There is one blast from the past though in the shape of Ally Hogg. Read on…
It has been confirmed that Scotland Sevens will be representing the land of wild haggis, Nessie and the Buckfast triangle at this years Commonwealth Games. Whether they will send the usual mix of academy players and the legend that is Colin Gregor, or whether they will turn out a team of pro-team ringers as they do at Murrayfield every year remains to be seen.
…As well as a few old ones. Ally Hogg continues the rehab of his playing career and he will be one of the old heads relied on to guide the younger players through the tournament. I would also look for hooker Fergus Thomson to make a big push here for senior selection in the autumn too, cementing his end of season form for Glasgow, with hulking winger Rob Dewey also on the comeback trail.
Interesting to see the two junior Blair brothers as the only real candidates at 10 in the absence of Ruaridh Jackson, although there are a couple of other fresh(ish) faces in the backs selection like former Watsonian Bryan Rennie and Bath youngster Jack Cuthbert.
Scotland A squad
Forwards: G Cross (Edinburgh), J Eddie (Glasgow), C Forrester (Glasgow), C Fusaro (Heriot’s), Roddy Grant (Edinburgh), Ryan Grant (Edinburgh), A Hogg (Edinburgh), A Kelly (Edinburgh), S MacLeod (Edinburgh), F Thomson (Glasgow), K Traynor (Edinburgh), S Turnbull (Edinburgh), R Vernon (Glasgow), J Welsh (Glasgow)
Backs: A Blair (Edinburgh), D Blair (Edinburgh), B Cairns (Edinburgh), J Cuthbert (Bath), R Dewey (Glasgow), J Houston (Edinburgh), G Laidlaw (Edinburgh), M McMillan (Glasgow), B Rennie (Exeter), M Robertson (Edinburgh), C Shaw (Scotland 7s and Glasgow), N Walker (Ospreys)
Former Scotland and Lions cross-code legend Alan Tait is to take over control of the Newcastle Falcons following the departure of his long time partner in crime. Great to see another Scottish coach being given a chance to cut his teeth at the highest level of club rugby. Hopefully the policy of using the Borders as something of a feeder area for their academy that he and Bates seemed to espouse will continue under the new regime.
In other news:
- Ian “Mighty Mouse” McLaughlan will be the new SRU President
- Houston, Cairns and Cross have all signed new contracts for Edinburgh. Hoggy has an offer in but it is rumoured to be less than he’s currently on. Aren’t Cardiff in the market for a number 8?
- Aberdeen Asset Management have also renewed their shirt sponsorhip of Edinburgh.
Sorry I’ve been a bit slack lately but hopefully we can get some coverage sorted of the games this weekend in the run up to the playoffs…
UPDATE: Tait has revealed a little of his plan for taking over at Newcastle here on the BBC.
Congratulations to Sean Lineen and the Glasgow team who have made it through to the playoffs with one week of the season remaining. A strong showing against the Scarlets and they may still sneak a home semi, which would be invaluable considering the candidates in opposition are likely to be Leinster, Munster or the Ospreys. New boy Duncan Weir in on the bench for the injured Ruaridh Jackson seems to have had a good 9 minute cameo before the stirring send off given to Dan Parks and Kelly Brown by the sizeable Firhill crowd.
The reason for Glasgow securing such a position? Another pretty woeful performance from Edinburgh, who unfortunately seem to have gone backwards under Rob Moffatt this season, losing the head in attack and the plot in defence. Thank goodness for Tim Visser, the dutchman who is at the moment the only one with his finger in the dyke holding back the tide of mediocrity.
Edinburgh have lost a number of internationalists to long-term injuries this season and clearly missed the ability and leadership of Chris Paterson and Ally Hogg.
As someone pointed out in the comments over on the Scotsman site, is this the same Ally Hogg that has hasn’t been given a contract for next season?
Busy week this one! Scottish Rugby is like buses – it makes a mess of Edinburgh city centre.
The SRU have announced that they are withdrawing from bidding for the 2013 IRB Sevens World Cup (potentially the last before it goes Olympic) due to (yet again) a lack of broadcaster interest. And Ally Hogg is to have surgery on a hip that is giving him gyp (see what I did there?) and has possibly been a factor in his form this season not being as good as last – when he played every game of the season for Edinburgh plus two sevens tournaments. On the good news side though, 23 year old openside Ross Rennie completes his comeback from injury into an Edinburgh squad alongside Roddy Grant and Alan Macdonald. Suffice to say, I think we’ve seen the last of Hoggy being shuffled to 7 as he used to be. Although with Dave Callam also almost back Ally might not find the back row slots just opening up for him when he does return, estimated to be sometime towards season’s end.
Scotland squad: John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors), Johnnie Beattie (Glasgow Warriors), Mike Blair (Edinburgh), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors), Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Nathan Hines (Leinster), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Lamont (Toulon), Sean Lamont (Scarlets), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Alan MacDonald (Edinburgh), Scott MacLeod (Edinburgh), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Hugo Southwell (Stade Francais), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors), Nikki Walker (Ospreys), Jason White (Clermont Auvergne).
Suprise ins: Alex Grove, Richie Vernon, Alan MacDonald
Surprise out: Ally Hogg, Dan Parks
Gotta admire Robbo for sticking to his guns and leaving Parks out despite him being in okay form and a distinct lack of other options with Jackson out. Is he really only having Mossy as back-up? Is he putting all the weight on the slightly off-the-boil Phil Godman or is he going to throw Mossy in at 10 at last for more than bench cover? Gotta feel for Hoggy who has been playing pretty well till recently and had repaid being given captaincy with some strong performances. Then Blair came back into the armband and strangely Edinburgh went downhill… Still it gives some indication of Robinson’s admiration for Beattie that he’s willing to give him a shot back at the 8 shirt. Either that or it’s the gauntlet being thrown down to Hogg to play his way back into the squad… So now I’ll have to have a think about who would go into the 22/23 based on that. For me the back three is trickiest – Walker is in great form but he’s been there before and not kicked on. A Lamont possibly? Evans has to be there just for the pace, give him a full Murrayfield and he’d find form I am sure. Mossy – or will he be in at 10? Or comeback king Hugooooo? More thoughts soon.
So this weekend we had both Edinburgh and Glasgow beating top clubs (if not their top teams) and the arrival of a new TV programme. Marvellous!
First up were Edinburgh who took Cardiff to the cleaners in the first half through some solid forward play from the relatively under-rated talents of Hoggy, Roddy Grant and Alan MacDonald in a bizarro South African style double open-side back row that seemed to go nicely. Edinburgh had fairly comprehensive control of the match save for a ridiculous non-try that put Cardiff back in the match. Turns out the touch judge may have been Welsh (hence why he was looking at the ball grounding, not Czekaj’s foot in touch) so a diatribe against Irish referees may have to wait till Al manages to climb the steps at SRBlog Towers once again… Cardiff came fairly storming back in the second half, but a couple of duff Mossy kicks kept them in a game they barely should have got a bonus point from save for an excellent Alfie try (highlights here on the BBC). Next up they face Connaught, and if they can control the pace of the game again they should be looking for five points. The offloading ALL the time may have to be curbed a bit though…it looks nice but Cardiff soon worked out where to stand to intercept them!
High points: Mossy try from a cross field kick, Roddy Grant, Mark Robertson, Greg Laidlaw’s impressive diving/sliding catch, hanging on for the victory.
Low points: Fitzgibbon not going upstairs for a “try” that even Jonathan Davies said wasn’t legit.
Glasgow of course won also, but that one wasn’t on the telly so we had to wait till STV’s new Sunday night highlight’s show arrived to catch some of the action. Fronted by Andy Nicol and Scott Hastings, the show gave us a decent amount of action and possibly a bit too much chat. Nice to have a round-up of the weekend club results too. Some of the editing of the footage was a bit wonky – penalty offences don’t necessarily count as “highlights” but it was good to see something on our TVs at last! Ditch the chat about the wider game – we can get that on the Rugby Club and let’s keep the focus Scottish and have a few minutes more action, though the Lions chat was interesting. Maybe switch Scott and Andy round, Hastings is a better presenter and Nicol pundit. Much improved on STV’s last effort though.
Up at Firhill, Glasgow were putting Munster into tricky situations thanks it seems to their youthful front row and some placekicking from Parks. Reports were of Graeme Morrison’s barnstorming runs, but on the TV highlights I only saw one of these that led to Jackson’s try and sadly his injury also. Damn shame that, I think we were all looking forward to seeing what Jackson could do this season so here’s to a speedy recovery. I had never heard of Jon Welsh before last week but I suspect we will hear a lot of him this season, Parks apparently said it was the best scrum platform he had ever played behind. Cusiter seemed to show up everywhere too so he’s looking like the excellent signing we all thought he’d be. Anyone actually at the game see how Peter Murchie went in the centre? Glasgow host Sean Lamont’s Scarlets next weekend which I think is on S4C.
Speaking of which, Lamont scored the opening try and looked strong in defence in the Scarlets’ victory over Leinster. Northampton Saints had only Scott Gray on the bench – with (unbanned and uninjured) Best, Wilson and Dowson in the back row I think he might not have quite as many chances to catch Andy Robinson’s eye as he did Hadden’s last season. On the losing end of that game, Worcester’s Alex Grove had few chances to shine but did not badly. Gloucester’s new Scottish coach Bryan Redpath got off to a good start as well, fielding last season’s fringe man Scott Lawson as his starting hooker who repayed him with a solid performance. Rory Lawson and the big Stroker were reliable as usual. No word on the French contingent – anyone with ESPN want to join in?
Onwards and upwards, Scottish Rugby folk!
… Mike Blair, not so much.
Scotland’s patchwork Sevens squad did the nation proud and narrowly missed out on beating IRB series winners South Africa to a place in their first cup final. In front of a home crowd sunning its pasty white self beneath rare Scottish sunshine (tops off at the first opportunity as expected), the Scots gave another edge of the seat viewing experience typified by the physicality of Ally Hogg and Sean Lamont. It seemed to be their extra muscle and experience that gave the more specialised skills of sevens regulars such as Colin Gregor, Roddy Grant, Greg Laidlaw and Jim Thompson room to flourish in victories over last week’s winners England, as well as Canada and Samoa. A controversial group-stage loss to Kenya (with the winning try coming after Laidlaw being punished for “throwing the ball in to touch” while seemingly catching the ball when tackled in touch) might have given them an “easier” semi-final had the result gone differently, but as it was Scotland stood up to the possibility of annihilation by the champions bravely and the South Africans were only able to clinch victory in extra time.
Meanwhile in South Africa, the British and Irish Lions tour kicked off fairly quietly, with most of South Africa seemingly watching the Bulls destroy the Chiefs in the Super 14 final instead. A half-full Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace (we should change our stadium to Murrayfield Sports Palace) nearly saw an upset with the touring side putting in a pretty ropey first performance against a fired up Royal XV. Defeat to what was essentially a third-tier team was avoided thanks to Lee Byrne who single-handedly wrestled the match back under the control of the Lions with some expert kicking and a brilliant solo try. Mike Blair had a fairly nervy start, and although eventually he settled into things with a chargedown, a good break (only halted by a tap tackle) and some good work under the high ball, his service was a bit slow and put under constant harrying pressure by his opposite number. If it’s any consolation, Mike Phillips’ passing was not much better when he came on, and Ronan O’Gara coped well with the variety of strange passes he received throughout the match to haul in 22 points. A good test of O’Connell’s leadership and he threw himself into the latter stages of the game to help the Lions seal victory. Full rundown of the match can be found here.
Cardiff 14 – 36 Edinburgh
Edinburgh put together a solid performance in defence coupled with some excellent counter-attacking rugby to snatch a record second place finish in the Magners League with an away victory in the last match to be played at Cardiff Arms Park. A few decisions from Irish ref Simon McDowell that were controversial to the home crowd but on the face of it probably correct helped too – notably a penalty try and sin-binning for the deliberate knock down of a pass to Godman about 2 metres from the line. That gave Edinburgh the space they needed to keep the scoreboard operator awake and turn the match in their favour. After a lot of loose play, several knock-ons and turnovers by both sides in the first half, this period proved decisive. It was also great to see a Scottish side capitalising on opposition mistakes with a degree of ruthlessness often absent from the national side.
Ally Hogg put in a captain’s performance at the breakdown alongside youngster Roddy Grant and was turning over ball almost at will against a Cardiff side shorn of much of its international talent. Ross Ford and Geoff Cross both had good games too, although Ford missed the odd lineout throw. Phil Godman marshalled his backs well on the counter in a loose game that suited Webster’s and Mossy’s style, although he didn’t always get the best service from scrum half Laidlaw in crunch situations. Nick De Luca popped up everywhere in midfield, putting in some good defensive work and grabbing the interception try that put the result beyond doubt – regardless of the ability Cardiff have to conjure late points that scared Leicester so.
To be fair it was mostly a second string that faced Edinburgh here, the same sorts of second strings that the bigger clubs can afford to field. Such second strings allowed the results to go Edinburgh’s way earlier in the weekend (Ospreys losing to Munster and Leinster losing to the Dragons), and is probably a sign that at least until the play-off system next season Heineken Cup Rugby is still the bigger prize for the larger clubs. Edinburgh would have been guaranteed a play-off spot anyway if the system had been in place this year – probably facing Munster or Leinster if the usual 1 v 4, 2 v 3 model is followed.
At the end of the match, as Hugo Southwell came on for his last appearance in an Edinburgh shirt, the heavens above Cardiff opened as if to signal their displeasure not to see a home victory, but it was to be Edinburgh and Andy Robinson’s day. As the Blues and their fans prepared to mark the obsolescence of one of Rugby’s old icons in the shape of the Arms Park and celebrate their current successes past and present at season’s end, the match was largely forgotten by the locals in a matter of minutes. For Edinburgh though, the last trip home from Cardiff Arms Park will be a memorable, very happy one.
It’s about that time of year when the pre-Six Nations player roundabout starts, so with that in mind I have a few snippets for you.
Rob Dewey returns to Murrayfield this week (alongside former Scotland coach and silver surfer Matt Williams) with Ulster, and rumours are flying that he has begun negotiations with the SRU for a more permanent return to these shores. As yet it is unclear where he will settle his ship – The Times seems to think Glasgow, while the Scotsman seems to think Edinburgh (and also mentions they may be interested in Scott MacLeod too which – despite his other troubles – would be a good signing in rugby terms). Edinburgh already have three promising young centres in Houston, De Luca and Cairns while Glasgow would have been a more obvious choice were it not for the appearance this season of Max Evans, giving them three decent centres also (Evans, Henderson, Morrison). Where do you fit in Dewey? As a battering ram 12 it is more likely to be at Edinburgh where the midfield is a little lightweight. But will that do anyone any good with regards to the national setup? After all, there are only two shirts to fill week in, week out – so someone’s development will be hampered. I still maintain you could swap Cairns and De Luca around, but nobody listens. Also, what happened to Al’s bête noire Marcus Di Rollo? Last we heard he was stuck at Toulouse unable to play there for medical reasons, and forbidden to leave and play anywhere else. An investigation beckons…
Big Jason White is to leave Sale Sharks at the end of this season to join ASM Clermont Auvergne. Glasgow had been hopeful of returning the former Scotland skipper north of the border, but White is clearly looking to pastures new after 5-odd years in Manchester. He’ll join the likes of Elvis Vermeulen and Julien Bonnaire in the back row at Clermont.
“I was very impressed by the organization, the structures, the team and the ambitions of the club. Clermont belongs to the best European clubs and I think that it is likely here there is a real chance to gain titles. I always wanted to play in France and the prospect to discover a new culture and a new language is very exciting.” (apologies for the Babelfish translation)
No Scottish rugby on TV tonight, (unless perhaps you have Setanta) but coverage on BBC Radio Scotland as usual. Glasgow take on the Dragons who feature ex-Glasgow man Andy Hall in their squad, and will be looking to cement their form with a victory over the often troublesome Dragons. Edinburgh as mentioned above face Ulster, and feature a back row shorn of Ross Rennie (now out for the season) and Alan MacDonald (head knock) so Simon Cross and academy sevens man Roddy Grant come in. Still, Ally Hogg – who played in all of Matt Williams’ games in charge of Scotland – will be there to hold down the fort.