In modern British sport there is the running joke that there is no loyalty anymore. “It’s not like the good old days when a player kissed his badge and did genuinely love his club”. Yeah, the good old days. Men where men, fights were allowed, divorce was uncommon and players had a club for life.
Before we focus completely on ‘The Italian Job’ (yeah, you’re gonna be reading that headline. A lot!) perhaps I should look at the recent developments at Glasgow and Edinburgh. Development is in fact the key word here because, as we acknowledge that this season has been very poor for Scottish rugby, I am forced to ask “will at least one of Scotland’s pro sides be turned into a development team?”
After the weekends abysmal results for Glasgow and Edinburgh and after the crushing realisation that we all got a little carried away talking about Scotland we must now appreciate that our pro sides are in dire need of a shot in the arm.
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.
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!
Sean Lineen announced his first Glasgow Warriors squad of the season, fresh from a narrow pre-season victory over Kelly Brook’s boyfriend and the rest of the Wasps. They take on champs Munster who may play more of their big guns early on in the season (rather than save them for Europe) now that a top four place is all that is required… Pity we won’t get to see Max Evans match up against De Villiers till later in the season though… No, I’ve never heard of young prop Jon Welsh either but I think Scottish rugby may have finally woken up to the reality that young talent needs to be brought “on stream” earlier than was previous to keep the level of depth and competition for places strong. Chuck ’em in at the deep end – it seems to have worked for Ruaridh Jackson last season. I’m particularly excited to see what impact Chris Cusiter can bring to a Glasgow backline with a fair amount of potential with newcomer Peter Murchie, Rob Dewey and Thom Evans (especially with the likes of Jackson, Colin Shaw, Peter Horne, Max Evans and Colin Gregor challenging too). After many of us thought he had disappeared without contract, Dan Parks continues his career resurrection, holding off Jackson’s challenge at 10 for now. Consistency is the watchword for this season – if they can find that, Glasgow can do better than many expect.
Glasgow team to face Munster:
Bernardo Stortoni, Rob Dewey, Peter Murchie, Graeme Morrison, Thom Evans, Dan Parks, Chris Cusiter, Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Tim Barker, Alastair Kellock (captain), Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie
Substitutes: Pat MacArthur, Kevin Tkachuk, Dan Turner, Richie Vernon, Mark McMillan, Ruaridh Jackson, Colin Shaw
It’s not on TV this one, but you can catch Nathan Hines’s new team Leinster in action against Sean Lamont’s new team the Scarlets on Saturday evening on S4C (Lamont starts, Hines is rested).
UPDATE: you can now see highlights on Sunday, 5.30pm, STV though!
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.
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.
Glasgow Warriors have announced a deal to stay at Firhill for another 5 years, quoshing rumours that they were moving to (national eyesore of the year several years running) Cumbernauld. They share the ground with round-ball merchants Partick Thistle, who will also get a degree of financial stability from the deal. I reckon this gives them a chance to grow their crowds (record so far is 6,665 v Edinburgh) and while the pitch is a bit narrow, the atmosphere seems to be good – at least when the Glasgow team turn up.