Tag: Chris Cusiter

When you’ve got no one else to turn to..

Despite the differences between the two sports similar debates are currently going on amongst fans of Scottish football and rugby.

In football, Kris Boyd had become accustomed to being left out of big games by Rangers and chose to quit international football because he was not satisfied with being always on the bench. This was because he was seen by management as being a one dimensional player. He scored goals but his all round game wasn’t good enough to justify his selection particularly against higher skilled defences. In the end, Boyd altered his game and tried to become a more all round footballer. As a result he has forced his way into being an automatic starter for Rangers and is now being approached to reconsider his position for international selection.

But the debate goes on. Is Kris Boyd now a starter because of a lack of options at his club? Has he really changed his game that much? Does he still take away more from a team than he offers? One thing is sure. If Kris Boyd had Fernando Torres or Wayne Rooney in front of him in the pecking order there would be no debate. But as the players competing with him for selection are Kyle Lafferty and Nacho Novo, there’s hardly an embarrassment of riches available.

The same argument is being played out in Scottish international rugby with Dan Parks. While Dan Parks has always been recognised as a very strong kicker his tackling and delivery leave a lot to be desired. At club level his defensive weakness has led to Bernardo Stortoni alternating in at stand off in defensive situations, a scenario which we may see play out with Chris Paterson in Cardiff on Saturday.

Parks has been out the Scotland team for fourteen months, but he is a different player since the last time he played for Scotland and despite his weaknesses he has one strength over any other stand off available for Scotland in relation to his game management ability. There is no doubting that he has an arrogance and ability to take over the game with his kicking, a virtual guarantee of points scoring and an awareness to play the field position game to his teams strengths.

There seems little doubt from the pattern of recent selections that Robinson and Townsend would prefer their stand off be an all rounder but Parks’ selection for Cardiff on Saturday indicates a recognition by Scotland’s management that the other options available are either unproven or too risky – the product of thinking just too far outside the box. Phil Godman continues not to assert himself as his supporters would wish. Having conclusively lost two head-to-head duels with Parks in the Inter City matches over the Christmas and New Year period his performance against France was mixed at best. Considering Ruaridh Jackson as an option is jumping the gun dramatically. Though his day will come he’s just not ready to play at this level. The other options are Chris Paterson, previously written off by Robinson as a viable option at stand off, or Hugo Southwell, who doesn’t see number 10 as his preferred position although he has played there for Scotland A and is a talented player Scotland probably should utilise somewhere in their team or at least have available on the bench.

The final option is Mike Blair. He’s clearly seen as one of Scotland’s top players and while it’s no doubt tempting to see if both Blair and Cusiter can be accommodated in the starting 15 to date he’s untried in this position.

Scotland need to be more adaptable and urgently start exploring other options. In his article, “The Curious Case of Rory Hutton”, Kevin Ferrie of The Herald writes about the lack of adaptability of Scottish coaching. The fact that Dan Parks is now seen as Scotland’s best option in the playmaker position may be seen as a sad indictment on coaching in this country recognising as it does that no stand off available to us has been developed beyond his level.

At the very least, with the kicking prowess of Parks and Paterson, Scotland should be able to defend in the opposition half and kick the penalties which come their way but they won’t be a true threat at top international level until they have real attacking options. With Scotland being left with no other option but to turn to a player Robinson clearly wanted to discard from the international scene and who wasn’t in either the chosen 44 in August, the A team in Belfast or the 22 chosen against France there could be no better demonstration of our lack of progress as an attacking force at international level.

In the second guessing of the selection that will no doubt continue until Saturday, Scotland’s supporters should avoid being be too harsh on Parks because the simple fact is that now as never before we really need him to be playing at the top of his game. Rumours coming out of the camp suggest that Robinson expected to lose against France but that Wales is a match he believes Scotland can win. Let’s hope that in the critical selection of Dan Parks at stand off he’s got it right.

Comfortable if Not Clinical

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.

Scotland Team to face Fiji

Well done to Alex Grove on his debut cap, I reckon it’s a good idea to give him a shot against Fiji. More interesting even than that is the suprise absence of Thom Evans from the 22, given that he had been pretty much the creative spark for Scotland all of last season. It does put a fair bit of pressure on the back three to try and maintain the scoring form that the Evans boys seemed to help Scotland discover. Other than that though the team looks decent enough, and good to see former Highland man Moray Low gets another cap! New co-captain Chris Cusiter gets his shot to start and the Lamont boys make a return to add ballast to the backs. Ross Ford meanwhile needs to kick on from the Lions tour, sort out his throwing and bring the power carrying game (along with Hines) that can make him a real threat. Let’s not forget Fiji are above us in the IRB rankings, but we should still be looking to beat them and get Robbo’s stint as coach off to a good start. And I didn’t even mention Mossy, but he’s on the bench as 10 cover pretty much as expected.

Scotland team to play Fiji: Rory Lamont, Sean Lamont, Alex Grove, Graeme Morrison, Simon Danielli, Phil Godman, Chris Cusiter, Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Moray Low, Nathan Hines, Alastair Kellock, Alasdair Strokosch, Johnnie Beattie, John Barclay.
Replacements: Dougie Hall, Kyle Traynor, Jason White, Richie Vernon, Mike Blair, Chris Paterson, Nick De Luca

UPDATE: and here is the Fiji team announced by coach Glen Ella, who has hit out at the lack of co-operation from clubs on player release. Fiji are above us in the rankings yet we didn’t seem to have a problem getting our exiles back. They should be given every consideration for player release and it is basically pretty crappy that some nations are still seen as second class by the bigger league organisations/unions when it comes to player release, even during a recognised International season.

Fiji team: J Matavesi (Exeter); V Goneva (Vatura), G Lovobalavu (Toulon), S Bai (Clermont Auvergne, capt), N Nalaga (Clermont Auvergne); N Little (Bath), M Rauluni (Saracens); A Yalayalatabua (Navy), V Veikoso (Mavoci), D Manu (Scarlets), W Lewaravu (London Welsh), I Rawaqa (World Fighting Bulls), J Domolailai (Lomavata), A Qera (Gloucester), A Boko (Tau).
Replacements: G Dewes (Esher), S Ledua (FTG), L Nakarawa (Army Green), S Bola (Police), W Vatuvoka (Duavata), J Ratu (Cagimaira), N Roko (Yokogawa).

Also, it would be great if any of you could sponsor me in Movember please! Along with all the Wallaby team at the weekend I saw a photo that looks like Cus may be sporting some chops too, though it could just be the light. My facial hair silliness should be in evidence for the Argentina game at the end of the month, ticket availability permitting… and don’t forget to check out Front Up’s offer below!

Double Trouble

Andy Robinson has announced Scotland is to have two captains for the autumn internationals – incumbent Mike Blair and widely touted replacement Chris Cusiter who led the A team to victory in the IRB Nations Cup. Whoever is on the pitch leads the team, presumably with the usual switch around the 60 minute mark (though I’d hope not). This seems like a sensible compromise between picking a captain months ahead of any indication of form (cf Borthwick, Steve) and not picking a captain till the team announcement which gives us nothing to get excited about in advance. Based on current form I reckon that Cusiter will be the starting captain, and think he is probably long overdue for a chance to show what he could bring to Scotland. His break is much improved (especially seeing as Blair seems to have forgotten about his) and his service seems to me a lot crisper. Team announcements for who will join them in the match squad will be next week I imagine. You can see Robbo’s full announcement here.

Rest time for most of the Scottish boys this weekend while England kick off against Australia and Wales aim for a first victory against the All Blacks in fifty-something years. Speaking of the All Blacks, anyone else think the Barbarians team to face them in the usual end of term silliness match should just be the Lions? It would be great to see how they fare on home soil. Even better if they got another crack at the Boks, but such things dreams are made of…

Weekend Round Up

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!

Glasgow team to face Champs

Sean Lineen announced his first Glasgow Warriors squad of the season, fresh from a narrow pre-season victory over Kelly Brook’s boyfriend and the rest of the Wasps. They take on champs Munster who may play more of their big guns early on in the season (rather than save them for Europe) now that a top four place is all that is required…  Pity we won’t get to see Max Evans match up against De Villiers till later in the season though… No, I’ve never heard of young prop Jon Welsh either but I think Scottish rugby may have finally woken up to the reality that young talent needs to be brought “on stream” earlier than was previous to keep the level of depth and competition for places strong. Chuck ’em in at the deep end – it seems to have worked for Ruaridh Jackson last season. I’m particularly excited to see what impact Chris Cusiter can bring to a Glasgow backline with a fair amount of potential with newcomer Peter Murchie, Rob Dewey and Thom Evans (especially with the likes of Jackson, Colin Shaw, Peter Horne, Max Evans and Colin Gregor challenging  too). After many of us thought he had disappeared without contract, Dan Parks continues his career resurrection, holding off Jackson’s challenge at 10 for now. Consistency is the watchword for this season – if they can find that, Glasgow can do better than many expect.

Glasgow team to face Munster:
Bernardo Stortoni, Rob Dewey, Peter Murchie, Graeme Morrison, Thom Evans, Dan Parks, Chris Cusiter, Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Tim Barker, Alastair Kellock (captain), Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie

Substitutes: Pat MacArthur, Kevin Tkachuk, Dan Turner, Richie Vernon, Mark McMillan, Ruaridh Jackson, Colin Shaw

It’s not on TV this one, but you can catch Nathan Hines’s new team Leinster in action against Sean Lamont’s new team the Scarlets on Saturday evening on S4C (Lamont starts, Hines is rested).

UPDATE: you can now see highlights on Sunday, 5.30pm, STV though!

Broussow Gets Second Crack At Lions

The Cheetahs flanker Heinrich Broussow, who almost single handedly buggered up the Lions perfect tour record, has been given a late call up to the Springbok squad as cover for possibly injured Schalk Burger. He may yet have to fight for a place behind utility forward Danie Roussow but hopefully the extra B in his name will give him the edge he needs.

Over in the Lions camp, Shane Williams has been hit with a stomach bug. As he has not travelled for the match against the Southern Kings – Tommy Bowe is in his place as cover – this will leave the Lions scrum half options severely limited today – especially if Mikey Blade fails a fitness test this morning. Time to parachute crazy Chris Cusiter in methinks.

The injuries are starting to tell a little (Flutey’s knee, Kearney’s dead leg, practically everyone’s shoulders) but the hope is still that most players will be available for Test selection, the result of which should be announced on Wednesday. As a reminder, so far Ferris and Halfpenny have left the party, Ryan Jones should never have joined it due to being concussed and O’ Leary, Shanklin, Flannery and Quinlan were left at home what seems like so long ago!

UPDATE: Ugo Monye will join the team, and Shane has recovered sufficiently to take his place on the bench.

Ansbro Gets Starting Slot for A-Team

Looks like Captain Chris Cusiter is being saved for the possibly decisive France A match later in the week. Alongside promising Saints centre Joe Ansbro, John Houston and Calum Forrester will get their first A grade international caps. Ansbro forms an exciting centre partnership with Nick De Luca, and they will be looking to improve on the play of Alex Grove and Ben Cairns who seemed to have a good time of it against Russia.

Scotland A team to play Uruguay:

Jim Thompson (Edinburgh), John Houston (Edinburgh), Joe Ansbro (Northampton Saints), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Simon Webster (Edinburgh), David Blair (Edinburgh), Rory Lawson (capt, Gloucester), Stuart Corsar (Doncaster), Andrew Kelly (Edinburgh), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), James Eddie (Glasgow Warriors), Al Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Calum Forrester (Glasgow Warriors), Roddy Grant (Edinburgh), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors).
Replacements: Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Craig Hamilton (Edinburgh), Alan MacDonald (Edinburgh), Chris Cusiter (Perpignan), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Rob Dewey (Ulster).

A Game Of Two (Scrum) Halves

With a wee ankle strain keeping him out of Saturday’s game, it looks like Tuesday may be Mike’s last chance to try and sneak on to the bench for the test. With Mike Phillips now a certainty for the 9 shirt and Harry Ellis playing solidly if unspectacularly, Mike has been short of opportunities to show what he can do – less than a full 80 minutes spread across two matches. They are both carrying slight knocks though so if fit he should be certain of a start on Tuesday. With Euan Murray and Ross Ford also largely restricted to the “midweek” team (that confusingly seems to have played on Saturdays) it could be likely that there is a strong Scottish flavour to the “not probables” who will face the Southern Kings on Tuesday – team announcement imminent. This match is on early afternoon here, so set your videos, if you still use such things. They reckon (barring injuries tomorrow) that all scrum halves will be fit for Saturday so no requirement for a late call up…

Meanwhile Chris Cusiter – who many (including myself) touted for a berth on the Lions Tour – seems to be maintaining the great form his brief appearances in the 6N suggested, leading the Scotland A team in Romania to a demolition of rugby giants Russia in a performance that left Andy Robinson happy with some things but seemingly plenty else to work on when Cusiter went off.

BBC Report

Apparently the match was screened by beleaguered broadcaster Setanta, anyone see the match/confirm this? Some of the Nations Cup games seem to be on Eurosport this week but no sign of Scotland thus far, I’ll keep you posted if I find anything.

UPDATE: Here is the Lions team to face the Southern Kings, hot off the press. Donnacha is to captain the side, and big Nathan has been sent into the back row. Still, if Mike Blair passes a fitness test on Tuesday morning this team will feature the entire Scottish contingent starting, leading to the high probability of none of them making the test side. It’s a fairly beasting pack with a much lighter feel (plenty of skill though) in the backs.

British & Irish Lions versus Southern Kings on Tuesday 16th June

15. Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland)
14. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
13. Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England)
12. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster/Ireland)
11. Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland)
10. James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
9. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
8. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
7. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
6. Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland)
5. Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
3. Euan Murray (Northampton/Scotland)
2. Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland)
1. Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks/England)

Replacements:
16. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
17. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
18. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England)
19. David Wallace (Munster/Ireland)
20. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England)
21. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
22. Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England

Robinson Snaps Up Ansbro for A Team

In form Northampton Saints centre Joe Ansbro has been called up to the Scotland A Team squad to play in the IRB Nations Cup. Ansbro, born in Glasgow, but eligible to play for England too, will be representing the fair nation of Scotland for the first time. And you never know, with Max Evans out injured for a while, perhaps it is significant that Robinson has five centres in his squad to develop strength in that area. Glasgow bound Chris Cusiter will lead the tour, with vice-captain Ross Ford also included at the behest of the Lions managment to retain match sharpness.

Matches will be played against Russia, Uruguay and France A during the tournament.

Scotland A

Joe Ansbro (Northampton Saints), David Blair (Edinburgh), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh), Stuart Corsar (Doncaster Knights), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Chris Cusiter (capt, Perpignan), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Rob Dewey (Ulster), James Eddie (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (vice captain, Edinburgh), Roddy Grant (Edinburgh), Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors), Craig Hamilton (Edinburgh), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Al Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Alan MacDonald (Edinburgh), Scott Newlands (Edinburgh), Jim Thompson (Edinburgh), Kyle Traynor (Edinburgh), Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors) and Simon Webster (Edinburgh).

Edinburgh Back In Fourth As Glasgow Fail to Ignite

Edinburgh blasted the Dragons with a bonus-point victory at Murrayfield this weekend but Glasgow failed to do them a favour by beating an out-of-sorts Ospreys team. They did deny them a bonus point but the game was marred by Max Evans going off on a stretcher with what looked like a nasty knee injury and another schizophrenic refereeing performance from Irishman George Clancy. Ruaridh Jackson looked inventive at 10 and kicked most of his points and Lome Fa-Atau had a pretty good game on the opposite wing from Thom Evans. I have to say that Andrew Henderson looked pretty off-peak when he came off the bench with a couple of poor and late challenges – one of which he would have been carded for if Clancy wasn’t obsessing over sending off as many props as possible. The Ospreys now move third, equal on points with Leinster. Edinburgh can regain second if both those teams lose next weekend and they manage to beat Cardiff in Cardiff. Unlikely, I know. But Cardiff have a midweek game and must be on their last legs by now – paying for the silly Anglo Welsh Cup. Meanwhile Leinster face the Dragons but Ospreys have to play Munster. So third could be on and they are guaranteed to at least equal their best ever finish of fourth.

While he was always an outside chance to be called up to the Lions as a replacement for the injured Tom Shanklin – and it was interesting to hear Will Greenwood mention him as a possibility – this will almost certainly rule Maximus out. In the same game though James Hook looked pretty good from inside centre, and he might give the Lions some fly-half cover too. With Jamie Roberts going off injured in the Munster match last night too the Lions could be looking at another replacement in the centre. Speaking of which, the Sunday Times reported that former Lions scrum half and backs coach Rob Howley was dispatched to watch Chris Cusiter in Perpignan this weekend – bit of a shame as he didn’t seem to get on the pitch. Ian Macgeechan went to watch Danny Care who didn’t have the greatest game either. No word if anyone was watching Blair, as we await the rumoured announcement this week.

UPDATE: The Times is now reporting that Rob Howley was in the crowd for the Edinburgh match, which seems more likely. Someone (in the Murdoch empire) got their info wrong.

Geech To Take His Time

While it won’t surprise you to learn that Scottish Rugby Blog’s preferred choices to fill Tomas O’ Leary’s vacant Lions shirt both hail from these shores, Ian Macgeechan has opted to wait for a week or two before naming a replacement. How will the remaining weeks of the season allow the main candidates to showcase their talents (assuming they all play in all possible games)?

Mike Blair – home game vs the Dragons and away to Cardiff who may choose to concentrate on the Heineken Cup. Plenty of opportunity to show off and guaranteed his spot in the Edinburgh team if fit. Has been steadily improving of late since a poor Six Nations but without being spectacular. Would offer a different kind of scrum-half play to Phillips (who bowled him over in the Ospreys game at the weekend) and potentially restore some magic to the Lions half-backs.

Chris Cusiter – at home to Montauban and away to Castres, plus with USAP topping the table the playoffs to follow. Plenty of opportunity to show he is battle-hardened at the top level if the Lions selectors bother to send anyone to watch him, and if he can secure a starting place in the Perpignan team having already announced his return to Glasgow. The Lions management have apparently asked for him to go on the (European Nations Cup) Scotland A Tour to stay match fit. Came off the bench during a game last weekend that saw Perpignan stage a last-minute fightback against Clermont to clinch victory. The week before he didn’t play and they lost. Coincidence? Such are the straws we love to grab.

Peter Stringer – now in Munster’s hot seat for their Heineken Cup shindig with Leinster at Croker, as well as the last two games of the season vs Cardiff and Ospreys. Will get plenty of opportunity to play in tough matches, but does he have enough to his game in comparison to the others, save a good pass and the extremely occasional bluff if the run is on, like he did to Scotland in the 6N?

Dwayne Peel – having been probably “the best in the world” in his field at the time of the last Lions tour, (just like Lee Byrne is now), Peel’s season is now over with Sale out of the running in European and Domestic competition. Other than the Welsh tour to North America, this offers him little opportunity to stay match fit before a decision is made. Given the Welsh selectors didn’t want to take a chance on his form before the 6N (when he was actually in reasonable form when he played for club and country), will the Lions team follow suit?

Danny Care – Has a Guinness Premiership semi-final vs London Irish and potentially a final too. Probably the in-form man with some high intensity stuff ahead, but can he control his rash streak enough for the Lions selectors?

An announcement should come either this week or next. In other news, heaps of people have applied for the Scotland job including 8 or so definite contenders, and Rory Lamont is rumoured to be following Philipe Saint-Andre to Toulon. Hopefully he won’t get involved in anything like this