Brodie Smithers runs the rule over the Scotland player performances on a difficult evening at Murrayfield.
It is rare that you can talk to someone who has’ been there and done it’. Indeed since the era of professionalism it is rare to even talk to someone regarding the inner workings of sport and get a straight answer. So when Frank Hadden starts telling you about the magic of the 6 Nations you know you have to sit up and listen. A.D. caught up with him earlier in the week.
According to press reports whizzing about just now, Ol’ Franky baws has jumped, possibly whilst being pushed.
While in recent years the team has lapsed into a fairly inconsistent sort of malaise, I feel Scottish Rugby fans (and players) will always wish Frank Hadden well simply for restoring faith and a little hope in the aftermath of the Matt Williams era. His record in home Calcutta Cups was pretty good and his team notched up an away Southern Hemisphere win, something of a rarity. Okay, Argentina without Llofreda or Hernandez. But – south of the Equator. Live with it.
However (without wishing to kick a man whilst down) he may also be remembered for an over-reliance on reputation (or relationship?) at the expense of form (cough Dan Parks, Marcus Di Rollo cough) whilst stalling before bringing in players who merited a run in that famous navy shirt of ours (Godman, Cairns, Evans, Evans). Should I even mention Mossy and the standoff debate? Sorry, no time – dinner’s ready. Whatever he’s up to next Al and I shall wish him well, as he always seemed a decent bloke. But it is time for this Scotland team to move on. Or try to.
Now talk inevitably turns to: which fool wants the job? Steve Bates/Todd Blackadder/Eddie Jones/Marcelo Llofreda/Bryan Redpath/Rob Moffatt etc etc… Will Robinson and Lineen want to abandon rebuilding the pro-teams, now they seem to be getting somewhere? Can the SRU afford anyone decent? Will a newcomer hang on to Brewer, Steadman and Townsend? Does Tom Smith have any coaching qualifications?
Discussion, as always, in the coming weeks – as the size of Frank’s name in the tag popularity cloud to the right diminishes slowly into the night…
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.
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?
“And now the end is near…”
I ain’t no Las Vegas crooner, able to sweet talk the ladies and the local Mob in equal measure, but just like Ol’ Blue Eyes even I can see that the end is near for Frank Hadden. After another frustrating afternoon at “Fortress” (more like a soggy cardboard box crumbling under the elements) Murrayfield the pressure on Frank Hadden has risen to such a level that even Frank himself has noted that his time may well be up.
Saturday was the typical game of two halves. Scotland dominated the first half, should have been a lot further in front and gave hope that we had an idea of what we were actually trying to do. The second half…..aaaaargh! What a stinker. Lineout fell to pieces, holes large enough to drive a fleet of tanks through appeared in the defence (the fact it was the bastard love child of Mini-Me and an Oompa Loompa that capitalised, made it look even worse) and we had all the penetration of Pele before he started advertising Viagra. We were never more than a converted try behind, yet never looked like getting anything out the game and that makes me want to weep for Scottish Rugby. Whatever was said at half time should never, ever, be uttered again because it had the effect of killing all the momentum and enthusiasm that had been built up in a good first half display. I could go on and on about different aspects of the game but others elsewhere have written far more erudite and accurate analysis than I can…and it just makes me angry!
As for Ireland, well fair play on keeping on track for the much elusive Grand Slam. They came to a ground they traditionally struggle on and got the win they needed. If they do win in Wales and get the Grand Slam I ask only one favour… that no bugger buys me the commemorative DVD for Xmas – it’ll be a horror show. The game against England made my eyes bleed and to be honest the BBC should be given a kicking for putting that game on before the watershed… the children, for the love of God would someone please think of the children! The Scotland game was only a fraction better. Fair play the France game was good. If, and it’s still a big IF, they do win the Grand Slam Ireland deserve all the plaudits but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that they will have been one of the poorest Grand Slam winning teams in living memory.
As for Scotland, well we look towards trying to get a first win in 26 years on English soil. Of course, life being what it is, the toffs across the Border have seemingly stopped trying to play with 14 or 13 men and as a result find the 15 man game a damn site easier! Beyond that who knows. I think Hadden will go, he may even do the decent thing and fall upon his own sword. Cast your mind back 4 years and think of the walking Satan in charge of Scotland at that time… he that shalt not be named (but is the coach of Ulster) and should be burned the next time he places his over-inflated sense of worth back on Scottish soil… and you’ll remember just how bad Scotland were at that time. Hadden at least came in, settled the ship and looking at the squad at least there appears to be some talent within the ranks. However, he (Hadden) has taken this team as far as he can and the challenge of taking the raw ability and turning it into a polished end product should be passed on to a new head coach. Just who that new head coach should be is the big unknown, but maybe the SRU should show some ambition for once… this is a Scotland side with the raw talents to be a winning side, maybe a coach with ambition and steel will be able to actually get the end product right?
Hot (ish) off the SRU press, here is our team:
Scotland: Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Mike Blair (Edinburgh, capt), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Jason White (Sale Sharks), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais), John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors).
Replacements: Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), Chris Cusiter (Perpignan), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).
Touch-judges: George Clancy (Ireland) and Romain Poite (France).
Television Match Official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
He’s pretty much picked the same team as last time, with like for like swaps in Euan Murray and Al Kellock in for Al Dickinson and Jim Hamilton. We’re hoping that gives us a boost in the front row, but the same as last time with just one lock we’re still facing the 5 back-row pack proposition if Kellock picks up a knock. We may need 5 of them to keep an eye on Parisse, having said that. This time cover man Kelly Brown may be concussed too after his head knock in the Glasgow game on Friday.
In the backs I’d have liked to see Mossy and De Luca come in as I feel they have earned a chance to help speed up the onset of this “progress” Hadden keeps talking about (Paterson is somewhat immune to the out of position debate, as he may have been playing out of position for his whole career). Otherwise could we be facing more of the same over-eagerness that led to so many knock-ons last time? After all, we should fancy our chances against Italy at home more than France in Paris. My great hope for this game is that World Class Phil will step up and banish memories of the last time he started against Italy at Murrayfield with a storming performance.
My advice to all would be stop thinking about how you’re going to skin them and just concentrate on catching the ball. After that, there’s enough natural talent here for a victory. Even if half of them are out of position, at least Hadden didn’t play a flanker at 9.
Michael wrote in today with a link to the following petition to remove Frank Hadden as national coach.
While I should point out that here at Scottish Rugby Blog we do not necessarily endorse this viewpoint that Frank Hadden should go – I’m fairly ambivalent to be honest, although considerably more likely to sign it than I was, say, last month, and I’m not sure about Al – I felt it only fair to give you, the reader, the option to make a decision for yourself should you wish to get involved.
Despite some Quixotic selections in recent weeks, my main hesitation is the lack of a current viable alternative. Where is our Warren Gatland? Our Shaun Edwards-type in Alan Tait has already gone to be replaced by another league man. With more (better?) coaches under him now, hopefully Hadden recedes to a director of rugby type role that might suit him more than as a hands on coach. Given that Andy Robinson and Sean Lineen (certainly Robinson) are more than happy where they are and more to the point best left in place as quality coaches who can develop new talent, who would you replace him with?
Give it till the end of the Six Nations, and then maybe it’ll be time to pile on.
With two weeks to go until the next round of Six Nations games, we Scotland fans now have a short while to sit back and gather our thoughts. So with that in mind, here are some freshly gathered ones.
Frank Hadden has asserted that Scotland will “make an impact” in this tournament, although it remains to be seen whether or not that impact will be the “thud” as we hit the bottom of the table. This impact will have to come on the back of a resounding defeat against Wales and an unlucky defeat marred by the odd dodgy decision and some pretty crap handling against France. Both types of defeat are sadly nothing new to Scotland fans, it’s the big tick in the W column that is missing. The France game was much closer to where we want to be and like the South Africa game in the Autumn, showed that we can compete with the big teams – especially if they have an off-day.
Speaking of “off-days”, how much longer are we going to have to suffer the short end of the stick from referees and officials? My assertion on spotting an Irish referee at kick-off that we would be screwed proved somewhat accurate, with debut referee George Clancy willing to give a try (resulting from obstruction and a forward pass) despite being unsighted at the time, having been tackled by Jason White. If it’s going to take officials being allowed to check further back than the act of grounding with the Video Ref for Scotland (and other smaller nations) to get parity when we need it most, I’m all for it. Jonathan Davies in the BBC’s post match forum characterised this sort of thing as whingeing – but if Wales were on the other end of a dodgy decision or two you’d never hear the end of it from him. After Alain Rolland allowing Martyn Williams to run riot last weekend, I hope the next referee is not Irish. Aren’t they supposed to be our celtic cousins?
The advantage of the type of result we saw against France is that at least we can see the specific areas needed for improvement (rather than just “everything”). Townsend has mentioned he’ll be working on those support lines but there is still some way to go. Surely “If Mike Blair Goes Through A Gap You Follow Him As Fast As You Can” is not that tricky a mantra to learn? It’s short enough to stick on a banner and hang it in the changing room. You could even stick in a couple of F-bombs to make it seem like Jim Telfer is saying it. The Evans boys are clearly on each other’s wavelengths when it comes to attack, but the rest of the team are all tuned in to different stations at times. At least Barclay was listening. Get on to Radio Mike Blair, boys – it’s a good listen as I said as far back as November. Learning not to knock on would be a good one too – that spoiled a pretty solid comeback for Danielli. And of course there’s the whole issue of not having a fully functioning pack at scrum or lineout due to some silly selection choices. That’s a relatively new one though and I hope it doesn’t last much longer than say, the middle of this week. We were all over the French line-out in the first 20 minutes, and after our only lock Jim Hamilton departed, nary a challenge. The less said about the scrum the better, but the lack of fit props in the correct position and a proper second row to push was telling. It may also have affected Ford who showed up less in the loose than he did in the early periods. Former Highland man Moray Low may have done enough to earn a start against Italy and perhaps Dickinson will revert to the bench – or Chunk’s number 1 shirt?
The defence was solid though, and the breakdown much more efficiently patrolled. Strokosch has surely done enough to get his name on the team sheet for the remaining games, although such is his enthusiasm for playing rugby we have to hope he doesn’t injure himself turning out for Gloucester this weekend – or that Hadden doesn’t use this as an excuse not to pick him. For the backline, Blair, Godman, Evans, Morrison, Evans, Paterson, Southwell was pretty effective but the ball they got was still not brilliant. Again Cusiter showed real zip with his service and we may see him appear earlier in the coming weeks as a like-for-like and captain-for-captain substitution as against Wales. Can he direct an attack as well as Blair though?
Hopefully against Italy things will be a bit better for us – we are now left with them, Ireland and England: three matches we would have targeted for a win at the start. Italy are still beatable even with a proper scrum-half and we need to make sure the little class we do have tells against them. Ireland used to be our whipping boys in the 80s and early 90s, but this team look the real deal now with a Munster-like edge up front and Leinster’s class in the backs – Heaslip in particular is starting to make a major run for the Lions 8 shirt. England still have shown little to make us truly quake but they did improve against Wales and will always be fierce comptetitors at home. A few years ago, big Nathan was seen as a penalty liability and Euan Murray was the guy who had that strange accident, discovered God and disappeared off to Northampton. Now, it turns out they are cornerstones of this team and the way we want to play. Hines and Murray can’t come back quickly enough.
UPDATE: Euan Murray is hoped to be fit to play against Italy. Other (not too serious) injuries are Simon Danielli, Phil Godman, Mike Blair, Moray Low, Jason White and Kelly Brown – all “are expected to resume training in the next two to three days” while Graeme Morrison is recovering from an ankle injury. Italy tickets are still available.
DOUBLE UPDATE: I watched the match again on BBC iPlayer and that pass was definitely forward! Chunk’s offside/onside tackle on the French scrum half that led to Kelly Brown’s “try” is much less clear cut. If the ball was out, it’s a split second thing and 9/10 times would be ruled offside. It is also increasingly clear that Phil Godman had a pretty good game – check out the pace he displays haring for the corner before extricating himself from a ruck to set up Evans’ try with his favourite inside pass. Is it just me, or is he faster than most of the other 10s on offer? Jones, O’ Gara, Goode, even Cipriani – he may not have other aspects they have to their game (yet), but I’m pretty sure he has them beaten for leg speed.
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
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?
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).
1) We shouldn’t really bother playing New Zealand, ever again. What useful purpose does it serve? It does us little good, and it gives them pointlessly easy grand slams. Think of that, we could scupper their grand slam tours without even playing a match.
2) Scotland now have a scrum that shouldn’t get pushed around. If we could get back our lineout dominance of a few years back we might be a serious threat up front. Bring back Scott Murray?
3) Nick De Luca looks like he is over his 6N hiccup and is now forming a dynamic centre partnership with Ben Cairns that augers well for the future. A lot of our players should hit their playing peak in around 3 years. Many of them already have a solid base of caps and are growing in maturity. We may not be able to just unwrap a new test-ready fly half like the All-Blacks seem to do, but I think we are managing the resources we do have well. Gregor Townsend’s mentorship scheme of the young players is a similarly excellent idea.
4) Mike Blair may be the best scrum half in the world at the moment. He outshone the best the southern hemisphere showed him, even leading a losing team. Euan Murray gave a great account of himself too, although it could be argued he didn’t face NZ’s best scrum combination. Both, along with Lee Byrne of Wales, are certain Lions if their form and fitness continue. Blair now pops up in most people’s World/Lions XVs. (Except for Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times, who picked him in his World XV but not his Lions team. Someone should point out to Mr Jones that Mike Phillips and Gavin Henson are short of fitness and form, and too busy duking it out on the streets of Cardiff to merit inclusion at this stage. Stuart Barnes didn’t pick Murray at tighthead but at least explained his reasoning! And he picked Barclay at 7, kudos.)
5) Ryan Jones is far from certain of a Lions test place, due to the barnstorming performances we have seen from Powell in the Welsh No 8 shirt. The Lions captaincy is still wide open.
5) Commentators still love mispronouncing names. Award of the season goes to John Beattie for “Cleanburger” (Adam Kleeberger of Canada). Rokocoko got a bit of a mangling from the BBC boys as well… Jonathan Davies is not alone.
6) England are having a few problems. They are probably where we were a few years ago, bottoming out on the constant wave of world rugby. Their players and management will take a while to bed in – Martin Johnson is a novice coach, remember. Let’s just hope they get it sorted. In 2012.
7) The second tier rugby nations are still getting screwed by the clubs. While the big unions can buy player release, pity poor Canada who have a core base of amateurs and can’t even get Ander Munro on release from Italy. They should shut off all club play on the continent while the Autum Internationals are on (masterplan for restructuring 4-years rugby cycle coming soon). This would undoubtedly help the likes of Italy, Georgia and Romania whose players fill in when the Frenchies are off playing tests. Georgia could quite easily have played a close full test against similarly ranked Canada rather than them getting pasted by our A and full sides respectively. Georgia might have also been beaten by Edinburgh had the floodlights at Meggetland not failed (poor show).
8) Australia will rise, and soon. Their last two games against Wales and the Baa-Baas were great fun, backed by a steely spine of solid – that’s almost not strong enough a term – defence. We could learn a lot from the Robbie Deans “soak it up then counter” school of thought. They will definitely be a force come 2011. Good job we didn’t get them in our group.
9) World XV based mostly on Autumn performances I saw: Byrne (Wal), Muliaina (NZ), De Villiers (SA), Nonu (NZ), Williams (Wal), Carter (NZ), Blair (Sco), Powell (Wal), McCaw (NZ), Burger (SA), Matfield (SA), Botha (SA), Murray (Sco), Ford (Sco), Woodcock (NZ). Honorary mention should go to the Aussies who showed up with a team rather than some individuals, so I’d pick Robbie Deans as the coach.
10) Wales are still 6N favourites. Behind them it’s a toss-up but Scotland have more than a good chance of making the top three. On current form you might hesitate to say that about England or Ireland. France, as always under Lieveremont are a mystery until they take the field. Frank Hadden has us as dark horses, and for once I’m in agreement with Franky baws. The Scots are coming.
Don’t forget there is Heineken Cup rugby on Sky this weekend again, though no Edinburgh vs Wasps on Friday night. Bath vs Glasgow is on on Sunday. Player watch as usual to follow next week. Oh, and you can add number 11) in the comments section below. We don’t bite.