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…
1) With the mid level teams (Fiji, Samoa, Italy, Georgia) fronting up at World Cup time as the professional game grows, does it really matter who we have in our group in NZ 2011? Sure we could get a couple of stinkers, but with a young team that should be together for the next three years we might get Ireland, Argentina, or day I say it England? Sure they’d be tough matches, but it’s the World Cup. Scotland no longer belongs at the top table by right – we should have to play well enough to get there and it should be the same for all the other teams in our situation. Still, Argentina may do us a favour if they can beat ramshackle Ireland. Maybe we could swap it for a round-ball win with Diego?
2) Phil Godman is growing with every game. He distributed well, made a couple of great breaks and kicked for position with reasonable accuracy. He still made a couple of schoolboy errors at the end – I would argue they may have been down to his desperation to atone for the missed kicks that might have proven the difference between an ok result and a great one. It was a big game of what-ifs, and Phil will have felt it the most. Forget Italy a few years back, on a grey Saturday in November 2008 he will have learnt much about the true test-match pressure on an international standoff. Seeing the look on his battle-bloodied face come the final whistle, you feel that the South Africa match may be the making of Phil Godman. I certainly hope so.
3) Nick de Luca and Ben Cairns are forming a solid partnership in the centre. Again De Luca gave away an early penalty on Saturday, but after that he settled down and both put in solid defensive display. He’s had a few shockers, but I think now he has settled and needs to build on that. Now they both need a chance to show what they can do in attack against Canada. EDIT: they got it, see below.
4) We’re developing a pretty useful front row partnership in Euan Murray and Ross Ford. Let’s not forget Chunk, Dicko or Moray Low either. Stability in Scotland’s set-piece (not to mention the odd bit of supremacy) would do our chances of winning games no end of good. Mike Brewer seems to be doing his job well. He wears a suit on match day too, something Frank “one of the boys” Hadden should maybe do too.
5) Over the course of two games against the best Rugby Nations in the world, arguably, Scotland did more right than they did wrong – even without a W in the column for either of the games. With Mossy on the pitch on Saturday, we would have almost certainly beaten the World Champions. Isn’t that a reason to be cheerful?
Team to face Canada:
Rory Lamont (Sale Sharks); Simon Webster (Edinburgh), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Nikki Walker (Ospreys); Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Mike Blair (capt) (Edinburgh); Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Nathan Hines (Perpignan), Jim Hamilton (Edinburgh), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais).
Replacements: Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Matt Mustchin (Edinburgh), Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors), Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors).
After the widely derided World Cup ‘B’ Team played against New Zealand on their last visit to Murrayfield, it will be interesting to test our full XV against the might All Blacks. Your fearless Scottish Rugby Blog correspondent will be in attendance. But can we (unlike Scubbsy) man up, and get a result?
Yes We Can:
- They have lost a few first choice players. Either to the Northern Hemisphere (Chris Jack, Carl Hayman, Luke McAllister et al) and to injury (Andrew Hore). The frightening strength in depth of the pre-World Cup era in depth seems to be absent. After another choke in the World Cup, Kiwi support for Graeme Henry is balanced on a knife edge and depends only, you feel, on the results they get. For the first time, the All Blacks seem almost fallible.
- We get them first. They will be fresh in the country, getting used to the crappy weather we have made our national speciality. They definitely looked a little rusty against Australia. The big one for them is in four weeks against England. We’re just a warm up. Regardless of what they might say, they won’t be targeting this as a tough match. Let’s hope we can catch them off guard with a decent performance before they gel too well. Our players are mostly match sharp and some (Murray, Barclay, Taylor, Blair, Rory Lamont, Thom Evans) are in pretty good – even great – form.
- The All Black set piece was looking a little ropey against the Aussies. If Euan Murray can continue his current form perhaps he can reverse the current tales of front row woe that we are used to. Hadden’s choice of second row might of course affect our ability in this area too. My choice would be MacLeod and Taylor, but that is looking less likely. If we can get parity and hold our defence, we have a chance. A slim one, but a chance.
- Wayne Barnes is the referee. While one hopes that he is not anxious to make amends to the nation of the Long White Cloud for allowing that forward pass, he has been solid all season and is one of the referees who is definitely upholding the new protocols regarding the breakdown. We’ve been playing under them all season. The Kiwis have only had the ANZ Cup and one Bledisloe Cup test to get used to the much stricter refereeing of that area. In particular, flopping over the ball to protect it is an area that could see Richie McCaw either deliver a masterclass (from which John Barclay will learn much) or be penalised off the park.
No We Can’t:
- It’s the All Blacks, for pete’s sakes. We’ve never beaten them. Ever. Played 27, lost 25, drawn 2. The last draw was in 1983. We haven’t bothered going there on a summer tour since 2000. It’s no fun getting whipped on your summer holiday.
- The frightening strength in depth only seems to be absent because we haven’t heard of any of them this side of the world. Let’s face it, Stephen Donald would walk into the Scotland XV. He even kicks a bit like Parko. Corey Jane may sound like a girl’s name, but as Al pointed out once, so does Nikki Walker. Whichever back three they play it will be talented, very fast and there on merit. Can we say the same?
- We’ll probably play Dan Parks. You don’t have to play a kicking game under the new ELVs, but it does seem to happen a fair bit. Ergo Hadden may feel he must play Parks. It’s the fashion. Nevermind the sense that Mike Brewer talks about wanting to score tries. We’ll probably also play some other guys short of match practice or form (White, Webster, Paterson) ahead of less experienced, in-form players.
- Scotland have only had a few days to work together. Some of our likely inclusions (Strokosch, Rory Lamont) have been disruptively recalled to their clubs this weekend. Lamont was not picked for Sale yesterday, so he didn’t really need to go. It doesn’t help.
- Our strength in depth is also frightening, in a different sense. Possible Kiwi frailties in the centre could be countered if we had a few more experienced operators in that area. If he’s given a chance, this test series could be the making of Ben Cairns, not to mention Nick De Luca. These matches would be ideal for giving these guys and Max Evans chance to get experience at test level. But because of the pressure for World Cup seedings (is it really going to happen?) Hadden may opt for the conservative route. Our one area of genuine depth, the back row – is the area where they have Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo.
In short, Scotland will have to play the game of their lives simply to stay in contention. Putting aside the World Cup draw (even as a third seed, we could still end up with a group involving say, Argentina and Ireland which wouldn’t be that scary) there’s nothing to lose, and with a little luck, a little slice of history to gain.
In news announced yesterday, Scotland have appointed two new assistant coaches to fill positions temporarily held by Andy Robinson and Alan Tait over the summer tours.
Former All Black captain Mike Brewer of NZ has been appointed as forwards coach, and former GB Rugby League International Graeme Steadman as defence coach filling the roles left by previous incumbents George Graham and aformentioned Tait.
While Brewer played a controversial role in one of Scotland’s closer results against the All Blacks, he did sterling work with Leinster’s pack last season and should he work similar magic for our national side he may be forgiven. Steadman is a less well-known figure, having worked with both Munster and Ireland in the past since crossing codes. Steadman will also work with Edinburgh, hopefully to ease the transition between their 10-12-13 defensive axis from club to international level. The SRU site claims a replacement for Mark Bitcon is being looked for in the fitness department. So, with all this blarney-flavoured news, should it be pointed out that -as was the situation with Eddie O Sullivan – there seems to be a worrying lack of appointment of a backs coach?
We all know what happened to Eddie O Sullivan…