Tag: Frank Hadden

Can We Beat The All Blacks?

After the widely derided World Cup ‘B’ Team played against New Zealand on their last visit to Murrayfield, it will be interesting to test our full XV against the might All Blacks. Your fearless Scottish Rugby Blog correspondent will be in attendance. But can we (unlike Scubbsy) man up, and get a result?

Yes We Can:

  • They have lost a few first choice players. Either to the Northern Hemisphere (Chris Jack, Carl Hayman, Luke McAllister et al) and to injury (Andrew Hore). The frightening strength in depth of the pre-World Cup era in depth seems to be absent. After another choke in the World Cup, Kiwi support for Graeme Henry is balanced on a knife edge and depends only, you feel, on the results they get. For the first time, the All Blacks seem almost fallible.
  • We get them first. They will be fresh in the country, getting used to the crappy weather we have made our national speciality. They definitely looked a little rusty against Australia. The big one for them is in four weeks against England. We’re just a warm up. Regardless of what they might say, they won’t be targeting this as a tough match. Let’s hope we can catch them off guard with a decent performance before they gel too well. Our players are mostly match sharp and some (Murray, Barclay, Taylor, Blair, Rory Lamont, Thom Evans) are in pretty good – even great – form.
  • The All Black set piece was looking a little ropey against the Aussies. If Euan Murray can continue his current form perhaps he can reverse the current tales of front row woe that we are used to. Hadden’s choice of second row might of course affect our ability in this area too. My choice would be MacLeod and Taylor, but that is looking less likely. If we can get parity and hold our defence, we have a chance. A slim one, but a chance.
  • Wayne Barnes is the referee. While one hopes that he is not anxious to make amends to the nation of the Long White Cloud for allowing that forward pass, he has been solid all season and is one of the referees who is definitely upholding the new protocols regarding the breakdown. We’ve been playing under them all season. The Kiwis have only had the ANZ Cup and one Bledisloe Cup test to get used to the much stricter refereeing of that area. In particular, flopping over the ball to protect it is an area that could see Richie McCaw either deliver a masterclass (from which John Barclay will learn much) or be penalised off the park.

No We Can’t:

  • It’s the All Blacks, for pete’s sakes. We’ve never beaten them. Ever. Played 27, lost 25, drawn 2. The last draw was in 1983. We haven’t bothered going there on a summer tour since 2000. It’s no fun getting whipped on your summer holiday.
  • The frightening strength in depth only seems to be absent because we haven’t heard of any of them this side of the world. Let’s face it, Stephen Donald would walk into the Scotland XV. He even kicks a bit like Parko. Corey Jane may sound like a girl’s name, but as Al pointed out once, so does Nikki Walker. Whichever back three they play it will be talented, very fast and there on merit. Can we say the same?
  • We’ll probably play Dan Parks. You don’t have to play a kicking game under the new ELVs, but it does seem to happen a fair bit. Ergo Hadden may feel he must play Parks. It’s the fashion. Nevermind the sense that Mike Brewer talks about wanting to score tries. We’ll probably also play some other guys short of match practice or form  (White, Webster, Paterson) ahead of less experienced, in-form players.
  • Scotland have only had a few days to work together. Some of our likely inclusions (Strokosch, Rory Lamont) have been disruptively recalled to their clubs this weekend. Lamont was not picked for Sale yesterday, so he didn’t really need to go. It doesn’t help.
  • Our strength in depth is also frightening, in a different sense. Possible Kiwi frailties in the centre could be countered if we had a few more experienced operators in that area. If he’s given a chance, this test series could be the making of Ben Cairns, not to mention Nick De Luca. These matches would be ideal for giving these guys and Max Evans chance to get experience at test level. But because of the pressure for World Cup seedings (is it really going to happen?) Hadden may opt for the conservative route. Our one area of genuine depth, the back row – is the area where they have Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo.

In short, Scotland will have to play the game of their lives simply to stay in contention. Putting aside the World Cup draw (even as a third seed, we could still end up with a group involving say, Argentina and Ireland which wouldn’t be that scary) there’s nothing to lose, and with a little luck, a little slice of history to gain.

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.

Hadden gets his men… sort of

Frank Hadden has announced that IRB Player of the Year Nominee Mike Blair will continue to captain Scotland for the Autumn Internationals, and that the SRU has also come to some sort of agreement with Premier Rugby over the release of Scotland players based at Guinness Premiership clubs.

While it’s not as much as Hadden wanted (a full two weeks) it’s more than they offered (5 days), and while any players picked for their clubs in the intervening period will have to return to play – in the case of the Gloucester and Northampton boys this may be likely even for an EDF cup tie – at least now Hadden and his new team of coaches can plan accordingly. For once Frank talked a bit of sense when he talked about the structure of the rugby season constantly throwing up club vs country  clashes. If you look at the Southern Hemisphere they go from Super 14 to Tri Nations to Currie Cup/ANZ Cup then Autumn Tours etc rather than having them all run side by side or interwoven with each other like we do. And while I am sure the EDF cup is popular in Wales – giving them as it does another pop at their cousins across the border – the GP teams commit little to it unless they manage to coast to the semi finals. Couldn’t we just get rid of it and have a little breathing space in the season that would make these player release issues less contentious?

What is going on with Scottish rugby?

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster over the past few weeks, with more ups and downs on the Scottish rugby scene than the Dow Jones. Firstly we saw Edinburgh put in a storming performance to dispatch Llanelli while Glasgow failed to beat Irish development side Connacht.

Then off the pitch there was a similar mix of good news/bad news with the announcement of Mike Blair’s place on the short list for IRB Player of the Year, followed soon after by Frank Hadden having his mammoth training squad shrunk a little by PRL’s refusal to release GP based players.

Blair finds himself in the exalted company of Shane Williams, Ryan Jones, Dan Carter and Sergio Parisse. Carter’s been very hit and miss in the Tri-Nations, and although he did save New Zealand’s blushes on a couple of occasions I would be surprised if he won. Williams had a near-perfect Six Nations and although Wales underperformed in their first test vs the Springboks, he’s the clear bookies favourite. My personal (biased) choice for recognition would be Blair, who has been Scotland’s best player for a few years now (sorry, Mossy fans). Despite Scotland’s relatively poor Six Nations, when given a chance to play his type of rugby in the second Argentina test, he showed what sort of a leader and inspirational player he could be (perhaps in a Lions shirt too?). So much so that one-time rival Chris Cusiter will (only for the moment, one hopes) have to be satisfied with holding down the Perpignan number 9 shirt, where he will soon hook up with a certain Mr D. Carter…

Then last weekend Edinburgh failed to beat the Dragons – who Glasgow defeated away from home on the opening day of the season – while Glasgow got their season moving again by beating the Scarlets in some style. The emergence of the Evans boys as genuine pace merchants is something that should hearten Scottish rugby fans. Glasgow also competed well against favourites Munster the following weekend, with a conversion the difference that cost them a losing bonus point.

Edinburgh have since followed that up with narrow defeat to Matt Williams’ Ulster team and are looking at a pretty sluggish start to the season. It seems they miss Ben Cairns and Malkovich more than we thought would be possible.

Later in the week we’ll take a look at the world’s premier club tournament, the Heineken Cup.

Hadden hires new coaches

In news announced yesterday, Scotland have appointed two new assistant coaches to fill positions temporarily held by Andy Robinson and Alan Tait over the summer tours.

Former All Black captain Mike Brewer of NZ has been appointed as forwards coach, and former GB Rugby League International Graeme Steadman as defence coach filling the roles left by previous incumbents George Graham and aformentioned Tait.

While Brewer played a controversial role in one of Scotland’s closer results against the All Blacks, he did sterling work with Leinster’s pack last season and should he work similar magic for our national side he may be forgiven. Steadman is a less well-known figure, having worked with both Munster and Ireland in the past since crossing codes. Steadman will also work with Edinburgh, hopefully to ease the transition between their 10-12-13 defensive axis from club to international level. The SRU site claims a replacement for Mark Bitcon is being looked for in the fitness department. So, with all this blarney-flavoured news, should it be pointed out that -as was the situation with Eddie O Sullivan – there seems to be a worrying lack of appointment of a backs coach?

We all know what happened to Eddie O Sullivan…

Ashton gets the boot, should we follow suit?

Bit of rhyme for you there, folks.

So, what we all knew would happen, did. Martin Johnson is to be appointed in some sort of honcho role (“team manager”) by the RFU this week. Brian Ashton will be let go as England coach, and offered some token development posts that he will almost certainly reject. Despite virtually no coaching or management experience whatsoever, expect Johnson to be hailed as the new messiah/Jonny of English rugby. The whole thing does raise a few interesting points, though.

If the SRU were to follow suit – by sacking the friendly schoolteacher-type coach who is failing to fire up the players, and getting in someone with a bit of fire in their belly but not much in the way of practical experience – who have we got as potential candidates?

Gregor Townsend -Does 1 day a week coaching. Has played all over at club, international and Lions level. Probably too nice for the job. Too much coaching experience, too.

David Sole – Scotland’s most recent figure that compares favourably with Johnson. Inspirational (slow walking) leader, Grand Slam winner and Lions winner over Australia. Lots of management experience, just not in rugby. Perhaps a bit further removed from the game than more recent retirees.

Scott Hastings – Probably too involved in media and corporate careers. Another “been there and done it” figure, like his brother Gavin. What about a brotherly coaching double-act?

Any other (less than serious) thoughts – Kenny Logan? David Campese perhaps?

Hadden Announced as Lions Coach

Yesterday sources deep inside the British and Irish Lions camp announced a surprise front runner for the post of Lions coach in the upcoming 2009 test series against South Africa, namely visionary Scotland head coach Frank Hadden. It is believed that his preferred deputies are Brian Ashton to coach the backs, and Ulster Coach Matt Williams as forwards coach. Said team manager Gerald Davies, “we think Frank would give the Lions the direction and tactical nous needed to take on the current World Champions in their own back yard, and look forward to watching him talk about put together a great team.”

In other news, it is reported on Skynet that Leicester Fly-half Andy Goode is actually responsible for the destruction of mankind through his work on chess-playing super-computers. Little Terminator humour for you there, folks.