. Listening to the radio commentary it sounds like the Hugo experiment worked pretty well and Thom Evans didn’t seem to get much ball. Listening to Peter Wright is always fun too. Ben Cairns had a stormer, which really puts pressure on Grove for tomorrow so I hope he responds. Great to see 3 attacking 13s developing in the Scotland back line, makes a change from recent years… good luck to the boys for tomorrow against Australia!
Scotland 23-10 Fiji
But having said that, it was more clinical than we are used to, wasn’t it? How many times have we seen the scrum-half break (usually Mike Blair) with no-one on his shoulder and the move fizzles out? This time when Cus went through the gap, pack-attack-captain Beattie was on his shoulder and lo and behold, try! While on other days a better (Aussie?) defence might have stopped that one, or the pass for Morrison’s try would have been given as forward, Scotland don’t usually get the breaks in International rugby so we’ll take them against a team that were ranked higher than us. So far, so good – a win’s a win and all that. The game and the Scotland team went a little to sleep in the second half though, and there were still signs of the odd silly error or turnover of old. The defence was up to the Fijians attempts to counter on the day, but opposition will be much stiffer next week and I think the intensity and concentration levels will need to go up a bit (hopefully the crowd levels will go up a bit too – it’s extremely poor not having some sort of ticket buying facility on the day. It’s not rocket science SRU, it means you can make more money!).
Even if Andy Robinson is a fan of big wings, there is a pretty good argument for bringing Thom Evans in for Danielli, given that pace, confidence and ball skills seemed to serve the Irish backs well against Australia yesterday (easily game of the weekend that one) and Evans has these in spades. Alex Grove made a solid debut in the 13 shirt, where he tackled well and made very few mistakes that I saw, along with a couple of nice passes that hinted at what he might offer in attack if the ball got to him more. To replace him or not if Cairns is fit possibly becomes Robinson’s biggest decision this week. On the other side, the Wallabies have ball skills up the yahoo but there is still a fair amount of inexperience in their backline so (Matt Giteau aside) it’s almost an even contest in terms of experience if Scotland can find any sort of platform with which to take them on. The improved Wallaby front row could make the scrum an even contest (or worse) but with Moray Low and Kyle Traynor on form and Euan Murray still to come back at least we’re starting to get some depth on both sides of our props department. The line-out went well despite the second rows being generally quiet but as always with Scottish hookers it could be a different story if their throwing in is challenged by the opposition (or the ref). Looking at the level of effort Ireland needed just to get a draw against Australia, it looks like quite a hill to climb for Scotland and Robinson. If we can get close enough to be in it with a few minutes left there’s a chance, but where is the Scottish Brian O’Driscoll who can create a bit of last-minute magic just when you need it most?
Oh, the lunchtime news tells me they’re going to fire the Scotland football coach (where of course it counts as news news, not sport news – which will also be all football). Maybe they should hire an Englishman? It’s working for us so far.
Young Glasgow flyhalf Ruaridh Jackson has been handed the 10 shirt for Scotland A’s crunch decider against France A in Romania. Victory would see the Scots take home the IRB Nations Cup and add a first piece of silverware to Andy Robinson’s shelf at SRU HQ. Two of Robbo’s new “finds” Joe Ansbros start, with Ansbro moved to the wing to allow Ben Cairns to continue his partnership with in-form Alex Grove – keeping the likes of Rob Dewey and Nick De Luca out of this crunch encounter.
Scotland A Team to face France A: Jim Thompson (Edinburgh), John Houston (Edinburgh), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh), Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors) , Simon Webster (Edinburgh), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Cusiter (Perpignan) CAPTAIN, Kyle Traynor (Edinburgh), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Craig Hamilton (Edinburgh), Al Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Alan MacDonald (Edinburgh Rugby), Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors)
Replacements: Andrew Kelly (Edinburgh), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), James Eddie (Glasgow Warriors), Calum Forrester (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), David Blair (Edinburgh), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh)