The real winner last night was of course the word “maul” which is now experiencing something of a resurgence throughout the press.
As anyone who can remember the BBC footage from inside Scotland’s 2006 Calcutta Cup winning dressing room will attest to, Mikey Blair loves to do little dances with as few clothes on as possible. Seems he goes by the nickname Blade – a new one for the Rugby nicknames page – and has been at it again, judging by Tommy Bowe’s Lions Blog:
As expected the British and Irish Lions team to face the Golden Lions on Wednesday night has been heavily rotated with only three of Saturday’s starters remaining in the shape of David Wallace (moved to 7), Tommy Bowe and Jamie Roberts. Only youngster Keith Earls was unavailable for selection after sustaining a shoulder knock. Flutey seems unlucky not to start after a strong showing from the bench on Saturday but he does have a slight strain that kept him out of training on Sunday. Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll will lead a side that features heavier (in every sense) Scottish representation in the shape of Nathan Hines, along with Ford and Murray on the bench. If the rotation continues along the lines of Geech’s policy that everyone gets a shot in the first three games, it is likely that the next one could see Murray and Ford starting with Blair coming back to the bench and probably Englishman Ellis starting at scrum half inside Hook – after that though the team will start to take shape and our boys will have to be sharp to hold on to their places…
British & Irish Lions Team versus Golden Lions on Wednesday 3rd June
15. Rob Kearney (Leinster/Ireland)
14. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys/Ireland)
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland)
12. Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
11. Ugo Monye (Harlequins/England)
10. Stephen Jones (Scarlets/Wales)
9. Mike Phillips (Ospreys/Wales)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland)
7. David Wallace (Munster/Ireland)
6. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England)
5. Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
4. Nathan Hines (Perpignan/Scotland)
3. Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England)
2. Lee Mears (Bath/England)
1. Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
16. Ross Ford (Edinburgh/Scotland)
17. Euan Murray (Northampton Saints/Scotland)
18. Stephen Ferris (Ulster/Ireland)
19. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
20. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers/England)
21. James Hook (Ospreys/Wales)
22. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
From Lionsrugby.com: The Golden Lions represent the old Transvaal and Gauteng Lions teams that have faced the British & Irish Lions 17 times since 1891. They have a reunion on the eve of Wednesday night’s fixture for the Transvaal side that beat the Lions in 1968 and have the best record of any South African team against the tourists with seven victories and a draw.
… Mike Blair, not so much.
Scotland’s patchwork Sevens squad did the nation proud and narrowly missed out on beating IRB series winners South Africa to a place in their first cup final. In front of a home crowd sunning its pasty white self beneath rare Scottish sunshine (tops off at the first opportunity as expected), the Scots gave another edge of the seat viewing experience typified by the physicality of Ally Hogg and Sean Lamont. It seemed to be their extra muscle and experience that gave the more specialised skills of sevens regulars such as Colin Gregor, Roddy Grant, Greg Laidlaw and Jim Thompson room to flourish in victories over last week’s winners England, as well as Canada and Samoa. A controversial group-stage loss to Kenya (with the winning try coming after Laidlaw being punished for “throwing the ball in to touch” while seemingly catching the ball when tackled in touch) might have given them an “easier” semi-final had the result gone differently, but as it was Scotland stood up to the possibility of annihilation by the champions bravely and the South Africans were only able to clinch victory in extra time.
Meanwhile in South Africa, the British and Irish Lions tour kicked off fairly quietly, with most of South Africa seemingly watching the Bulls destroy the Chiefs in the Super 14 final instead. A half-full Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace (we should change our stadium to Murrayfield Sports Palace) nearly saw an upset with the touring side putting in a pretty ropey first performance against a fired up Royal XV. Defeat to what was essentially a third-tier team was avoided thanks to Lee Byrne who single-handedly wrestled the match back under the control of the Lions with some expert kicking and a brilliant solo try. Mike Blair had a fairly nervy start, and although eventually he settled into things with a chargedown, a good break (only halted by a tap tackle) and some good work under the high ball, his service was a bit slow and put under constant harrying pressure by his opposite number. If it’s any consolation, Mike Phillips’ passing was not much better when he came on, and Ronan O’Gara coped well with the variety of strange passes he received throughout the match to haul in 22 points. A good test of O’Connell’s leadership and he threw himself into the latter stages of the game to help the Lions seal victory. Full rundown of the match can be found here.
Tour Manager Gerald Davies today announced his first British and Irish Lions XV to face the Royal XV in Rustenburg on Saturday, with Mike Blair handed the starting scrum-half berth in a team including tour captain Paul O’Connell. The other Scots are left out (Euan Murray is being rested). Blair’s half back partner will be Ronan O’ Gara. Several of the players such as Blair, and probably Shane Williams, will be looking to show they are back on form in a back division with a distinctly Welsh flavour.
15. Lee Byrne (Ospreys/Wales)
14. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys/Ireland)
13. Keith Earls (Munster/Ireland)
12. Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
11. Shane Williams (Ospreys/Wales)
10. Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland)
9. Mike Blair (Edinburgh/Scotland)
8. Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
7. Martyn Williams (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
6. Joe Worsley (London Wasps/England)
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster/Ireland) captain
4. Simon Shaw (London Wasps/England)
3. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
2. Matthew Rees (Scarlets/Wales)
1. Andrew Sheridan (Sales Sharks/England)
16. Lee Mears (Bath/England)
17. Phil Vickery (London Wasps/England)
18. Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
19. Stephen Ferris (Ulster/Ireland)
20. Mike Phillips (Ospreys/Wales)
21. Stephen Jones (Scarlets/Wales)
22. Riki Flutey (London Wasps/England)
Troubled Glasgow fly-half Dan Parks may have played his last game for Glasgow after recent troubles – a meeting with the SRU next week should clear up as to whether or not his contract will be renewed or any disciplinary action will be taken. Meanwhile Glasgow trundle on with a visit from Connacht to finish off a fairly dissappointing Magners season that has seen several of their players step up to the national rank while still struggling to achieve consistency at club level. The good results they have had – away wins in Toulose, beating Edinburgh and Heineken Cup finalists Leinster – and the incoming talent (Cusiter, Dewey) auger well for next year though. There are also a few youngsters coming through the ranks, with Ruaridh Jackson now well and truly leading the way from 10 if Parks does indeed go, along with the likes of beanpole lock Richie Gray. Perhaps look for Colin Gregor to fill in less at 9 next season and more at 10. This match is I believe on Setanta.
Edinburgh have decided to rest newly-minted Lion Mike Blair in the match against Cardiff which does not mean all that much, but if results go their way they could move up into third or even second. Other than Greg Laidlaw filling in, Andy Robinson has named a pretty strong team with the replacement of Alan Macdonald due to injury the only other major change. Ally Hogg takes over the captaincy in a game that will be shown on Sunday on S4C.
The SRU have also announced a progress report on their hunt for a head coach which doesn’t say very much of anything, other than it won’t be Mike Brewer and consequently he has chosen to seek pastures new, presumably in search of a head coaching position..
UPDATE: Parks has been fined £3000 and banned for 18 months for his driving offence. Like the last time caught in a car under the influence, he was apparently screwed by one of his mates who buggered off with a bird leaving him facing a night in a car. Mates, eh? Still, taking the decision to turn the engine on this time is not a good example to set in his position as a role model for young kicking stand-offs and interception throwers everywhere, and may turn out to have fatal repercussions for his playing career here. Al will no doubt pop up shortly and point out how Parks was never the same after an encounter with me in St Etienne…
Scotland Captain Mike Blair has been called up for the British and Irish Lions squad that travels to South Africa this summer. Blair has been called up to replace the unfortunate Thomas O’Leary who recently broke his leg playing for his club side Munster.
Blair, who plays for Edinburgh, was thought at the turn of the year to be a certain to travel South Africa. However a poor Six Nations campaign and unsure performances for his club side saw him not even make the travelling party. Blair has been a key part of the Edinburgh side that has recently gone on a five match winning streak and his performance in last weekends 43 – 3 defeat of the Dragons will have no doubt helped highlight what he can bring to the Lions party.
Fellow Scot Chris Cusiter was initially rumoured to be the front runner as a replacement but perhaps being stuck on the bench for Perpignan has hurt him (the same could be said for Dwayne Peel at Sale), while Blair has been able to take full part in Edinburgh’s recent string of consecutive victories. I am sure he will make a full contribution and if he finds the form of the autumn (where he made most of the Springbok team look a little ordinary at times) he definitely has the class and vision to be the test scrum half.
Blair will no doubt now want to push for a test place in the Lions team. His inclusion now ups the number of Scots in the Lions squad to a (still paltry) 3. All of us here would like to congratulate Mike on his call up and hope he’ll be able to do both himself and his country proud.
While it won’t surprise you to learn that Scottish Rugby Blog’s preferred choices to fill Tomas O’ Leary’s vacant Lions shirt both hail from these shores, Ian Macgeechan has opted to wait for a week or two before naming a replacement. How will the remaining weeks of the season allow the main candidates to showcase their talents (assuming they all play in all possible games)?
Mike Blair – home game vs the Dragons and away to Cardiff who may choose to concentrate on the Heineken Cup. Plenty of opportunity to show off and guaranteed his spot in the Edinburgh team if fit. Has been steadily improving of late since a poor Six Nations but without being spectacular. Would offer a different kind of scrum-half play to Phillips (who bowled him over in the Ospreys game at the weekend) and potentially restore some magic to the Lions half-backs.
Chris Cusiter – at home to Montauban and away to Castres, plus with USAP topping the table the playoffs to follow. Plenty of opportunity to show he is battle-hardened at the top level if the Lions selectors bother to send anyone to watch him, and if he can secure a starting place in the Perpignan team having already announced his return to Glasgow. The Lions management have apparently asked for him to go on the (European Nations Cup) Scotland A Tour to stay match fit. Came off the bench during a game last weekend that saw Perpignan stage a last-minute fightback against Clermont to clinch victory. The week before he didn’t play and they lost. Coincidence? Such are the straws we love to grab.
Peter Stringer – now in Munster’s hot seat for their Heineken Cup shindig with Leinster at Croker, as well as the last two games of the season vs Cardiff and Ospreys. Will get plenty of opportunity to play in tough matches, but does he have enough to his game in comparison to the others, save a good pass and the extremely occasional bluff if the run is on, like he did to Scotland in the 6N?
Dwayne Peel – having been probably “the best in the world” in his field at the time of the last Lions tour, (just like Lee Byrne is now), Peel’s season is now over with Sale out of the running in European and Domestic competition. Other than the Welsh tour to North America, this offers him little opportunity to stay match fit before a decision is made. Given the Welsh selectors didn’t want to take a chance on his form before the 6N (when he was actually in reasonable form when he played for club and country), will the Lions team follow suit?
Danny Care – Has a Guinness Premiership semi-final vs London Irish and potentially a final too. Probably the in-form man with some high intensity stuff ahead, but can he control his rash streak enough for the Lions selectors?
An announcement should come either this week or next. In other news, heaps of people have applied for the Scotland job including 8 or so definite contenders, and Rory Lamont is rumoured to be following Philipe Saint-Andre to Toulon. Hopefully he won’t get involved in anything like this…
I’ve been kind of excited all morning, so I shudder to think the pain the players have been going through waiting for this announcement.
Lee Byrne, Rob Kearney, Shane Williams, Leigh Halfpenny, Ugo Monye, Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Brian O’ Driscoll, Keith Earls, Rikki Flutey, Ronan O’ Gara, Stephen Jones, Mike Philips, Harry Ellis, Tomas O Leary
Jamie Heaslip, Andy Powell, David Wallace, Stephen Ferris, Alan Quinlan, Joe Worsley, Martyn Williams, Alun Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell (c), Donnacha O’Callaghan, Simon Shaw, Nathan Hines, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Andrew Sheridan, Phil Vickery, Euan Murray, Jerry Flannery, Lee Mears, Matthew Rees
Yup, that’s two. Okay I’m slightly less excited now. Well done to the (mostly) non-scots in the squad, and of course we’ll be keeping up to date as the preparations and tour progress. Looks like we all get to join the Munster red army…
8 English (there are also 8 Munstermen in the squad)
2 Scots (there are also 2 antipodeans in the squad)
UPDATE: Few big names missing: Ryan Jones, Tom Croft, James Hook, Mark Cueto, , Dennis Leamy, Mike Blair (nobody really thought Borthwick would go did they?). Do any Scots deserve to be in there ahead of the guys they have though, really? Ross Ford is unlucky I think to lose out to Rees. Powell had a storming autumn but went badly off the boil in the 6 Nations yet he’s on the tour (and probably wouldn’t be replaced by a Scot anyway). If he finds his autumn form it would be hard to argue against him doing some damage in SA though. There are surely better scrum halves than Harry Ellis too (*cough* Cusiter, Blair, Peel *cough*), he’s not even first choice for his club.
Overall it’s an interesting selection and one or two surprises, but if I’m honest there are not that many grounds for complaint really and it looks a pretty strong squad apart from the half backs, with a nice balance.
Maybe if Hadden had been picking on merit early in the season we’d have had a bigger representation. Without wishing injury on anyone, 8 Munster men and 6 Cardiff men still involved in Heineken Cup action before the tour departs, not to mention the 1 Leicester and 4 Leinster boys. It’s basically a whole rugby team plus subs getting through 2 test-level instensity matches un-injured? There may yet be a chance for the odd Scot to have a say in the tour later on.
* DOUBLE UPDATE: it turns out it’s not the lowest “ever”, we had just one representative in 1930. Ireland were the last with 2 in 1993. That makes it 3, 3, and 2 for Scotland over the last few tours (not counting call ups). Not terribly inspiring is it?
I was trying to come up with a Blair-related pun there, but I’ll save that in case it actually comes true. Here is Planet Rugby’s chosen Lions squad (hypothetical) for South Africa.
While the Scots selected are probably what you’d expect (as are most of the rest of the players), surprise inclusion of Mike Blair as captain would certainly set tongues and tails wagging were Geech’s selection the same. Harry Ellis, though, really? He’s barely Leicester first choice at the moment. Still if you take him then Blair’s more likely to hold on to his place in the team… If you read the rest of the article, interesting to see the number Scots that are just bubbling under in the minds of their pundits. So we live in hope, eh?
Backs: Lee Byrne, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald, Leigh Halfpenny, Mark Cueto, Thom Evans, Shane Williams, Jamie Roberts, Tom Shanklin, Brian O’Driscoll, Stephen Jones, Toby Flood, Ronan O’Gara, Mike Phillips, Harry Ellis, Mike Blair (captain).
Forwards: Ryan Jones, Jamie Heaslip, Martyn Williams, David Wallace, Joe Worsley, Stephen Ferris, Paul O’Connell, Simon Shaw, Alun Wyn Jones, Steve Borthwick, Adam Jones, Euan Murray, John Hayes, Ross Ford, Jerry Flannery, Lee Mears, Gethin Jenkins, Andrew Sheridan.
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.
1) We shouldn’t really bother playing New Zealand, ever again. What useful purpose does it serve? It does us little good, and it gives them pointlessly easy grand slams. Think of that, we could scupper their grand slam tours without even playing a match.
2) Scotland now have a scrum that shouldn’t get pushed around. If we could get back our lineout dominance of a few years back we might be a serious threat up front. Bring back Scott Murray?
3) Nick De Luca looks like he is over his 6N hiccup and is now forming a dynamic centre partnership with Ben Cairns that augers well for the future. A lot of our players should hit their playing peak in around 3 years. Many of them already have a solid base of caps and are growing in maturity. We may not be able to just unwrap a new test-ready fly half like the All-Blacks seem to do, but I think we are managing the resources we do have well. Gregor Townsend’s mentorship scheme of the young players is a similarly excellent idea.
4) Mike Blair may be the best scrum half in the world at the moment. He outshone the best the southern hemisphere showed him, even leading a losing team. Euan Murray gave a great account of himself too, although it could be argued he didn’t face NZ’s best scrum combination. Both, along with Lee Byrne of Wales, are certain Lions if their form and fitness continue. Blair now pops up in most people’s World/Lions XVs. (Except for Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times, who picked him in his World XV but not his Lions team. Someone should point out to Mr Jones that Mike Phillips and Gavin Henson are short of fitness and form, and too busy duking it out on the streets of Cardiff to merit inclusion at this stage. Stuart Barnes didn’t pick Murray at tighthead but at least explained his reasoning! And he picked Barclay at 7, kudos.)
5) Ryan Jones is far from certain of a Lions test place, due to the barnstorming performances we have seen from Powell in the Welsh No 8 shirt. The Lions captaincy is still wide open.
5) Commentators still love mispronouncing names. Award of the season goes to John Beattie for “Cleanburger” (Adam Kleeberger of Canada). Rokocoko got a bit of a mangling from the BBC boys as well… Jonathan Davies is not alone.
6) England are having a few problems. They are probably where we were a few years ago, bottoming out on the constant wave of world rugby. Their players and management will take a while to bed in – Martin Johnson is a novice coach, remember. Let’s just hope they get it sorted. In 2012.
7) The second tier rugby nations are still getting screwed by the clubs. While the big unions can buy player release, pity poor Canada who have a core base of amateurs and can’t even get Ander Munro on release from Italy. They should shut off all club play on the continent while the Autum Internationals are on (masterplan for restructuring 4-years rugby cycle coming soon). This would undoubtedly help the likes of Italy, Georgia and Romania whose players fill in when the Frenchies are off playing tests. Georgia could quite easily have played a close full test against similarly ranked Canada rather than them getting pasted by our A and full sides respectively. Georgia might have also been beaten by Edinburgh had the floodlights at Meggetland not failed (poor show).
8) Australia will rise, and soon. Their last two games against Wales and the Baa-Baas were great fun, backed by a steely spine of solid – that’s almost not strong enough a term – defence. We could learn a lot from the Robbie Deans “soak it up then counter” school of thought. They will definitely be a force come 2011. Good job we didn’t get them in our group.
9) World XV based mostly on Autumn performances I saw: Byrne (Wal), Muliaina (NZ), De Villiers (SA), Nonu (NZ), Williams (Wal), Carter (NZ), Blair (Sco), Powell (Wal), McCaw (NZ), Burger (SA), Matfield (SA), Botha (SA), Murray (Sco), Ford (Sco), Woodcock (NZ). Honorary mention should go to the Aussies who showed up with a team rather than some individuals, so I’d pick Robbie Deans as the coach.
10) Wales are still 6N favourites. Behind them it’s a toss-up but Scotland have more than a good chance of making the top three. On current form you might hesitate to say that about England or Ireland. France, as always under Lieveremont are a mystery until they take the field. Frank Hadden has us as dark horses, and for once I’m in agreement with Franky baws. The Scots are coming.
Don’t forget there is Heineken Cup rugby on Sky this weekend again, though no Edinburgh vs Wasps on Friday night. Bath vs Glasgow is on on Sunday. Player watch as usual to follow next week. Oh, and you can add number 11) in the comments section below. We don’t bite.
Still, for about three minutes there it looked like we might give New Zealand a game. Having watched the match since on video, most of my initial thoughts on it remain unchanged from the beery haze of Saturday.
Euan Murray was dominant in the scrum and should cement his place in the team, and hopefully the list of Lions contenders. Alongside him Ross Ford showed up well in the loose and the lineout was solid until he was taken off. John Barclay put himself about well, but didn’t turn over quite so much ball as he might have liked. Moreover Scott Gray did when he came on. Depends on training this week, but might there be a switch or another way of bringing him into the team? Thom Evans showed excellent spirit and pace chasing balls and tackling, and of the other backs Chris Paterson actually showed up a lot more than it appeared from the stands. Once again, Mike Blair was outstanding.
As usual the finishing was very jittery. So jittery that we didn’t cross the line. At all. Comparing the number of fluffed tries (Lamont’s air shot, Blair’s drop, Evans’ chip, Hogg’s failure to pass out) to similar opportunities at the other end and Scotland were more in this game than you’d think. The All Blacks only created a couple of chances but took them, while ruthlessly exploiting our poor play with quick hands and thinking for their other scores. Heart can be taken from the fact that usually the good bits happen in our own 22 where it doesn’t matter. Now Scotland are making line breaks, Scotland are getting down to a few metres from the line, putting pressure on a better team. They’re just not crossing it. This time last year we looked nowhere near it. Make no mistake, Scotland will have a cutting edge soon. They can pass and handle well (there were some nice examples during the game further away from the line). I think it’s a bit of confidence and a little more concentration near the line that would see us over it.
One thing that could be improved are the supporting runners. Often the Scotland team are so far behind Mike Blair that they’re standing about admiring him – “look at Mike go, isn’t he brilliant”. If he was wearing a Black shirt he’d have men on each shoulder pouring through the gap behind him. Too many times a Scotland man made a break only to find no passing options on either side and the move ground to a halt. Mossy was one of the few guys who showed up well in support, but sadly due to the laws of physics was not available to support himself during his excellent early run.
Big Jim played well later on, but you get the feeling he’s not quite mobile enough for the sort of game Scotland need to play. Big Jason had a few good runs and restart takes, but looked short of match fitness as you’d expect. Hopefully Simon Taylor will be fit for next week. But you still might want to try and slot Hoggy in.
Thom Evans didn’t get any ball in space, despite his incredible pace. Welcome to being a Scotland wing, Thom.
Frank Hadden’s substitution policy of rotating the half-backs for no reason other than his watch tells him to. Unless Blair was injured, why bother taking him off? One could argue that the try he looked like the only prospective creator of would be more important to Scotland’s confidence than giving Parks and Lawson 10 minutes game time. Godman is another player who would have benefited from staying on. Giving him a chance should be just that.
Wayne Barnes’ refusal to give a penalty against New Zealand scrum which was crumbling under all sorts of pressure. Props were kneeling at one point. Other than that I thought Barnes had a pretty good game.
Nick De Luca’s sin binning after only 3 minutes was justified, stupidly playing the ball on the ground. I have a lot of time for him as an attacker and he put in some big hits late in the game, almost atoning for his earlier sins. But he has to cut out the silly stuff.
Also, TV people, do we have to look at Dan Carter all the time? He only played ten minutes, and at scrum half. By the end you’d think he was man of the match. Mikey Blair was nominated for IRB Player of the Year too, you know.
Brewer seems to have instilled some solidity into the set-piece, and while the defence wasn’t quite as reactive as the All Blacks’ scramble it would take time to adjust to the new systems in any case. Perhaps given Edinburgh’s similar inability to cross the line despite masses of pressure, the benefit of the doubt should be given to backs men Hadden and Lineen. My team for next week might be:
Paterson, Evans, Cairns, De Luca, Lamont R, Godman, Blair, Hogg, Barclay, Gray, Taylor, Hines, Murray, Ford, Jacobsen
Fitness allowing, of course. You could switch Paterson and Lamont, but I think Paterson did enough to justify his place at full back regardless of goal kicking, so why not let him be rather than shuffling the poor chap again.
Improvement next weekend is a must, and it’s fairly easy to spot the area for work: scoring tries.