Alan Dymock looks at the issues surrounding the scrum.
Every time you turn on the news these days you are bombarded with the word ‘CHANGE’. The politicians are all screaming it. Travel agents can’t get enough of it. Even the chief exec.’s of Rangers and Celtic seem to be on the streets begging for some spare. So what is set to change in Scottish rugby next season?
The answer to that appears to be the squads of almost every single ‘top level’ team.
We’ll be back in the next few days with our teams of the tournament and other Six Nations round-uppery, but time waits for no man and the Edinburgh boys are straight back into the action this weekend.
Edinburgh: Jim Thompson, Mark Robertson, Ben Cairns, Nick De Luca, Tim Visser, Phil Godman, Mike Blair (captain), Kyle Traynor, Andrew Kelly, Geoff Cross, Scott MacLeod, Steve Turnbull, Alan MacDonald, Ross Rennie, Roddy Grant.
Replacements: Ross Ford, Allan Jacobsen, Jim Hamilton, Scott Newlands, Greig Laidlaw, David Blair, John Houston.
Murrayfield, Friday night ko 1930. Not on TV as far as I can see, this one.
When one looks at Rory Hutton, he’ll be the first to admit, he doesn’t look like a rugby player. Tall and slender, slight with a lazy gate you could be forgiven for thinking he was an electrician, or something! Then you put a ball in the kid’s hands.
When Rory played against Cardiff on the 9th of January rugby viewers in the Celtic regions sat up and took notice. While easing into the game in a way natural to his insouciant spirit, it was his feint and dart that made spectators catch their breath. Twice he unlocked the Cardiff defence and made seasoned pros and British Lions follow imaginary passes. If he gets on this Friday he could do it to Munster.
He’s been doing this for years. Just ask anyone from Hawick. He’s got 5 7’s caps to prove he is a talented ball player. Even in his fleeting forays into this season’s Scottish Hydro Premier 1 matches for Heriot’s he has shown glimpses of something special. Is he ready for a professional contract? Most likely. Is he going to be the answer to Scotland’s problems at 10? We will have to wait and see. One thing is for sure; Wherever Rory plays, he will be doing so with a smile on his face.
A.D. briefly caught up (‘Countdown’ style) with Rory this week;
AD: Alright, Rory! How do you feel your season has gone so far?
RH: It’s been ok. A bit stop start with injuries but I’ve had a game with Edinburgh and on the whole it’s going pretty well.
Being, ostensibly, an Academy player stepping into your first pro. game, how did you feel before the Cardiff game?
I did feel a little bit nervous. Training had gone well, though, and I was more excited at the chance, rather than anything else.
Having made an impact on that game how have you coped with the increase in recognition and notoriety? A lot are calling for you to get a contract next season/play for Scotland, after all!
Ha-ha it’s been fine! I’ve not noticed it too much to be honest. I try and just get on with my rugby.
Has it changed your outlook on games?
No I always take every game the same. It’s important to perform at whatever level I’m involved in.
What is your normal match preparation? (Day before: food, sleep, cinema, swimming etc)?
I try and eat well and regularly. Other than that I just chill out, usually with the girlfriend.
How lovely…Away from rugby, what is your Nickname?
For some reason I have now become known as ‘The Eel’ at Heriot’s.
What is your drink of choice?
I am prone to an Irn Bru.
What’s a perfect Saturday night for you?
I like to go out have a good laugh with the boys. Always being sensible, though…
What is your ‘Dream Job’?
I wouldn’t mind being a musician.
If you could be a kingpin in any other sport, who would it be?
Easy. Usain bolt. Superstar.
Which 3 people, dead or alive, would you love to go for a pint with?
Frankie Boyle, Peter Griffin from family guy…and your lovely self!
And finally…Scarlett Johansson or Beyonce Knowles?
Look out for Rory in Edinburgh’s colours this Friday as he lines up on the bench against champions Munster. He could also feature for Heriot’s in their upcoming British and Irish Cup games. It could be an exciting 6N period for the youngster.
I will hopefully be back soon with a quick word with another up-and-coming Scottish prospect…
With six games left in the season and it looking increasingly like the title race is one being run by two horses one could be excused for looking beyond league proceedings. Stew Mel, I’m sure, would love to forget about league duties! Even the Cup looks to have become less of factor in premier clubs thinking. My brother and I could argue for hours about this. Sure it is still a huge event and obviously it is a massive honour to end your season on the big pitch at Murrayfield, but with fewer teams (Premier 1,2 and 3 only) competing for the Cup it can take less effort over a season to get there. If you win one game you’re into the quarter finals. So what is the result of this?
Suddenly more eyes are turning towards the British and Irish Cup. This season has been given more significance for certain amateurs because they have had an opportunity to measure themselves against professional players. Having played in a couple of games in the B&I Cup with Heriot’s I have enjoyed it but in some facets of the game, not all, it is difficult to compete with full time professionals. Playing against Coventry, a team that at the time of our game was complaining of over training with two sessions a day, four days a week, we competed in terms of skill, creativity and endeavour. Where we fell down was that we simply weren’t as big as our opposition, or as ‘collision-drilled’. This is to say that we weren’t able to stop the constant pounding of a massive English rucking game. This, it seems, will continue to afflict any amateur team facing a mature pro counterpart.
While both club teams have been competitive, Ayr winning against Rotherham and Heriot’s running Nottingham close, it is evident that Scottish club players are capable of out playing full time opposition. However, it is no great shock that Scotland’s player base has the depth of a teaspoon. If rumours are to be believed then the SRU fully intends to increase Scottish participation in the B&I Cup to four teams. How could teams, by definition, of less quality than the top two teams in Prem 1 be as competitive? There just aren’t enough players in our country. In order to compete with Welsh, Irish and, in particular, English teams we definitely don’t have enough monsters. So what should we do to contend on four fronts in the B&I Cup?
If you are a fan of club rugby most of you will be effing and blinding at your screen (much as if you were watching yet another rolling maul from Munster in the HC). The majority, it appears, want a return of the district teams. And why not?! If you want better players in certain positions for one team, pick from the best nearby. If the current league finishes the way it is now then the top four will comprise of a representative from the North (Dundee), the South (Melrose), the East (Currie) and the West (Ayr), anyway, showing how combative each region already is.
If the Scotland Club International has shown us anything it’s that amateur players relish the opportunity to play as near as they can get to their dream level: with a thistle on their chest. A lucky few have also propelled themselves into the professional ranks via the Club International. The same could happen through the districts. Surely the ultimate aim of teams like the Club International is to provide Scotland with more potential internationalists. If there is, say, a quality young player at West of Scotland who is never seen by Sean Lineen but could make the step up to pro rugby then they may never get the chance to prove themselves, more than once, at a higher level while Ayr and Ayr alone represent the West in the B&I Cup. Let players prove themselves. Sure there will be inter club politics but there always is anyway. There may be grumblings from the National Academy but just let Academy guys and unused pros play for the region of the club they are drafted to.
What harm can bringing back the districts do? If I was certain to finish mid-table with my club and no prospects of a Club International cap I would be crying out for a chance to play district rugby. Hell, if I was getting relegated I’d still want a district call!
So Europe’s finest club competition shuffles into view, unloads its wagon, sends the freaks round the back to get the candy floss machine running and erects a big top suitable for showcasing some of the finest club rugby teams known to man, and er, our lot. Here are the games on this weekend, sadly unless you have Sky you are probably screwed for watching them (most are on Sky Sports unless indicated otherwise). Several are mouthwatering:
Castres vs Toulon (Amlin Challenge Cup) Fri 5.30 – only one reason this is on the telly, and his name is Jonny. Might get a squizz at Rory Lamont in action though. At least, that’s what you think until you look at the team sheet and find that the only names you recognise are Tom May and Phil Christophers (who has been at Castres since Goggsy was). Unlucky Jonny watchers, there’s little here to get you back from the pub/work early.
Ulster vs Bath Fri 7.30pm – Ulster should be strong enough to win this one but it might help Edinburgh if Bath can nick a result at Fortress Ravenhill. Danielli is on the bench, and it’s not on the telly.
Leinster vs London Irish Fri 8pm – Could be the game of the weekend, which would leave the weekend downhill from here. Leinster’s Lions seem to have found form where their Welsh counterparts have struggled, while the non-Irish Irish are playing sparkling rugby without a host of stars. Blarney begorrah and bejesus will be in full attendance. Big Nathan starts at 5 for Leinster.
Gloucester vs Dragons Fri 8pm – if you have Sky but not Sky Sports you might catch this on S4C, Sky Sports have it on Red Button though so whether there is an English commentary is open to debate. Practically a local derby, it should see Gloucester win but given their form of late who knows? Would a Dragons win help Glasgow in the group? Dicko, the two Lawsons and the big Stroker all start for Redpath’s men.
Cardiff vs Harlequins Sat 1.35pm – Battle of the slow starters, but if they live up to last season’s play it could be so much better. Little Scottish interest but doesn’t mean it won’t be work a watch. But wouldn’t you rather watch…
Stade Francais vs Edinburgh Sat 1.35pm (2.35pm local) – What to say? Things were looking pretty good up until the Ospreys last week. But Moffat’s put the proper team back together and if they can find some of their early season spark against a Stade side who have been struggling until recently then Edinburgh could sneak a home result. Home field advantage with the accompanying razmatazz could be irresistable though. Several of the guys who have impressed so far – Cairns, Grant, Houston, Robertson have a real opportunity to stake a place for caps here. No sign of a Stade team yet so Hugo may yet make an appearance. Red Button on Sky for this one.
Edinburgh: Chris Paterson, Mark Robertson, Ben Cairns, John Houston, Tim Visser, Phil Godman, Mike Blair (capt), Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Craig Hamilton, Scott MacLeod, Alan MacDonald, Roddy Grant, Allister Hogg. Replacements: Andrew Kelly, Kyle Traynor, Ryan Grant, Steven Turnbull, Scott Newlands, Greig Laidlaw, Nick De Luca, Steve Jones.
UPDATE: Hugo is indeed starting at 15 against his former teammates.
Scarlets vs Brive Sat 3pm – Chance for Sean Lamont to continue his try scoring form. Not on telly anywhere.
ASM Clermont Auvergne vs Viadana Sat 3pm – Little known Scot Garry Law appears at full back for Viadana while big Jason White could be in the as yet unannounced team. Not on TV.
Glasgow vs Biarritz OPB Sat 3.45pm – having (apart from a blip at the Dragons) mostly maintained the consistency that often eludes them, Glasgow have a real chance to lay down an early marker provided the team have shaken off the big that has dogged Chris Cusiter and Kelly Brown in particular. Jon Welsh continues to impress although Rob Dewey needs to find a bit more spark to convince us he can play at wing. Talk coming out of the camp is good, and as usual it depends if the French come to play or not. Biarritz should be pool favourites, so a win would send a message out to the other teams, both of whom should be beatable. Hard to tell who a kicking fest would favour, Parks or the French who should have siege gun Traille on side, but it could turn out to be another one of those tight games that see Parks turn from liability into lifeline.
Glasgow Warriors: Bernardo Stortoni, Rob Dewey, Dave McCall, Graeme Morrison, Thom Evans, Dan Parks, Chris Cusiter, Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Tim Barker, Alastair Kellock (capt), Richie Vernon, John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements:Fergus Thomson, Ed Kalman, Kevin Tkachuk, Dan Turner, Kelly Brown, Hefin O’Hare, Colin Gregor, DTH van der Merwe.
Northampton vs Munster Sat 6pm – another of those “could be a classic” matches so often thrown up by this tournament. No Euan Murray yet and no Tom Smith now either, but the ever reliable Scott Gray continues to add to Robbo’s back row riches.
Leicester vs Ospreys Sun 1245pm – And another one. Nikki Walker continues a rich vein of form and the Ospreys are starting to spark in a backline that should be a match for any team, even the Tigers at Welford Road. If they don’t fire though, expect Leicester to win, ugly or otherwise.
Toulose vs Sale Sharks Sun 3pm (4pm local) – Should be a comfortable win for Toulose, but could out of form Sale cap the weekend with an upset?
Phew. I won’t be doing that every Friday. Enjoy the weekend!
A new look Edinburgh team under new coach Rob Moffat will seek a return to winning ways in Cardiff on Friday. Some of the changes are enforced by injury – Edinburgh still have a long list of injured including Jim Hamilton, Dave Callam and Ross Rennie – while others like Lions Ross Ford and Mike Blair are rested. While the bench looks a little youthful/undercooked, look for sevens man Roddy Grant to lay down a marker, while Scott Macleod will look to continue his road to redemption in the second row. We also have Holland’s sole pro rugby player and new signing from Newcastle Falcons Tim Visser hoping to pin down a wing spot. And let’s not forget the return of Chunk!
Given performances in the pre-season it’s difficult to tell if the players will be able to live up to last seasons results but I reckon Cardiff may be too strong for them, especially as they will be smarting after home defeat to Edinburgh at the end of last season. Hope Moffat’s boys can prove me wrong though.
Edinburgh team to face Cardiff Blues: Chris Paterson, Mark Robertson, Ben Cairns, John Houston, Tim Visser, Phil Godman, Greig Laidlaw, Allan Jacobsen, Andrew Kelly, Geoff Cross, Craig Hamilton, Scott MacLeod, Alan MacDonald, Roddy Grant, Allister Hogg (captain)
Substitutes: Sean Crombie, Kyle Traynor, Steve Turnbull, Fraser McKenzie, Ross Samson, David Blair, Nick De Luca.
The game will be shown live on BBC2 Wales – see our Scottish Rugby on TV page for details of how to view this (basically have Sky or live in Wales).
Here are the just announced Heineken Cup Pools for next year. Edinburgh have a pool that could prove difficult with both Bath and Stade Francais – but as Glasgow showed, Bath and French clubs are nothing to be feared. Ulster could be a force if their new coach gets them ticking and Ravenhill will always be a tricky away fixture. Meanwhile Glasgow have a pool that has a pair of recent strugglers who have failed to return on their promise – much like Glasgow themselves – and the Dragons. Lineen’s men could be in with a shout, but with the standards narrowing every year nothing can be taken for granted at this stage. I would question the BBC’s assertion that it is “joy” for the Scottish teams though. And what’s this, Shuggy – a new nickname for Hugo?
Heineken Cup Pools for 2009/10
Pool 1: Munster, Perpignan, Northampton, Treviso
Pool 2: Biarritz, Gloucester, Dragons, Glasgow
Pool 3: Leicester, Ospreys, Clermont, Viadana
Pool 4: Bath, Stade Francais, Ulster, Edinburgh
Pool 5: Toulouse, Cardiff Blues, Sale, Harlequins
Pool 6: Leinster, London Irish, Scarlets, Brive
If you are looking for info on the Scotland U20s match vs England, you can find a report here. Pretty sure there is no coverage online or off else it would be on this page. If it’s anything like the U20 Six Nations match it might have been uncomfortable viewing.
So not only do we get a new shirt to wear in the autumn, there will be a new Scotland Head Coach in the form of Edinburgh’s Andy Robinson. Undoubtedly the best man for the job in the SRU’s eyes if not necessarily the highest profile, Robinson offers a combination of playing and coaching experience (World Cups, Heineken Cups, Lions) and local knowledge from his integration with the game here over the last couple of years. Andy believes he can make the difference to an underperforming Scottish team, and we all hope he can too. It has been frustrating to see talented players consistently under-perform in the navy shirt over the last few years, hopefully Andy can instill some of the killer instinct that his England teams of the past (and to some extent his recent Edinburgh teams) have shown. Robbo vs Johnno in RWC 2011 anyone? Get your cardboard Robbo with a see-you-jimmie masks now.
However the announcement will leave the odd Edinburgh supporter slightly worried about what will be in store for them in terms of coaching, having made strides since Robbo took over two years ago it would be sad to see them suffer a sub-standard appointment and regress. Hopefully the SRU will make a left-field but successful choice similar to the one that brought Andy Robinson north.
Here is the Magners League Dream Team as officially announced. Surprisingly despite Thom Evans being the top try scorer in the league and Edinburgh finishing second, there is no Scottish representation in the team. Still, they were probably all drinking cider when they made the list, weren’t they?
The Magners League Dream Team 2008/09
1. Gethin Jenkins – Cardiff Blues
2. Jerry Flannery – Munster
3. Adam Jones – Ospreys
4. Paul O’Connell – Munster
5. Alun Wyn Jones – Ospreys
6. Rocky Elsom – Leinster
7. Martyn Williams – Cardiff Blues
8. Jamie Heaslip – Leinster
9. Mike Phillips – Ospreys
10. Ronan O’Gara – Munster
11. Leigh Halfpenny – Cardiff Blues
12. Lifeimi Mafi – Munster
13. Brian O’Driscoll – Leinster
14. Tommy Bowe – Ospreys
15. Lee Byrne – Ospreys
In other news:
Head coach Matt “Silver Fox” Williams has parted company with Irish province Ulster to return home to Australia. Pity he’s just a wee bit too late to apply for the job of Scotland Coach.
Chris Paterson has been voted the 2008-9 Player of the Season by Scotland Rugby Supporters Club following the Scottish Rugby Awards dinner at Murrayfield, with new Edinburgh signing Roddy Grant winning Sevens player of the year. No sign of their Magners Player of the season Max Evans in the dream team above either.
This week has seen Geech face the possibility of a 3 man reshuffle to his Lions squad, with Tom Shanklin now joining Tomas O’ Leary on the injury list and Munster’s Alan Quinlan facing the possibility of a ban for gouging Leo Cullen in the Heineken Cup Semi Final. While there are a couple of Scots in the running to fill the spare 9 shirt in Cusiter and Blair, it is less likely there will be any chance of them filling the other shirts. If Quinlan is banned out of contention, Tom Croft and Ryan Jones (or Dennis Leamy) would be considered the front runners – perhaps Strokosch if he had been fit would have been in with a shout. In the backs, there is no real direct replacement for Shanks (if fit I suppose Tindall has the same amount of hair) but they might look to bring in the likes of D’Arcy or Hook as a different sort of centre. Max Evans is probably an outside bet at this stage I would say, but a demolition derby of the Ospreys at the weekend on his part would certainly help his cause… see below.
No news on when any announcements would be made, but it will probably be after this weekend’s Premiership semi-finals and round of Magners League matches.
Transfer update: Sean Lamont’s move to Llanelli has also been confirmed.
Edinburgh, still chasing an improvement on last season’s fourth place finish – they are currently on course to match that – are at home to the Dragons on Saturday. This match is not being televised. Assuming Edinburgh can beat the Dragons, on Sunday Glasgow could do them a favour by beating the Ospreys away, a result that would take the battle for the last few places down to the final weekend of the season. Ospreys vs Glasgow is on S4C at 2.30 on Sunday. These games offer the second to last opportunity for Scottish players to keep their heads bobbing above water in the Lions standby pool.
Edinburgh beat off the Leinster seconds at a cold Murrayfield while Glasgow failed to edge out Ulster at home with Parko missing a late kick. That puts Edinburgh only two points behind Leinster on the table, however the Ospreys who currently sit 2 points adrift of them with two games in hand. Edinburgh’s visit to the Liberty Stadium next week could be key (it’s live on S4C, 7.30pm on the Saturday). Glasgow currently sit in fifth.
In other news, current Scotland forwards coach Mike Brewer has announced his intention to apply for the post of Scotland head coach.
Losing weekend for our pro-teams which was hardly inspiring, but it’s not all doom and gloom.
Glasgow were beaten by a strong Ulster team with Simon Danielli having a hand in both tries. Glasgow will however have been buoyed by the news that the Evans brothers Thom and Max are to stay at Glasgow until after RWC 2011, despite being courted by English and French clubs.
Edinburgh lost to Scott MacLeod’s old team Llanelli in a pretty dire game that was there for the taking. MacLeod had a reasonable 60 minutes before being warmly applauded from the pitch. In the battle of the full-backs, Mossy was the resounding winner simply by virtue of the fact he ran more than he kicked and when he did kick it wasn’t rubbish. Sorry Hugo, but you screwed the pooch there. Whether or not Southwell was hampered by a different set of tactics in the first half is open to debate but there was some pretty dire ping-pong and Hugo and Blair Jr did not show themselves in the best light. Worryingly, Cairns and De Luca also did not seem able to string much together in the centre although De Luca forced himself into the match as it went on. Apart from Paterson and perhaps Malkovich Webster, no-one really stepped up to say “Hoy Frank, I should be in the team.” Edinburgh were still in it at the end, and a lack of passion/commitment/skill in the first half prevented them from nicking the away result they probably deserved on the basis of the second.
Scott Gray, Sean Lamont and Euan Murray all played for Northampton in their win over Worcester, with Gray picking up both a try and a yellow card. Al Strokosch got on for the last 20 in Gloucester‘s loss to Leicester while Rory Lawson picked up a yellow card too. And Big Jason White had a pretty good game for Sale in their brilliant match with Newcastle which saw former Borders men Steve Bates and Alan Tait’s resurgent Falcons team eke out a win. That game also illustrated what a team can do with a solid scrum platform led by a class tighthead, and while our Euan is no Carl Hayman, he’s still vital to Scotland’s set piece efforts. After doing some digging online it looks like Chris Cusiter and Simon Taylor were also rested by their French teams at the weekend.
Also major plaudits should go to Ayr, who secured their first Premiership Division 1 title in 112 years of trying at the weekend, and the Scotland Sevens Squad who managed to see off Australia in final of the Plate (middle level runners up competition). The Dubai World Cup event also saw a number of upsets including Kenya beating Fiji, and (eventual winners) Wales reaching the main final against Argentina, between them having seen off New Zealand and South Africa. Wales, World Cup Winners eh?