With injuries abound and a number of candidates available Brodie Smithers looks at Scott Johnson’s options at centre.
Scotland 15-15 England
Usually in recent years it has been the case that Scotland are thumped by an England team, or manage to doggedly grind out a win against them with penalties despite their try line having been under severe pressure for most of the match (similar in style to the recent wins in ’06 and ’08, or the win against Australia). So the result on Saturday was an odd one, and yet in some ways curiously satisfying.
15 Chris Paterson (Edinburgh)
14 Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors)
13 Sean Lamont (Scarlets)
12 Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors)
11 Rory Lamont (Toulon)
10 Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors)
9 Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors) CAPTAIN
1 Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester)
2 Ross Ford (Edinburgh)
3 Euan Murray (Northampton Saints)
4 Nathan Hines (Leinster)
5 Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors)
6 Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors)
7 John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors)
8 Johnnie Beattie (Glasgow Warriors)
16 Scott Lawson (Gloucester)
17 Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh)
18 Richie Gray (Glasgow Warriors)
19 Alan MacDonald (Edinburgh)
20 Mike Blair (Edinburgh)
21 Phil Godman (Edinburgh)
22 Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors)
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland).
Touch-judges: Alain Rolland (Ireland) and Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland).
Television Match Official: Geoff Warren (England)
AARGH he almost did exactly what was I thought was required with this selection, but Morrison is still in there and Grove is nowhere to be seen. If Morrison has a donkey adventure day again what is the plan B? Parks to kick it, I guess. Still my feeling is that there is no spark in the 10-12 axis and if you were bringing Parks in, club combinations aside I think someone at least a little tricksy in the 12 shirt would have been nice… Dan will hopefully be looking to show the Cardiff faithful he is worth a punt… Suprised to see Dickinson still in, thought Chunk did enough to bolster the front row to get his start and Murray’s return was pretty much a given.
Oh and Mossy gets his 100th cap, congratulations!
UPDATE: Wales Team: Lee Byrne, Leigh Halfpenny, James Hook, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams, Stephen Jones, Gareth Cooper, Paul James, Gareth Williams, Adam Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Alun Wyn Jones, Andy Powell, Martyn Williams, Ryan Jones (Captain)
REPLACEMENTS: Huw Bennett, Gethin Jenkins, Bradley Davies, Sam Warburton, Richie Rees, Andrew Bishop, Tom Shanklin
Well well well. Hopefully by now the hungovers have worn off, and the “did that really happen?” feeling has not quite worn off. And so to a little bit of post match analysis.
Scotland’s defence was magnificent – on that we can hopefully all agree. But it could quite easily have been different. Australia have put at least 30 points on us in the last few encounters and if you think of the tries they butchered, the missed kicks – including THAT one – it could quite easily have been business as usual, and I would be sitting here writing about moral victories, plucky defence, courageous losers etc. Scotland had almost no ball, and a lot of what we did get was kicked away or turned over. Ordinarily all these factors would have combined into the usual Autumn loss. So what changed? There are a few things that I noticed from between my fingers as I watched the match:
A full 80 minute performance. Usually a Scottish team hangs in there for 60-odd minutes, then there is one minor lapse in concentration, (quite often somewhere in midfield) a quick turnover and BAM the (insert Tri-Nations team here) have scored a couple of tries and put the game to bed. You almost sensed such a thing happening on Saturday, when the Wallabies kept piling attack after attack on to Scotland in the early second half, hoping that our boys would wilt. Only they didn’t. Right across the 22 man squad they tackled for the full 80 minutes, and it was only in the 81st that the unceasing battering Rocky Elsom’s men had given us finally found a chink in the armour. Immense performances from all the forwards without exception. You suspect if someone had told a lot of these players “this is what it will feel like at the end if you don’t go to sleep in the second half” this could have happened years ago.
A coach unafraid to make a hard call. Morrison had been okay in defence in the first half, but too much of the miniscule amount of ball we had was carried into contact or spilled rather than finding its way out wide, which was frankly unacceptable. At half time Robbo yanked him and stuck De Luca in instead, who repaid him with his best game in a Scotland shirt. The three centre berths for next weekend should be De Luca, Grove and Cairns in whatever order you like. Morrison was given a vote of confidence well ahead of the first team announcement and has not exactly lived up to it. Contrast this with the other guys including Grove who instantly looked at home at this level. Let’s get them going forward next weekend and see what these boys can do with some ball.
Luck. Years and years of stupid calls going against us, balls bouncing in to the arms of opposing players and kicks missing by inches were cashed in at the weekend. Everything we needed to go our way did. Everything we needed to go against Australia, did. They say good teams make their own luck, and I’m sure a lot of the pressure put on the Wallabies with our defence must have rattled them.
So basically what we have all been saying for years – if Scotland stayed focused, ditched the underperformers and got a bit of luck here and there they could compete with the top teams. All we needed was a coach that agreed with us. If Scotland can stay this passionate and intense, use that as a base for performance level and somehow hold on to some ball to play with, then we have the makings of a good – and lucky – team.
Oh and if you fancy a laugh, read this from the Sydney Morning Herald (don’t let your blood boil, it’s not worth it) and if you are interested, here are some highlights of the Scotland A game shot by the folks at Borders Rugby TV.
This would be the team I announce tomorrow, and here’s why:
15 – Chris Paterson. This was trickier than I thought, which is a good thing. Hugo has been on fire recently, but before the recent rib injury, so was Mossy. Frank Hadden is looking for maturity of decision making from this team, having identified that as the difference between Scotland and South Africa in the Autumn. Scotland’s record cap holder displayed this in spades in the gritty Heineken Cup defeat to Leinster, out-foxing a charging Rob Kearney on a couple of occasions and showing a better ball retention than Paterson of old. Hugo on the other hand does still have a little rash streak. If Scotland are going to live up to their potential this has to be brought under control. Then of course, there’s the kicking. It’s almost a flip of a coin between Hugo’s educated left boot and Mossy’s goal kicking. Sadly we need the points more.
14 – Thom Evans. Time for Thom to step up and make people take notice. Blistering pace, a much improved defence and now the chance to show some of these other chaps (Shane Williams, Rob Kearney) he means business. Named by Stuart Barnes in his Lions XV at the weekend on the back of just 3 caps – although credited as a Welshman! He’s been in miraculous form for Glasgow and the ball seems to bounce his way almost every time. If Hadden is looking for luck, Evans should be the rabbit’s foot he needs.
13 – Ben Cairns. There’s a lot of talk about Max Evans at the moment, and both he and Cairns seem to have jumped De Luca as the bright young things of Scottish centre play. In a tournament where they could come up against the likes of O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Jauzion or Wales powerhouse Jamie Roberts, I think the extra grit in Cairns’ defence gives him the odds over the naivete Evans has been known to show (although he is improving quickly under Lineen). Given a free reign and a little outside space to work in, Cairns could be devastating.
12. – Graeme Morrison. Shown some fine form recently, and will add some bulk to a backline outside him that for once is more pace and raw talent than raw meat. Will need to keep breaking the line though as a Hadden-style 12 should or he’ll soon find himself back in the shark tank with the circling young bloods in the squad such as De Luca, Dewey and Houston. De Luca may be the ideal choice, but he’s never shown ideal form at international level. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t get a run at some point though.
11 – Sean Lamont. Scored a wonderful wingers try recently for the Saints and needs to recapture the form of a couple of years ago. A chance for him to escape the glare of brother Rory’s halo and prove why he’s worth his place in a Scotland team getting younger by the minute. Remember the Sean Lamont who scored 4 tries in one game for Northampton in between Six Nations victories over France and England? Go on Seanie, have a wee run…
10 – Phil Godman. Hopefully the Dan Parks thing has been put to bed. Yes he is reliable, sometimes. Yes he is frequently very good for Glasgow. But Scotland just play better with a mazy runner like World Class Phil bringing them on to the ball. With an attacking back division they need an attacking fly half. Godman has improved his positional and goal kicking too (as has Paterson) making the usual arguments for Parks’ inclusion less relevant. A couple of steady games (dare we hope for a victory?) and the shirt should be his for some time to come. At least until Glasgow’s young pretender Ruaridh Jackson gets picked for a Scotland squad. Oh, wait…
9 – Mike Blair. Probably the form scrum half in Europe over the winter despite a relatively poor showing from the pro-teams. Mike Philips and Danny Care are up there, but there is a coolness to Blair’s game that sets him apart – and keeps him on the pitch head up, rather than in the sin bin or at the bottom of a ruck. Being captain gives him the chance to set the pace and the others will follow if they can keep up. Good to see Chris Cusiter coming back to form and if there is an injury he’ll be chasing hard to get his old shirt back.
8 – Simon Taylor. Damn this one was tricky, as I’m a big fan of Hoggy and Kelly Brown has been playing pretty well for Glasgow (at 6). There’s Johnny Beattie too. There is a wee niggle in my mind that Taylor has been playing at lock all season. In the end Taylor has too much class to leave him out – witness his textbook tackle in the recent Stade vs Perpignan game and a couple of solid performances in the autumn. Hogg and Brown may once again suffer for their back-row versatility and it’s a coin toss for the bench spot.
7 – John Barclay. One of the easiest choices. Hadden fumbled about without a proper 7 for long enough, now he has several itching to get on the pitch. Consistently solid, aggressive yet organised, with good awareness – and sick of losing. His battles with Martin Williams at 7 in the first match and with David Wallace in March could well set the tone for Scotland’s Six Nations, and possibly the Lions tour too.
6 – Al Strokosch. You could pick any one of Jason White, the Big Stroker, Kelly Brown (again), Ally Hogg (again); even Scott Newlands has been in good form. Al Strokosch has been consistent if unexciting for Gloucester so far this season, but in terms of regular playing at 6 it’s between him and Brown. I’ve gone for Strokosch’s extra fire here but he is not yet quite the player he was last season when walked into the Italy dressing room and handed his man of the match award to Sergio Parisse after the Italy game. That shows a level of commitment and sportsmanship that can only be applauded.
5 – Jim Hamilton. In great form since his return to the fold at Edinburgh. Adds tremendous bulk to the front five and is starting to take on a little ball carrying now too. Given his proportions, this makes him hard to stop.
4 – Nathan Hines. News he did not train on Monday is a little concerning. The man from Wagga Wagga has been a fixture on the team sheet since his return from international exile. Continued knee problems could see a last minute replacement by Al Kellock who on recent form may manage to bring a similar amount of niggle as Big Nathan.
3 – Euan Murray. One of the first choices on many team sheets as a result of his sterling play since moving to Northampton to learn at the feet of the great Tom Smith. Recent news of a rib injury could open up a spot for Geoff Cross or Moray Low to make their mark but from Scotland’s point of view Murray has to be fit!
2 – Ross Ford. Offers a lot both in attack and defence. Dougie Hall is coming back to a bit of form after the switch to Glasgow while last season’s incumbent Fergus Thompson has dropped off a bit. Ford is the front runner by some distance, and offers good handling and running as an auxiliary back-row type. In the absence of the bulky back divisions we have seen in the past, forwards like Ford and Hines will need to step up for their share of the ball.
1 – Allan Jacobsen. He might not be praised at Murray’s level but still a capable pair of hands who shows up well in attack. In fact, in last year’s Six Nations he was about the only one who showed up in attack. We can but hope that this year’s brand of Scotland team will allow Chunk to concentrate a little more on the scrummaging. There are a number of younger props coming through though, so Chunk may do well to hold them off.
Bench: Geoff Cross, Dougie Hall, Ally Kellock, Ally Hogg, Chris Cusiter, Max Evans, Hugo Southwell
There are only 2,800 odd tickets left. Go on, you know you want one. A full Murrayfield would really help the team: I’d be there were it not for previous commitments. Damn those commitments.
Bad news for Scotland’s squad preparations for the “autumn” (it’s already winter here in the north) internationals came yesterday with announcements that scrum halves Chris Cusiter (thumb), Rory Lawson (ribs) and centre Graeme Morrison would all be unavailable. Luckily Mark McMillan is able to step into the breach – he’s been in form for Glasgow, and it’s good to have a Heineken Cup winner and former U21 captain to call on. It’s a big blow for Cusiter, who always seems like he gets injured just as he is hitting form. Nikki Walker will also join the squad, having been released by the Ospreys. Morrison’s absence leaves the midfield looking a little lightweight – especially considering they may have to face big lads like Nonu and De Villiers running at them – could it be Rob Deweytime again?