In the first of a series of interviews with Scots abroad, Alan Dymock finds out how Phil Godman is getting on with London Scottish.
The most tann-ed one Gavin Henson could be in with a shout to line up against Edinburgh at Murrayfield on Friday, despite persistent injury niggles that have kept him out of the Blues line-up since signing for the region earlier in the year. His main problem has been his hand but that has apparently healed, leaving him with only a heal to recover. No bother, it’s only Edinburgh eh?
It might look on first glance like a team packed with experience, international players and the league’s top try scorer, but based on the current Edinburgh team that has played in the Heineken, this has a slightly B-Team look to it. I wouldn’t worry too much though, as so does the Munster team.
Oh, and it’s actually Tim’s little brother filling that shirt on the wing labelled “Visser”.
Phil Godman was last seen limping about during Edinburgh’s very impressive victory over the Ospreys on Sunday (anyone spot Clancy whistling up 20 seconds before time?!), but no word on troubles with any other Scotland players. So in the meantime here, lukewarmish off the presses and in the interests of fair reporting, an injury report on players in England’s EPS who may not feature against us next weekend:
Ulster 21-13 Edinburgh
Edinburgh failed to deal with the conditions and a determined Ulster pack in a first half when they had the wind behind, leaving them unable to take the win they could probably have claimed with a solid performance into the wind in the second half. David Young had settled down in defence from his earlier over-exuberant Edinburgh appearances but still found his way into the sin-bin early on. Ulster couldn’t really kick the penalties such was the wind (Humphries did attempt one ridiculous banana job that came close), but they excelled in holding on to the ball and depriving Edinburgh of possession. Mossy kicked the few chances they got – for kicking at goal the wind was no real help either – and they went in at half time with a lead. When they finally got possession in the second half they proved particularly adept at holding on to it for more than 20 phases without ever really moving forward despite crash ball runners like Ford and Hamilton. Perhaps aware of his troubles on the pitch and the resultant slaggings off it, Phil Godman was particularly targeted by Ulster with a few big hits and the backline mostly failed to get the ball wide to Visser and Thompson. When they eventually did, a try came for Thompson very similar to last week’s one but Ulster finished the game as they had started, controlling possession and watching Edinburgh huff and puff but go nowhere.
It may be a lack of depth at Edinburgh, but some of the willy-nilly sub-hurling from about 50 minutes onwards is worryingly Hadden-esque – some of the replacements were not quite up to standard and putting them on the park just because you can (especially when removing the likes of Laidlaw) seemed like a backwards step especially when the result is still within reach.
As with the 1872 Cup games, this Heineken Cup campaign has proved to be largely a triumph of content over style. Glasgow and Ulster have the content, and Edinburgh can’t seem to get their style going.
Scotland 6N squad announcement expected on Wednesday!
Some quick news snippets: poor Jason White has broken his leg in New Year training with Clermont, and as a result the injury will keep him out of the coming Six Nations campaign (only about a month away now!). Although the big Stroker had mostly usurped him from the starting 6 shirt, big Jason’s versatility and impact play would have probably seen him on the bench at least so it will be a blow to Andy Robinson’s squad selection tactics. All the best for the recovery, Jason.
Simon Danielli is now joint first in the SRBlog Scottish Wings 2010 try scoring table having also scored 2 this year, against Munster yesterday. If our exiled back three players keep this up it will give us Evans apologists a major headache come amateur selection time. Hugooooo is playing for Stade today too, seemingly now a fixture at full back for the original pinkos.
Meanwhile it seems to be Not World Class Phil week in the press, but who can blame them after he’s played pretty craply for the last few months – could this be what coasting with no clear competition for your shirt at club or international level can do to a man? In that case Phil: Dan Parks for Scotland captain! Pull your socks up mate!
It’s the first leg of the 1872 Cup this weekend as matters turn parochial. Brother on brother, blood on blood; Chris on Chris, Thom on Thompson, Brown vs Blair, DTH vs DC, Vernon vs Visser, Cross, Ross and Ross vs Dan, Dan, John and Johnnie, that sort of thing – basically civil war. That sentence would have been a lot easier with Welsh names. The first leg is in Glasgow, the second in Edinburgh and it’s hard to see past the home teams in each fixture. Still, I have a sneaky suspicion that Glasgow will come out the better over two legs.
Edinburgh are struggling (as always) to find a cutting edge and their attacking form seems to revolve around Godman who is treading water at the moment, while Glasgow now seem to play okay even when Parks is having one of his duff days – and even those have been rare recently. While Edinburgh seem to be building a team based on familiarity and combinations, Glasgow seem to be building a team based on leadership (Barclay, Kellock, Cusiter, Thomson, Gregor, McMillan and Grey have all captained Scotland at age group, sevens or international level) and the team seems to be coming together from the increased confidence that brings. Sean Lineen had seen the improvement in Edinburgh and maybe realised he might be under threat if his team didn’t start living up to the promise of the squad he was building having changed from a policy of duff foreigners to promising youngsters, and this season they seem to be repaying him. The “inconsistent” tag still rears its ugly head every so often (second half at Gloucester) but this season they have started winning away, and they just look a lot more confident when their top line-up takes the field. Gallus, you might say.
More importantly – who will the commentators be? Andy Nicol summarises for the Beeb while Scott Hastings summarises AND commentates for Sky. Given they both present on the STV highlights show, I would imagine they will be present, but as pundits, commentators or both? I would imagine it will be the two of them running back and forth between pitchside and commentary booth. Let’s face it STV is short of cash these days so I doubt they can afford to draft in the legendary Runrig soundalike Andrew Cotter (just listen to that tune Murrayfield play at half time, you know, the one about Scotland), and he is probably manacled to the BBC.
Unless STV feels the spirit of Christmas past and signs up Doddie Weir’s all conquering trousers…
Edinburgh press releases and the Scotsman keep saying it was Phil Godman. Eh? I was sure I heard Ally Kellock being announced in the stadium. The Sunday Times had Nathan Hines. I would have given it to Barclay.
Who exactly was the man of the match last weekend – Matt Giteau? Who will it be this weekend?
In addition to STVs ever improving highlights package on Sunday, this weekend you can also catch the Cardiff vs Glasgow game on S4C at 1820 on Saturday and Ospreys vs Edinburgh on Sunday at 1550, giving you the full selection of Scottish pro rugby excitement to clog up your social schedule. While to some extent normal service resumed with both teams losing last weekend – you could hear the roars of despair coming out of Murrayfield from down the road at fellow SRBlogger Al’s birthday party – Edinburgh still top the table (what my Australian friends would call the ladder) and will be looking to finish off an Ospreys team that Glasgow should have put away. Roddy Grant, Phil Godman and Ben Cairns continue to look sharp as does Mossy’s play with ball in hand, and I think Nick De Luca may struggle to get off the bench when Houston is making powerful breaks at 12. Much of the Edinburgh back division looks to have kicked on from last year and some of the less well known names may be challenging the overly familiar from recent years (Walker, Webster, Lamont) for Scotland squad places.
Glasgow can put some of their inconsistencies down to a bout of flu running through the squad but still lacked concentration at key moments of the match. Seemingly it was ever thus, so I wonder what more Sean Lineen can do to fix it? He has tried both giving the team a chance to make amends and droppings en masse (as it were) but neither with much success. Cusiter still looks good when not ill, Rob Dewey looked pretty good with a solid break up the middle, and would perhaps merit a run in the centre until either Peter Murchie or Max Evans is fit (which should be pretty soon). Especially as he won’t get much ball stuck out on the wing with Parks kicking inside of him.
Congrats to Edinburgh who scraped a win at Ulster over the weekend. Things are looking good if they can still nick an away victory even whilst under the kosh and in front of a partisan crowd. Mossy seems to have kicked well and Mark Robertson continues to look sharp. Good also to see a World Class drop goal from Phil, I hope he’s been practicing as it is one thing (among many) we could use for Scotland. As long as he doesn’t start trying from inside his own half ala Hernandez or Franc Steyn.
Glasgow were beaten by their bogey team the Dragons, while in other more surprising news perennial underachievers Connacht beat Cardiff who now find themselves draped over the bottom of the league table.
Catch the highlights show here (UK only).
Meanwhile in the absence of someone stepping forward to fill the role of Top 14 correspondent, I did a bit of digging on Eurosport site and managed to find that Rory Lamont played at the weekend (at fullback) for Toulon in their defeat of Toulose. Jonny is back to his best, according to Al’s nemesis Freddie Michalak. Speaking of Al, happy birthday for tomorrow big man! While digging I couldn’t see any sign of Hugo at Stade but that is less than surprising given the depth of their squad and recent coaching turnaround. Haskell seems to have been in Stade’s back row while Simon Taylor was MIA (as was Big Jason for Clermont), and Andy Henderson stayed on the bench for Montauban.
I was hoping to catch the Leinster game this week as I will be down in the big smoke and wanted to see if Edinburgh can make it four in a row and stay atop the table, but alas stupid Setanta scheduling has the kickoff at 630pm which clashes with an important social engagement. Whatever happened to 3pm on a Saturday?
Hot (ish) off the SRU press, here is our team:
Scotland: Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Mike Blair (Edinburgh, capt), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Jason White (Sale Sharks), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais), John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors).
Replacements: Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), Chris Cusiter (Perpignan), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).
Touch-judges: George Clancy (Ireland) and Romain Poite (France).
Television Match Official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
He’s pretty much picked the same team as last time, with like for like swaps in Euan Murray and Al Kellock in for Al Dickinson and Jim Hamilton. We’re hoping that gives us a boost in the front row, but the same as last time with just one lock we’re still facing the 5 back-row pack proposition if Kellock picks up a knock. We may need 5 of them to keep an eye on Parisse, having said that. This time cover man Kelly Brown may be concussed too after his head knock in the Glasgow game on Friday.
In the backs I’d have liked to see Mossy and De Luca come in as I feel they have earned a chance to help speed up the onset of this “progress” Hadden keeps talking about (Paterson is somewhat immune to the out of position debate, as he may have been playing out of position for his whole career). Otherwise could we be facing more of the same over-eagerness that led to so many knock-ons last time? After all, we should fancy our chances against Italy at home more than France in Paris. My great hope for this game is that World Class Phil will step up and banish memories of the last time he started against Italy at Murrayfield with a storming performance.
My advice to all would be stop thinking about how you’re going to skin them and just concentrate on catching the ball. After that, there’s enough natural talent here for a victory. Even if half of them are out of position, at least Hadden didn’t play a flanker at 9.
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