Tag: Mike Blair

When you’ve got no one else to turn to..

Despite the differences between the two sports similar debates are currently going on amongst fans of Scottish football and rugby.

In football, Kris Boyd had become accustomed to being left out of big games by Rangers and chose to quit international football because he was not satisfied with being always on the bench. This was because he was seen by management as being a one dimensional player. He scored goals but his all round game wasn’t good enough to justify his selection particularly against higher skilled defences. In the end, Boyd altered his game and tried to become a more all round footballer. As a result he has forced his way into being an automatic starter for Rangers and is now being approached to reconsider his position for international selection.

But the debate goes on. Is Kris Boyd now a starter because of a lack of options at his club? Has he really changed his game that much? Does he still take away more from a team than he offers? One thing is sure. If Kris Boyd had Fernando Torres or Wayne Rooney in front of him in the pecking order there would be no debate. But as the players competing with him for selection are Kyle Lafferty and Nacho Novo, there’s hardly an embarrassment of riches available.

The same argument is being played out in Scottish international rugby with Dan Parks. While Dan Parks has always been recognised as a very strong kicker his tackling and delivery leave a lot to be desired. At club level his defensive weakness has led to Bernardo Stortoni alternating in at stand off in defensive situations, a scenario which we may see play out with Chris Paterson in Cardiff on Saturday.

Parks has been out the Scotland team for fourteen months, but he is a different player since the last time he played for Scotland and despite his weaknesses he has one strength over any other stand off available for Scotland in relation to his game management ability. There is no doubting that he has an arrogance and ability to take over the game with his kicking, a virtual guarantee of points scoring and an awareness to play the field position game to his teams strengths.

There seems little doubt from the pattern of recent selections that Robinson and Townsend would prefer their stand off be an all rounder but Parks’ selection for Cardiff on Saturday indicates a recognition by Scotland’s management that the other options available are either unproven or too risky – the product of thinking just too far outside the box. Phil Godman continues not to assert himself as his supporters would wish. Having conclusively lost two head-to-head duels with Parks in the Inter City matches over the Christmas and New Year period his performance against France was mixed at best. Considering Ruaridh Jackson as an option is jumping the gun dramatically. Though his day will come he’s just not ready to play at this level. The other options are Chris Paterson, previously written off by Robinson as a viable option at stand off, or Hugo Southwell, who doesn’t see number 10 as his preferred position although he has played there for Scotland A and is a talented player Scotland probably should utilise somewhere in their team or at least have available on the bench.

The final option is Mike Blair. He’s clearly seen as one of Scotland’s top players and while it’s no doubt tempting to see if both Blair and Cusiter can be accommodated in the starting 15 to date he’s untried in this position.

Scotland need to be more adaptable and urgently start exploring other options. In his article, “The Curious Case of Rory Hutton”, Kevin Ferrie of The Herald writes about the lack of adaptability of Scottish coaching. The fact that Dan Parks is now seen as Scotland’s best option in the playmaker position may be seen as a sad indictment on coaching in this country recognising as it does that no stand off available to us has been developed beyond his level.

At the very least, with the kicking prowess of Parks and Paterson, Scotland should be able to defend in the opposition half and kick the penalties which come their way but they won’t be a true threat at top international level until they have real attacking options. With Scotland being left with no other option but to turn to a player Robinson clearly wanted to discard from the international scene and who wasn’t in either the chosen 44 in August, the A team in Belfast or the 22 chosen against France there could be no better demonstration of our lack of progress as an attacking force at international level.

In the second guessing of the selection that will no doubt continue until Saturday, Scotland’s supporters should avoid being be too harsh on Parks because the simple fact is that now as never before we really need him to be playing at the top of his game. Rumours coming out of the camp suggest that Robinson expected to lose against France but that Wales is a match he believes Scotland can win. Let’s hope that in the critical selection of Dan Parks at stand off he’s got it right.

Blair Sees Red (and Green)

Tags:

The Red hand, that is, and the green of money. The Scotsman have a story that Edinburgh scrum-half Mike Blair is being offered somewhere in the region of £300,000 a year to move to Ulster, whose current scrum half Isaac Boss is rumoured to be headed to Leinster. Good move or bad? While Edinburgh have in recent months been a little stifled in attack and probably miss Mike’s leadership in midfield, I would still probably say “good” move. Greg Laidlaw has improved massively this season in the period Blair has been injured, and though a little bit of a mentalist at the moment, Ross Samson looks a good option for the future. By leaving, Blair would be getting game time at a high level and in a decent team, but he would also be allowing our younger players to come through and play more regularly at the same high level. Although he’s been a faithful servant to Edinburgh, look at the positives Chris Cusiter got from his time in Perpignan. If it could bring back the form that saw him nominated for IRB player of the year, a change could do Blair good.

PS I’ve just realised the headline could be seen as a dig at his colour-blindness, sorry Mike, unintentional!

Edinburgh team for Ulster…Blair to Warriors? And a new blogger!

Ha, gotcha. No, Worcester are the Warriors I was talking about. I refer to an interesting article which on reflection is mostly about nothing (something of a Scotsman specialism sometimes) over at the Scotsman speculating as to the employment future of Mike Blair, which I missed this week. Although arguably not missing him at scrum half specifically, are Edinburgh missing Mike’s cutting edge as he recovers from his ankle injury?

Edinburgh to face Ulster at Ravenhill: C Paterson (capt), J Thompson, B Cairns, J Houston, T Visser, P Godman, G Laidlaw, A Jacobsen, R Ford, D Young, S MacLeod, J Hamilton, S Newlands, A MacDonald, R Grant
Replacements: A Kelly, K Traynor, G Cross, C Hamilton, D Callam, R Samson, N De Luca, M Robertson. Simon “Malkovich” Webster is the spare man for Edinburgh in his quest on the comeback trail.

Sky Sports, k.o 8pm tonight (Friday)

News on the blog front: in addition to myself and Al – who has been busier playing rugby than writing about it recently (that and his laptop broke) – we now have a new blogger on the team who is going to do some bits and bobs for the site, concentrating mainly on the club game in Scotland. Confusingly enough, his name is also Alan (distinguishing nickname TBA) so I hope you will all make him feel welcome when his pieces appear over the next few weeks.

UPDATE: Stade bring the crazy (again): Hugoooooooo set for scrum half vs Bath – does this help Edinburgh’s chances of the result they need? (Thanks to Dougal for the tip – may your balls ever be oval)

Double Trouble

Andy Robinson has announced Scotland is to have two captains for the autumn internationals – incumbent Mike Blair and widely touted replacement Chris Cusiter who led the A team to victory in the IRB Nations Cup. Whoever is on the pitch leads the team, presumably with the usual switch around the 60 minute mark (though I’d hope not). This seems like a sensible compromise between picking a captain months ahead of any indication of form (cf Borthwick, Steve) and not picking a captain till the team announcement which gives us nothing to get excited about in advance. Based on current form I reckon that Cusiter will be the starting captain, and think he is probably long overdue for a chance to show what he could bring to Scotland. His break is much improved (especially seeing as Blair seems to have forgotten about his) and his service seems to me a lot crisper. Team announcements for who will join them in the match squad will be next week I imagine. You can see Robbo’s full announcement here.

Rest time for most of the Scottish boys this weekend while England kick off against Australia and Wales aim for a first victory against the All Blacks in fifty-something years. Speaking of the All Blacks, anyone else think the Barbarians team to face them in the usual end of term silliness match should just be the Lions? It would be great to see how they fare on home soil. Even better if they got another crack at the Boks, but such things dreams are made of…

Edinburgh Steel Themselves For Europe

Edinburgh team to face Ospreys: Steve Jones, Mark Robertson, Nick De Luca, John Houston, Tim Visser, Phil Godman, Mike Blair (capt), Allan Jacobsen, Andrew Kelly, Geoff Cross, Craig Hamilton, Scott MacLeod, Scott Newlands, Alan MacDonald, Allister Hogg. Replacements: Ross Ford, Ryan Grant, Steven Turnbull, Roddy Grant, Greig Laidlaw, David Blair, Ben Cairns.

At first glance at this squad you think, what the hell is Rob Moffat doing? Just when momentum was needed and Edinburgh were looking sharp, he’s taken out most of the players in form like Ben Cairns and Roddy Grant leaving Edinburgh looking slightly under strength for an encounter against a star-powered Ospreys side who are starting to splutter into life. But then you look at the fixture list for the next month – Stade at the pink palace followed by Ulster who were only narrowly beaten last time out. After that they’ve got Munster, so it doesn’t really get “easier” until the visit of the Dragons in November, and you write them off at your peril. Besides, Edinburgh still have Blair and Godman at half-back, and you suspect Blair in particular will be keen to match up against the man who dominated the scrum half berth on the Lions tour, Mike Phillips. Houston, Visser and Robertson are still there and so is Hoggy, all fit and playing well. The Ospreys on Sunday is arguably the least important fixture of the coming month and based on that, well, it looks not a bad team.

Hopefully this team selection is not a reflection that the squad is crocked after 4 weeks, and instead means Edinburgh aim to make a real stab at the Heineken Cup, the stage on which true rugby respectability is earned in Europe. Let’s face it, second in the Magners last year or not, in the pre-match punditry you won’t hear many people giving them a chance of progressing out of their pool – if they even show the Scottish matches at all. The other regions (Munster, Leinster, Cardiff) have stepped up and earned some respect for their clubs and for Celtic rugby. Now it is the turn of the Scots to do their bit.

STV to Screen Scottish Magners Games?

As usual, I trot back on to the pitch with a whimper rather than a bang.

I had planned a grandiose piece to open the new season about how this was the summer that rugby found its soul (on the marvellous but ultimately non-victorious Lions tour) then lost it again (gouging) and again (armbands) and again (fake blood), and how this was to be an important season for us all where rugby should step up to the plate and try and reclaim some of its honour. About the new hopes we have for Scotland under Andy Robinson, about whether Edinburgh and Glasgow can continue to / compete and how the Magners League will fare with playoffs at the sharp end of the season. I was going to call it “What I Learnt on My Summer Holidays” and everything – all without using anything “-gate”. But as usual, time is my enemy and some news more worthy of your attention has appeared. Like some sort of tubby West Ham fan taking off his pie-stained t-shirt and jumping a barricade in order to do a one-man conga round a pitch similarly crowded with idiots, it has hurdled into the lead position for “first new post in ages”. Such tidbits will keep appearing in the press and online, demanding an airing on this platform, until the polemic once so clear in my mind to kick off the season has faded to nought but a distant memory, beaten into submission by harrowing viewings of Scotland’s rugby finest trying to cross a line less than four inches wide.

So I guess: we are back. Welcome to the new rugby season.

Lewis Stuart in The Times is reporting that there may be an announcement this week that STV will show some form of  footage of the missing gaps in the Magners League schedule available to view on TV, namely the Edinburgh and Glasgow matches not BBC Wales/S4C. The report reckons it could be limited to just a highlights package, however that is better than nothing. Look for updates to our Scottish Rugby on TV page as soon as I hear. Hopefully this will be well supported enough that they may be encouraged to show the odd live game – for example the 1872 cup matches. but look what happened with STV’s last foray into rugby. Now that STV have opted out of airing almost all of ITV’s dramas there should be plenty of room in the schedule. What else have they got to show?

The Times also reports that Max Evans and Mike Blair are rushing back to fitness. The article is not online yet so you’ll just have to trust me or rush out and buy a copy.

Edinburgh utility back Calum Macrae has signed with Mike Ruddock’s Worcester Warriors. I would have thought he might have stuck around to try and fight incomer Steven Jones for Mossy’s 15 shirt but perhaps he felt it time for pastures new.

And the SRU have introduced a new “Any Game” voucher which can be bought in advance at £5 off full ticket price – putting the price back to an almost reasonable £15 – that allow you access to (almost) any of your chosen pro-team’s Magners and Heineken Cup matches. Buy them in bulk in advance and turn up to whichever game you want. It sounds like a good plan especially if the weather suddenly turns nasty at 5pm on a Friday, you can save your ticket for the next game rather than going and getting wet sitting by yourself in the West Stand. Details on the SRU website.

Also, I know I said we should never play New Zealand again, ever. Except in the RWC final in 2011. But they have looked pretty inept of late, with their back line firing as well as, well, ours. Tri Nations: pretty dull so far.

Shaw Sliding Towards Test XV?

What with Donnacha and Nathan both starting here. Could be a fun game, but it’s still pretty obviously the dirt-trackers. Hopefully Hooky and Blair get another run from the bench…

British & Irish Lions versus Emerging Springboks on Tuesday 22nd June

15. Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland)
14. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
13. Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England)
12. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster/Ireland)
11. Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland)
10. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland) Captain
9. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England)
8. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
7. Martyn Williams (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
6. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
5. Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland)
4. Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster/Ireland)
3. John Hayes (Munster/Ireland)
2. Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland)
1. Tim Payne (London Wasps/England)

Replacements:
16. Lee Mears (Bath/England)
17. Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England)
18. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
19. David Wallace (Munster/Ireland)
20. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
21. James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
22. Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England)

If They Let Me Pick The Lions

I probably still wouldn’t put any Scots in there, save for Big Nathan – the only man to step up his game on tour so far. With the Springboks picking the Beast in the front row, its a real shame Murray is not fit as he was starting to come onto a game, and he really took the Beast to the cleaners in the autumn if I remember correctly.

So here is the team that I would pick – the real one will be announced tomorrow:

15 Byrne – Big boot, great countering and a fearless pair of hands.
14 Kearney – Competition with Byrne for place at the back has brought back the old attacking Rob Kearnery who we missed in the Six Nations. Stick him on the wing, though I suspect Geech et al will go with Monye.
13 O’ Drsicoll – Along with Roberts, the first two names on the team sheet. Still slower than he used to be, but showing all the fire and skill of old. Useful at the breakdown too.
12 Roberts – Not a bad time to find the form of his life. Hopefully his shoulder holds up. Already showed signs of a partnership with BOD in a couple of games, hopefully they are now fully ready for a searching test of it.
11 Bowe – Sorry for writing you off initially Tommy, I stand converted. Folks got excited about Halfpenny and Earls being selected, but Bowe is the find of the tour so far.
10 Jones – O’Gara is a reliable option but Jones has sparked the attack more successfully so far on tour. Understanding with a Welsh (7) 9 10 12 axis could be important. Pity Hook got injured when he did, would have liked to seen him in form to compete here.
9 Philips – I don’t like how he always piles into rucks but so far the only one in decent form
8 Heaslip – Powell has played much better since some adjustments were made to his personal tactics, but Heaslip has still been the more solid player.
7 Williams – need someone to compete on the floor and his link play with Philips and Jones could be key. Wouldn’t be disappointed if they put Wallace in though.
6 Croft – Pierre Spies like pace and agility, could be just the ticket going forward. Great option in the lineout too.
5 O’Connell – Needs to step up his game to prove he is worthy of the mantle Lions captain. We suspect he is, but he needs to prove it.
4 Wyn Jones – Hines is probably too knackered having started the last two games, otherwise I might well have stuck him in. Shaw is pushing hard too but Alun just edges it for his lineout skill. Does leave the second row a little short of grunt though.
3 Vickery – Murray made a bit of a late surge in the scrums then picked up an ankle injury. Could yet feature but for now Vickery is the outstanding candidate.
2 Mears – near faultless in the lineout and showed up well in the loose. A bit lightweight against a guy with the same name as a battleship but Ford hasn’t taken his chances.
1 Jenkins – pushed hard by Sheridan but Jenkins workrate in defence is phenomenal, and offers a bit of cover for tighthead too.

Bench: Rees, Jones, Hines, Wallace, Blair, O’Gara, Fitzgerald

Missing Hook on the bench here – where’s the magic spark? For this I would be tempted to slot Blair on the bench, but I doubt this will happen and they will go with nuggety Ellis. Fitzgerald has looked sharp and pacey so far and offers cover in a few positions. Nathan is unlucky not to start but fatigure from playing back to back should see him rested (much as I am sure he would hate that). Flutey is another bench option, I don’t think now is the time to throw Keith Earls into the maelstrom of test rugby. Monye would be unlucky to miss out but in reality he will probably make Geech’s test team,which will probably also see Shaw on the bench rather than Nathan.

Who would you pick? Be back tomorrow to see what Geech thinks of my selection.

Broussow Gets Second Crack At Lions

The Cheetahs flanker Heinrich Broussow, who almost single handedly buggered up the Lions perfect tour record, has been given a late call up to the Springbok squad as cover for possibly injured Schalk Burger. He may yet have to fight for a place behind utility forward Danie Roussow but hopefully the extra B in his name will give him the edge he needs.

Over in the Lions camp, Shane Williams has been hit with a stomach bug. As he has not travelled for the match against the Southern Kings – Tommy Bowe is in his place as cover – this will leave the Lions scrum half options severely limited today – especially if Mikey Blade fails a fitness test this morning. Time to parachute crazy Chris Cusiter in methinks.

The injuries are starting to tell a little (Flutey’s knee, Kearney’s dead leg, practically everyone’s shoulders) but the hope is still that most players will be available for Test selection, the result of which should be announced on Wednesday. As a reminder, so far Ferris and Halfpenny have left the party, Ryan Jones should never have joined it due to being concussed and O’ Leary, Shanklin, Flannery and Quinlan were left at home what seems like so long ago!

UPDATE: Ugo Monye will join the team, and Shane has recovered sufficiently to take his place on the bench.

A Game Of Two (Scrum) Halves

With a wee ankle strain keeping him out of Saturday’s game, it looks like Tuesday may be Mike’s last chance to try and sneak on to the bench for the test. With Mike Phillips now a certainty for the 9 shirt and Harry Ellis playing solidly if unspectacularly, Mike has been short of opportunities to show what he can do – less than a full 80 minutes spread across two matches. They are both carrying slight knocks though so if fit he should be certain of a start on Tuesday. With Euan Murray and Ross Ford also largely restricted to the “midweek” team (that confusingly seems to have played on Saturdays) it could be likely that there is a strong Scottish flavour to the “not probables” who will face the Southern Kings on Tuesday – team announcement imminent. This match is on early afternoon here, so set your videos, if you still use such things. They reckon (barring injuries tomorrow) that all scrum halves will be fit for Saturday so no requirement for a late call up…

Meanwhile Chris Cusiter – who many (including myself) touted for a berth on the Lions Tour – seems to be maintaining the great form his brief appearances in the 6N suggested, leading the Scotland A team in Romania to a demolition of rugby giants Russia in a performance that left Andy Robinson happy with some things but seemingly plenty else to work on when Cusiter went off.

BBC Report

Apparently the match was screened by beleaguered broadcaster Setanta, anyone see the match/confirm this? Some of the Nations Cup games seem to be on Eurosport this week but no sign of Scotland thus far, I’ll keep you posted if I find anything.

UPDATE: Here is the Lions team to face the Southern Kings, hot off the press. Donnacha is to captain the side, and big Nathan has been sent into the back row. Still, if Mike Blair passes a fitness test on Tuesday morning this team will feature the entire Scottish contingent starting, leading to the high probability of none of them making the test side. It’s a fairly beasting pack with a much lighter feel (plenty of skill though) in the backs.

British & Irish Lions versus Southern Kings on Tuesday 16th June

15. Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland)
14. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
13. Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England)
12. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster/Ireland)
11. Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland)
10. James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
9. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
8. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
7. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
6. Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland)
5. Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
3. Euan Murray (Northampton/Scotland)
2. Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland)
1. Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks/England)

Replacements:
16. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
17. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
18. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England)
19. David Wallace (Munster/Ireland)
20. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England)
21. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
22. Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England

Lions Go To The Seaside

But it could be no picnic against the Sharks. Blair makes the bench: other Scots vanish without trace. Fitzgerald and Williams are given chances to show what they can do in a team that in sections (centres, back row) is starting to look like the probable test combinations. Halfpenny and Blair may get more of a chance in this game – then again, they may not. Wyn Jones gets another chance at 4 – I still think Hines has had the other outstanding performance so far in the second row but either one of them may suffer from the need to put Paul O Connell in.

British & Irish Lions Team versus Sharks on Wednesday 10th June:

15. Lee Byrne (Ospreys/Wales)
14. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland)
12. Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
11. Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland)
10. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
9. Mike Phillips (Ospreys/Wales)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland)
7. David Wallace (Munster/Ireland)
6. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England)
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
3. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
2. Lee Mears (Bath/England)
1. Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues/Wales)

Replacements:
16. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
17. Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England)
18. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
19. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
20. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
21. Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England)
22. James Hook (Cardiff Blues/Wales) (Leigh Halfpenny out injured)

UPDATE: Hook has come in for Halfpenny.

Four Scots in 22 To Face Cheetahs

Nature metaphors continue: Lions vs Cheetahs – who will win? All four Scots in the touring party are selected to play tomorrow, with Hines and Blair on the bench and as expected our front row boys get a start alongside fellow beast Andrew Sheridan. After this match, everyone in tour will have played or at least been selected and the coaches will begin formulating ideas about test combinations – if they have not already…

British & Irish Lions Team versus Cheetahs on Saturday 6th June

15. Lee Byrne (Ospreys/Wales)
14. Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
13. Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland)
12. Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster/Ireland)
11. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
10. James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
9. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England)
8. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
7. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
6. Stephen Ferris (Ulster/Ireland)
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster/Ireland)
3. Euan Murray (Northampton Saints/Scotland)
2. Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland)
1. Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks/England)

Replacements:
16. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
17. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
18. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
19. Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland)
20. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
21. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
22. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster/Ireland)