I’m gonna blow my own trumpet…last week, like a new-age Mystic Meg, I predicted Scotland would usurp Ireland and Argentina in the World Rankings. I just had no idea we would do it so soon!
Despite the result Saturday had everything a 6N weekend needs. Plus a little more criminal activity.
Any great story or sporting event has certain key components that make it memorable. If you were making a feature film about a game (Take notes, Mr. Eastwood!) then Scotland vs. Wales certainly met all the right criteria. Somehow I think most of us would have rather seen the director’s cut, though!
To make a blockbuster accessible you need clearly defined heroes and villains. Well there were both at the Millennium Stadium. While Parks cut an unlikely figure as the skilful saviour Chris Paterson took on the role of the elder statesman, before taking his final bow for this campaign. On the other side Shane Williams, aka ‘The Milkman’, popped up at the final twist to ensure a disappointing ending for the Scots. Then we come to the bad guys. I actually feel a little sorry for WCP because if I was the last man for Scotland and it looked like a definite try I would probably take the hit and do what he did. Scott Lawson, however, has no excuse. Bang in the middle of the park, slow ball, numbers up in defence. Basically, the kid had a shocker!
We are not even going to talk about the pantomime villain Jonathan Davies…
Another vital aspect of a Hollywood hit is a level of mystery. Thankfully, Clancy (George not Tom – ed.) had that covered. The scrum was a mess and no one knows why. I’m not saying that Murray was scrummaging well, but it should have been an indicator to Clancy that the scrum stopped nose-diving when James went off the park for a stint. In fact, regardless of who the culprit was a yellow card early doors may have discouraged Lawson from being so naïve later on. Precedence has a tendency to influence decisions later. Clancy left himself so much work in the last quarter.
Blockbusters also need tragedy, and unfortunately the game had this, too. 3 players are out for a long time. It is doubtful that Evans will play again this season and it is looking like Paterson and Lamont will have relatively lengthy lay-offs. The good news is that Evans is improving according to doctors and his surgery was successful. There will now be, though, a few spaces up for grabs for the next game and there should be changes. Evans for Evans makes sense, but why, oh why does Robbo not rate Southwell? Maybe bringing Grove back in would be sensible.
Comedy relief is another thing you need but this didn’t come until after the game. Andy Powell has consequently been dropped from the Welsh team. The worse hangover ever? Maybe not, but the drunken use of a Golf Buggy, no matter how funny it is, is not original. If you want a lesson in going off the rails on a golf course look at Italy’s Stand-off Craig Gower’s Wikipedia page. Can you relate?!
Unfortunately for us, the last thing a sports movie needs is an underdog or comeback story. Well Wales made sure of that. It was almost spectacular how well Scotland were playing in the first half but does our nationalistic pessimism have to always manifest itself? We were the agents of our own downfall. We were 10 points up with 7 minutes left and with a bit less harum scarum and perhaps more sensible ‘cheating’ and gamesmanship we could have seen the result out.
Picking on Byrne is a bit silly. If it was a professional foul then we cannot blame him or the ref. We didn’t see it. ‘Diving’ is a big debate in football, and Thierry Henry’s handball begged the same question, as bloodgate before it; is it ever worth cheating? I know a few club players who will occasionally dive when the situation merits it… and I know a lot of coaches would take the rewards gleaned from it, even if they don’t condone it. No one questions Byrne’s hardness or work ethic. If he did cheat, which is up in the air anyway, then he got a win out of it. I digress. The signs are there that we can achieve something and if we play at the pace we were in the first half for 80 against England, we should win. If we play with the width and guile we had in the first half for 80 against Italy, we should win.
Sorry for all the crippling movie metaphors. A bit cringe, but it gets the point across… kind of. We need the sequel, I mean next game, to be better. But not by much. The pack continues to perform and Ford and Murray should play 80 next time round. Hamilton did surprisingly well considering he’s not played much. Beattie continues to carry like a game breaker. Barclay must rack up more events than anyone else in post match analysis and Brown sat more than one taff on his backside. Now if Parks can play like he did in the next test, obviously without flying up and leaving an Alessandro Zanni-sized hole in defence, then the backline could be firing and exciting, regardless of personnel.
The outlook is good… Just as long as Jonathan Davies isn’t behind you.
Here is also a brief Prem. 1 roundup…
Watsonians 3 – 7 Edinburgh Accies
West of Scotland 20 – 18 Melrose
Dundee High 52 – 5 Stew Mel
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.
“I’ve watched enough games involving their sides, to wonder what they actually bring to the event, because Murrayfield is like a morgue. Edinburgh and Glasgow have achieved very little over the years, and if there was any move to set up a British league in the future I don’t think that anyone would be rushing to sign up the Scottish sides.” Jonathan Davies, quoted in the Sunday Times
Okay, so he has a point – the Scottish pro sides have woefully under-performed in comparison to their Celtic brethren in recent years. Although setting up a league without the Scots would restrict his ability to mispronounce Malcolm Changleng’s name at every opportunity.
Name-calling and the non-sequitur of his opening sentence aside, the Scottish pro teams remain occasionally competitive (Glasgow beating Cardiff, Edinburgh’s away win at Ulster this weekend), and hold mid table positions in the Magners League without ever really challenging for honours. Couple that with the potential of their respective set-ups and various blends of youth and experience (Lineen with his southern hemisphere muscle, Robinson with Edinburgh’s at times fearless vitality) and it seems clear that the thing that would really help is a decent crowd to watch it all, the famed 16th man that the likes of Munster, Ulster or Llanelli can bring off the bench to help push their side over the line.
Consider Simon Taylor’s decision to move to Stade Francais into a back row that already has Remy Martin, Sergio Parisse and Mauro Bergamasco. Only now getting a game due to injuries to the others, Taylor still chose this over staying at Murrayfield, surrounded by political infighting and poor crowds. You feel the fact that Stade can sell nearly 80,000 tickets for a league game against Toulouse while Edinburgh struggle to get 4,000 for a similar fixture, at home to the Frenchmen in the Heineken Cup, may have had something to do with it. (Although this was a pretty good crowd for Edinburgh, you wonder what would happen if 80,000 people actually tried to turn up at Murrayfield for an Edinburgh match. They’d probably turn them away).
I don’t think getting rid of Edinburgh and Glasgow is the answer to getting well-supported teams. I feel it would create one or two powerful “super” clubs (ala the Old Firm) from the Premier League who the rest of Edinburgh or the Borders (and to a lesser extent Glasgow) would more than likely refuse to get behind, splitting along parochial lines, which was a problem highlighted in the demise of the Borders. Surely city based teams with no fixed club-based allegiance are the only way forward in Scotland, but they should work with the Premier League clubs, sharing players, coaches etc and Andy Robinson certainly seems to be trying to take steps to build such bridges where the SRU have tried and failed. Perhaps his credentials at club level with Bath give him credibility the SRU cannot muster.
Variously – and only in relation to club games it seems, as the atmosphere is fine on international days – Murrayfield is described as a tomb, a mausoleum, a coffin. The SRU somewhat wistfully try to convince us it’s a castle. But never a cauldron, like the Stade Geoffrey Guichard in St Etienne that managed such a ferocious atmosphere with only 30,000 people – a stadium incidentally designed like an English football ground. But Glasgow play at a smaller football ground, and they suffer from similar problems so it can’t just be that the stadium is crap. Indeed the problem may be that Murrayfield is far from crap – it boasts world-class facilities, already paid for by the SRU. Why pay out more money (that they don’t have) to move permanently?
Okay then, how about a temporary move?
It seems if Munster and the Crusaders can remain highly successful whilst still farming out the odd home game to Cork or Nelson (the Crusaders have even touted hosting games in Melbourne in the past) then surely Edinburgh or Glasgow could spread the game in their own respective catchment areas to try and build a fan-base, and perhaps prove to the SRU that there is support for the game in other areas. It worked for internationals held in Aberdeen and Perth, would it work for club games? There has been a lot in the press this weekend regarding Scotland’s poor attendances, with various solutions offered. Netherdale has been touted by Allan Massie as somewhere with the facilities to host an Edinburgh game that is closer to Edinburgh than Cork is to Limerick. And the people of the Borders might even turn up en masse just to spite the SRU for closing down their own poorly supported pro team, the Reivers.
I live in the North of Scotland, so a trip to Edinburgh every weekend is tricky for a man without a car or a bottomless wallet, but I go to matches when I am in Edinburgh, I went to France and watch as much as I can on TV. I am a Scotland rugby supporter, but feel powerless in this instance other than badgering my Edinburgh-based friends to go along. So I’ll watch the STV show on a Sunday, I’ll keep on posting and I’ll keep on saving up to go to New Zealand in 2011. But if you get the chance to go along and watch, why don’t you?
Apologies for the appalling pun in the title. I was going to try and shoehorn Brian Moore in to make it Moore-ia, so you should think yourself lucky.
UPDATE: Just noticed this on the Edinburgh website – I wonder if Robinson has been on at them, or if this is part of a new strategy:
“Nevertheless it proved to be a productive weekend for everyone involved in rugby in the Scottish capital and, we will regularly promote the local club games involving our players as we strive to strengthen the bond between Edinburgh Rugby Club and the rugby clubs of Edinburgh.”