Tag: Chris Cusiter

British and Irish Lions Squad 2009 – Fewest Scots Ever*

I’ve been kind of excited all morning, so I shudder to think the pain the players have been going through waiting for this announcement.

Backs

Lee Byrne, Rob Kearney, Shane Williams, Leigh Halfpenny, Ugo Monye, Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Brian O’ Driscoll, Keith Earls, Rikki Flutey, Ronan O’ Gara, Stephen Jones, Mike Philips, Harry Ellis, Tomas O Leary

Forwards

Jamie Heaslip, Andy Powell, David Wallace, Stephen Ferris, Alan Quinlan, Joe Worsley, Martyn Williams, Alun Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell (c), Donnacha O’Callaghan, Simon Shaw, Nathan Hines, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Andrew Sheridan, Phil Vickery, Euan Murray, Jerry Flannery, Lee Mears, Matthew Rees

Yup, that’s two. Okay I’m slightly less excited now. Well done to the (mostly) non-scots in the squad, and of course we’ll be keeping up to date as the preparations and tour progress. Looks like we all get to join the Munster red army…

14 Irish
13 Welsh
8 English (there are also 8 Munstermen in the squad)
2 Scots (there are also 2 antipodeans in the squad)

37 total

UPDATE: Few big names missing: Ryan Jones, Tom Croft, James Hook, Mark Cueto, , Dennis Leamy, Mike Blair (nobody really thought Borthwick would go did they?). Do any Scots deserve to be in there ahead of the guys they have though, really? Ross Ford is unlucky I think to lose out to Rees. Powell had a storming autumn but went badly off the boil in the 6 Nations yet he’s on the tour (and probably wouldn’t be replaced by a Scot anyway). If he finds his autumn form it would be hard to argue against him doing some damage in SA though. There are surely better scrum halves than Harry Ellis too (*cough* Cusiter, Blair, Peel *cough*), he’s not even first choice for his club.

Overall it’s an interesting selection and one or two surprises, but if I’m honest there are not that many grounds for complaint really and it looks a pretty strong squad apart from the half backs, with a nice balance.

Maybe if Hadden had been picking on merit early in the season we’d have had a bigger representation. Without wishing injury on anyone, 8 Munster men and 6 Cardiff men still involved in Heineken Cup action before the tour departs, not to mention the 1 Leicester and 4 Leinster boys. It’s basically a whole rugby team plus subs getting through 2 test-level instensity matches un-injured? There may yet be a chance for the odd Scot to have a say in the tour later on.

* DOUBLE UPDATE: it turns out it’s not the lowest “ever”, we had just one representative in 1930. Ireland were the last with 2 in 1993. That makes it 3, 3, and 2 for Scotland over the last few tours (not counting call ups). Not terribly inspiring is it?

Is there hope for Chris Cusiter?

After the autumn internationals, there were two real front runners for the Lions 9 shirt, Mike Blair number one on form with Mike Philips of Wales offering a different option in terms of physicality which some preferred.

Fast forward to the Six Nations, and the half back choices are in disarray. Blair went backwards form-wise in the Six Nations, Peel and Cusiter looked very sharp but didn’t get picked, Philips was injured, Care couldn’t keep his head when all around were losing theirs and Ireland’s best option was Peter Stringer.

Since then Tomas O’Leary has found form for Munster, and become a credible front runner. Care has found his zip again for in-form Quins but Mike Philips is stuck playing in an underperforming Ospreys team.

Step forward Chris Cusiter. First Kenny Logan picked him in his Lions team and now this from Shaun Edwards suggests they are not overlooking foibles of national selection:

After our most recent three-hour huddle – in a hotel near Heathrow this week – it is obvious that Ian is sticking by his word: he will pick on form and not reputation. Some big players who have been there and done it before, won Six Nations or Heineken Cups, might be in for a shock next Tuesday… Some of those currently in the reckoning may not have made their national teams in the Six Nations which ended less than a month ago.”

Hopefully Cusiter is still in with a chance of making the tour – Perpignan have been on a bit of a winning streak lately. Might that bode well for Hines too, who a lot talked up before his recent injury? I had a look on their site and can’t find much in the way of recent match reports so I hope they haven’t taken the huff because Cusiter is returning to Glasgow. According to Eurosport he played their win against Stade Montois (?), but seems to be part of a fairly even-handed rotation system in the games previous. He’s not injured though, I managed to pick that up.

Could he be the ideal man to partner ROG, given that they played together in Geech’s successful dirt trackers team in 2005? It seems like a fairly large straw to clutch at, but other than Euan Murray where else are the definite picks? I’d like to hope the Evans boys are considered too. Here in Scotland we’ve got a lion rampant on our ‘B’ flag, but doesn’t look like too many on the plane to South Africa, even in the ‘B’ team. Still, I can’t wait for the squad announcement tomorrow – I hope it’s a great tour.

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.

England Team Unchanged, but did Frank just roll a 2 anyway?

Thom’s ok, big Stroker’s ok. So that’s that out of the way. Scott Gray in? Okay, he’s looked sharp off the bench and played well season-long against these guys in the GP, so that’s justified on form. On the other hand, also sharp Chris Cusiter not in to replace out of form and probably injured Mike Blair? Crap. John Barclay not in the 22 at all, because now you want a back row replacement that can cover more than 7? Maybe it’s because he didn’t take responsibility for “tailgunner-gate” when that apparently wasn’t (for that defence) his position to cover? Crap. Nathan in to stabilise the lineout and much-needed restart? Nope – crap.

Mostly the same team gets one last chance to show that they are worthy of our love, but why not make a few changes just to add some extra stability in areas where we have been wobbly thus far… an in-form scrum-half and a proper second row? Still, the P&J rugby guy said he’d eat his hat if Cusiter wasn’t selected, so I am looking forward to seeing that.

Meanwhile Jonno has left the England team that bulldozed France with some style unchanged. To pursue the gambling metaphor: snake eyes – house wins, I reckon. And after that, the end of an unlucky streak?

Scotland Team:

C Paterson (Edinburgh); S Danielli (Ulster), M Evans (Glasgow), G Morrison (Glasgow), T Evans (Glasgow); P Godman (Edinburgh), M Blair (Edinburgh, capt); A Dickinson (Gloucester), R Ford (Edinburgh), E Murray (Northampton), J White (Sale), J Hamilton (Edinburgh), A Strokosch (Gloucester), S Gray (Northampton), S Taylor (Stade Francais).
Replacements: D Hall (Glasgow), M Low (Glasgow), N Hines (Perpignan), K Brown (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Perpignan), N De Luca (Edinburgh), H Southwell (Edinburgh).

England Team:

D Armitage (London Irish); U Monye (Harlequins), M Tindall (Gloucester), R Flutey (Wasps), M Cueto (Sale Sharks); T Flood (Leicester), H Ellis (Leicester); A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), L Mears (Bath), P Vickery (Wasps), S Borthwick (Saracens, capt), S Shaw (Wasps), T Croft (Leicester), J Worsley (Wasps), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton), J White (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), N Kennedy (London Irish), D Care (Harlequins), A Goode (Brive), M Tait (Sale Sharks).

A Last Throw of the Dice for Frank?

That’s assuming he has a pair, of course. Or is it a set?

Frank Hadden has delayed announcing his team for the Calcutta Cup pending injury updates on Thom Evans (shoulder) and captain Mike Blair (back). After a stinger against Ireland, the big

After a stinger against Ireland, the big stroker Al Strokosch has been cleared for training and should retain his place in the 6 shirt after one of his best performances in a Scotland shirt. Losing Blair is a pretty big blow ordinarily, but he has been out of sorts recently and his likelihood of sneaking on to the Lions tour is looking slimmer as the likes of Harry Ellis and even Peter Stringer start to show form and attack the spare scrum-half berths.

Hopefully Saturday will give Chris Cusiter the chance that he has so far been denied to show what sort of form he is in. Sadly there is no bigger stage for a Scotsman these days than the Calcutta Cup.

My team to face the (gulp) improving England would be something like: Paterson, Danielli, Evans, De Luca, Evans, Godman, Cusiter, Taylor, Barclay, Strokosch, Hines, Hamilton, Murray, Ford, Dickinson.

We need something different at 12 – a distributor in the mould of D’Arcy or Flutey and why not give Nick a bash and see if it works? There might be an argument for bringing in either fit Lamont for Danielli – but Simon has been pretty solid so far and will be less well known to the English players than the Lamont boys. Paterson has been criticised occasionally for a lack of penetration but frankly, I am astonished at the improvement in his kicking from hand (compared to say during his time at Gloucester), he’s a lot safer in the tackle now and of course there’s the place kicking. Either he or Cusiter would be a good choice as captain – or would now be the time to pick a forward leader for the future – John Barclay for captain?

Scotland Turn On Some Style…At Last

Scotland 26 – 6 Italy

Yesterday we saw Scotland beat Italy, led largely by the efforts of a man with an Italian name over whom many (including myself) have been guilty of indifference to in the past, and (for those watching on TV) commented on by another man with an Italian name who many of us have no doubt been gulity of downright antipathy towards in the past. Twin heroes of the day, Simon Danielli and (gulp) Lawrence Dallaglio. We’ll get to Lol later, but first let us talk (as we must) of Scotland.

We saw a fair bit less ineptitude in the basic skills than against France and almost a different team to the one that failed to turn up against Wales. The good thing was the way Scotland maintained the cutting edge and better support lines they had found at times in Paris, while chopping out some of the sloppy tackling and handling. But for a yard of pace (or a pass inside) Simon Danielli would have had a second try, and he more than made up for his knock-on a fortnight ago. With every performance he is cementing his ownership of the shirt and the same could be said of both Evans boys. Even with a hesitant interception thrown by Southwell, we now had the pace to recover the breakaway runner where 2 years ago we did not. Max or Thom didn’t get nearly enough ball, while Southwell got too much and kicked much of it away. Having found a storming running game for Edinburgh, he seems to have lost it again and kicked too much, often poorly. I think Paterson has earned his chance to start at full back against Ireland – we’ll need his boot, which would also allow Godman to concentrate on the Ireland back row that will be charging down his channel. Speaking of changes, what about Chris Cusiter starting? I’m a huge fan of Blair who has been talked up a lot for the Lions, but Cusiter has looked the sharper of the two with every game as Blair seems to go a little off the boil. Sly hunch of the day: Cusiter with an outside chance of a slot on the Lions tour? I just have a feeling he could be coming on to form at the right time and would like to see him get more of a chance to show this.

Up front, Euan Murray and Ally Kellock restored a bit of nous to the scrum and lineout, and should be definite starters in two weeks. Provided his fitness is okay, Murray is only going to improve from here. And there is something to be said for playing both Hamilton and Kellock to give real power in the set piece against Ireland. Alisdair Dickinson was much criticised in recent weeks for his scrum performances, but the Italy game allowed him to show that the set-piece is not necessarily the best showcase for his talents. With Jacobsen injured he should slot into his preferred number 1 shirt for the next game and give us a few more barnstorming runs.

The back row of Strokosch, Barclay and Taylor looked solid and settled – Taylor and the big Stroker had vastly improved games with the ball in hand. Strokosch set the tempo with strong early running while the defence and breakdown were solidly patrolled as we are coming to expect – and we will expect it to continue. The one exception to any attempts at marshalling was Sergio Parisse, who seemed to do exactly what he wanted whenever he wanted in just about every area of the pitch (legally too). The man’s performance was quite simply, stupendous and makes one think you won’t see Taylor in the Stade No 8 shirt any time soon. Stroker handed him his man of the match award last year, and but for the scoreline yesterday Parisse would almost have deserved Danielli’s award too.

While it was at times a very loose and scrappy game, Scotland showed enough style with their two well taken tries – the second involving almost the entire backline – to give us a little hope for the coming games. More hope would have been given on watching the very poor Ireland vs England game. You almost feel sorry for Martin Johnson who is struggling to build a team who just don’t seem to all want to play on the park at the same time. 14 seems to be their preferred number. A grimly determined but overly negative performance towards the end and an undeserved near victory stopped us from overtaking them on points difference, but you wonder where England go from here. Up, I suppose may be the only way. One thing is for sure, they need a new captain.

Speaking of former England captains, kudos must unfortunately go to the BBC too for unearthing a decent pundit to be the token “Italian” during coverage – one Mr Lawrence Bruno Nero Dallaglio. Undoubtedly a figure of fear and loathing for many Scots (for the most part irrationally), yesterday Dallaglio and Scotland’s own Andrew Cotter offered a great balance of wit, insight and – ooh – objectivity in their match commentary. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the back-biting ramblings of Moore and Butler which have now descended into some sort of idiotic sideshow all of their own, or the pro-Welsh carping of Jonathan Davies who was on Friday coupled with Nick Mullins who seemed to think Vincent Clerc was on the pitch for France (not in the 22). We’ll have a full school report on the pundits post tournament but for now, I know who I’d rather listen to – I never thought I’d say it was a man named Dallaglio.

Meanwhile Ireland have found their captain again, with Brian O’ Driscoll looking almost back to his pre-2005 form, possibly minus a little bit of pace and plus a slight concussion, but with that important little bit of magic intact. It’s a good job, as Ronan O’Gara had one of his notorious off days and it seemed to spread throughout the rest of his team. Despite the extremely dangerous Irish back row (who Scotland will have to keep a very close eye on) that yesterday gave only a slight indication of the damage they could do, Ireland looked a little rattled by the pressure of leading the tournament. Post match, Keith Wood said Irish coach Declan Kidney would do his utmost to install Ireland as underdogs in a couple of weeks. Whilst this is patently ridiculous, you can see his point. Neither of ours is a nation that likes to lead from the front, seemingly preferring the mantle of scrappy outsiders. Ireland are on course for a grand slam and so must be the clear favourites, even away from home. However, make no mistake,  if Scotland can keep building their level of performance and this pair don’t, Scotland COULD beat both Ireland and England.

Hines Not on the Comeback Trail, Actually

A report up on Scrum.com gives us the skinny that unfortunately Big Nathan will not make it back in time for the France game, as he now requires exploratory surgery on his injured knee. There’s more on the BBC too. This is a big blow for us, more so now that we know how much we missed him against Wales. The pressing question now becomes: is Hadden fool enough to mess about two weeks running? Will he pick a proper lock (Kellock) this time, or at least a back rower with recent experience and form in the position (Taylor)? Either would be more suitable than Jason White who looked short of pace and form. After all, they have both won matches in France this year playing in that position. I’d be tempted to include Cusiter ahead of Blair for the same reason. He looked very sharp, and he’ll know the French players he faces (unlike the rest of us).

A delayed team announcement tomorrow should reveal all. Murray is out till at least the Italy game and everyone else who was a worry seems to have trained in full, but Hadden is waiting on news of head-cases Cross and Webster. Here’s a time saving tip for you Frank: don’t worry about Simon, he’s clearly not going to have “trained well this week” and probably doesn’t know which planet he is on, so there’s no excuse to put him in ahead of Thom Evans. There, that was easy, wasn’t it?

5 Really Stupid Things Scotland Did

For the most part you could argue that for “Scotland” you could read Frank Hadden…

1) Only having one lock on the park. With an already weakened scrum, Jason White played with a bit of heart but wasn’t really the answer in the lineout. Gough and Jones were pretty dominant for Wales in an area we had (before the loss of Hines and rash selections) hoped to target. If he had to play a back rower in the second, surely it would be Simon Taylor who has been doing it all season? Ally Kellock has been playing well for Glasgow, with no little amount of fire in his belly. He’s been in the wilderness long enough – surely it is time for him to return and give some grunt alongside big Jim Hamilton?

2) Early substitutions of Cairns and Barclay. Peter Wright apparently left the commentary box in disgust when Barclay went off. I’m pretty sure “aperplexed” is not a word, but as it combines “apoplectic” and “perpelexed” quite nicely it sums up what was, I am sure, the mood of many. Barclay had been relatively solid to that point, and while his replacement Scott Gray did well, surely one of the cornerstones of our defence and more importantly the one who sets the tone for the forwards (in the absence of Hines and Strokosch) should not come off just when we are getting into the game. The expression on Barclays face as he went off summed it up. I believe the expression was: WTF? While Max Evans did pretty well when he came on, scoring a great try past both Byrne AND Williams, Cairns wasn’t given a chance. I counted about 2 passes he received in 50 minutes. Surely if the crash ball through Morrison wasn’t working he could have had a bit of a chance, or failing a chance, a pass? Now that Max Evans has made his mark, Cairns would under normal circumstances have to fight for his place back from Evans. Having said that I would still stick with Cairns as he has a slight edge defensively but Evans is pushing hard. This being a Frank Hadden team though you could see Andrew Henderson in the team next week for all we know.

3) Not picking Strokosch or Thom Evans. Max’s late try seemed a little like an “I told you so” (though that was not the language I used when I first expressed this thought) from the Evans family to Mr Hadden. His pace and lack of fear set a little spark in the crowd which in turn spurred on the team. “Win the crowd. You will win your freedom” Olly Reed said in Gladiator. Shadows and dust Max Evans, shadows and dust. Imagine what we could have done with two Evans boys in that end period. The big Stroker should definitely come in at 6, with Barclay preserved at 7. Without Hines, Scotland were a blunt-edged instrument in the forwards. Strokes could be the man to return that edge, given his tendency to use anger as a motivating factor. Pick who you like at 8, it’s a tough call between Brown Hogg or Taylor as none of them was outstanding while not being terrible. I’d probably go with Taylor.

4) Playing like headless chickens. So eager to try and fix things after a ropey start, they were knocking balls on, playing Chunk at first receiver (actually not unsuccessful sometimes) or rushing headlong into dangerous tackles. Dr Cross, in particular, will have little to remember (if he can) of his debut cap. Two poor tackles and twenty minutes in and the bench was half empty and the set piece in even worse shape. The Mossy debate was put to bed early as he was forced on to the pitch – where he had a pretty good game and nearly scored two tries. You do wonder though if Evans or Lamont would have had the power to get over for the first of those. Where was the controlled aggression of the Argentina tests or the autumn internationals. Still in Gloucester? Lamont had another off day, and if you were being really out of your gourd inventive you could have an Evans on each wing which keeps Cairns in the backline too. It’s more likely to be another Mossy shuffle though, as we’ll now have forgotten we had confidence in Godman’s goal kicking 24 hours ago even though he wasn’t tested yesterday.

5) Playing the backline too deep. This was the biggie, the final nail in the coffin of an already consumptive corpse. Godman likes to play on the gain line for Edinburgh, yet yesterday he sat way too deep. On instruction perhaps – was that the plan to beat Wales: to sit off their blitz defence rather than try and get in behind them? Is it any surprise that Parks, Hadden’s standoff of choice, likes to sit deep too? Morrison had little chance to make an impact on quick ball as the Welsh defensive line had plenty of time to size him up. Cusiter came on and it seemed like he had instructions to get them flatter. And it worked. This one can be fixed simply – allow Godman to play flat. Giving Cusiter a start at 9 might be a good call given his familiarity with the French and the obvious boost he gave to Scotland’s game. We had talked up Mike Blair but he had a curious off day – he’ll be back I’m sure. With Southwell at 15 you have a big kicker who can sit deep if your plan is to kick. But if you are going forward, you want Godman flat where he is much more dangerous. The solution is NOT to bring Parks in and get him playing flat (or deep). Give Godman a decent game plan playing flat and he should be fine. Don’t be too worried about blitz defences, interceptions or any of that. It happens. Trust in the skills of the players – confidence comes from the top. Regardless of what he says in post-match interviews about how confident he is, Mr Hadden’s game plan is not inspiring confidence either in players or fans. I think we are all sick of seeing feckless and overly conservative Scotland teams, yet we know these players can play fired up, aggressive and attacking rugby. So who is not pushing the ignite switch?

Feel free to add numbers 6-10 below as we lick our wounds and look “forward” to France next week. While one never likes to say I told you so, if there is one message reverberating around the message boards it is that. Do we amateur pundits really know more than the coach this time? It beggars belief.

My team for France would be:
Jacobsen, Ford, Dickinson, Kellock (Hines if fit?), Hamilton, Strokosch, Barclay, Taylor, Cusiter (c), Godman, Evans, Morrison, Cairns, Evans, Southwell with Low, Hall, White, Hogg, Blair, Paterson, Lamont on the bench.

A version of this post also appears on scrum.com

P&J Ditches Clermont, Moves To Glasgow…And So Does Chris Cusiter

Chris Cusiter has in fact signed for Glasgow, rumours in L’Equipe to the contrary. This means they will now have former Wasp Mark McMillan (when he returns to fitness) as well as Colin Gregor to cover scrum half, perhaps a sign of the growing depth in Scottish rugby. I don’t know where it leaves Sam Pinder though, other than perhaps playing in National One. Rumours were that the SRU had offered Cusiter a record high salary to tempt him back and away from the jaws of Clermont Auvergne – whether this is the case or not remains to be seen. We’ll probably find out if the SRU declares insolvency.

With one of the best scrum halves in the world currently (yes I said it) in Mike Blair holding down the 9 shirt and the captaincy, Cusiter obviously believes he needs to be closer to Frank Hadden’s office if he is to return to his Scotland and Lion halcyon days. For those of the rest of us who don’t see much French rugby it will be interesting to see what sort of player the Francophised (not a word, I know) Cusiter is. I bet Glasgow don’t let him call the line-outs…

Clermont set to become P & J’s Favourite Rugby Team

Lovers of all things Aberdonian such as the above mentioned newspaper may be interested in rumours that Chris Cusiter is not coming “home” to Glasgow (and possibly crippling the SRU salary budget) but off to join fellow North East man Jason White at Clermont Auvergne. According to an article in French sports paper L’Equipe (and I’m paraphrasing here from the French):

This is not yet official, but Chris Cusiter should play for Clermont next season. After two years in Perpignan, the Scottish international scrum-half  (age 26, 39 caps) chose to join the Auvergne club  where he will be in competition with Morgan Parra of Bourgouin. Indeed, the French international has just signed to ASM for the four next seasons. This transfer confirms a little more the departure of Pierre Mignoni. The international (age 31, 28 caps) will leave Clermont after six years of faithful service, and should join Toulon, the club where he began his professional career.

To be honest it’s probably sensible, given Glasgow’s Mark McMillan was going well until his injury and they have backup in Colin Gregor and I suppose Sam Pinder. It might hurt his international chances but Hadden has so far been fair. When he wasn’t playing for Perpignan,  he wasn’t for Scotland either. Now he is playing and in form too, he’s back in the squad and sure to hold down at least the bench scrum half spot. Maybe out of favour Rory Lawson should come back to Glasgow instead?

Further information on some other potential Scotland transfers mentioned a while back can be found in the Telegraph, of all places, including news that Edinburgh may be after lock Scott Macleod but are definitely not after Rob Dewey… which is fair enough as locks are what they need at the moment…

Scotland Six Nations Training Squad

Scotland coach Frank Hadden springs the odd surprise in today’s announcement of his 33 man Six Nations training squad, most notably the addition of tyro Glasgow fly-half Ruaridh Jackson, presumably rewarded for a storming game against Bath in the Heineken Cup. While it’s unlikely that Jackson will make the test 22s (barring injury), he should learn much at training at this level. It’s good that Hadden is starting to bring young players on to a big stage sooner in the same way that Australia or France have done in recent years. If he can handle it, why not? Maybe Frank has grown a pair. Or maybe it is just the influence of crazy Gregor Townsend.

Other newcomers/returnees include prop Geoff Cross and winger Simon Danielli. Absentees include Rob Dewey, Scott MacLeod and the injured Rory Lamont and Matt Mutschin who will be sad to miss out on his Six Nations debut, having come to international rugby late in his career. I’m glad to see Chris Cusiter – who has been a regular fixture for Perpignan depsite rumours of a move to Clermont with big Jason or a possible return home to Glasgow – back in the fold. Ally Kellock may also have played his way back into at least a bench spot with some recent strong, feisty performances. having said that, now that Simon Taylor is playing almost exclusively at lock for Stade, perhaps he or Jason White will get a run there. That might be the real test of how willing Hadden (who I believe sees Taylor as an 8 ) is to throw the dice.

This squad may well be trimmed down somewhat before the final selections are made for the Six Nations which kicks off against Wales on the 8th of February. What would be your team selection based on these?

Scotland squad:

Backs: Mike Blair (capt), Ben Cairns (both Edinburgh), Chris Cusiter (Perpignan), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Thom Evans, Max Evans (both Glasgow Warriors), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Sean Lamont (Northampton Saints), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Graeme Morrison, Dan Parks (both Glasgow Warriors), Chris Paterson, Hugo Southwell and Simon Webster (all Edinburgh)

Forwards: John Barclay, Kelly Brown (both Glasgow Warriors), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Craig Hamilton, Jim Hamilton (both Edinburgh), Nathan Hines (Perpignan), Allister Hogg, Allan Jacobsen (both Edinburgh), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais), Jason White (Sale Sharks).

Thank goodness for strength in depth

Bad news for Scotland’s squad preparations for the “autumn” (it’s already winter here in the north) internationals came yesterday with announcements that scrum halves Chris Cusiter (thumb), Rory Lawson (ribs) and centre Graeme Morrison would all be unavailable. Luckily Mark McMillan is able to step into the breach – he’s been in form for Glasgow, and it’s good to have a Heineken Cup winner and former U21 captain to call on. It’s a big blow for Cusiter, who always seems like he gets injured just as he is hitting form. Nikki Walker will also join the squad, having been released by the Ospreys. Morrison’s absence leaves the midfield looking a little lightweight – especially considering they may have to face big lads like Nonu and De Villiers running at them – could it be Rob Deweytime again?

Scotland Squad and Lions Coaches Announced

Scott Gray makes a surprise and (if he continues current form) welcome return to the Scotland National squad, while in form Max Evans and Geoff Cross make up the uncapped contingent. No real suprises otherwise but a few points:

  • Good to see Hadden’s picked some genuine 7s.
  • Not too many locks there though – Hamilton and Hines are the only genuine ones, so expect cover from Mutschin or Taylor (vindicated). Scott MacLeod may yet make it, test results/appeal pending (see previous post). No sign of Scott Murray who looked good in Montauban’s near miss against Munster.
  • All the usual suspects in the backs, though it could be Lawson that misses out rather than Cusiter this time
  • They seem to be heading for warm-weather training in Spain. With all the games being played in Novermber (including one practically in the North Sea) would they not be better training in Reykjavik?
  • For me Barclay and Euan Murray are probably the only certs in the forwards, and Blair in the backs. Highly recommended picks would be Godman, Evans and Cairns also but I guess that comes down to Hadden’s tactics. There is plenty of scope for picking a form team rather than a favourites team.
  • My starting (form) XV to face New Zealand would be: Lamont R, Evans T, Cairns, Morrison, Lamont S (maybe Mossy), Godman, Blair, Hogg, Barclay, Strokosch, Taylor, Hines, Murray, Ford, Dickinson. I imagine he’ll play Parks and Mossy in there somewhere though as Godman’s goal kicking may not be reliable enough – kicks could be our only source of points after all…

In other news of the un-surprising nature, most of Wales’ coaching staff were announced as the Lions backroom team plus team doctor and Scotsman James Robson. Gatland, Howley, Edwards and McGeechan certainly sounds bloody good on paper, even if it decimates Wales’ touring party in the summer. But then the Lions squad selection might have done that anyway. Shane Williams, James Hook, Ryan Jones and Martin Williams are all shoe-ins if you ask me. Also, Sky pundit Dick Best advocated Allan “Chunk” Jacobsen as a possible midweek Lion last weekend. The campaign starts now… and there’ll be more Lions preview stuff in the coming weeks.