Something is afoot down South. No,no, no. Not the goings on at Twickenham, but south of the Equator.
If you are on social networking sites your timeline will currently be clogged. In fact plugged or dammed are probably more fitting descriptions. Everyone is bleating about the weather. Somehow it has come to everyone’s attention that we are entering Scotland’s lengthy rainy season and we are ready to whinge about it as much as possible.
It seems, though, that those at EH12 have been saving for these rainy days. We’ve been alerted to something else via the social sites. It appears that now the World Cup is over we have entered Contract Renegotiation Season.
They’re harsh on their team here in New Zealand.
After the All Blacks humped a stoic Tongan side by 6 tries to 1 with clinical counter attacking rugby but failed to score quite so much in the second half, pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to reckons they were truly, truly awful, or words to that effect. Usually ones rhyming with “hit” or “height”. Graham “Ted” Henry only gave them 5/10. So how then to view Scotland’s decidedly mixed performance on Saturday against a fired-up Romanian team?
As Rory has chosen to focus on the backs he has left me with the slightly easier task of looking at the forwards.
The reason this is easier is because Andy Robinson has a pretty samey starting pack and, barring injury, I can’t imagine it will change too much for the first game in the World Cup. So this means the warm-up games against Ireland and Italy will help pick a bench, and the training sessions before hand are hugely important for individuals.
Glasgow have confirmed rumours Kelly Brown is to leave them for Saracens at the end of the season, splitting up the infamous Killer Bs back row. However fellow “B” John Barclay has renewed his contract, which should keep Glasgow and Scotland fans happy – I imagine there was much interest in him. Brown has been in a rich vein of form for the Warriors recently but with a number of youngsters like Richie Vernon, James Eddie, Calum Forester et al pushing through for back row places – and in considering International level you have to factor in Edinburgh’s burgeoning back row talent too – Brown’s move allows them to develop in the limited spots we have up here, while still he’s playing top level rugby and trying to force his way back into the international team. Still, unless Mike the Blade moves to Worcester I won’t be able to make Blair vs Brown jokes anymore, which will be a relief to you.
In other good news, Gougy McGouge aka Stade Prop David Attoub has been handed a 70 week ban on top of Dupuy’s 23 week ban both for gouging Stephen Ferris. Good enough for him, I say.
Thom’s ok, big Stroker’s ok. So that’s that out of the way. Scott Gray in? Okay, he’s looked sharp off the bench and played well season-long against these guys in the GP, so that’s justified on form. On the other hand, also sharp Chris Cusiter not in to replace out of form and probably injured Mike Blair? Crap. John Barclay not in the 22 at all, because now you want a back row replacement that can cover more than 7? Maybe it’s because he didn’t take responsibility for “tailgunner-gate” when that apparently wasn’t (for that defence) his position to cover? Crap. Nathan in to stabilise the lineout and much-needed restart? Nope – crap.
Mostly the same team gets one last chance to show that they are worthy of our love, but why not make a few changes just to add some extra stability in areas where we have been wobbly thus far… an in-form scrum-half and a proper second row? Still, the P&J rugby guy said he’d eat his hat if Cusiter wasn’t selected, so I am looking forward to seeing that.
Meanwhile Jonno has left the England team that bulldozed France with some style unchanged. To pursue the gambling metaphor: snake eyes – house wins, I reckon. And after that, the end of an unlucky streak?
C Paterson (Edinburgh); S Danielli (Ulster), M Evans (Glasgow), G Morrison (Glasgow), T Evans (Glasgow); P Godman (Edinburgh), M Blair (Edinburgh, capt); A Dickinson (Gloucester), R Ford (Edinburgh), E Murray (Northampton), J White (Sale), J Hamilton (Edinburgh), A Strokosch (Gloucester), S Gray (Northampton), S Taylor (Stade Francais).
Replacements: D Hall (Glasgow), M Low (Glasgow), N Hines (Perpignan), K Brown (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Perpignan), N De Luca (Edinburgh), H Southwell (Edinburgh).
D Armitage (London Irish); U Monye (Harlequins), M Tindall (Gloucester), R Flutey (Wasps), M Cueto (Sale Sharks); T Flood (Leicester), H Ellis (Leicester); A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), L Mears (Bath), P Vickery (Wasps), S Borthwick (Saracens, capt), S Shaw (Wasps), T Croft (Leicester), J Worsley (Wasps), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton), J White (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), N Kennedy (London Irish), D Care (Harlequins), A Goode (Brive), M Tait (Sale Sharks).
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?
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
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.
… but at the end of it all, it might be Glasgow left with the bigger smiles. Here’s brief rundown on each match, as taken in (without benefit of sound) at a couple of Inverness’s Setanta-bearing hostelries – plaudits to The Exchange and Fairways for sticking the game on for us.
The first leg (on Boxing Day) was the brighter affair with both teams trying to play rugby but Glasgow inexplicably failing to put anything half decent together. Consequently they found themselves on the end of a hiding in front of a record crowd. Deserved man of the match Hugo Southwell took a great try and his boot was instrumental in most of Edinburgh’s positional play. World Class Phil also stepped up to the plate with a great no-look ball that sent Malkovich Webster in for a well-taken try that put Edinburgh well on the way to their bonus point. Edinburgh played some sparkling rugby at times backed up by a strong defensive display – Cairns and De Luca were quite impressive – while Glasgow were largely MIA. Still quite a lot of handling errors and unforced turnovers, not to mention strange goings on at scrum time that Andy Robinson blamed on the rookie ref.
After first leg:
UP: Hugo Southwell (MoM), Ally Hogg, Phil Godman, Ben Cairns, Simon Webster, Thom Evans, Jim Hamilton, Nick De Luca, Colin Gregor
DOWN: Dan Parks, Graeme Morrison, Max Evans, the ref/the scrum
NO CHANGE: Mike Blair, John Barclay
The second leg at Firhill was a much steelier affair, with a fair amount of niggle in the early period – led mainly by Ally Kellock who seemed to direct most of his ire at Jim Hamilton. Kellock may have been the only man on the park tall enough to even attempt a punch on the big man, not that we condone such things. Godman kicked steadily but didn’t get much ball to work with. Parks had a much better game behind a Glasgow pack that kept an icy grip on ball at the fiercely contested breakdown, though his kicking went off-kilter a little just before he was replaced by Ruaridh Jackson. After that the game became a battle of the second strings. Overall it was more of an even contest in front of another good crowd (who mostly paid this time) but still a lot of spilled balls (and probably as many spilled pints). Again the home side had the defensive edge, with Thom Evans showing that is one area he has worked on. Glasgow turned Edinburgh over a fair bit in the ruck and there were a few poor errors from Southwell and De Luca. I still think De Luca should be swapped from 12 to 13, given Cairns’ slight edge in physicality highlighted by the great last ditch try he took from the 12 position to snatch a late losing bonus point for the visitors. That’s what the Christmas trial is for, isn’t it?
UP: John Barclay (MoM), Scott Newlands, Ben Cairns, Dan Parks (a bit), Phil Godman (well, his kicking game), Thom Evans, Graeme Morrison
DOWN: Nick De Luca, Hugo Southwell
NO CHANGE: Max Evans, Simon Webster, Kelly Brown, Ally Kellock
Best XV Over 2 legs:
Southwell, Robertson, Cairns, Morrison, Evans, Godman, Blair, Hogg, Barclay, Newlands, Hamilton, Gissing, Low, Ford, Jacobsen
Swap Newlands out for exiles big Jason or big Stroker, Robertson for Lamont or Mossy, bring in Hines and you have the makings of a team there…
Happy New Year! Look out for a slight redesign over these pages, coming to you soon.
I have to admit it, I’ve always been kind of an Edinburgh man. I like the city more than Glasgow, went to University there, most of my friends live there. So naturally I gravitated towards Edinburgh Rugby as a natural home for my supporter’s sympathies – other than the mighty Highland, of course. It was also pointed out recently that (inadvertently) I had even sustained this anti-Glasgow bias in the header of this site – now slightly redressed. But it seems in all that I overlooked something. Glasgow are actually pretty good.
Currently they sit 2nd in the Magners League. They are building a passionate and consistent crowd of supporters at Firhill, and Lineen is long past being happy with valiant defeats. Performance -and results – are starting to matter to him, as well they should. A lot of the focus is on Andy Robinson rebuilding teams and careers at Edinburgh, but Lineen has been quietly turning the ship around on the other side of the country for a few years now, and this season it looks to have started steaming in the right direction.
Failing some sort of Munster miracle game, Glasgow took part in the Heineken Cup match of the weekend – even including Harlequin’s thriller in the Stade de France – against Bath today. England’s second best team looked like they would have too much class, but Glasgow never gave up and eventually went down 35-31. If you get a chance to watch the highlights on Sky tonight, I’d recommend it. On Friday Ian MacGeechan blamed Wasps’ endless kicking and lacklustre rugby (still enough to defeat Edinburgh) on the ELVs and new interpretations at the breakdown, yet Bath seem to manage quite well. Even Munster, led by kicking machine Ronan O Gara, are willing to throw it about a bit. Glasgow manage it quite well too. Kicking ping-pong only works if you’re certain that the other team will kick it back. Bath don’t. Problem solved. Glasgow didn’t much either, and it gave us an enthralling game of rugby. I hope Geech will sort it out in time for the Lions tour.
Speaking of which, John Barclay is continuing his run of understated but utterly effective play in the tackle and at the breakdown that will hopefully see him as an outside pick for the tour at 7. Tom Rees and Martin Williams are probably ahead of him, but the Six Nations will give him a broad stage on which to showcase his talent. And he’s only 22. If not this one, maybe the next.
Ruaridh Jackson may yet prove the most important find of the season (though we probably won’t really know for a couple of years) in his first professional start at 10. He’s got great hands, a bit of pace, vision and his tactical kicking wasn’t too bad either (and that’s one area he could learn from Dan Parks). In a Glasgow team filled with sevens players, they were always alive to the counter – as proven by Thom Evans’ opportunistic hat-trick of tries created largely through sheer pace and acceleration. You won’t have heard it here first, but I believe Ruaridh Jackson has a part to play in Scotland’s future.
The one area Glasgow did suffer in was depth, as illustrated by the very last play of the game. After the clock had ticked over the 80 minute mark, Bath were camped on Glasgow’s line with the sustained pressure that had characterised the second half (punctuated by breakaway Glasgow tries). You felt the last chance for a well deserved – if unlikely – snatched victory was gone. Suddenly, there’s an interception and Jackson is steaming up the pitch – a repeat of his try minutes before that had put Glasgow into twin bonus point territory and announced that this game was far from over. The Rec crowd go nuts as a frantic foot race begins and Jackson finds the touchline closing him out. If there’s one man you want on his shoulder it was Thom Evans, but he had gone off ten minutes previously to be replaced by the slightly less pacy Hefin O’Hare. So instead Jackson chips past the defender, and looks to regather. But the ball bounces into touch, and the Rec breathes easy again. Not bad for a first game – to be so influential on the outcome, and against a World Cup winning fly-half on the other team. Glasgow never stopped battling, but their class diminished slightly with every substitution (unlike Bath). Still, next time Jackson is stuck on the bench behind Parks, you might not be able to say the same.
Sean Lineen, I am fast becoming a fan.