Posts Tagged ‘ Scotland ’

And then came Scotland…

Round 2 of the Six Nations then and Wales find themselves in a position which few pundits from outside of the country expected them to be in, with a win under the belt. Whatever can or has been said about tip tackles, yellow and red cards, and missed opportunities, it’s hard to take much away from the Welsh performance in Dublin. Before the game there were concerned mutterings about how the lineout would function, and sure enough, the only consistent tool at Ireland’s disposal was their dominance in the line – why they did not kick to the corners more often remains a baffling uncertainty. Regardless of whether or not Ireland made the best use of their strongest weapon, Wales, for the most part, made the most of theirs. Were it not for certain questions being asked of TMOs and kicks going astray, Wales may well have had the game sown up in the first half, such was their physical dominance.

So to Scotland then, and already the crowds skip merrily down Queens Street with ‘Grand Slam’ tattoos already being applied to foreheads across Cardiff – but then it wouldn’t the Six Nations if we didn’t like to get carried away with things! Yet on the evidence of the first round of matches, it is perhaps not an overstatement to suggest that Wales are at the very least amongst the favourites.

With Ireland, the main fears focused on the lineout, so what of Scotland this week? Well, ball dropping incidents aside, the Dan Park related catastrophes forgotten as best we might try, Scotland attacked well. The likes of Lamont and Evans made good inroads, while the Scottish backrow, supported ably by the obvious presence of Ritchie Gray, caused devastation around the English fringes. Were it not for generosity in relation to charged down kicks, wet weather gloves for those slippery fingers, and of course a more generous TMO (it looked like a Scottish try from here), then Scotland might well have romped to a victory. As with the Wales fixture in 2010, Scotland should have been walking away with a win.

However, Scotland’s strength was based on a very powerful forward display. England were consistently bullied in the pack (despite the ‘one each’ efforts of the referee when it came to controlling the scrum and breakdown) and it allowed Scotland the room in which they could make such telling breaks. Dan Parks as well, as predictably dull as he might be, could put the team in the right areas of the field to play. Parks as we know is gone (somewhat to our relief, Parks knows how to undo Welsh rugby teams), as is Ewan Murray due to faith commitments. In one week, two of Scotland’s most effective players (Parks may not be good, but good and effective are not always the same thing) are gone, at the same time as Wales welcomes back two of theirs, Gethin Jenkins and Dan Lydiate. If anything, the Scottish team that lost looks weaker, the Welsh team that won looks stronger.

For Scotland to win, the open game that they are currently boasting about would be an interesting gamble. With the form and ability of the Welsh backs, running rugby seems like the last thing the Scots should be doing. With Murray missing, the Scottish scrum as a weapon will be deflated, but then there is always the lineout. With the likes of Gray to rely on, Scotland can target Wales’ one obvious weakness in the way that Ireland should have done – especially now that Wales are reduced to a single recognised second row. That being said, the man who could pressure Wales in this area, by placing the ball in the right place, Dan Parks, in no longer on the scene. It is with a heavy sense of irony that the one player who might really have undone Wales will be taking not part in proceedings.

There is a way that Scotland can win, and it should not be pretty. Tight, around the fringes and from good lineout pressure, these are the ways in which Scotland could force a result. Opening the game up against a Welsh side that, despite letting Ireland score twice, generally looked solid in defence, and is of course more than capable of matching the scoring rate of other opposition which, frankly, has proven more effective than Scotland of late (the lack of ability to cross the whitewash must be haunting Scotland now – inspiration or heavy burden at this point), would be an impressive and potentially costly gamble.

With one game under everyone’s belt though, and a sense of form to go on, predictions can be made, and it would be a very eager punter who would bet against Wales, especially if the Scots insist on closed roofs – it may suit their game plan, but it certainly will do little to hinder the way Wales will want to play.

The Dan Parks Six Nations Special Blog.

Nothing need be said, the image pretty much covers it…

And then the Six Nations Came…

One thing after another these days, World Cups, one off internationals, club games, European games, LV Cup games, and to cap it all, the Six Nations starts just as winter decides, having been distracted by rugby for so long, to finally make an appearance, just in time to make all those away day train trips a little bit more unbearable. Suffice to say, it’s been a long season (officially this is still part of the 2010-11 season for anyone keeping track – with an IRB directive issued earlier in the year indicating that the 2011-12 season will happen between April and May before going straight into the pre 2013-14 season build up), and one which is taking its toll. No shortage of teams are already patching up their squads, with at least two of the nations involved bringing some giant squads to the party in preparation for the inevitable whittling down of those capable of walking.

So, excited much for the imminent tournament? If you are the BBC then you know already that England won the tournament several weeks ago, and a number of journeymen Europeans are going to be scrapping it out for the crumbs under their table. Then, you never know. The nice thing about a post world cup Six Nations is that predictions tend to go out of the window. Those who underperformed are ringing the changes, those who over performed are often paying the price for their success in a body count. Certainly for two of the three games this weekend, you would be hard pressed to call either fixture.

France at home seems to be a certainty to defeat Italy. The Italians rarely cope well in the early days of a new coaching regime, and to produce a result in Paris on day one of the new era seems far too much to ask. Scotland hosting England though is another kettle of fish. Not a great deal of change from a Scots perspective, other than a need to banish a sense of underachievement from the summer, when for want of conviction they really should have topped their group, yet fell by the wayside at stage 1. England come to the tournament having, for many in the international community, taken to putting every English qualified player’s name into a hat, and drawn them at random to produce their current squad. Of course there was a little more logic to it than that, but certainly new names are the theme of the squad. It’s almost impossible to say what England will do, their new coach was still part of the wider coaching structure that oversaw the World Cup shortcomings, yet the desperation in England to banish the ghost of New Zealand will surely force them to play a more expansive game. Yet, with so many new faces, and a frozen Edinburgh awaiting them, is it too much to expect them to revert to type once more?

For Wales and Ireland, it’s familiar territory. More will follow on this game during the week, but for now, it’s worth noting that there are more familiar faces in this fixture than in many of the other line-ups to be had in the tournament. Old battles, one on ones replayed, heck, there is still a change that O’Gara at the grand old age of 74 will get a starting birth, there is little ‘new’ to be found in this fixture. On paper the Irish should have it, with the regions in dominant form in Europe and a home advantage, there can be no obvious excuse for why the Irish should fall short in their first fixture. Yet historically Ireland have failed to hit the ground running in the Six Nations, and more than once in recent years they have opened the tournament at home, with fixtures that should have been won, only for the game to trickle away. And yet, even with all the talent in Ireland, so often the solution has been to put the ball in the hands of O’Driscoll and leave it to him to save the day, one thing that certainly won’t be happening this year. Wales though, while the form team from the World Cup, have the air of a team that is running on empty, with walking wounded being the tale of yet another Six Nations opening weekend. But then there is Poland, and how Poland transformed an underachieving team into near World beaters – will the ice baths do it for Wales again?

The way the fixtures fall, Wales and England look to have the most favourable draw for any slam ambitions, but for a winner, well, let’s see what happens this weekend, as six teams, unrecognisable in some cases, unpredictable in others, show us what has been happening in those training camps this weekend.

The Shingler Senario.

It’s hard to know what to say about the Steve Shingler situation. Public opinion seems very torn over the matter, some argue Shingler should be freed by the WRU to play for Scotland, that the WRU misled him; others argue that he has shown no respect to Wales and jumped for the ‘easier’ international option (sorry Scotland, no slur intended), while some simply suggest that these were the actions of a confused young man. Wherever you might stand, it is clear that there is no winner here between Shingler, the WRU and the IRB, all three, from a public relations standpoint, have lost out.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this particular case, the comings and goings, well, goings really, of potential Welsh players has raised some interesting questions. Not so many days ago, Welsh rugby was lamenting the loss of Ben Morgan to the English cause. Here the case was much clearer. Morgan had never made his intentions clear as to where he saw his international future and, after much time spent considering the matter, Morgan decided that he was English, and should try to play for England. Welsh fans were of course upset, but few would begrudge him his choice to represent the country that he associates with most.

The Shingler situation though has upset many Welsh rugby fans but in a very different manner. Here was a bright young prospect, with a great future ahead of him, who had made his claim for Wales by playing through the age grades, and then, overnight it seemed, turned his back on the country. Why did he do it? Was it out of spite for the Scarlets that they would not start him ahead of Priestland and Jones? Was it for fear that he might not get an international cap for Wales given the current competition in the squad? Without a full statement from the young man, we will probably never know for sure.

What we do know though, is that there is a problem with the current system of representative honours. Is an ‘A’ team cap, or an under20 cap, or possibly younger still, an appropriate point at which to say ‘this is the team you will represent from here on in’? Frankly, the debate should not exist. This is not a club contract that is being discussed, but international honours, the honour of representing one’s country. For too long the international level has become an extension of the office for professional rugby players, another contract, another set of bonuses – the country awarding them does not necessarily matter, so long as they pay. This should not be the way of things. For Shingler, his choice was made – he selected Wales, and that is where his choice should remain. If he never gets full international honours, well, tough luck, he should have been better, but that is the only country he should be able to push for, having already made his choice.

What does the future for Shingler hold, it is hard to say? He has turned his back on Wales in one sense, and for Scotland, well, Scotland was always the second option the moment Shingler played in a red shirt with three feathers on his chest, how either nation would welcome him now would be interesting to see. The lesson to be learnt in all this, stand by your nation. If you are one to buy and sell your allegiance, then there is a good chance that your choices will come back to haunt you. For Shingler, his choices came back on him much sooner than he might have expected, and it is with a great sense of sorrow, that this saga was played out in front of the international rugby media.

Westminster Wages War.

It’s an all action start in 2012 on the political spectrum, with the makings of a political civil war on our hands. Westminster seems intent…well, the Tory led government is perhaps the better way to put it, seems intent on grabbing the hot iron of irritation from the fireplace and ramming it deep into Alex Sammond’s agenda. For a Tory party that is clearly against the breaking up of the Union, they are doing an impressively disastrous PR job in terms of undermining support for the break with their bold posturing and ‘you can’t do that unless we say so’ stance. Sammond must be sitting in a leather arm chair with a whiskey in hand, rocking himself with uncontrollable laughter, knowing that if the Tories keep treading their current path, they could well walk themselves into the dismantling of Britain, with the SNP having to do little more than sit back and watch the separation happen before their eyes.

While all the Scottish excitement has been bouncing about, Wales managed to make the BBC headlines as well, as the planned reform of political constituencies was formally announced and presented for public consultation. The reduction of 40 to 30 Welsh MPs has been presented as a logical one in terms of redrawn constituencies being of roughly the same size, and therefore fairer to the democratic process. Of course, the redrawing of boundaries in such an arbitrary fashion of ‘one-size fits all’, is not going to be without its problems.

There is initially the slightly odd system of cutting and changing boundaries. Political constituencies exist in Wales the way they have done for a reason, geography. The landscape in Wales is one element that cannot be overlooked when considering the boundary of seats, yet this would appear to be the one thing that the electoral commission have indeed decided to overlook. One fears how disastrous this could be for voter apathy, as thousands will find themselves unsure of who they are voting for, and, in the case of North Wales, voting for an MP who will be busy on Anglesey, while the MPs mainland voters will inevitably become second class constituents given the landscapes involved.

But the main point of concern should really be the slap dash decimation of the democratic voice of the Welsh people. Remember the hoops that had to be leapt through for devolution, for increased devolution? We in Wales certainly have to work hard to gain our political voice, however, those in London have to do very little work indeed to be able to take it away. With all this talk of referendums, surely the people of Wales should be offered a referendum on whether or not they approve of a massive lump of their political say over what happens in London, and therefore Britain, being removed from them on the whim of a committee that is not directly answerable to those affected? For all the wailing of British politicians on democracy overseas, it would appear that the democratic process in this island is one that very much operates on a ‘when it is convenient’ system, and little more.

The boundaries proposed are at the very least problematic, and will serve to disenfranchise many, rather than achieve the opposite and (in theory) stated goal of the project. However it is the arbitrary removal of the Welsh political voice that should be more of a concern. As we have seen with the Scottish question, Westminster is not shy of flexing its muscles when its Celtic siblings start throwing the toys out of the pram. What if, having cut the Welsh MPs down to 30, Westminster then decides to cut a few more, and then perhaps decides to cut the Assembly, because it can, what then? What is being proposed by Westminster, for Scotland and for Wales, is very dangerous, and should serve to all as a reminder where the true intentions of this government sit. It is one that harbours an obsession with central power, that would rather see the voice of the ‘regions’ silenced, than empowered.

Watch out Wales, Westminster’s coming!

RWC2011: Save the bagpipes!

So, those malevolent Scots and their evil brain washing bagpipes have finally been given the boot from the Rugby World Cup. Such is the power of the bagpipe, with its ability to unnerve, distract, confused and intimidate the on-field opposition, that the organisers of the tournament have thrown out the windy instrument. It is also said that a Scots rugby player, upon hearing the loud whine of a bagpipe, can produce performance levels upwards of 12% higher than usual match day efforts. All of which is of course a nonsense, apart from the bagpipe ban that is, which, although being a nonsensical decision, is still actually happening.

RWC have stressed that the ban actually covers all musical instruments, and is therefore not an effort to single out the bagpipe, however, anyone watching Russia vs Italy today, will have been hard pressed to not notice the French horn blast out after every single restart. Now should a blanket ban to instruments be applied, surely the French horn should have been snaffled up by an eager steward? Sneaking it in is one thing, but seeing as it was played on no less than 10 occasions (minimum) it could easily have been found and thrown out, yet it was not. Perhaps constructing some manner of pocket sized bagpipe is the answer?

Now, I should clarify something here, I can’t stand bagpipes, never had and never will. The noise produced by those dreadful sacks of pipes is a horror on my audio centres. Yet, even with my deep seated dread at the noise of a bagpipe, I can still acknowledge, that at a match including a Scottish team at the very least, pipes should be heard. It is part and parcel of the rugby atmosphere, and should not be compromised. So horns, hooters and those ridiculous vuvuzelas should indeed be pounded out of the grounds, they are not required and do more to cripple the atmosphere of a stadium than raise it. But the bagpipe, just as with the French horn, should certainly be made welcome. Their absence, indeed, their enforced absence, strikes as an administrative aberration. If you want to help spectators, ban booing, ban people going to the toilet and from getting a beer during the eighty minutes of play, ban crap referees from crippling games with their terrible officiating, but done ban the music, don’t ban the instruments that have helped raise the spirit and atmosphere of rugby crowds for generations.

There can be only one logical resolution to this – raise the ban on bagpipes, raise it on all musical instruments that are not made out of plastic. Let the rugby crowds be rugby crowds, and don’t try and turn the act of watching rugby into some manner of passive act akin to shuffling quietly through a library.

Save the pipes, however dreadful they might sound!