Tag: Ross Ford

Lions vs Springboks 2nd Test Teams

SCOT MAKES THE BENCH SHOCKER

Well done to Ross Ford who probably showed enough in his game on Tuesday to sneak on to the bench. Monye ruthlessly punished for missing his chances on Saturday. It’s all on the line now. Apart from Ellis, it’s a pretty strong bench too. Sorry to see Hook miss out as I think he’s looked sharp and welsh “wizard” Shane Williams is given one last chance…

Lions: Kearney, Bowe, O’ Driscoll, Roberts, Fitzgerald, Jones , Phillips,  Jenkins,  Rees,  A Jones, Shaw, O’Connell, Croft, Wallace, Heaslip

Replacements: Ford, Sheridan, Wyn Jones, Williams, Ellis, O’Gara, S Williams

Schalk “Cheese” Burger has been brought back in for the impressive Broussow, otherwise the frontline team remains pretty much as is.

South Africa: F Steyn (Sharks); JP Pietersen (Sharks), A Jacobs (Sharks), J de Villiers (Stormers), B Habana (Bulls); R Pienaar (Sharks), F du Preez (Bulls); T Mtawarira (Sharks), B du Plessis (Sharks), J Smit (Sharks), B Botha (Bulls), V Matfield (Bulls), S Burger (Stormers), J Smith (Cheetahs), P Spies (Bulls).

Replacements: C Ralepelle (Bulls), D Carstens (Sharks), A Bekker (Stormers), D Rossouw (Bulls), H Brussow (Cheetahs), J Fourie (Lions), M Steyn (Bulls).

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.

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

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)

All Change For Lions

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)

Replacements:
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.

Lions: Ford to Replace Flannery

This just in from the Lions: Scotland hooker Ross Ford was today announced by British & Irish Lions Tour Manager, Gerald Davies, as the tour replacement for the injured Irish hooker Jerry Flannery.

Davies said, “Munster hooker Jerry Flannery tore ligaments in his left elbow in training on Wednesday that unfortunately ruled him out of the tour. His place in the tour squad is taken by Edinburgh’s 25-year old hooker Ross Ford who played in all five of Scotland’s 2009 Six Nations championship matches.” While this statistic in itself may not be something to be particularly proud of, well done to Ross, I am sure he will make a great contribution to the tour and it will bring his game on greatly although Flannery is a big loss.

Commenting on the replacement Head Coach Ian McGeechan said, “Jerry has had a terrific season and he anchored the Irish scrum during Ireland’s Six Nations Grand Slam season. It is disappointing that after selection for the Lions his season should end with a pre-tour injury.”

“Injuries are a part of the game and while very distressing for the affected player we as a squad have to accept them as a fact of life. It is a part of the game we play. We are focussed on moving forward, concentrating on the task at hand and the first match.”

“Ross is a terrific player and he will naturally slot straight in as hooker. I look forward to welcoming him into camp tonight,” added McGeechan.

The replacement player for Leigh Halfpenny will be announced in due course.

Barring anything awful happening to Euan Murray playing for Northampton in tonight’s European Challenge Cup final, that brings the total number of Scottish players in the party to 4, which already makes it better than the last tour, sort of. That match is on Sky Sports, k.o. 1945. Also of interest may be “The Invincibles” a new film documenting the 1974 Lions tour of South Africa which is also on Sky Sports tonight and tomorrow, should be worth a watch.

Geech set to announce Lions replacements today

Replacements on tour for Jerry Flannery and Leigh Halfpenny will be announced later today – watch this space!

Jim Telfer has tipped Ross Ford as the ideal man for the job, while former Lions hooker Keith Wood has gone for Rory Best. Meanwhile Chris Paterson’s name has appeared out of nowhere since Halfpenny was pulled (temporarily) presumably for his prowess as a kicker. I’d be tempted to go with Armitage or Evans myself, thought it is hard to argue against Mossy’s kicking stats…

Lions Fall Off The Ark Two by Two

Or three, perhaps. More players have joined Tomas O’Leary and Tom Shanklin on the list of Lions casualties, and the tour has not even started.

Alan Quinlan’s ban for gouging was upheld, so he will not tour to South Africa. Non-surprise of the year is that Tom Croft will replace him, offering something different in the back row including excellence in the lineout (and additional cover in the second row). Perhaps it is a sign of Scottish decline that our traditional area of strength – the back row – offers no immediate candidate with Strokosch out injured.

In other news hooker Jerry Flannery and winger Leigh Halfpenny both have injuries. Halfpenny’s is not too serious and although he is to be replaced, he will re-join the tour when recovered. This could be an opening for Thom Evans or Chris Paterson to sneak on tour, although the favourite would seem to be Delon Armitage, with Mark Cueto another possibility. Alongside Irishman Rory Best, Scotland hooker Ross Ford is one of the favourites to replace Flannery who has chipped a bone in his elbow in training. Ford would certainly add some grunt and physicality – plus familiarity with Euan Murray – in the front row, however his line-out throwing might be a concern against the likes of Victor Matfield.

Edinburgh beat Cardiff to finish Second

Cardiff 14 – 36 Edinburgh

Edinburgh put together a solid performance in defence coupled with some excellent counter-attacking rugby to snatch a record second place finish in the Magners League with an away victory in the last match to be played at Cardiff Arms Park. A few decisions from Irish ref Simon McDowell that were controversial to the home crowd but on the face of it probably correct helped too – notably a penalty try and sin-binning for the deliberate knock down of a pass to Godman about 2 metres from the line. That gave Edinburgh the space they needed to keep the scoreboard operator awake and turn the match in their favour. After a lot of loose play, several knock-ons and turnovers by both sides in the first half, this period proved decisive. It was also great to see a Scottish side capitalising on opposition mistakes with a degree of ruthlessness often absent from the national side.

Ally Hogg put in a captain’s performance at the breakdown alongside youngster Roddy Grant and was turning over ball almost at will against a Cardiff side shorn of much of its international talent. Ross Ford and Geoff Cross both had good games too, although Ford missed the odd lineout throw. Phil Godman marshalled his backs well on the counter in a loose game that suited Webster’s and Mossy’s style, although he didn’t always get the best service from scrum half Laidlaw in crunch situations. Nick De Luca popped up everywhere in  midfield, putting in some good defensive work and grabbing the interception try that put the result beyond doubt – regardless of the ability Cardiff have to conjure late points that scared Leicester so.

To be fair it was mostly a second string that faced Edinburgh here, the same sorts of second strings that the bigger clubs can afford to field. Such second strings allowed the results to go Edinburgh’s way earlier in the weekend (Ospreys losing to Munster and Leinster losing to the Dragons), and is probably a sign that at least until the play-off system next season Heineken Cup Rugby is still the bigger prize for the larger clubs. Edinburgh would have been guaranteed a play-off spot anyway if the system had been in place this year – probably facing Munster or Leinster if the usual 1 v 4, 2 v  3 model is followed.

At the end of the match, as Hugo Southwell came on for his last appearance in an Edinburgh shirt, the heavens above Cardiff opened as if to signal their displeasure not to see a home victory, but it was to be Edinburgh and Andy Robinson’s day. As the Blues and their fans prepared to mark the obsolescence of one of Rugby’s old icons in the shape of the Arms Park and celebrate their current successes past and present at season’s end, the match was largely forgotten by the locals in a matter of minutes. For Edinburgh though, the last trip home from Cardiff Arms Park will be a memorable, very happy one.

Robinson Snaps Up Ansbro for A Team

In form Northampton Saints centre Joe Ansbro has been called up to the Scotland A Team squad to play in the IRB Nations Cup. Ansbro, born in Glasgow, but eligible to play for England too, will be representing the fair nation of Scotland for the first time. And you never know, with Max Evans out injured for a while, perhaps it is significant that Robinson has five centres in his squad to develop strength in that area. Glasgow bound Chris Cusiter will lead the tour, with vice-captain Ross Ford also included at the behest of the Lions managment to retain match sharpness.

Matches will be played against Russia, Uruguay and France A during the tournament.

Scotland A

Joe Ansbro (Northampton Saints), David Blair (Edinburgh), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh), Stuart Corsar (Doncaster Knights), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Chris Cusiter (capt, Perpignan), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Rob Dewey (Ulster), James Eddie (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (vice captain, Edinburgh), Roddy Grant (Edinburgh), Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors), Craig Hamilton (Edinburgh), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Al Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Alan MacDonald (Edinburgh), Scott Newlands (Edinburgh), Jim Thompson (Edinburgh), Kyle Traynor (Edinburgh), Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors) and Simon Webster (Edinburgh).

British and Irish Lions Squad 2009 – Fewest Scots Ever*

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.

Backs

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

Forwards

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…

14 Irish
13 Welsh
8 English (there are also 8 Munstermen in the squad)
2 Scots (there are also 2 antipodeans in the squad)

37 total

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?

The Deadline Has Passed

So if you were planning to apply for the job of Scotland coach, you are now too late. We should get a result in the next four weeks or so. They claim to have received applications from around the world, although Andy Robinson is still the front runner.

The deadline has also passed to squeeze into the Lions squad, with Geech and the gang currently holed up in a hotel somewhere near Heathrow arguing over whether Danny Cipriani is any good or not and who leaked O’Connell as the captain. I’ll be back tomorrow lunchtime with an (almost) live announcement of the Lions squad. Whoever has “3 or less” in the “how many Scots in the Lions squad” office pool could be in with a winner. Although it was interesting to see people talking of Hines and Cusiter in the Sunday papers, despite having mostly forgotten about them for the last few months (unlike the geniuses here at Scottish Rugby Blog Towers).

Just so I can slag myself off tomorrow when I am proven wrong:

Crappy timing/form awards: Simon Taylor, the big Stroker (injury), big Rory (injury), John Barclay, Chunk (injury), pretty much all of the Scotland team who dominated South Africa in the autumn.

In with a shout but most likely to be “held in reserve” ie snubbed/overlooked: Chris Cusiter, Thom Evans, Ross Ford, big Nathan, Mossy, Mike Blair. Ford, Hines and Blair could easily fit into the first list if they don’t go although apparently Ford played well for Edinburgh last weekend. Andy Robinson’s picks would be Ford, Blair and Mossy. (Either) Evans only has inexperience against him, certainly the Lions could use a bit of the Evans magic.

On the plane: Euan Murray. Er, that’s it. Unless you count all the Scots in the backroom team. They’ll probably wheel out Jim Telfer for the odd Guinness ad.

So, fingers crossed but don’t get too excited, we’ll just have to cheer our Celtic brethren who look sure to dominate the team, given Cardiff and Munster’s form of late. Although if they knock the crap out of each other in the Heineken Cup final, there’s every chance a Scot or two will sneak on tour in the injury strewn aftermath…

My Scotland Team Set for “Glory”

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.