After four games in the 2014/15 BT Premiership season, our man Brodie Smithers gives his verdict on the teams progress so far.
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).
Dragons 49 – 28 Edinburgh
Forget aerial ping-pong, there was try ping-pong on Sunday as Edinburgh went looking for four tries at Rodney Parade and got them – but forgot the part about not letting in seven in return. Despite a joyful attacking spirit from both teams, it was more a case of sloppy defence all round really with most of the tries resulting from errors, but the Dragons seemed to have more hunger for the result and a frightening ability to get round Edinburgh’s much larger wingers.
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!
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?