Cricket: Coetzer named Scotland skipper

Cricket Scotland announced that Kyle Coetzer has been handed the captaincy of the national side, with the experienced Con de Lange appointed as vice-captain, writes Kaylan Geekie. 

The 32-year-old takes over from former skipper Preston Mommsen who retired after leading the Saltires to three global events, including two World Cups; the 50-over tournament in Australia and New Zealand in 2015 and, the 2016 Twenty20 World Cup in India.

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Former captain Preston Mommsen leads Scotland out against Hong Kong at the 2016 World Twenty20 in India / Photo Cricket Scotland

Coetzer – who was named batsman and Players’ Player of the Year for 2106 – is one of Scotland’s most experienced players and, was formally announced in the role for the second time after a spell as interim captain in the squad’s recent tour to the United Arab Emirates in January.

He was the first Scot to score a century at a global event after a superb knock of 156 against Bangladesh in Nelson at the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup and, is one of only five Scotland players to have passed the 1,000 One-Day International run-mark.

Coetzer has an impressive ODI average of 40.21 since making his 50-over debut against England in 2008. He has three centuries and seven fifties in 39 appearances in ODIs.

A former Northamptonshire player, he has represented Scotland at all levels, captaining at U15s, U17s and U19s, where he led the team to the 2004 U19 Cricket World Cup.

After being announced as captain of the national side Coetzer said: “It’s a great honour to lead this group of players for the second time.

“We’ve got a real depth in the squad and it’s the start of an exciting era. There’s been a lot of good work done behind the scenes and we’ll be looking to build on that going forward.

“I’m fortunate enough to inherit a settled squad and look forward to seeing them develop to the next level.”

Grant Bradburn taking a fielding drill // photo @CricketScotland

Scotland’s Head Coach Grant Bradburn added: “It is great news for the team that Kyle has accepted the position of Captain for 2017.

“We are fortunate to have Kyle’s experience to turn to and together with vice-captain Con de Lange the team have two fine leaders at the helm.”

De Lange’s appointment as Coetzer’s deputy has raised eyebrows but, was dismissed by the new captain, like he would a medium pacer bowling a long-hop.

“Con has a vast amount of experience, having played in the English and South African domestic seasons,” he said.

“He was the obvious choice [and] is a calming influence; a determined and dedicated player who gets the best out of the guys.”

Coetzer’s first official role in the job will be a training camp in La Manga from March 29 to April 3, ahead of the summer’s international fixtures against Sri Lanka, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Featured image of Kyle Coetzer is courtesy of Cricket Scotland and Donald MacLeod


Cricket: Scotland team announced for ICC Women’s Global Qualifier in Sri Lanka

Scotland captain Abbi Aitken will lead the team to the ICC Women’s Global Qualifier in Sri Lanka // Photo: Donald MacLeod, Cricket Scotland

The squad set to represent Scotland at the ICC Women’s Global Qualifier in Sri Lanka has been announced. 

Abbi Aitken leads the side and will be well supported by the experienced Kari Anderson, who has been announced as vice-captain for the tour.

Seam-bowler Priyanaz Chatterji is the only change from the squad that travelled to Thailand for the ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier in 2015. 

Top-order batter Fiona Urquhart will travel from Sydney where she has been representing Gordon Cricket Club, while Kathryn Bryce concludes her stint with the Melbourne Stars at the Women’s Big Bash League. 

Katie McGill and Kari Anderson will both make their way from New Zealand where they have been representing Northern Spirit. 

Scotland captain Abbi Aitken said, “It was an extremely difficult selection process this time around, and that’s credit to every member of the wider-squad for the brilliant efforts and attitudes shown throughout the preparation months. 

The final 14 selected have a good variety of skills to offer as well as a good balance of youth and experienced players. The squad is very clear on our aims and aspirations for the tournament and what is required of us in order to achieve them.” 

“Whatever the outcome, the experience and opportunity is huge and we will be going out there to do our country proud!” Aitken concluded. 

Scotland will face some world-class opposition in Group B, being joined by the likes of Pakistan and South Africa. 

The squad will depart on the January 29th to prepare for Sri Lanka with a short visit to the UAE where they will contest two warm up games against Ireland at Sharjah Stadium. 

The tournament will run from 7-21 February at four Colombo venues and the sides finishing in the top four of the Super Six stage will join defending champion Australia, host England, former winner New Zealand and reigning ICC World Twenty20 champion West Indies in the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 from 26 June to 23 July.
Asian champions and former World Cup finalists India leads Group A which also includes Sri Lanka, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Thailand, while South Africa heads Group B which comprises Pakistan, Bangladesh, Scotland and Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Each side will play four matches in the first round, following which the top three sides from each group will progress to the Super Six stage, while also carrying forward points they earn against sides which have progressed to the Super Six stage from their group.
The top four sides from the Super Six stage, in which each side will play three matches against teams from the other group, will complete the eight-team line-up for the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017, while the top two sides will battle out for the title in the 21 February final.

Scotland Squad:  Abbi Aitken (c), Kari Anderson (vc), Kathryn Bryce, Sarah Bryce, Priyanaz Chatterji, Kirstie Gordon, Samantha Haggo, Lorna Jack, Abtaha Maqsood, Katie McGill, Liz Priddle, Ollie Rae, Rachel Scholes, Fi Urquhart

Scotland Fixtures
Scotland v Zimbabwe – 5 February at Colombo Cricket Ground

Scotland v South Africa – 8 February at Mercantille Cricket Ground

Scotland v Bangladesh – 10 February at Colombo Cricket Ground

Scotland v PNG – 11 February at Mercantille Cricket Ground

Scotland v Pakistan – 13 February at Mercantille Cricket Ground

Scotland v Argentina: last-gasp Laidlaw penalty sinks Los Pumas

By Kaylan Geekie at Murrayfield | Back Page Heroes

Date: Saturday, November 19 Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh Kick-off: 17:00 GMT 

Autumn International

Final Score: Scotland 19 (6) Argentina 16 (3)

Scotland: Try: Maitland Con: Laidlaw (1) Pen: Laidlaw (4)

Argentina: Try: Orlando Con: Sánchez (1) Pen: Sánchez (3)

David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ blared out over the tannoy in celebration of Scotland’s dramatic  19-16 win over Argentina on a cold evening in Edinburgh.

A game of high drama ended with captain Greig Laidlaw kicking his team to victory with the last kick of the game.

Moments before, the captain had seen his penalty hit the post in identical fashion as had happened against the Wallabies.

The teams shared second half tries through Sean Maitland and the exceptional Matias Orlando, while 14 points from the boot of Laidlaw and 11 from Nicolas Sanchez kept the scores tight.

A scrappy first half turned into an “arm wrestle”. Gone was the flowing, running rugby from Scotland that we saw against Australia, instead, replaced by handling errors and mistakes as Argentina frustrated them at the breakdown.

Laidlaw’s long-range penalty opened the scoring after an early aerial duel between the sides was won by Finn Russell. The stand-off hoisted an up-and-under, regathered the ball and won the penalty. 

The battle of the front rows would be crucial and Argentina’s fabled scrum won an early blow when Scotland were pinged for collapsing. 

The Scots’ inexperienced props, Allan Dell and Zander Fagerson would be in for a vastly different challenge from Lucas Noguera and Ramiro Herrera than the Australians had posed.

Vern Cotter’s game plan revolved around playing for territory and running the ball inside the opposition’s half of the field.

Hamish Watson won a penalty at a ruck but possessions given away cheaply. Soon Los Pumas hands were letting them down. 

Pressure from Alex Dunbar resulted in a knock-on by Argentina and an attacking scrum right of centre near the 22.

Man-of-the-match Jonny Gray was immense with ball in hand and at the breakdown; the lock clearly relishes the battle Argentina pose.

John Barclay and Ross Ford threw themselves into rucks as the south Americans disrupted their ball. In the backline, the Scots struggled to gain any ascendency despite the elusive runs of Stuart Hogg and co.

Fagerson soon won a scrum penalty when Noguera was penalised for collapsing. Laidlaw made no mistake and Scotland led 6-0 after 28 minutes.

The Scots’ defensive line was breached when Orlando burst through a weak tackle from Russell, setting up a sustained attack on the home side’s goal-line. Scotland’s scramble defence saved the day.

Poor ball retention from the Pumas squandered a glorious opportunity and when the ball was kicked up-field, three Scots, Magnus Bradbury, Maitland and the skipper put pressure on Santiago Cordero who lost the ball. 

Some more good field position was wasted after another knock-on, allowing Los Pumas to attack before half-time. 

Watson gave away a penalty at the breakdown. Sanchez reduced the deficit to three with a 45 metre kick but, Scotland led by three at the break.

Daniel Hourcade’s chargers came out in the second period with much the same plan as the first 40 minutes; win the contact, use runners around the fringes, punch holes up-field and slow the opposition’s ball at the breakdown. 

It was rewarded immediately when Sanchez levelled the scores from in front of the sticks.

Then boom. Out of nothing the game burst into life. 

Juan Martin Hernandez delivered a wonderful cross-field kick which Orlando collected on the bounce in front of a retreating Maitland. 

The centre gathered, swerved and bounced Stuart Hogg out the way to score near the posts. Sanchez added the extras and the lead was seven.

Scotland hit back with a one-two punch of their own. A line-out deep inside Argentina’s 22 began an attack. Russell hit the gain-line before quick recycled ball was sent wide. 

Huw Jones slipped Orlando’s tackle and offloaded to Maitland diving in for the score. Laidlaw’s conversion crept over the crossbar and the game was tied at 13-all after 55 minutes.

Laidlaw and Sanchez traded penalties. With time ticking down the home support grew louder, willing their team on. 

This was all too familiar territory – the game in the balance, could Scotland find enough to get over the line this time?

Hogg made another burst down the side-line but was stopped. Scotland went through the phases but the ball was slow thanks tom lazy runners and Pumas lying over the ball.

Eventually, with nowhere to go, Russell dropped deep into the pocket, Laidlaw obliged with the pass but the stand-off’s drop-kick sailed wide of the right-hand up-right.

By now the coaches were ringing the changes, hoping some fresh legs could propel their team to victory. 

Scotland got a break when Sanchez slipped into touch, attempting to keep a the ball from going out. He allowed the Scots’ pack an attacking line-out and one final push for the win. 

The chance arrived when referee Ben O’Keeffe awarded the home team a penalty.

Laidlaw stepped up but like last week, the captain saw his attempt hit the post. Maitland gathered the rebound and after a couple of phases, Russell dropped back for another drop-goal attempt. 

This time the stand-off did not drop deep enough and his kick was charged down; the crowd muttered as they grew restless as a 16-all draw looked the likely result.

Still Scotland would not be beat. With the clock well over the 80 minutes, they were awarded a penalty for a chop-tackle by Juan Manuel Leguizamon. 

The gods were smiling. Hourcade was livid. The coach could be seen banging his hands in anger on the wall of the coaches’ box.
Laidlaw, cool as you like, stepped up and stroked the winning penalty through the sticks. Fine margins hey.

Attendance: 50,481

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 John Barclay, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Allan Dell.

Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Moray Low, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Ali Price, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Tim Visser.

Argentina: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Matías Moroni, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Santiago Cordero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Javier Ortega Desio, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Lucas Noguera.

Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Leonardo Senatore, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Jerónimo De la Fuente, 23 Juan Pablo Estelles.

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)

Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Thomas Charabas (France)

TMO: Shaun Davey (England)



Rugby: Spain down Scotland 5-10 in Women’s World Cup Qualifier in Glasgow

By Kaylan Geekie at Scotstoun | Back Page Heroes

Date: Friday, 18 November Venue: Scotstoun Stadium Kick-off: 19:35 GMT

2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup Qualifying 1st Leg 

Final Score: Scotland 5 (5) Spain 10 (10)

Scotland: Try: McCormack 

Spain: Try: Riel Pen: García Con: García

Scotland’s hopes of qualifying for next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup hang by a thread after going down 5-10 to Spain on an icy evening at Scotstoun. 

A late charge by the Scots was not enough as the Spanish clung on to a deserved win on a night in Glasgow where the mercury dipped to zero. 

Deborah McCormack’s 29th minute try was cancelled out by Vanesa Riel’s five-pointer three minutes before the break as Las Leonas took a 10-5 lead at the break. 

The difference could be found in the fortunes of the two teams’ kickers. Patricia García kicked a penalty and a conversion while Lana Skeldon and Helen Nelson missed from the kicking tee. 

Scots’ coach Shade Munro will rue his team’s many missed opportunities to win the game and go to Madrid next Saturday, needing not only a win, but to overturn a five-point deficit in the second leg, if they are to qualify for the 2017 World Cup in Ireland.

The home team started brightly and spent most of the opening half hour camped inside their opponents half but could not convert pressure into points as wave after wave of attacks were repelled by Spain.

It was the visitors who opened the scoring after their first foray into enemy territory. A penalty from García from ten metres in front of the posts gave Spain a 3-0 lead after Scotland were pinged for offsides.

Spain were dominant at the breakdown, led by boiler-room duo of María Ribero and Elena Redondo, who were outstanding. While their backs attacked using the width of the park but poor handling and stout Scottish defence kept them out.

Eventually, after nearly half an hour of sustained pressure the red wall was breached. 

Scotland carried the ball several phases and from a ruck. Scrumhalf Sarah Law switched play with captain Lisa Marin, who drew two defenders before sending McCormack over in the corner to the loud cheers of the 2, 565 home fans.

Marin had been moved to the midfield to accommodate flyhalf Helen Nelson, who was starting for the first time. This switch worked well as the Murrayfield Wanderers team-mates combined well throughout the game.

Skeldon missed the touch-line conversion but Scotland led 5-3. Spain, however, hit back immediately with a well-worked try of their own.

After several phases inside the Scots’ 22 they were rewarded when centre Rial scored to regain the lead for her side.

Spain had worked the ball into the far right corner of Scotland’s 22 then switched play, moving the ball through the backs, before Rial straightened and carrying two Scotland tacklers, crossed the white-wash.

García’s conversion was good, just clearing the crossbar as the teams went into the break with the score at 10-5 to the visitors.

Spain’s late score had a rousing effect and they shifted up a gear as they started the second half with high intensity and energy.

Scotland’s tacklers were struggling with the physicality of the visitors; each ball carrier took a Scot with them over the gain-line as they pounded into defenders.

Spain thought they had scored but TMO Neil Paterson disagreed after reviewing the play. From the resulting scrum they crossed the line again but were held-up. Scotland were reeling under the pressure.

Mistakes were creeping in and Scotland twice missed touch from their 22, allowing Las Leonas to run the ball back at their opponents, keeping them pinned in their half.

Spain then botched a simple walk-over try with a careless forward pass when it seemed easier to score. Another jinking run from fullback Barbara Plá was halted near the goal-line and they again came away with nothing. 

Coach Jose Antonio Barrio must have been pulling his hair out as his team continued to let themselves down with poor handling and sloppy play.

Eventually some respite came when Spain were penalised for not releasing at the breakdown. Flanker Jemma Forsyth’s smart work at he ruck released the pressure and Scotland kicked to touch.

This allowed Munro’s team to regroup and launch an assault of their own.

The resulting line-out led to an impressive driving maul that took Scotland deep into Spanish territory. From there they won a scrum after Lisa Thompson’s mini-break was halted after a short pass from her skipper.

Spain’s defence, however, was immense, driving each attacker back in the tackle before eventually clearing their lines. 

Scotland could not turn pressure into points, whereas Spain, had come away with points on two of the first three occasions that they entered the Scots’ 22.

As the half went on, it was Scotland’s turn to pile the pressure on. A missed penalty-touch finder worked in the home team’s favour as the launched another attack from fullback Chloe Rollie who had an outstanding game with ball in hand. 

With time ticking down, Scotland won a line-out against the throw and were soon on the attack. Somehow Spain held on.

Another driving maul and another sustained set of attacks came to naught. Another five metre line-out was stopped after Eilidh Sinclair was tackled into touch.

Scotland’s forwards tried in vain to power their way over but Spain regathered and launched the ball into the crowd to hold on for the win.

Attendance: 2,565

Scotland: 15 Chloe Rollie, 14 Megan Gaffney, 13 Lisa Thomson, 12 Lisa Martin, 11 Rhona Lloyd, 10 Helen Nelson, 9 Sarah Law; 1 Heather Lockhart, 2 Lana Skeldon, 3 Tracey Balmer, 4 Emma Wassell, 5 Deborah McCormack, 6 Jemma Forsyth, 7 Louise McMillan, 8 Karen Dunbar.

Replacements: 16 Lucy Park, 17 Lindsey Smith, 18 Katie Dougan, 19 Sarah Bonar, 20 Rachel Malcolm, 21 Lyndsay O’Donnell, 22 Jenny Maxwell, 23 Eilidh Sinclair. 

Spain: 15 Barbara Plà, 14 Mario Casado, 13 Vanesa Rial, 12 Marina Bravo, 11 Iera Etxeberria, 10 Patricia Garcia, 9 Anne Fernández, 1 Isabel Rico, 2 Aroa González, 3 Laura Delgado, 4 María Ribera, 5 Elena Redondo, 6 Diana Gassó, 7 Paula Medín, 8 Ángela del Pan. 

Replacements: 16 Saio Jaurena, 17 Isabel Macías, 18 Jeanina Vinueza, 19 Monica Castelo, 20 María Losada, 21 Irene Schiavón, 22 Amaia Erbina, 23 Anna Ramon. 

Referee: Claire Hodnett 

Assistant Referees: Alex Pratt and Ian Kenny

TMO: Neil Paterson

Rugby: Foley breaks Scottish hearts

A minute’s silence to remember those who lost their lives

By Kaylan Geekie at Murrayfield | Back Page Heroes

Date: Saturday, November 12 Kick-off: 14:30 GMT

Autumn International

Final Score: Scotland 22 (17) Australia 23 (10)

Scotland: Tries: Jones (2), J Gray Pen: Laidlaw Con: Laidlaw (2) 

Australia: Tries: Hodge, Kuridrani Pen: Foley (3) Con: Foley (2) Yellow Cards: Skelton

  • Australia snatch 23-22 victory over Scotland
  • Bernard Foley kicks 77th minute winning conversion
  • Flyhalf kicked winning penalty that knocked Scots out of 2015 World Cup 
  • Huw Jones scores a brace in first game at Murrayfield in first Test start
  • Scotland outscore Wallabies three tries to two

We’ve been here before. Groundhog Day. Déjà vu. Defeat. A one-point defeat. Against Australia. Again. 

A late Tevita Kuridrani try and Bernard Foley conversion saw the Wallabies fight back from an 11-point second half deficit in a come-from-behind win in Scotland’s opening Autumn International of 2016.

A first half brace from Huw Jones either side of Reece Hodge’s five-pointer capped a fine display but it was not enough to see Scotland home. 

Johnny Gray’s second half try and seven points from Greig Laidlaw’s boot was not enough as Scots’ nemesis Foley with another match-winning kick drove a dagger through Scotland’s hearts.

Vern Cotter’s side outplayed their southern hemisphere opponents, again. They lost at the death, again. Again. 

The stakes might not have been as high as last year’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat but tell that to the dejected coach and captain, the Scotland team and the fans.

Scotland outscored Australia three tries to two but were outscored where it matters most: the scoreboard. 

The fine margins between victory and defeat is small. In the end the result was settled by kicks and missed kicks. Taking chances and not. Heard that before?

Laidlaw’s missed two-pointer after Johnny Gray’s second half try was the difference – which he himself acknowledged after the defeat. 

Had the scrum-half’s conversion attempt not hit the post, Scotland would be celebrating a much deserved victory, instead, they must deal with more questions of “what might have been?”. Instead they claim another “moral” victory and suffer a tangible defeat.

Scotland led 22-16, had been camped in their own half for the latter part of the match, repelling wave after wave of the gold tide that threatened to wash over them.

Eventually the defence was breached when Kuridrani’s break inside the Scots’ 22 ended with an outstretched arm placing the ball on the try-line with Stuart Hogg hanging around his waist.

Foley’s 77th minute conversion, gave his side the lead for the first and only time in the game: the time when it matters most.

Australia had been repelled a couple of times prior to the game-winning goal.

First when they turned the ball over when it looked more likely to score, and again, when Will Skelton was sin-binned for foul play, leading referee John Lacey to reverse an Aussie penalty on the Scots’ try-line. Eventually the pressure told.

Soul Bossa Nova was the favoured tune at Murrayfield but this was no slap-stick performance. Scotland raced into a ten-point lead courtesy of Laidlaw’s third minute penalty and Huw Jones’ converted first try.

From a line-out in Scottish territory, Finn Russell’s majestic dink over the on-rushing Wallaby defence was gathered by Jones, who sprinted 40 metres unchallenged to score under the posts.

Australia hit back immediately with a well worked try of their own. Foley combined with Israel Folau who had joined the back-line, then popped to the flyhalf on a sweeping give-and-go overwhelming Scotland’s defence.

Dane Haylett-Petty collected Foley’s pass, broke the Scottish line while drawing defenders, delivered a pass to Hodge who beat two tackles to score. The conversion and a penalty levelled the game at 10-all.

Scotland’s set-piece play was excellent and the battle at the break-down was fierce. It would have to be with their opponents fielding the much venerated “Pooper” duo of David Pocock and Michael Hooper. 

The Gray brothers were superb in every department, combining for 47 tackles; Richie 23, Johnny 24, missing none, while the younger sibling also carried 14 times to add to his try.

More impressively was the backs’ display, attacking the gain-line and playing with pace and width. This wasn’t passing for passing sake and the Wallabies struggled to contain the Scots as they pushed and probed. 

Much was made of Scotland’s inexperienced front-row. Ross Ford playing in his 100th Test, was flanked by debutant Allan Dell and Zander Fagerson, making his first start. 

Any supposed weakness was dispelled as Scotland’s scrum won an early scrum-penalty. 

Just as Australia had done earlier, the hosts replied with a converted try when Jones crossed for his second try. 

The centre’s penetrating run inside the 22m left two would-be tacklers for dead and had the crowd on their feet, saluting a new hero. Scotland went into the break 17-10.

They picked up where they had left off with Johnny Gray’s 48th minute try extending the lead after Foley’s early second half penalty. 

Scotland broke blind, Stuart Hogg was brought down five-metres out, Laidlaw recycled quickly and Gray barrelled over to score. The captain’s conversion hit the upright but Scotland led by 11 points. 

Foley reduced the lead to six points at 22-16 with a 55th minute penalty and Australia started to take control. By now the penalties were starting to mount up against the hosts and their control of the game was relinquished. 

Scotland had their chances but could not score any points. They failed to capitalise with the extra man advantage, which ultimately, proved costly.

As what is always the case in professional rugby at the highest level, missed opportunities come back to haunt and like that gut-wrenching loss in London, a last gasp kick scuppered Scotland’s chance of a Wallaby scalp.

But for “a lick of paint” according to Laidlaw after the defeat, Scotland can take heart from the display, but the scoreboard matters most.

Moral victories count for nothing and nothing less than a victory at Murrayfield would do.

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Dell.

Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Moray Low, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 John Hardie, 21 Ali Price, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Rory Hughes.

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Lopeti Timani, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 David Pocock, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 Scott Sio.  

Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Will Skelton, 21 Dean Mumm, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Quade Cooper.

Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)

Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Ian Davies (Wales)

TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

Rugby: Strauss announces retirement

Andries Strauss 1
Strauss with former Edinburgh team-mate Roddy Grant, who retired midway through the 2015/16 rugby season due to failing to recover from a knee injury // Photo Andries Strauss

Edinburgh centre Andries Strauss announced this week that he has retired from rugby with immediate effect.

The 32-year-old played his 50th and final match for the capital club against Cardiff Blues on Saturday and described playing for the side, which he joined in 2014, as a “huge honour and privilege”.

“I have played rugby for most my life – as far back as I can remember – and it’s finally come time for me to call it quits and move on,” he said.

“I’ve had a great time playing the game and have been blessed to have been doing it at a high level for so long.

“I’m grateful for all that came with it; the victories and defeats; the injuries and recoveries; the blood, sweat and sometimes tears; the trophies and runners-up medals but most of all, I’m grateful for the friendships and memories that I have made.

“A career means nothing if it’s not shared with people you care for and who care for you and in rugby, it’s impossible to succeed on your own.

Strauss ends his career a two-time Currie Cup winner, which he won during his time with the Cheetahs and was part of the Edinburgh team that made history last season, becoming the first Scottish team to play in a European rugby final.

He said: “My mind and spirit is willing but my body is urging me to stop, constantly reminding me that I’ve pushed it through enough pain barriers and pushed the physical boundaries for too long.

“It all started in my parent’s backyard in Harrismith playing against my brothers. The game has taken me to places that I could only have ever dreamed of as a young boy and I have competed, with and against, many players that I looked up to as heroes while growing up and admire.

Andries Strauss 2
Celebrating beating Bordeaux-Begles with team-mates Tim Visser and Sam Beard in 2014 // Photo Andries Strauss // Twitter

“I’ll miss many things; the atmosphere of sold out stadiums; the big tackles and long range tries; the excited uncertainty before every game and the team talks and build-ups to big matches; the satisfaction of winning crunch games and disappointments after a narrow defeat.

“Most of all, I’ll miss the post-match camaraderie that goes hand in hand with being part of a team and the cold beers with friends who have become like brothers to me.

“Rugby has taught me, to be honest, accountable and respectful, but most of all its taught me to be brave, not run from fear but straight at it because of courage, is not the absence of fear but the ability to overcome it.”

He represented South Africa at Sevens and played against the Barbarians on the Springboks’ end of year tour in 2010.

“I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has had an influence on my career.

“Firstly, thank you to my wife Colleen who supported me through all the highs and lows and moved around the world so that I could live out my dream.

“To my parents who have given me every opportunity to pursue a career in rugby, instilling in me the values of being humble and working hard and to my brothers, for keeping me from becoming soft.

“It will be unfair to single out any individual coaches or players but thank you to all of you for making my modest career extremely special.

“Lastly, to my one-and-only agent Stephen Weyers; thanks for putting up with me and helping direct and guide my career from start to finish.

“I look forward to what the future holds and the new challenges that await my wife and I but most of all, I look forward to waking up without any aches and pains and to what will hopefully be a long successful career in social golf, Goodbye.”


Cricket: Mommsen looks ahead to new season

  • 4   July – Scotland v Afghanistan ODI – Grange, Edinburgh (10:45am)
  • 6   July – Scotland v Afghanistan ODI – Grange, Edinburgh (10:45am)
  • 9   July – Scotland v UAE – Mannofield, Aberdeen (TBA)
  • 12 July – Scotland v UAE – Mannofield, Aberdeen (TBA)
  • 8   September – Scotland v Hong Kong – Grange, Edinburgh (10:45am) 
  • 10 September – Scotland v Hong Kong – Grange, Edinburgh (10:45am) 

Kaylan Geekie caught up with national cricket captain Preston Mommsen to talk about the forthcoming summer.

The new domestic Scottish cricket season is underway, clubs from around the country are going through their final preparations and warm-up matches before the season proper gets underway.

The regional Pro Series has however begun, but with the sleet and snow hampering matches across the UK – it is hard to think that it is almost May – the first game went off without incident from mother nature.

Carlton CC 2011 team photo
Carlton CC 1st XI 2011 Treble Winners – Scottish League Champions, Murgitroyd National T20 Trophy Winners, Masterton Trophy Winners // photo Carlton CC

Carlton CC 1st XI 2011 Treble Winners – Scottish League Champions, Murgitroyd National T20 Trophy Winners, Masterton Trophy Winners // photo Carlton CC

The 28-year-old also gave his first public explanation for his move from Carlton Cricket Club to Eastern Premier League Champions Grange CC.

Mommsen spent the past six seasons at Grange Loan and was part of the 2011 league-winning side which also featured former Scotland legends Fraser Watts, Gordon Drummond and Alistair Evans.

Other Scottish internationals included in the side were Cedric English and Jamie Kerr in what was one of Scottish club cricket’s best teams and the club’s greatest.

The skipper plays for the Eastern Knights, one of three Scottish regional Pro Series teams, was talking after their 46-run victory over the Western Warriors at The Grange, where he top-scored with 48 in the 50-over match.

Mommsen also spoke of the disappointment regarding Scotland’s failure to progress to the second stage of the ICC World Twenty20 in India, although, the Saltires did get the country’s historic first win at a World Cup – after 19 attempts.

He was not to downbeat however, discussing the upcoming One-Day Internationals against Afghanistan, who he described as “exciting” and “hot property” after their recent World T20 success.

The Afghans beat eventual tournament winners, West Indies and ran England, South Africa and Sri Lanka close.

The United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong are also penciled in for the end of the summer in Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

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Mommsen training ahead of another crucial World Cup match // Photo Cricket Scotland

Mommsen training ahead of another crucial World Cup match // Photo Cricket Scotland

The best of the country’s club cricketers will feature during the Pro Series and Mommsen also gives his insight on who is knocking on the door to the national team.

The opening match between the Knights and the Warriors was watched by national coach Grant Bradburn and some excellent performances will not be in vain.

Bradburn is not afraid to select young players for the big occasion and this is evident in Mark Watt being selected during last year’s T20 Qualifiers, opening the bowling then and at the recent World T20 on the sub-continent.

Watt made his senior international debut in both formats of white-ball cricket last year and is developing into a canny left-arm spinner with a knack for taking wickets.

The 19-year-old is also proving useful with the bat and recently scored 72 not out off 80 balls against a Durham 2nd XI for Scotland A in a three-day game down south.

The future is bright despite what some may say and with the season about to begin, new heroes will be born in the ensuing battles across the nation as cricket fever releases the last days of winter’s ice-cold grip.

Watch the full Preston Mommsen interview here

Cricket Scotland Pro Series Fixtures and Dates

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Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 15.34.34

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Cricket: Hong Kong to play Scotland

Cricket Scotland has announced additional summer fixtures with Hong Kong being added to Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.

The Hong Kong matches are scheduled for Thursday 8th and Saturday 10th September 2016 at The Grange in Edinburgh. 

It will be the first time the sides will have met since the 2016 ICC World T20 in India, where Scotland secured an historic first win at a World Cup beating Hong Kong by eight-wickets in Nagpur.

Scotland captain Preston Mommsen singing national anthem prior to Hong Kong victory

The victory, afterwards, was described by captain Preston Mommsen as “bittersweet”, “momentous” and “important”.

The two teams recently met in February prior to their participation at the showpiece event and as well as in the 2105 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in the Scottish capital last July.

The fixtures will be official One Day Internationals with the series continuing to be referred to as ‘The Braidwood Cup’.

The trophy is named after William Drew Braidwood, the Scot headmaster of the Victoria English School who arrived in Hong Kong in the early 1890s.

In 1894, after initially having to make do with a turfed piece of ground bordering an old cemetery, he selected an area in the northeast corner of Happy Valley for his new cricket club to encourage his students to play the game.

These two fixtures will be One Day Internationals, with important rankings points at stake and will provide much needed game time for the Scots.

The Saltires’ fixture list has steadily been reduced in the aftermath of the past three global tournaments in which they have participated and the added games will be well received by players and fans.

Cricket Scotland CEO Malcolm Cannon said: “It gives me great pleasure to announce our series with Hong Kong.

“After the first edition of the Braidwood Cup in Hong Kong, we’re delighted to be able to host the next edition of games between our Associate compatriots.

“Our games against Hong Kong have always been well contested and we will be looking to put on a good show on and off the field.”

Tickets will be available on the gate on both match days.  No advance purchase of tickets will be available. There will be no reserve days for these fixtures.

  • 8 September – Scotland v Hong Kong – Grange, Edinburgh (10:45am)
  • 10 September – Scotland v Hong Kong – Grange, Edinburgh (10:45am) 


Photo @CricketScotland

Cricket: Scotland and Afghanistan to do battle again

Cricket Scotland have confirmed the dates and venues for their upcoming series against Afghanistan in July 2016. 

The two Associates will contest two One-Day International fixtures, which will take place at The Grange in Edinburgh on Monday 4th and Wednesday 6th of July.

Afghanistan produced a number of impressive performances at the ICC World Twenty20 earlier this year – which included overcoming Scotland by 14 runs in a tight encounter in Nagpur.

They progressed to the second round of the competition, including beating the tournaments eventual winners, West Indies.

The two teams have played out some epic battles in the recent past. Their  50-over World Cup encounter last year in Dunedin was one of the games of the tournament and saw the Asian side winning by one wicket from a very improbable position.

Afghanistan also won a very close encounter at the previous T20 event, the  ICC World T20 Qualifiers in Edinburgh, which the visitors won by 37 runs.

Grant Bradburn taking a fielding drill // photo @CricketScotland

Scotland Head Coach Grant Bradburn said: “Afghanistan have improved over the past year on the back of exposure to International cricket against full member nations.

“They fully deserve their current standing as one of the leading Associate nations, and we relish the chance to take them on at the Grange in July.

“Although we respect them as a quality team, we also know we have the skills to beat them again and we look forward to locking horns with them over the two-match ODI series.”

Tickets will be available on the gate on both match days.  No advance purchase of tickets will be available and there will be no reserve days for these fixtures.

  • 4 July – Scotland v Afghanistan ODI – Grange, Edinburgh (10:45am)
  • 6 July – Scotland v Afghanistan ODI – Grange, Edinburgh (10:45am)


Photos @CricketScotland

Cricket Scotland: fixtures announced for August against UAE

Cricket Scotland announced their Intercontinental Cup and World Cricket League Championship fixtures against the United Arab Emirates in Aberdeen this August.

The Saltires will look to continue their I-Cup campaign at Mannofield in Round Four of the four-day competition in what is already a crucial game.

Preston Mommsen’s side’s opening rain-affected fixture last June in Stirling saw Scotland take the best of the bonus points available in a drawn game against Afghanistan.

A disappointing loss to The Netherlands in September 2015 was followed by more bad weather in Hong Kong that wiped out all four days of that fixture.

Scotland has had a rough time of Mother Nature with those two winnable fixtures being called off due to the elements.

They must beat the UAE to keep their hopes alive of winning the seven-round I-Cup and making the Test Championship.

The I-Cup match takes place from 9th to 12th August, while the WCLC matches, which have full One Day International status, follow at the same venue on the 14th and 16th.

The UAE have begun to hit some form after a tough period following their participation in the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.

However, some strong performances at the start of the year in the Twenty20 format, including defeating Scotland in a T20I in Dubai earlier this year, means that they must not be underestimated.

The Granite City last hosted an international match in May 2014 when Scotland played England in a rain affected 50-over ODI. 

At least there is some cricket for Scotland in the summer but more games will need to be added to what is a very sparse playing calendar.

Much has been said about the lack of cricket for Associate nations and much criticism has been vented at the ICC’s apathy, especially by captain Mommsen, in investing in more high-grade cricket against the Full Member nations.

Cricket Scotland CEO Malcolm Cannon was enthusiastic about the summer ahead and believes that it is “important” for the national team to play in the north again.

“It’s great to be able to take these games to Aberdeen and being able to offer the chance for fans across Scotland to see international cricket,” he said.

“Having played international games in the I-Cup, WCLC and WT20 Qualifiers in Stirling, Ayr and Edinburgh last summer, we are grateful to Aberdeenshire CC for hosting us at Mannofield.”

Cannon – on the same day as Ireland announced their first five-match bilateral series with Afghanistan in July  – spoke about other potential matches in 2016 and touched on the future for international home fixtures in Scotland.

“We are close in our discussions with 2 more nations for another 4 home ODI’s this summer,” he said.

“As soon as we have these finalised and agreed, then we’ll be in a position to share the details with everyone.

“We are also working extremely hard behind the scenes to put in place agreements for 2017 and 2018, to make sure we are putting together a competitive and high profile set of fixtures on the home international calendar for both our Men’s and Women’s teams”.

• Intercontinental Cup – Scotland v UAE – Tuesday 9th to Friday 12th August – Mannofield, Aberdeen

• World Cricket League Championship – Scotland v UAE – Sunday 14th August (Reserve Day Monday 15th August)

• World Cricket League Championship – Scotland v UAE – Tuesday 16th August (Reserve Day Wednesday 17th August)

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photo // @CricketScotland

Six Nations: Stuart Hogg named Player of the Championship

Stuart Hogg has been voted the RBS Player of the Championship. Securing over 30% of the public vote, he received the backing of 20,970 fans.

Hogg had a superb Six Nations, drawing praise from all quarters for his performances for Scotland.

The highlight of the 23-year-old’s tournament was the stunning 60-metre try he scored in his Man-of-the-Match performance against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

“I’m honoured to receive the RBS Player of the Championship Trophy and join the list of the esteemed players that have won in the past. I’m extremely grateful for all the supporters who voted for me,” the 43 capped Hogg said.

Only two players made more than his 379m – at an impressive average of 75.8m per game.

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The Hawick man scored two tries – versus France and Ireland. He finished joint fourth overall for defenders beaten with 17, and joint fifth for clean breaks with five.

The fullback assisted in three tries for his teammates – an assist total that only playmakers Dan Biggar and Owen Farrell could match.

England’s Billy Vunipola came in a very close second with 27% of the vote for his significant role in securing the team’s 13th Grand Slam.

Third place was awarded to the tournament’s top-try scorer, George North with 11% of the votes, followed by Ireland’s scrum-half Conor Murray in 4th (4,412 votes).

England’s Jack Nowell’s notable defensive performance was recognised with the winger finishing 5th (6% of the votes), ahead of the Italian Captain, Sergio Parisse in 6th with 4.6% of the votes.

RBS Player of the Championship – previous winners

2015 – Paul O’Connell
2014 – Mike Brown
2013 – Leigh Halfpenny
2012 – Dan Lydiate
2011 – Andrea Masi
2010 – Tommy Bowe
2009 – Brian O’Driscoll
2008 – Shane Williams
2007 – Brian O’Driscoll
2006 – Brian O’Driscoll

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Six Nations: Ireland 35 Scotland 25

By Kaylan Geekie    19 March 2016

Ireland beat Scotland in an ill-tempered Six Nations match which included seven tries and three yellow cards at a packed out Aviva Stadium.

Scotland were the architects of their own downfall. Throughout the game they chased the scoreboard. Down by 15 points twice, a famous Dublin victory was never possible.

The home team ran out 35-25 winners thanks to better game management and less mistakes.

Ireland scored three tries and scored 19 points when they had the extra man advantage.

At any level of rugby such deficits will be improbable to overturn, at international level it is almost impossible.

To do it having two players spend a combined 20 minutes in the sin-bin is never happening. John Barclay and Alex Dunbar’s yellow cards counted for 12 and seven points respectively.

Ireland scored twice through CJ Stander and Keith Earls. Jonny Sexton added 11 points from the tee to lead 21-13 at the break.

A stunning try from Stuart Hogg and eight points from Greig Laidlaw’s boot kept their team within distance.

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Second half converted tries by Conor Murray and Devin Toner cancelled out two by Richie Gray and Dunbar. Laidlaw added two more to his 10 point tally as Scotland fell 10 short.

The captain rued his side’s lack of possession and ill-discipline, but felt some of the officiating was against them.

“In the first half we fell on the wrong side of some refereeing decisions,” said a frustrated looking Laidlaw.

“You get some, you don’t get some and today it wasn’t on our side.”

“We couldn’t get our hands on the ball and when you are defending for long periods, it’s hard to feel in the game. We had to hang in and ride the storm for a bit.

“We done that at times but let them get away with a couple of tries. Once you let Ireland [get] away, they are a tough team to claw back.”

It was not all negative though. But the skipper was not impressed with his team’s defending and avoidable errors.

He added: “We came here and scored twenty-five points [but] if we can sort our defence out we will be in Test matches.

“When we held the ball in the middle part of the game, we felt we were causing Ireland all sorts of problems, from our own twenty-two right up to theirs.

“There were a couple of kicks that we put out on the full and we let Ireland off the hook a little. It’s just a few inaccuracies that go a long way to winning or losing Test matches.”

Much was made of Duncan Weir’s selection ahead of Peter Horne. Horne had replaced Finn Russell in the opening five minutes against France and was instrumental in the win over Les Bleus.

Vern Cotter made the call but it back-fired. Weir has been excellent for Glasgow Warriors but the stand-off had a day to forget.

Scotland’s forwards never got any control in a game where Ireland dominated possession.

Sexton moved second on Ireland’s point scoring charts when he opened the scoring with a an early penalty, after Barclay was penalised for not rolling away at a ruck.

Scotland barely touched the ball, making 23 tackles as the Irish rumbled up field inside 10 minutes.

The stand-off missed a simple chance to double his side’s lead after a 13 phase move ended with another shot at goal, a  45-metre penalty for a 6-0 lead.

Laidlaw reduced the deficit to three but Sexton cancelled it out immediately to extend the score to 9-3.

Referee Pascal Gauzère could not stop blowing for infringements at the breakdown. Scotland could count themselves unlucky with two penalties from the Frenchman but they were testing his generosity with others.

Scotland needed the ball, they needed something. Then bang! Enter Hogg. The fullback collected a poor kick inside his own half, pinned his ears back and set off. He is smart as he is quick.

The 23-year-old took the ball across field, saw Mike Ross and Rory Best and sped through the front-row duo, burnt Earls and raced away for a 60-metre score.

Laidlaw’s conversion gave Scotland a brief one-point lead – their only lead of the game.

Momentum was halted immediately. Ireland came roaring back. A succession of infringements had finally exhausted Gauzère’s patience. The ref had no option but to issue a card.

Down to 14 men and on the ropes, Scotland eventually conceded when CJ Stander crashed over form close range.

Weir was not helping his side with some indifferent restarts – something that has been the bane of Vern Cotter’s tenure as his side kept ceding possession.

Weir kicked directly out and from the next scrum and Ireland won a penalty.

The sin-binning was proving costly. Seeing space behind the defensive line, Sexton dinked a kick behind Hogg and Tommy Seymour which resulted in calamity.

There was a mix up between the pair. Going for the same ball, they collided and Earls was on hand to regather and score untouched.

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Ireland enjoyed 81 percent possession in the first half and duly lead by eight after Laidlaw’s penalty on the hooter.

The green wave could not be stopped and eight minutes into the second half Murray scored.

Ireland’s forwards set up a driving maul from an unchallenged line-out. They rolled forward and after several phases, the scrumhalf  burrowed over easily from close range.

Sexton’s second conversion pushed his side’s lead to three scores at 28-13.

But Scotland hit back. Driving a maul up field, they went through the phases and eventually camped on the Irish try-line.

WP Nel was tackled short, but the ball was recycled. Weir received from his halfback partner, took the ball to the line, drew in defenders and passed to Richie Gray.

The lock went through an enormous hole to dot-down under the posts. The skipper added the two and it was game on at 28-20.

Soon after Dunbar was sent to the side-line after the tip-tackle on Sexton. Within 90 seconds, Ireland punished the visitors.

Toner scoring his team’s fourth try under the sticks after a short burst from five metres. Sexton made no mistake with the kick.

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The game then descended into farce. Tempers flared as scuffles broke out. All starting from the time of Dunbar’s challenge on the Emerald Isle’s favourite son.

The centre did go over for his side’s third try but it was of no consequence.

Since the inception of the six-team tournament Scotland has won three in a campaign only once – and that was a decade ago in 2006.

The last time three Championship matches were won on the trot was back in 1996. The wait goes on.

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Final Score Ireland 35 (21) Scotland 25 (13)


Tries – Stander, Earls, Murray, Toner
Pen – Sexton (3)
Con – Sexton (3)
Drop –
Cards – Sexton (Yellow, 76th minute)

Tries – Hogg, Richie Gray, Dunbar
Pen – Laidlaw (2)
Con – Laidlaw (2)
Drop –
Cards – (2) Barclay (Yellow, 25th minute), Dunbar (Yellow, 67th minute)

Match Officials

Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)


Ireland: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best(captain), 1 Jack McGrath.

Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Nathan White, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Tim Swinson, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.

Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Moray Low, 19 Rob Harley, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Sean Lamont.

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Stuart Hogg est magnifique

  • The fullback was awarded Man-of-the-Match after another thrilling performance
  • Hogg scored his 10th Test try with a stunning run from inside his own half
  • The 23-year-old also kicked a monster 51-metre penalty early in the second half

BY Kaylan Geekie for Back Page Heroes   15 March, 2016

Scotland ended a decade of defeat at Murrayfield in the Six Nations against France with a 29-18 victory that flatters the French and fails to fully portray just how dominant Vern Cotter’s team were. 

There were standout performers all over the paddock, as the Kiwi likes to call it. His side stringing together their best performance since the World Cup loss to Australia at Twickenham last autumn.

However, it was Stuart Hogg’s brilliance that created a try for himself and set-up Tim Visser’s late in the game. His overhead flick bamboozled Scott Spedding.

He is Scotland’s little prince, their attacking fulcrum – the visionary at the back.

“I’m not going to lie, it was a bit of luck, he said grinning.

“Knowing Viss, [I knew] he’d be hanging out on the wing somewhere. The boys were asking if i did get a touch? I did and it might not be the biggest but i’m claiming it.”

Hogg attributed the win to good preparation and following the coaches’ instructions. He believes his and the team’s recent success has come from putting in the hard-yards at practice.

“The coaches set out a game plan and we stuck to it as much as we could and we are delighted to finally get that win.”

“I’d say we’ve played better at times,” he added.

“We missed a fair few tackles in defence which is not good enough, but we can’t be too downbeat about that – we’ll enjoy tonight.”

The teams line-up for the anthems and observe a minute’s silence prior to kick-off     // photo: Kaylan Geekie

Can Scotland could play any better, build on their dominant performance against Ireland and win a third consecutive Six Nations game?

He said: “You’ve never got the complete performance, but we’ll continue to work hard on the training pitch and see what the game plan is. We’ll work hard on it and hopefully get another win across in Ireland

“I’m just getting on with my own job. Vern keeps challenging me to stick to my guns. I work incredibly hard in training and it’s great to see it coming off in games.

Finn Russell went off for a concussion protocal after five minutes and had to be helped from the field by the Scotland medics and does not look likely to play in Dublin.

Hogg’s try was set up by Peter Horne’s half-break, quick ball from the ruck and Taylor and Richie Gray’s charges at the opposition’s try-line.

But it was the No 15’s fancy foot-work, as he jinxed past two defenders, that resulted in the score – something few in the team are capable of doing.

“I thought Hornie was different class today, [he’s] not a renowned ‘ten’ by any means, but he works hard on his game.”

“I’m delighted for him to come on and make a big impact after our main man Finn Russell went off,” he added.

“He is probably the hardest working player I’ve ever played with and it’s good for him to have a good performance and stear the team to victory.

“He made a nice little break off the left foot and I thought he did well to hold onto the ball.”

And just how good is that winning feeling?

“It was brilliant. Going into that last scrum with the game won, I was smiling away with them [the crowd]. It was unbelievable support today, not only today but over the last wee while as well.”

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Six Nations: Scotland end France hoodoo

By Kaylan Geekie at Murrayfield  13 March 2016

Scotland ended a decade of disappointment against France with a convincing 29-18 Six Nations win and claim a first win over Les Bleus at Murrayfield since 2006. They did it with some style too. The margin of victory could have – and should have – been greater. 

It seems the worm has finally turned for Vern Cotter’s team. Forever stealing defeat from the jaws of victory. Not today. Today they played with for most of the 80 minutes with calm assurance and more pointedly: they were clinical.

The crowd, starved of success over the years, stayed on long after the final whistle, singing and cheering as their bright young team, made their way around the old stadium soaking in the applause and adulation.

First half tries from Stuart Hogg and Duncan Taylor were cancelled out by Guilhem Guirado and Gael Fickou, but Scotland led 18-12 at half-time.

Tim Visser claimed a try after the break and captain Greig Laidlaw, marked his 50th cap by kicking. three penalties and a conversion to collect 11 points. Maxime Machenaud kicked eight points from the boot.

This Test was won thanks to some stylish backline play and the forwards’ work-rate. Scotland’s pack was excellent and dominated the scrums. WP Nel and Alasdair Dickinson set the platform from which this game was won.

Hogg was awarded the Man-of-the-Match after another match-defining display, scoring one try and setting up Visser for his thanks to some magic hands.

Laidlaw is fast becoming the lynchpin in Vern Cotter’s improving side. The scrumhalf is the conductor at the controls; guiding his forwards and unleashing his back-line.

Taylor’s smart thinking for his try was in stark contrast to Maxime Mermoz and Fickou.

The back-row of Josh Strauss, and Johns, Hardie and Barclay caused all manner of havoc at the breakdown. Strauss was a powerhouse with ball in hand – carrying for 23 metres, the most in the pack.

Barclay was the go-to guy in the line-out, winning five throws and was the rock at the breakdown. Hardie led the way with ten tackles, one more than the Gray siblings, who were as usual, tireless in the boiler room.

Richie Gray left the field to a standing ovation by a raucous crowd. Only Taylor and Strauss carried the ball more than younger brother Jonny.

France have been a shambles for the past decade. Out with the famous flair, replaced instead, by hulking ball-carriers brought in from the far reaches of the world – betrayal of a rugby heritage. From neutral fans’ second team, to a team nobody wants to watch; brains replaced by brawn.

Cotter had spoken about Guy Noves’ side’s ability to hold the ball and find space out wide and immediately, they did.

Wesley Fofana made a break found Virimi Vakatawa, who offloaded to his skipper. Guirado broke Hogg’s tackle to go over for the score. With the conversion missed, the score was 5-0 after five minutes.

Peter Horne replaced injured flyhalf Finn Russell after the the starting 10 was carried from the field after Fickou’s try. Horne had an outstanding match. His passing and ability to smell a gap and get over the advantage line was instrumental to the team’s attacking play.

Some sustained pressure in the French 22 resulted in Laidlaw kicking his team’s first points, after Alexandre Flanguart was penalised for not rolling away at a ruck. The captain was soon on hand to give his side a 6-5 lead inside the first quarter.

Scotland were nudging their way back into the game thanks to sloppy handling by the opposition and some tardy discipline. A backline break from Les Bleus into Scotland ’s 22 came to nought.

As the half wore on Scotland’s scrum began to seize control – winning two scrum-penalties as the tight-five asserted their authority – this would be the theme for the game.

Cotter’s men were slicker, quicker and had the set-piece dominance. From a scrum Scotland moved themselves into an attacking position. 11 phases later, Horne went through a half-gap with Richie Gray on hand for the offload but was stopped under the posts.

Quick ball from the ruck saw Taylor carry before being brought down. Laidlaw’s perfect pass to Hogg took out two defenders. The fullback gathered and danced over for his tenth Test try. Laidlaw added the two points and Scotland led 13-6.

Taylor was sublime and Mark Bennett will need to be at his best to win his starting berth back. The outside centre made the most metres (79) and was the wrecking-ball smashing into the French midfield.

Scotland were rampant and scored three minutes later when he left a trail of French players reeling. His quick-tap penalty at the halfway line caught France napping. Weighing in at 92 kilo-grammes and standing six-foot-two, Taylor shrugged off a weak tackle from Vakatawa and beat the outstretched hands of Lauret, as he sped towards the try-line.

This extended the home team’s lead to twelve points and even managed to put a smile on his Stern Vern’s face.

Laidlaw missed the conversion but was lucky to not have the try disallowed for a pull on Wenceslas Lauret’s jersey after a TMO replay.

France scored their second try of the half after the hooter when they caught Scotland cold. A driving maul was formed from a line-out. Machenaud sent the ball wide to his left. Trinh-Duc made a dart for the line but was brought down by Barclay.

France would not be denied and the defence was finally breached when Fickou beat Nel in a miss-match, shrugging off Taylor to score.

Machenaud, by now was taking over the kicking duties, reduced the deficit to six points with the conversion but Scotland took am a half-time lead.

France had Scotland under pressure with their mauling and were conceding penalties in kickable positions.

Hogg launched a massive 51 metre penalty, but Machenaud cancelled it out with two of his own. The score, 21-18 with just under 20 to play.

Scotland sealed the match with a wonderfully worked try. Attacking deep in France’s 22, the Scots tore at their defenders. Nel charged but was repelled by a blue wall.

But from the ruck Laidlaw – who might have passed to his right where an overlap had developed – sent the ball to Hogg. The fullback, with a dose of “French flair” flicked overhead to Visser, who dived in for the try in the space left open by Scott Spedding.

The lead was stretched to eight points, a two-score margin, despite the Laidlaw’s missed conversion before the skipper kicked his third penalty he put the game beyond doubt.

Cotter was pleased for his team and happy that all the previous hard work has paid dividends.

The Kiwi-born coach praised his team’s ability to adapt to losing their instrumental flyhalf so early in the match.

“We’ve shown a lot of qualities and I’m really pleased for the players,” he said.

“They worked hard and it was not perfect but they put the necessary work in and [played] to their strengths and I was pleased that they got the result.

“The game was well constructed by the players. When you lose your playmaker and they score a try when you’ve got fourteen players on the field and then to come back, build the game, show our composure and win the game was great.”

Laidlaw finally got a chance to meet the media with a smile on his face and was able to talk of victory rather than defeat.

The captain thought his side handled he big French ball carriers well and delighted with his team’s all-round display and believed the Scots were in better shape than France.

“I think France tried to come and steam-roller us. We fronted up and I thought we really finished the stronger team; we’re probably fitter and in the closing stages it probably showed.

“We defended well at times when we needed to. The fact that we put away three tries is another big bonus for us as a team.”

He added: “Hoggy’s try was a team effort and a great finish [he] showed good composure to hold the ball. Duncan Taylor showed a bit of brilliance, busting down the line and getting away.

“Vis [Tim Visser] was probably a bit of speculation and a little bit of luck but we were on there line, had them under pressure and a penalty advantage and if you chance your arm and you are over in the corner.”


Final Score Scotland 29 (18) France 18 (12)


Tries – Hogg, Taylor, Visser
Pen – Laidlaw (3), Hogg
Con – Laidlaw
Drop –

Tries – Guirado, Fickou
Pen – Machenaud (2)
Con – Machenaud
Drop –

Match Officials
Referee: Glen Jackson (NZL)


Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.

Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Moray Low, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Sean Lamont.

France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Wesley Fofana, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Yacouba Camara, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Alexandre Flanquart, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.

Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Vincent Pelo, 19 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Sebastien Bezy, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Maxime Medard.

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Scotland knocked out of WT20

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  • Top order batting collapse proves costly despite late rally
  • Wellington Masakadza tears through Scotland with career best figures
  • Saltires’ fielding not up to standard as runs leaked and catches spilled
  • Scotland not won in 20 World Cup matches dating back to 1999

Zimbabwe beat Scotland by 11 runs at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium after being set 148 to win, ending the Saltires chance of qualifying for the World Twenty20 Super 10s. Still in search of their maiden World Cup win, it was another case of ‘close but no cigar’ and bitter disappointment.

Elite level sport is not for the faint hearted and in a game of fine margins, Grant Bradburn’s men came up short. This was the country’s 20th match at a global event without a win; they must be sick of hearing about it.

Zimbabwe won the toss, batted first and scored 147 for seven from their 20 overs. Sean Williams top scored with 53 from 35 balls. Mark Watt (2/21) was superb, especially as he bowled in the powerplay and at the death.

Alasdair Evans (2-30) was excellent; his figures might have been better were it not for a dropped catch and some shoddy fielding. Safyaan Sharif (2/31) also collected a brace.

Wellington Masakadza was the chief destroyer taking 4-28, earning himself the Man-of-the-Match award. Tendai Chatara and Donald Tiripano claimed two wickets each as Scotland were all out for 136.

Richie Berrington (36) and captain Preston Mommsen (31) gave their team a chance with a defiant 51-run sixth-wicket partnership from 40 balls. When the skipper departed Josh Davey (24) and Berrington added 29 runs from 18 balls, but it was not enough.

The target was tough but gettable and Scotland will rue some poor fielding and the batting collapse at the start of the chase, as the search for a winning formula continues.

There are mitigating factors which must be considered; the team’s inexperience of sub-continental conditions and the ICC’s decision to play last year’s T20 Qualifiers in Scotland and Ireland, when they should have been in India. But that is a topic for later.

Scotland had made one change to the team with all-rounder Michael Leask coming in for Calum MacLeod. The 27-year-old’s exclusion was down to conditions and he was sacrificed for another spin option on what was a dry, slow pitch.

Matt Machan and Mathew Cross both made their 50th appearance and were presented with their caps before the game. Zimbabwe crucially, won the toss and elected to bat on a hot day in Nagpur, the mercury touched 38 degrees.

Scotland bowled well initially and restricted the Africans to 30 for 2; their lowest ever powerplay score against an Associate nation. The bowling unit looked to have heeded the lessons from the previous game, taking pace off the ball with spin, cutters and slower balls.

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Zimbabwe struggled to increase the run-rate and the pressure told as the Scots struck twice in seven balls. First to go after a brutal collision between the openers was skipper Hamilton Masakadza, run-out by Coetzer. Evans then had Vusi Sibanda caught at deep square-leg.

Richmond Mutumbami (19) followed when he was spectacularly caught by Leask off Watt on the long off boundary at the second attempt. Sikandar Raza was then bowled by a beautiful cross-seam delivery by Evans, which clipped his off-stump. At 67 for four after 10.3 overs, Scotland were in control.

But Williams and Malcolm Waller consolidated. Scotland’s fielding was ragged as several miss-fields released the pressure.

Watt’s second wicket came when he and Leask combined to dismiss Waller, who miscued his shot and ending the 38-run partnership with the score 105 for five. The fielding woes continued and catches were going down – usually a crack fielding outfit, the Scots were wilting in the Indian heat.

Evans was unlucky not to pick-up a third when Sharif grassed a sitter. He atoned for his mistake in the following over when he dismissed Williams.

Elton Chigumbura’s cameo 20 propelled Zimbabwe to a decent score; he was out last ball to Sharif, caught by Mommsen.

Scotland’s innings got off to a terrible start, losing four wickets in 19 balls, the score 21 as Masakadza and Chatara ripped through the top order.

Both George Munsey and Machan were out after hitting a couple of boundaries. Cross went meekly when he edged behind either side of their dismissals. Coetzer followed, caught one-handed by Raza at short cover.

The powerplay was navigated without further calamity but at 28 for four, the Saltires were in dire straits. Leask was stumped after a 22-run partnership with Berrington, bringing the skipper to the crease at 42 for five, still needing 106 runs to win.

Both set about rebuilding the innings, taking singles and picking up boundaries where possible. After 13 overs, Zimbabwe were 87/4, Scotland 85/5 and back in the contest. Their pair’s fifty partnership gave provided a glimmer of hope, but with 55 still required Mommsen, trying to hit over cover was out caught.

Sharif followed soon after as Mutumbami claimed his third stumping and Masakadza his fourth. Davey was destructive, hitting a couple of sixes. However, Berrington was caught at short third man and Davey departed with 20 still needed from seven balls. All hope departed with him as the sun set on Scotland and their campaign.

Speaking after the defeat Mommsen praised his team for playing the attacking cricket that has come to define them in the past two-years. He did however, feel that the game was probably lost in the field as much as the during their batting powerplay and when he got out.

“That’s [our] style, in particular George Munsey. He got us away but unfortunately, looking back he will regret coming down [to Wellington Masakadza]. [They] changed the field and we had already got nine off the over and we could have settled with that.

“At least we are trying to still be positive even with wickets down. In hindsight with wickets in hand, it could’ve been a different ending.”

“Today you could find at least 15 runs in the field [given up] and dropped catches, which is probably the difference and our start. Losing four wickets in the powerplay always makes it difficult – I think we did well to get as close as we did.”

Mommsen and Berrington’s partnership gave Scotland some hope of reaching the target and had he been in for a while longer, the outcome might have been different.

“The pressure started shifting and you could tell,” he said.

“They made mistakes with ball and in the field but regrettably, that partnership didn’t go on another two or three overs. If it had, it could’ve been a different ending.”

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Scotland: Mommsen calls on ICC for more cricket

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Scotland were defeated by 11 runs by Zimbabwe in Nagpur and afterwards Scotland cricket captain Preston Mommsen had questions of his own during the post-match press conference.

He made another plea for more international cricket for Associate nations and said that the lack of exposure to matches against Full Member side’s leaves them lagging behind and is hurting the second tier teams.

“I do go on but there is a lack of international cricket for us,” he said.

“Since the 2015 World Cup, I’ve played in one One-Day International match in twelve months.

“You tell me how I’m going to improve my skills and develop as a cricketer?” This was his retort after being asked what Scotland need to do to win.

“That definitely [lack of international cricket] has something to do with it. Playing under pressure, being exposed to a higher level of skill [by opposition]; being exposed to different conditions, it all adds up, every little percentage.

“Unfortunately that’s just the way it is and we know that. We try and deal with that as best we can, however, it probably does take its toll.

“I’m not sure people realise the pressure that Associates play under. Every time we take the field, whether its 50-over cricket, T20 or four-day cricket, you’re playing for something.

“You’re playing for your place, you’re playing for money, you’re playing for funding, you’re playing for opportunity.”

Do you think you’re as good a team as Afghanistan and Zimbabwe?

This was the first question put to Mommsen after the game.

“I Do, yeah: one hundred percent!” was his reply as he took questions from the assembled media.

“I think that it’s quite remarkable that this is the first time I’ve played Zimbabwe in my career of six years. There’s no substantial gap between the two teams.

“I’m not surprised that Afghanistan has beaten them 4-0 in a T20 series.”

He added: “It’s disappointing that we haven’t come here and delivered. I still think that we’re a very talented side and I think we’ve let ourselves down.

“We’ve played some good cricket but the bad periods in the game have let us down and it’s been the difference in the two results.

The two “bad periods” the 28-year-old is referring to in Nagpur are: the poor fielding and the inexplicable top-order collapse during the Powerplay, which saw the Scots 28 for four inside four overs, ultimately cost the Scots the game.

“Today you could find at least 15 runs in the field, dropped catches, which is probably the difference and our start.

“Losing four wickets in the powerplay always makes it difficult; I think we did well to get as close as we did.

“That’s [our] style, in particular George Munsey,” the skipper said.

“He got us away but unfortunately, looking back he will regret coming down [to Wellington Masakadza]. [They] changed the field and we had already got nine off the over and we could have settled with that.

“At least we are trying to still be positive [even] with wickets down…in hindsight, with wickets in hand it could’ve been a different ending.”

Mommsen’s 51-run sixth-wicket partnership with Richie Berrington came off 27 balls, consolidated the poor start and gave the Scots a chance of chasing the 148 target.

However, Mommsen was caught trying to hit over cover and Safyaan Sharif promptly followed for one.

He said: “The pressure started shifting and you could tell; they made mistakes with ball and in the field. Regrettably, that partnership didn’t go on another two or three overs, if it had it could’ve been a different ending.”

The Saltires have now not won in all 20 of their matches at both forms of cricket’s global events, dating back to 1999 and it is monkey of epic proportions, that the side must get off their back.

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 09.00.53Hong Kong will be their last opportunity for some time with the next white-ball World Cup scheduled for 2019. What about the future of Scottish cricket?

“We haven’t won a game and it’s hard for me to say that,” he said rather dejectedly, despite his protestations.

“I still think the future is bright. We soldier on and there is a lot of belief, lots of skill and talent and I think it was evident in the last two games. That partnership [84 runs between Munsey and Kyle Coetzer against Afghanistan] was world-class.

“With the ball – at times – we’ve shown we have the skills. I’m not down at all. There’s a lot of talent coming through; we qualified for the under 19 World Cup recently, which is always a positive sign.”

“We’ve got a good structure in place back in Scotland. We’ve got a good coaching staff, a new chief executive with a good business background, so there are things pointing in the right direction however, regrettably, we couldn’t quite show that on the park in the last two games.

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Mommsen hits out at lack of cricket

This Twenty20 World Cup will be the fourth tournament that Scotland has taken part in going back to the World Cup Qualifiers held in New Zealand at the end of 2014, which sealed the Saltires’ place at last years 50-over showpiece event down under.

However Scotland captain Preston Mommsen wants more cricket for the Associate nations in between international tournaments if they are to be able to compete with Full Member nations on a regular basis and not just make up the numbers.

Speaking to the assembled media ahead of their first official warm-up game against Oman the skipper had some strong words for those who run the game, the ICC.

When asked how hard it is to prepare for playing against the Full Members he said that it is a “massive challenge” and bemoaned the Associate nations’ lack of international cricket against the top tier teams.

“We don’t play a lot of fixtures against full members, so when we do we have to make sure that we’re right on the money because they give nothing away,” he added.

“They play big fixtures week-in, week-out and that’s the challenge for any Associate team, but it is what it is and we have to be ready for any game.”

Is he happy about this?

“I’m not happy with that arrangement at all, no!” he said.

“I would rather – personally – sacrifice a World Cup place to be playing more cricket against the Full Members throughout the calendar year, so that the Associate teams can keep improving.

“It’s hard to measure yourself every four years against them. The experience we had at the 2015 World Cup was unmatchable; it was brilliant to play in that atmosphere with the [large] crowds and the quality of the opposition.

“We found ourselves growing as players, growing as a team and by the end of the tournament we were stronger. But the last 12 months there hasn’t been enough cricket for us to push on and show what we are about.”

He added: “We’re very grateful that this tournament has come so quickly after [last year’s] World Cup. It’s another chance to play on the big stage and show that we are challenging as a top Associate nation.

“Fortunately we had the 2016 World Cup T20 Qualifying tournament which we hosted.

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“The way we performed in the qualifiers showed how much we had learnt. We took so much and put it into practice so quickly but unfortunately we’ve not had much 50-over cricket [either].

“There needs to be a balance and we need to be playing enough top-quality fixtures so that we constantly grow.

“All the Associate teams are growing and they need to be helped and pushed so that they are matching the likes of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.”

Scotland play the first of their two official warm-up matches today against Oman before they take on the Netherlands on SundayCricket Scotland all kilted out, both matches are being played in Mohali.

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Interview: Ali Evans

On a cold February evening in Edinburgh Kaylan Geekie caught up with fast bowler Alasdair Evans for a chat prior to the team’s departure to India for the ICC World T20 in India – the Scots’ second World Cup in 12 months and some achievement.

Scotland has had a successful start to their tour , winning three of the four practice matches ahead of the their World Cup campaign.

They play two official games against fellow Associates Oman and the Netherlands at the end of the week before the their first game in Pool B against Afghanistan on March 8.

In his on-tour blog, coach Grant Bradburn said that the squad has adapted well to the heat and conditions and that they are in great shape heading into the business end.

They have no choice but to embrace what legendary Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh described as “the final frontier”.

There is perhaps no country in the world where the challenges faced by visiting cricket teams are as varied and alien as on the sub-continent.

Evans picked up a slight hamstring niggle during Scotland’s second warm-up game in Pune against Payyada SC and should be ready for start of the tournament.

He has been to India before on an ICC and European development camp about six or seven years ago and was happy to discuss the challenges of coping in india and at a World Cup.

“[Laughing] It’s not the same as [Scotland] or down in England or across in New Zealand, but that’s part of the fun and part of the challenge,” he said.

“It’s really exciting and [will be] my first T20 World Cup which is good, especially in a place like India which has challenging and difficult conditions, but that’s all part of the fun so looking forward to getting cracking.

“By the time the [group] games come around, we will be raring to go,” he added.

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Scotland play Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong in Nagpur during the tournaments first round.

Evans believes that all the teams are evenly matched and for the Scots to be successful, they need to start strong.

“In our group anyone can beat anyone,” he said.

“All eight teams, excluding Bangladesh maybe – but we’ve beaten them [before] – and in those conditions anyone can beat anyone on any given day, especially T20 cricket.

“We will want to get some momentum behind us. We’ve shown before that when we get on a roll we’ve been good and we certainly continue with it.”

He added: “The aim is to win all three games and see where we get to because once you get to the latter stages anything is possible.”

The pitches on the sub-continent are varied; some low and slow, others flat and hard as roads. Add to that some small grounds with the boundaries brought in and you begin to wonder why anyone would want to be a bowler in the modern game?

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The 27-year-old is not phased by this, pointing out that the bowlers are ready for anything because they have more experience and have trained for precisely this moment in their careers. But have they learnt from the past?

“Undoubtably! Undoubtably!” he answers in a stern tone, which hints at a frustration of not doing so  before and that now it is time to deliver.

“I think of this fifteen-man squad, only two players have been [to a World Cup] before.

“We are all very similar in age, in our mid twenties, going through a journey together and I think that’s invaluable for us as a group to have gone through that.

“There were some harsh lessons learnt out in New Zealand and Australia [2015 50-over World Cup] and we’ve learnt from them, so we will be much, much better equipped going into this next world tournament.

“In Twenty20 you have to be able to bowl six or seven [good] deliveries [in a four-over spell] now, which is something that we’ve been working on as a bowling unit for the past twelve to eighteen months.”

Bradburn explained how the team has been practicing with wet cricket balls to simulate the dew that hampers the fielding side’s in the evening, something the Scots will not have experienced much.

However, playing in Scotland which is often wet and damp, the players should be able to cope and Evans feels the that the team is ready.

“We’ve got faith in our skills,” he says with conviction.

“We are adaptable, you need to be able to adapt in the middle and we know we have got the skills when it comes to game day.”

Moving away from the seriousness of the cricket, his coach has described the food as “excellent” and Evans agreed (having been in India before) that it is.

Prompted for which of the two he would be looking forward to the most?

“That’s a tough one” he said, unconvincingly and grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

And just like Lewis Carroll’s famous feline, Evans disappeares into the distance for some final training before taking on the world.

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Six Nations: Scotland defeat Italy

  • Scotland end nine-game tournament losing streak with 36-20 victory in Rome 
  • John Barclay, John Hardie and Tommy Seymour touched down for the Scots.
  • A flawless display from the kicking tee saw Captain Greig Laidlaw score 21 points and earn Man-of-the Match after a superb performance.
  • Victory eases pressure on Cotter

Scotland ended their long-standing Six Nations losing streak with a hard fought victory at the Stadio Olimpico and in the process delivered a first win in the competition for under pressure coach Vern Cotter.

The scoreboard reads a 16-point differential but a late Seymour try gives the notion of a dominant Scotland performance, which it was anything but – it was only late in the second half, after some sustained pressure from the Azzurri in the middle period that the game was sealed.

The Scots dominated the opening 30 minutes but let Italy back into the match with some silly errors and lack of discipline twenty minutes either side of the break.

Yellow cards for Finn Russell and WP Nel were unnecessary as they were avoidable.

Scotland had to defend for their lives during this period which was strange as they were dominating the set-piece thereby winning penalty after penalty.

Ultimately, this  lead to Italy coach Jacques Brunel to substitute both his starting props after Alisdair Dickinson and Nel ground them into the dirt.

The forwards won 14 from 15 line-outs and scrums, which laid the platform for the victory.

However, the Italians dominated possession (62%) and territory (66%), winning double the amount of rucks and mauls.

They also made more metres with ball in hand, more off-loads, beat more defenders and missed less tackles – they just could not finish when it mattered most.

Cotter will not care a jot. His team has regressed since an outstanding World Cup in the autumn and the early promise during a short honeymoon period at the start of his tenure.

But old failings against England in their opening match of the Six Nations and a gut-wrenching loss in Cardiff to Wales set them back.

Scotland just needed to win. Any win would do and the talk leading into the game was of winning, even by one point, just win.

There were stand-out performances everywhere. The pack had an immense game with Dickinson, Nel and the Gray Brothers in the engine-room laying down the foundations for success.


Jonny tied with Barclay for the most carries (10) and tackles (17 with Hardie), Richie won the most line-out ball while being a nuisance at every break-down, slowing Italian ball.

Hardie scored his third try in eight Tests and the vitriol surrounding his inclusion for the World Cup seems so long ago that you might not find anyone who owns up for criticising his selection.

Credit to Cotter for including Barclay in the squad after leaving him in the wilderness.

The flanker has been in inspired form and ran a neat support-line to collect Stuart Hogg’s off-load for the first try.

What can we say about Hogg that has not already been said? There is an argument that Scotland lost their way against Wales when the full-back went off injured in the first half of that defeat.

The 23-year-old was sublime, secure under high-balls, dancing past Italian defenders and solid in the tackle. His two off-loads (the pop-pass for Barclay after some fancy footwork and the back-door flip to Seymour for the third score) were magic.

The half-back pairing of Laidlaw and Russell was solid; the skipper controlled the pack and his decisions of when to spread or to play tight, was tactically excellent.

The captain was flawless with the boot kicking three conversions and five penalties which kept his team ahead as Italy made their come-back.

The fly-half’s distribution was good and he had his best game of the campaign, but still needs to address some of his out-of-hand kicking.

Ross Ford had a good day in the line-out; there was no schoolboy errors from Scotland of the kind that blighted the semi-final defeat to Australia and the cock-up in the Welsh game.

For all the good things it will not go unnoticed by the coaching staff that they still have disciplinary issues.

Two sin-bins in one game generally cost teams the game and has done the Scots many times before.

All in all, after the second longest losing streak in 145 years by any Scottish side and taking into account the severe pressure on them and the back-room staff to get a win in the Eternal City, negativity should be out-wayed by celebration.

Celebration of spirit and a never say die attitude which encapsulates the team Cotter is moulding.

Up next is a turgid France back at Murrayfield – another must win (seems every game is).

Scotland will fancy their chances but with more false dawns than the Long Night in Westeros, the players as well as the supporters will take nothing for granted – you are only as good as your last game, so the saying goes.

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Cotter includes Visser for Italy showdown

  • Team not won in Six Nations under Cotter 
  • Nine-match losing streak second longest in 145 years
  • Win will release pressure on Kiwi coach

Scotland Head Coach Vern Cotter has named Tim Visser in his starting XV for Saturday’s crucial clash in Rome.

Visser was included in the original squad but a hamstring injury meant he was ruled out of action for the team’s opening two games.

The winger has had to full outings with his club side Harlequins in the past fortnight and comes in for Sean Lamont, who drops to the bench.

The Kiwi-born coach has made four changes to the bench; Exeter Chiefs prop Moray Low and Edinburgh Rugby loose-head Rory Sutherland (who will make his Test debut should he come on) are included, while Glasgow Warriors back-row Ryan Wilson and centre Peter Horne return to the squad.

Gordon Reid, Zander Ferguson, Duncan Weir, Ruaridh Jackson and the injured Blair Cowan drop out of the match-day 23.

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Full-back Stuart Hogg and wing Tommy Seymour are fit after suffering knocks in Cardiff, while Duncan Taylor retains his place ahead of fit-again Matt Scott.

Cotter said: “After a week off from the Championship, we have returned to camp fresh and fit, and have prepared well for what will be another formidable opponent.

“Italy have shown they are a talented team, particularly in their performance away against France, but also against England.

“They surprised both teams with their physicality, intensity and quality, all of which we will have to be ready for, and at least equal to, if we are to win in Rome this weekend.

“We have worked hard to improve our game and will stay true to the core values of this team, which is to work hard but stay calm; have belief in our systems, ourselves, and enjoy the opportunity.”

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Scotland and Italy have met 25 times in all, Scotland winning 17, including the two most recent fixtures that saw the Scots secure a home (48-7) and away (16-14) double in preparation for Rugby World Cup 2015.

Honours are even in the past two RBS 6 nations meetings however, with each sides winning away.

However, the Scots are on a nine-game losing streak in the Six Nations stretching back to February 2014 which incidentally, was against this weekend’s opposition.

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Six of those nine losses were by nine-points or less so expect another close encounter in the Eternal City.

The Scots must win to ease pressure on Cotter who is yet to win a Championship match since taking the reigns. A win will soften the dissenting voices growing in media and among supporters.

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 David Denton, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.

Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Moray Low, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Sean Lamont.

Date: Saturday, February 27
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15.25 (14.25 Scotland time; 14.25 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzère (France), Nick Briant (New Zealand)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

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Exclusive: Bradburn believes in Scotland

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Scotland’s World Twenty20 2016 squad. // Picture: Donald MacLeod

Scotland coach Grant Bradburn assesses his team’s chance at next month’s ICC World Twenty20 in India and discusses what it will take to have a successful campaign on the game’s  biggest stage.

The team arrived in Pune on Tuesday for an intensive training camp and with the hope of playing more than the two warm-up matches that have been organised against the Netherlands and Oman in Mohali.

The Saltires’ opening fixture is against Afghanistan in Nagpur on 8 March, where they will also play Zimbabwe and Hong Kong.

The sub-continent is a world away from the comforts of home. India is a massive country that is cricket-crazy where the cliche: cricket is a religion is as apt as it is tedious.

Scotland will have to adapt quickly to the heat and humidity as well as the varied conditions, especially the surfaces on which they will play.

From low-and-slow wickets, rank turners – where the ball barely lifts off the surface –  to the hard, flat batting roads on small grounds which can leave a bowler scarred for life, wondering why he had not picked up a bat in the first place?

Bradburn, a former Test and One-Day International, speaks eloquently and has a calm demeanour – think Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption.

When the 49-year-old speaks, he exudes confidence and you believe all that he says to be sincere – as well as realistic.

Standing outside the team’s training centre in Edinburgh on a freezing February evening, dressed only in tracksuit bottoms and the team’s branded polo shirt, the coach says: “no, it won’t” when asked about India’s heat and humidity and its likely affect on his team.

Scotland’s players have been doing ‘Hot Yoga’ to aid preparation for similar conditions on the sub-continent, but have also been out in the heat of Dubai for some warm-weather training and three T20 games.

However, the conditions in India will be vastly different to what many of the squad has experienced but they will not be alien.

“In India adjusting to lower, slower conditions will be important and that’s why our pre-camp in Pune and Mohali is very important to get comfortable.

“Only half the squad has played in India so it will be challenging, but we’ve prepared for it and will embrace it,” he added.

“It’s about adjusting to the conditions of the tracks [pitches], assessing and adapting as we go, which is one thing that we’ve worked hard on since the [2015 50-over] World Cup.

“We are much better prepared since then to adapt to the conditions we face.”

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ICC World Twenty20 India 2016 fixtures

The New Zealand-born coach has been with the team for a World Cup qualifying tournament, multiple series’ and a World Cup proper. He is positive his team has what it takes to show the world his side belong.

“T20 cricket is as regular a diet for Associate nations as 50-over cricket and we are comfortable with it.

“We have an outstanding T20 side and I’m pleased with the 15 that have been selected. We’re dynamic, young and have experience; each player offers specific skill-sets in this format which is fantastic.

“We are starting to see a difference in our T20 side to our one-day and four-day side and are pleased with the balance that we’ve got.”

Bradburn understand that to be successful and win games of cricket, a team must be good at all three disciplins of the sport.

“Clearly batting is very important and we need to score lots of runs to give ourselves a chance to defend totals if we are setting.

“T20 cricket is about all facets of the game; fielding is probably one of our most important. We’ve got some outstanding fielders in our side and if we can hold our catches, take our run-outs and win that battle, it will go a long way to winning games of cricket.”

But how will Scotland fare on the grandest stage of them all?

“We can win pretty, we can win dirty; we’ve just got to get the fire in our belly, roll our sleeves up and get the job done.

“There’s going to be big crowds, nerves and pressure and we’ve tried to simulate that as much as we can.”

And with that, he saunters back into the National Cricket Academy to put his chargers through one of their last fitness sessions.

Scotland World Twenty20 2016 squad:

Preston Mommsen (Captain), Kyle Coetzer (Vice Captain), Alasdair Evans, Calum MacLeod, Con de Lange, Gavin Main, George Munsey, Josh Davey, Mark Watt, Matt Machan, Matthew Cross, Michael Leask, Richie Berrington, Rob Taylor, Safyaan Sharif 

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Cricket Scotland all kilted out

Cricket Scotland players, Preston Mommsen, Safyaan Sharif, Ali Evans, Michael Leask and Matthew Cross present the WT20 kit // Photo Donald MacLeod

CRICKET Scotland has launched their new kit for the 2016 ICC World T20 in India. 

Captain Preston Mommsen, Michael Leask, Ali Evans Safyaan Sharif and Matthew Cross were joined by renowned kilt designer Siobhan Mackenzie at the Shore, Edinburgh to model the new gear. 

The exclusive Cricket Scotland tartan that can be seen on the shirts, was created by Pitlochry-based House of Edgar, is a striking combination of navy, azure and white. 

Scotland all-rounder Leask said, “It’s a great top and looks superb with the kilts. The shirts are really light, which will be handy when we get to India. 

We’ve been preparing hard and can’t wait to get out there and represent our country on the world stage.” 

Mackenzie said, “The kilts that the guys are wearing today are variations on the Mackenzie tartan used in different ways, along with different textures, tweeds and velvets to give them a real fresh and modern look. 

Also to have the Cricket Scotland tartan on the shirt makes it look distinctive and really stand out – I’m a big fan.” 

The Scotland squad leave on Sunday (21st Feb) to prepare for ICC World Twenty20 India 2016 with a series of warm-up games in India, ahead of their group-stage matches which will be played at the iconic Vidarbha stadium in Nagpur.

The Scots will play a series of warm-up games prior to taking on Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong in the first round of the tournament.

Cricket Scotland today launched their new kit designed specifically for taking part in the 2016 ICC World T20 in India next month (March). Several members of the squad, Preston Mommsen, Michael Leask, Ali Evans, Matthew Cross and Safyaan Sharif were joined by renowned bespoke kiltmaker Siobhan Mackenzie at Leith Shore, Edinburgh, who brought along some of her own MacKenzie tartan kilts, all made in a combination of cloth textures, tweed and velvets for a fresh and modern look to compliment the newly designed playing tops – which themselves include panels showing the official Cricket Scotland tartan, a striking combination of navy, azure and white. // Photo Donald MacLeod

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Strokosch out to avenge 2011 World Cup debacle and previous loss to Samoa

Scotland go into their crucial 2015 World Cup clash with Samoa knowing that a win will see them qualify for the quarter-finals.

Vern Cotter’s team sit in second place in Pool B, one point behind South Africa, who are favourites to beat the United States on Wednesday and top the group.

Saturday’s Test has become a must win because tournament surprise package Japan has won two of their pool matches, famously beating the Springboks 34-32 in Brighton and could overtake the Scots.

Four years ago in New Zealand, Scotland failed to make the knockout stages of the showpiece event for the first time since the tournament’s inception, when England beat the Scots 16-12 courtesy of a late Chris Ashton try.

Flank Alasdair Strokosch played in the defeat to the Auld Enemy in Auckland  and a narrow 13-12 loss to Argentina earlier had sent them crashing out of the 2011 edition in embarrassing fashion.

Cotter is expected to name his strongest team after resting players against the Boks. The back-row forward is focused on coming out on top in Newcastle and doesn’t care how or by how much.

Strokosch said: “I’m not really concerned how we do it, just as long as we do it. Whether it’s by one point or by 20 points, it doesn’t really matter.

“It’s a knockout game for us. There’s nothing else to it except putting everything into winning the game.”

Strokosch also suffered defeat by Samoa in June 2013 when his side became the first Scots to lose to the Pacific island nation, going down 27-17 in a four-nation tournament in South Africa.

The 32-year-old said: “I played that day and I can remember it pretty well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             “The only thing that really let us down was that we just didn’t front up to Samoa’s physicality and that’s kind of what cost us.” 


Scotland ring changes for clash with formidable South Africa


Stage is set for Pool B showdown at St James' Park between Scotland and South Africa.
Stage is set for Pool B showdown at St James’ Park between Scotland and South Africa.
  • Cotter makes several unforced changes to side that beat the United States
  • Springboks select strong XV for crucial Pool B clash 
  • Key match-ups all over the field

Scotland coach Vern Cotter has had his team selection for Saturday’s Pool B clash with South Africa questioned. 

Some key match-ups will dictate the outcome of the match in Newcastle and despite the many changes, Cotter has selected a team that will compete with the Bokke for size in a game that will test the Scots’ physicality. 

“Stern Vern” as he is known among journalists – the Kiwi even has a parody Twitter account dedicated to himself – can be forgiven for having one eye on Samoa next week.

Despite South Africa’s shock defeat to Japan – whom Scotland beat comfortably – the Boks will be no pushovers.

Cotter’s opposite number Heyneke Meyer, has selected a very strong XV that know a defeat will almost certainly knock them out of the tournament.

Included in the starting line-up against the Springboks at St James’ Park is Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Richie Vernon and Blair Cowan, who was controversial omitted from Scotland’s initial 31-man World Cup squad.

New Zealander John Hardie was selected in place of Cowan as the only out-and-out open-side flanker without even having ever stepped foot in Scotland, but qualified through his grandmother.

Cowan had started all five of Scotland’s Six Nations matches this year earning plaudits for his work at the breakdown and his omission did not go down well in the court of public opinion.

Hardie however, had an excellent Test in the Scots’ 45-10 win over Japan and whatever ill-feeling there was has been replaced by quiet optimism.

Question marks remain regarding Cotter only one fetcher in the squad.

Meyer has returned Bismarck du Plessis to hooker and with Schalk Burger in the line-up, the Boks will pose a double threat at the breakdown.

Cowan’s role will therefore be crucial and he will need to be at his best if Scotland is to stand a chance.

Richie Vernon’s selection at centre is a gamble – end of. Meyer has picked the exciting and dynamic midfield duo of Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende because of the retirement of former captain Jean de Villiers due to injury.

Kriel (21) and De Allande (23) maybe young and inexperienced but they tore New Zealand and Australia apart in this year’s Rugby Championship and is clearly the side’s best combination.

Their partnership is regarded as the “future” of South African rugby. Cotter’s choice of Matt Scott and Vernon for such a big game throws up more questions about selection of Mark Bennett against the USA.

The Kiwi has chosen size over dynamism and attack as his selection clearly indicates his concern of the midfield threat.

Duncan Weir at flyhalf does not possess the flair or kicking ability of Russell so Scotland’s attack will in all probability come from Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser and Tommy Seymour.

The Springbok back three will match Scotland’s trio in every aspect; World Cup-winning wings, JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana need no introduction and fullback Willie le Roux is a dangerous runner with an educated boot.

A sub-plot is the inclusion of two South Africans WP Nel and Josh Strauss to play against their mother country.

Meyer revealed that the line-out calls had to be changed because ex-saffas Nel and Strauss understand Afrikaans.

Both have also been part of the Bok training camps before swapping  Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika for Flower of Scotland.

Nel will fancy his chances against Jannie du Plessis in the scrum set-piece, while Strauss will have a much tougher assignment in Francois Louw, Duane Vermeulen and Burger.

The boiler room battle between the Gray brothers, Richie and Jonny against Lood de Jager and the towering enforcer Eben Etzebeth will be brutal, despite legend Victor Matfield’s exclusion because of injury.

Scotland’s forwards will face a beast of a pack. Meyer returned to the “traditional” Springbok style against Samoa at Villa Park.

The Boks’ driving maul was impressive and the threat at the breakdown established. If there is a weakness, it is the two props.

South Africa’s scrum has been hit and miss for many years; a weakness at tighthead and a lack of depth at loosehead can see their scrum struggle, after 60 minutes, it really starts to creak.

Prior to the Samoa match Scotland fans might have fancied this match, if anything, two solitary wins since South Africa’s readmission into the rugby fold in 1992, prove anything but.

The only way to win, is to win most of the key battles – easier said then done.


Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Richie Vernon, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 David Denton, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Josh Strauss, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Sean Lamont.

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian De Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (captain), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.

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South Africa name strong team to play Scotland

  • Fourie du Preez named as new South African rugby captain after retirement of Jean de Villiers
  • South Africa make three changes to starting line-up that thrashes Samoa
  • Heyneke Meyer blends youth with experience

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer named World Cup-winning scrumhalf Fourie du Preez as skipper of his team after the retirement of Jean de Villiers.

The 109 cap veteran broke his jaw against Samoa, for the second time this year and was ruled out of the rest of the tournament.

Samoa perform the Siva Tau at Villa Park against South Africa.
Samoa perform the Siva Tau at Villa Park against South Africa.

Du Preez, who Meyer described as a “tactical genius” becomes the 56th captain of South Africa and his first assignment will be against Scotland at St James’ Park in Newcastle.

The Bok coach made three changes from last weekend’s win over Samoa in Birmingham. Jesse Kriel and Damien de Allende will renew their nascent centre partnership, while Lood de Jager replaces Victor Matfield in the boiler room.

Despite the loss of two legends of Springbok rugby in Matfield and De Villiers, the midfield duo is arguably the best (and form) pairing. With Handre Pollard at flyhalf, 10,12 and 13 have a combined 27 caps, but all three have proven themselves at international level.

The Springboks finish celebrating Schalk Burger's try versus Samoa.
The Springboks finish celebrating Schalk Burger’s try versus Samoa.

The former captain’s unfortunate retirement, together with Matfield’s injury has conspired to strengthen the two-time world champions and both played in the loss against Japan in their Pool B opener.

Returning to hooker is Bismarck du Plessis in place of Adriaan Strauss in a rotational switch. Du Pleases is widely regarded as the game’s best No 2. The former Shark adds an extra dimension to the Bokke at the breakdown.

Pieter Steph du Toit, Willem Alberts and Jan Serfontein are added to the bench with the later covering wing and centre, while Alberts and Du Toit can play a number of positions in the scrum.

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian De Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (captain), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.


Man of the Match Laidlaw spurred on by Eddie Jones’ jibe

Scotland avoided the infamy that some had predicted by thumping Japan 45-10 and gaining the important bonus point in Gloucester to get their World Cup off to the best possible start.

Japan’s 34-32 humbling of the two-time world champion Springboks on Saturday in Brighton has turned Pool B on its head, but Scotland’s composure at Kingsholm combined with a solid set-piece and clinical finishing put paid to any upset loss.

In the pre-match build-up, Japan coach Eddie Jones and his opponent Vern Cotter had traded jibes. Cotter had inferred that Jones would pick a weakened side to take on South Africa, thereby giving the Cherry Blossoms the best opportunity to beat Scotland.

It has not worked out that way and Japan, after their heroics, have gone from Cherry to Brave Blossoms. However, it did not go according to plan against a clinical Scotland team.

Jones in his press conference this week said: “If you look at Scotland’s scoring profile, they are very heavily a first-half scoring team and score consistently,” Jones continued. “We know we’re a fit team so, if we’re in the game at half-time, we will win the game. We will run them off their feet.

“I think the pressure is definitely on Scotland because last Saturday’s game showed that maybe the order of world rugby can change.

“Scotland is one of the most established rugby countries in the world, so for Japan to challenge Scotland, in terms of where they are in world rugby, puts pressure on Scotland.”

The four-day turnaround proved to be too much for Japan. The former Wallabies’ coach had insisted that his team were also fitter than the Scots and that if they were in the match by half time, they would go on to win.

This clearly rankled Cotter and his team, something the television commentators and print media had a field day with. Judging by Scotland captain Greg Laidlaw’s post match interview, Jones’ comments had proved to galvanise not hamper.

Laidlaw, who turned in an excellent all round scrum half performance and won the Man of the Match award was all smiles after the Test and described the winning feeling as “happy days”.

“They were saying during the week that if they were in the game at half time they were going to take us, so we were absolutely determined and we are delighted with our performance from the boys wearing the thistle today,” said the skipper.

It has been a tough six months for Laidlaw, Cotter and Scotland. After a promising Autumn International series at the end of last year, they were brought crashing down to earth with a Six Nations wooden spoon.

This victory is just what the doctor ordered and Laidlaw added: “That’s just the start hopefully for this team. We’ve talked at length about playing for eighty minutes and by god we did that today. I thought we were outstanding for the duration [of the match].

“Definitely. Credit to Japan, they were awesome in the first game against South Africa. They were really tough opponents today [and] their result against South Africa really blew the group open…so it was really important for us to start with a win today.”


Scotland blast Brave Blossoms

Scotland opened their 2015 World Cup campaign with an impressive 45-10 bonus point win over Japan at Kingsholm, avoiding the most slippery of banana skins.

Scotland ran in five tries to one with a brace from Mark Bennett and a try apiece for Tommy Seymour, John Hardie and Finn Russell along with 20 points from the boot of Man-of-the-Match Greg Laidlaw, who kicked four penalties and four conversion.

Japan scored through Amanaki Mafi and a penalty and conversion from Ayumu Goromaru.

In the preceding days leading up to this clash, Scotland coach Vern Cotter had already lost the war of words with his counterpart Eddie Jones, who has become somewhat of a darling of the tournament and the land of the rising sun.

Jones had stated that if his chargers were in the match at half time that they would go on to win – something that irked the Scotland camp and to which Laidlaw alluded to in his post match interview.

However, the quick turnaround after the energy and mental sapping victory over South Africa on Saturday took its toll on the former Wallabies’ coach’s side.

After the giant killing in Brighton the Brave Blossoms could not repeat their heroics against a resolute Scotland in Gloucester.

Scotland settled their early match nerves when their captain kicked a third minute penalty after Japan were penalised at the maul.

The skipper increased the lead to 6-0 after an infringement at the ruck.

Japan struck soon after with a powerful driving maul – something the Springboks had first hand knowledge – when Grant Gilchrist was penalised for not rolling away from the ruck.

Fullback Goromaru could not have kicked a better touch-finder, setting up his forwards with a line-out from five metres out and which they capitalised.

Shota Horie threw to the back of the set-piece and Japan’s speed at forming the driving maul was no match for the Scots defence. No 8 Amanaki Mafi added to his try against the Boks, Goromaru added the conversion and Japan led 7-6 after 18 minutes.

This served to wake Scotland who took a 12-7 lead after a brace of penalties from Laidlaw in the space of three minutes.

Winger Kotaro Matsushima was sin-binned and Scotland did not take advantage of the extra man and missed a chance to open up a two-score lead when the captain missed his first kick at goal.

Rather then fold, Japan then dominated the next 15 minutes and you would have thought that they had the man advantage – a theme of the match whereby the two teams dominated different 20 minute periods.

On the half hour Japan missed a chance to reduce the deficit to two points after Alisdair Dickinson was penalised for an illegal scrum-drive with his team in possession.

The Scots defence was immense with WP Nel, David Denton, John Hardie and Gilchrist all putting in big tackles. Some sustained pressure on Scotland’s try-line after a dozen phases from the Cherry Blossoms came to nothing and the ball was turned over.

Jones will have had mixed feelings with the half time stats – Japan controlled the territory and possession, but had conceded more penalties and missed more tackles in the first 40 minutes than in the entire Test against South Africa.

Seymour almost went over in the corner after a Russell skip pass only to be denied on the hooter by an excellent try-saving tackle from fullback Goromaru.

Some wonderful passing and running from Scotland ended with Hardie’s first Test try. The Kiwi-born flanker’s sublime inside flick to stop the move going into touch was collected by Matt Scott who popped to Hogg who was tackled short of the line.

Quick ruck ball from the Scots caught the Japan blindside short on numbers allowing Laidlaw to send Hardie, back in the game, in for the score. Laidlaw missed the conversion, but his side led 17-10 five minutes into the second half.

Goromaru missed a penalty that kept the scores at a seven point difference, but Mafi was taken off on a stretcher in the build up to play; the eighth-man had been monumental up until then.

Scotland were having to make far too many tackles (192 in total) and as Japan increased the pressure, Cotter would have been worried that the dam might burst.

No such worries as a break from the Stuart Hogg ended with Bennett strolling in under the posts to open up a 14 point gap after Laidlaw converted.

It had been mostly Japan but the sucker-punch from Scotland saw their opponents make silly handling errors in the build-up to the score; the 24-10 scoreline giving the Scots breathing space.

As the game went into the final quarter the four-day turnaround started to take effect as Japan started tired. Scotland’s scrum was dominating and the penalties mounted.

A driving maul attempt from Japan off a five-metre line-out could not muster another try. Instead Seymour intercepted a stray pass in his 22 and ran the length of the field to score under the sticks. Laidlaw converted and Scotland led 31-10.

Now Scotland went in search of the all important bonus point. After eight phases Bennett got his second try after a one-two with centre partner Scott saw him beat two defenders to score with ten minutes remaining.

Laidlaw’s third conversion took the score to 38-10 and job done. But Scotland were not content to just grind down the game and wanted more.

A dominant scrum wheeled the Japanese pack away from the open-side. Laidlaw switched to Russell, who on his 23rd birthday, danced past the oncoming defenders, beat two tacklers to get on the score sheet. The skipper made no mistake with the extras.

Japan might have won hearts but the Scots won the match to go top of the most intriguing of World Cup Pools.

Scotland trounce hapless Italy in the capital with six-try demolition

Scotland routed Italy 48-7 at Murrayfield running-in six tries to one as Vern Cotter’s players delivered their best display of the summer and left the field to resounding cheers and a standing ovation.

The 43,000 plus record crowd was treated to the Hot Dub Time Machine before kickoff — which was not as bad as it sounds – on a warm day in the capital, which combined nicely with the SRU’s beach party theme and Scotland’s players joined the party.

Murrayfield before the carnage.
Murrayfield before the carnage.

Scotland looked to enjoy the dry weather as they delivered one of the best attacking displays under Cotter, although as the coach acknowledged, was also down to opportunism – three tries were scored by way of interceptions.

Tim Visser and Sean Lamont both scored braces, while John Barclay and Mark Bennett got one each. Greg Laidlaw kicked 16 points and Finn Russell a conversion. Michele Campagnaro scored Italy’s only try and Tomasso Allan added the conversion.

Laidlaw opened the scoring from in front of the posts after Martin Castrogiavanni was penalised for the second time inside the first four minutes for binding by Romain Poite.

Poite set the tone early with four penalty calls at the scrum inside 15 minutes; most going against the tight-head and his loose-head partner Matias Augero, for collapsing or binding infringements, despite Italy captain Leonardo Ghiraldini’s protestations.

On Friday, Scotland’s former lock Nathan Hines had said that he would rather win ugly then play entertaining rugby and lose, but would like to combine both: his former team-mates did exactly that.

During the opening quarter – and for most of the first half – Scotland’s backline stretched the visitors’ defence by spreading the ball and shifting their pack from side-to-side.

Hines had hinted at a tight game among the forwards, but it may have been a ruse because Vern Cotter had his side kicking behind the Italian defence at every opportunity inside the first half hour and passing and off-loading, keeping the ball alive and Italy, out on their feet.

Marshalled by Russell, Scotland were soon over the white-wash when a clever cross-field chip-kick from the flyhalf landed perfectly in Lamont’s hands, before he fended off Gugliemo Palazzani, to score. Laidlaw’s conversion took the Scots into a ten point lead in as many minutes.

Italy were the architects of their own downfall; conceding too many soft penalties and making handling errors on the few occasions they had the ball, which Scotland lapped-up.

Russell, Mark Bennett and Stuart Hogg clearly took to heart. Scotland’s backs were by now throwing the ball around as if they were playing touch rugby at the seas-side.

At one point, most of the Scots’ backline had touched the ball more than Italy standoff Tommaso Allan.

Two more Laidlaw penalties pushed the score to 16-0 after some more hapless play from the Azzurri inside their 22m; this after making a hash of a quick line-out move deep inside Scotland’s 22m.

Somehow the Italian scrum found its footing and Poite decided to penalise the home team twice at the set-piece. Allan kicked for the corner again and this time there was no calamity from his forwards.

The resultant line-out was caught by Joshua Furno, collected by Samuela Vunisa and driven towards the try line.

Scotland collapsed the maul, but the referee played advantage, which led to Allan dinking the ball into the in-goal area where Laidlaw and Visser conspired to gift a try to Campagnaro. Allan added the extras, 16-7.

A yellow card for Francesco Minto before the break led to another score for the Scots. From a line-out drive Barclay Scored when TMO Shaun Veldsman awarded the flank the try. Laidlaw took the halftime score to 23-7.

Scotland stepped up a couple of gears in the second half as they ran-in three unanswered tries. An Italian journalist had said prior to kick off that he felt Italy would buckle if Scotland opened a big lead – and they did.

Most pleasing was the quality of tries that the home team scored. The first of the second half, when the skipper combined with Russell, who threw a long skip-pass to Visser to go over unchallenged from five meters out, after some excellent driving mauls from the previous line-out.

Another Laidlaw conversion pushed the score to 28-7. Laidlaw kicked another penalty and at 31-7, the game was all but won. On 61 minutes Lamont got his second after putting a huge hit on Andrei Masi in midfield.

Scotland recycled the lost ball and somehow the wing was back in position to score. The captain’s conversion was wide, but at 36-7, it did not matter.

Italy did not give up and looked more dangerous when the game was lost, which says a lot about their mentality when put under intense pressure from the beginning of the Test – something their coach Jaques Brunel could not comprehend.

Visser was not to be outdone by Lamont and raced clear to score his second under the posts after intercepting a loose pass from Luke McLean. Russell added the two points, 43-7.

Scotland were arguably not as intense in the second period as the first, but they took their chances – something they have often been profligate with.

With the TMO telling Poite that two minutes were left two play Italy attacked again, but once again some poor passing and lack of structure cost them.

Bennett, who had been outstanding in the midfield was rewarded for his efforts when he collected a bouncing ball just outside his 22m. The centre evaded a couple of  defenders and provided the coup de grace, running down the left-hand touchline to score in the corner.

Russell missed the conversion and saved Italy from a half century – but not a thrashing.


Hines waxes lyrical on the home front

Hines talks to the media in the Davies Suite, Murrayfield.
Hines talks to the media in the Davies Suite, Murrayfield.

On a sunny day in Edinburgh Nathan Hines could be nothing if not sanguine about Scotland’s chances against Italy today, in front of what is expected to be a record crowd in the capital.

Vern Cotter is expected to name his final 31-man squad on Monday and this will be the last opportunity to make a claim for some players, however, there are a few certainties to travel down south next month for the World cup and Hines hints at three of them.

Hines’ enthusiasm for the boiler-room pair, an electric fullback, tactics and winning mentality were discussed in the Davies Suite at Murrayfield after Greg Laidlaw’s captain’s run.

Scotland defeated the Azzurri in Turin in a scrappy affair, but will look to avenge this year’s Six Nations humiliation by any means possible without forsaking structure.

“I’m excited about the second row,” said the 38 year-old. 

“It’s one of our strengths at the moment – we’ve got depth there. Guys are coming through young and if they can keep themselves fit, they could be there for a long time.”

Grant Gilchrist returns to the starting fifteen after illness and partners Jonny Gray in the second row. Gilchrist has been plagued by injuries and will relish running out in the capital, while the younger Gray brother will make his first summer series start.

“I’m looking forward to see Grant play again; he played really well against Ireland, but unlucky to get a bug against Italy.

“Jonny’s been training a lot and been looking for a bit more game time, so will be happy. These guys are physically bigger and better than me and I’ve just finished playing.”

The former Scotland and British and Irish Lions lock also singled out Stuart Hogg for his mental toughness and will to win.

Hogg has the winning mentality according to Hines and will go far in the game.
Hogg has the winning mentality according to Hines and will go far in the game.

“He’s a great player and he plays with a lot of passion and heart,” said Hines.

“He’s a real competitor and I like that about him – that’s what we need more of; people that don’t like being beaten. I think he will help shape the team down the road.”

Sticking to the theme of winning, Hines is not keen on flaky running rugby when history tells that the game is one up front, in the tight. He acknowledges that the result must be put above entertainment – a breath of fresh air to hear.

“We’ve got a good crowd coming tomorrow and it would be good for them to see open rugby, but I’d rather win ugly then to throw the ball around – if it has to get tight then I’d rather take the win.

“It’s a threat for any team if you get too loose and start throwing the ball around: you open yourself up to risky play. We will be wary of their set-piece, but we’ve got a good pack and we just have to play [our own game].”


Nathan Hines’ recent retirement not altered his hunger for success

Hines talks to the media in the Davies Suite, Murrayfield.
Hines talks to the media in the Davies Suite, Murrayfield.

Nathan Hines has only been apart of the Scotland coaching set-up for a few months, but has eased from player to backroom staff without to much fuss. Today he talked tactics, the pressure of selection and his own transition since retirement.

The Scots take on Italy at Murrayfield today in their only warm-up match at home prior to the World Cup next month. A narrow defeat to Ireland and a scrappy win against the Azzurri last weekend in Turin, indicates that there is still room for improvement with two games still to play.

The Scotland coaches assess their charges at Murrayfield on Friday
The Scotland coaches assess their charges at Murrayfield on Friday

IMG_3790 IMG_3785

However, for those on the fringes of the squad, the time may have passed to prove their worth because on Monday Vern Cotter will sit with his selection panel to choose his 31-man squad that will contest for the game’s biggest prize.

Hines can’t wait for the build-up to end and the tournament proper to begin: “It seems like it’s been a long preparation period – probably longer for the players than me,” he said.

“We went to France and it seems a very long time ago and there’s been an enormous amount of effort put in between then and now [but we have a better] understanding of the game and how we want to play.

“It’s a tough time for the players because we are going to have to make some decisions soon, but I think they’re just worried about the game tomorrow.

“They know the cut’s coming and they know if they don’t play well then they’re not doing their chances any good.

“As coaches we want to take the pressure off them, so they can play as well as they can. I still go around and talk to the young guys and the new caps coming in, but it’s pretty much what the senior players do.”

Italy has been the bane of Scotland since the Five Nations became six and have often dished up defeat to the home side. Asked what he would like from tomorrow’s match, the 38 year-old said: “Another victory would be nice.”

“It’d be nice if we could perform well like in Ireland and win like we did in Italy and [if] we can put the two together, we will be happy.

“I’d like no injuries as well and everybody to play well, so we can have a long and drawn out meeting about selection.”

“If all the individuals do well then the team will function, but if the team wins we’re not going to pick an individual who doesn’t play well.”

Scotland stretching before captain's run at Murrayfield
Scotland stretching before captain’s run at Murrayfield

Discussing his own role within the group Hines said: “It hasn’t been weird at all. When you get given an opportunity as a newly retired player to come in to help coach in a World Cup is a massive opportunity.”

“A couple of players asked if it’s “coach Hinesy” or “friend Hinesy”? We’ve got close relationships because we played together, but the relationship I’ve got with them is no different to the one I have with the guys I didn’t play with. 

“It hasn’t been any different for me and there has been no awkwardness.”


Evans writes his name into the record books

Alasdair Evans starred with the ball in Scotland’s 32-run defeat to the Netherland’s in the ICC World T20 Qualifiers in Edinburgh last week.

The Carlton man took a career best 5/24 against a strong Dutch batting line-up that piled on 191 runs in their 20 overs at the Grange.

Evans’ economy rate was six runs per over, while none of the other five Scotland bowlers went for under 9.75 runs per over, making his figures all the more outstanding.

Evans' performance gives him best Scotland figures, fourth best Associate and 13th best in history of T20I cricket.
Evans’ performance gives him best Scotland figures, fourth best Associate and 13th best in history of T20I cricket.

“People keep telling me this, which is nice,” said the 26-year-old after being asked if he knew his figures were the 13th best in the history of international T20 cricket.

However, he added: “Stats come secondary to victories. I would’ve given up any one of those wickets and that stat for us to have won today.”

Win or lose, this Scotland team under coach Grant Bradburn, are always quick to offer praise for their team-mates and coaching staff.

Often when a player is praised about personal milestones, they shift the spotlight to another, whether or not their achievement was inquired about.

He praised the batsmen, deflecting the attention: “The way Preston Mommsen (68 not out) and Safyaan Sharif (26, the next highest score of the 159 all out) batted today showing that we’ve got form through the order to go with the way Kyle [Coetzer] and George [Munsey] batted two days ago.”

When pushed about his performance on a ground that was wet – which might have made the ball hard to control – he said: “Here at Grange it looks flat, but it’s quite undulating, so you can get caught out sometimes.

“The ball was fine, I just had my simple plans which I stuck to and I thought I had a good rhythm today and it was my day with the ball, but not our day as a team.

“The team analyst Toby Bailey does a great job for us (sharing the praise again). We play against the Dutch quite a lot and we knew that they like to set a base and that they like to hit square. If we could get under the bat then there was an opportunity.” 

In all, Evans spoke more about the team rather than his own display, which reminded me of the oft quoted euphemistic phrase for defeat: it not being important whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.

That is for children and youths; sometimes they need perspective, to know that sport is not life or death.

It is certainly the way to conduct oneself no matter what age or level of competition, but after such an important match ending in defeat?

That is an admirable trait that the entire Scots’ team exhibit and it is refreshing. It is safe to say Rudyard would approve.


Leask revelling in his role as lead spinner for Scotland

Michael Leask is relishing his role as the leading spinner for Scotland, who won their opening World T20 Qualifier against the United Arab Emirates in Edinburgh on Thursday.

The 24-year-old’s 3-20 in the crushing nine-wicket win at the Grange, saw him continue his rich wicket taking form from the warm up matches against Namibia (2-24) and Jersey (3-10).

Leask has taken 11 wickets in his last five Scotland games.
Leask has taken 11 wickets in his last five Scotland games.

Leask also took three wickets in the Scots’ historic 2-0 T20 International series against Ireland last month.

More importantly, the Forfarshire man has struck up a partnership with Heriot’s Mark Watt, who took 3-28. The spinners took six wickets apiece against the UAE, but more importantly, their “miserly” bowling strangled the opposition.

Scotland beat UAE in opening Wt20 qualifier in Edinburgh thanks to George Munsey's 62 not out.
Scotland beat UAE in opening Wt20 qualifier in Edinburgh thanks to George Munsey’s 62 not out.

Remarkably Leask didn’t think that the pitch favoured spin, despite the havoc he and Watt caused the Emirates’ batsmen: “I wouldn’t have said so,” he said.

“I wasn’t finding much turn. They [UAE] were not keen to take one [run], they wanted boundaries – we fielded really well on the boundary today.

“The fielding set the tone along with some pretty good bowling. Between Mark Watt and myself and the seamers, we did an unbelievable job to keep them to 109.”

The all-rounder praised his young spin partner, crediting Watt’s tight spell for his wickets.

“I think Mark is an absolutely brilliant spinner at this level and he’s taken to it like a duck to water. To be able to bowl at the other end and when he has that many dots [balls], it makes my life easier.

“The way Watty has come in and performed he has really taken the pressure off myself. 

“The way we’ve bowled in tandem has been key in the last three games and been quite miserly while taking wickets, which takes pressure off the team.”

Mark Watt took 3-28 against the United Arab Emirates.
Mark Watt took 3-28 against the United Arab Emirates.

The dot balls he speaks of have always been instrumental in limited overs cricket for getting wickets and they have a higher value in the shortest format of the game.

Of the two four-over spells that the spinners bowled, 25 were not scored off – 25 balls from 48 bowled wins matches, but the fielding had a lot to do with this.

Wicketkeeper Matthew Cross took two superb catches off Watt while Callum MacLeod’s two catches and a run out, was matched by Man of the Match George Munsey, who took three catches.

“We’ve got an all round unit; if we have a bad day with the ball we can make it up with the bat, but also in the field – we’ve got a dynamic group,” he added.

Although, he is enjoying his bowling Leask hinted at a slight slump in form with the bat, but is not too bothered, rather he preferred to thank the coaching staff for improving his bowling.

“I’ve been working a lot on my bowling with the coaching staff. Grant’s [Bradburn] been brilliant, Craig Wright as well.

“I feel that I’m bowling as well as ever. I’d like the batting to do the same, but that’s the good thing about having a couple of strings to your bow and I’m happy to contribute in any way I can at the moment.”


Bradburn delighted with preparation

Scotland defeated Jersey by 69 runs on Duckworth-Lewis method in their second warm-up match with stylish, aggressive batting at Goldenacre to compliment some excellent bowling.

Scotland under Grant Bradburn continue to play attacking cricket and the rewards are a recent 2-0 T20 International series win over Ireland, in Ireland and two impressive wins against Namibia and Jersey in Edinburgh.

Scotland leave the field after victory over Namibia at Grange
Scotland leave the field after victory over Namibia at Grange

Bradburn also expects his chargers to play clever cricket: a leitmotif of New Zealand cricket.

England are trying and now their northern neighbours, under the former Black Cap, are thriving on the freedom to play positively and not letting undue responsibility weigh themselves down.

Scotland’s players are also fitter and in better shape than in the past, which has had a profound effect on player performances.

Speaking ahead of the tournament and after his team plundered 17 fours and nine sixes in a total of 199 for five against Jersey, Bradburn said: “It’s been hugely valuable to us. We felt coming into this week that we’re physically ready, but having a taster of game time has just topped it off nicely. 

“We’ve played very well and there’s no reason why we can’t take confidence into Thursday.”

He added: “We’re demanding a new raised performance in terms of the pace that we want to play this game and physically the guys are better prepared than ever before. 

“We had testing last week and we had a number of personal bests and the side is better prepared than ever and that’s for a reason. 

“This game is fast paced [T20] and that’s the way we want to play and it’s aligned to the skill-sets the players have got and it’s the way I want to play the game.”

The Scots are fitter than they've been in the past and proof is in the results
The Scots are fitter than they’ve been in the past and proof is in the results
Skipper Preston Mommsen practicing some slip catching: the Scots' fielding is excellent under Bradburn
Skipper Preston Mommsen practicing some slip catching: the Scots’ fielding is excellent under Bradburn

Evidence of the attacking play is evident in the Scots’ approach to batting in both setting and chasing totals; they go after the bowling from ball one, but not in a reckless manner, backing at least one player to get a big score.

The theory goes: if one batsman fails, the next will do the job. Against Namibia it was Richie Berrington’s unbeaten 61 from 35 balls and against Jersey, it was George Munsey’s 75 from 44 balls.

Against the islanders on Tuesday, all seven Scotland batsmen that came to the crease got double figures and scored at a rate of at least 100 runs per 100 balls.

Of the total 26 boundaries hit in the innings, 122 were scored in fours and sixes.

“These two games have been really important in our preparation. I couldn’t be happier with the way things have gone since we’ve named this squad,” continued the 49-year-old.

“We had a really good period in Ireland and the team played very well. Since Ireland, we’ve had two very good weeks of training at the grounds that we’re playing at [WT20 Qualifiers] – the Grange and Goldenacre.

“We’ve got some fresh faces in this team and the squad has been specifically selected for this format of the game.”

Scotland must continue in this manner if they are to qualify for their first T20 World Cup since 2009 as they continue their journey in striving to be the number one ranked Associate nation.


Munsey praises team spirit after Scotland ease to victory

Scotland’s 69-run (D/L) victory over Jersey at Goldenacre had many highlights; Michael Leask’s 3-10 and three catches; Safyaan Sharif’s 3-14 and a run out, or Captain Preston Mommsen’s 15 ball 29 in a unbeaten sixth wicket partnership of 38 from 16 balls with Josh Davey.

However, it was George Munsey’s 44 ball 75 at the top of the order that stood out among the rest.

George Munsey and Matthew Cross during their 41-run third wicket partnership
George Munsey and Matthew Cross during their 41-run third wicket partnership

Munsey will have all but cemented his spot to open the innings with Kyle Coetzer in the opening match of the ICC World T20 Qualifiers against the United Arab Emirates at Grange tomorrow.

“It’s good leading up to a big tournament starting to get some personal runs,” said Munsey after hitting nine fours and three sixes – along with losing two balls – in his sublime innings.

It says much of the young batsman that instead of focusing on his own performance, he chose to talk about the team.

“As far as the team’s concerned, we’re looking really good, we just want to keep on going and keep on doing what we enjoy.

“It’s a real big confidence [boost] for me. We’ve got guys in the middle order that can score runs consistently and it’s nice when you can walk out there and have them in the shed.”

Listening to all involved in Scotland set-up, it is very apparent that this is a unified dressing-room, who enjoy each others company and playing together.

“I’m really happy at the moment, we’ve got a really good base that we’re working from and I just want to go out there and enjoy it as much as I can.

“We have a really good team atmosphere at the moment. We’re trying to play positive cricket and we really enjoy the way we go about things and [we will] carry on from there.”

The Grange opener has been in devastating form this season, leading the Stockbridge side to the summit of the Eastern Premier League and has carried his form to the national team.

The 22-year-old has many shots in his locker and his strong all around the wicket. The lofted cover drive to go to his half century is evidence (if needed) that he can play orthodox cricket.

However, in all forms of modern cricket, batsmen have increased their array of strokes. In the age of Kevin Pietersen, AB de Villiers and Brendan McCullum, what was once unorthodox is now the norm.

This is exhibited in Munsey’s – now trademark – use of the reverse sweep. His ability to manoeuvre the ball into gaps with the stroke, bisecting fielders behind square or lofting the ball over the close catchers is devastating, while not being a release of pressure tactic.

This is down to confidence and having a good eye – and excelling at golf – but reverse sweeping is something that he picked up because of another sport.

“It’s something that we’ve been working on and it helps because I play hockey, so its quite a natural shot for me to pull out when required,” he said as if talking about playing a forward defensive.

Scotland play the UAE at Munsey’s home ground to begin their quest to qualify for consecutive World Cups.

If he is feeling the pressure, he is doing well not to show it. The opener’s only concern seems to be the the Scottish ‘summer’ and not the opposition, in what is a vital tournament for the Scots.

“We’ve just played against them in England and we’ve come across them in recent times and we’re looking forward to the challenge – hopefully the weather holds out for us.”


Berrington knocks Namibia for six

Richie Berrington steered Scotland to a comfortable six-wicket win over Namibia at the Grange in the home team’s first World T20 qualifier warm-up match.

Chasing Namibia’s below par 127 for eight, Berrington plundered an unbeaten 61 from 35 balls, with four sixes and four fours in an impressive display of big-hitting, to guide the Saltires 130 for four with 22 balls to spare.

This being a warm-up fixture, no Man of the Match was awarded, however, the allrounder was clearly the lynch-pin in an otherwise easy victory.

Berrington was effusive in his praise for the bowlers, particularly the spinners, who tied up the opposition’s batsmen.

Mark Watt took his first Scotland wicket and ended with figures of 1-13 in his four overs, while Michael Leask took 2-23 in his spell.

“We really managed to squeeze them in the middle with the spinners and [I’m] really pleased with the end result,” said Berrington after the match.

The “squeeze” he is talking about came in the form of dot balls. Watt and Leask bowled 31 dot balls between them out of the 48 that make up eight overs, restricting the southern Africans to a below par score.

“Its’s always nice to start with a win even though it was a warm-up match, he said of the win.

“I thought the guys were really good in the first half, our bowlers were excellent and put them under pressure early.”

“We needed a few overs after we did lose those wickets to rebuild and to reassess again, to see where our boundary options were going to be and once we got going it made it a bit easier.”

With regards to the home team’s batting philosophy he said: “We have got quite a few attacking players up top [of the innings], so we are looking to be quite positive in the first six. We’ve got guys that can strike the ball cleanly all the way through.

“We need to assess the conditions, which the guys always do – we always will look to take the attack to the bowlers.”

Discussing his own performance, he said: “It’s nice to spend a bit of time at the crease and get a few away.

“All the boys have been hitting the ball pretty well to be honest; we are raring to go and looking forward to the first game.”

Scotland play Jersey at Goldenacre in the capital tomorrow in their last warm-up match before the tournament proper starts later in the week and Berrington is not getting carried away.

“I think we have to take it one day at a time. Today we got the job done, we got out of the game what we needed to and come Thursday, hopefully we can take a lot of confidence out of that.”


Scotland out to test themselves before T20 World Cup Qualifiers

Scotland’s T20-International cricket season gets under way against Ireland at the Bready Cricket Club today and is a three-match series to help prepare both sides for next month’s ICC T20 World Cup Qualifiers, which guarantee the top six teams a place in India in March 2016.

Prior to this year’s 50-over World Cup the Saltires had not participated at a major international tournament since the T20 World Cup in England in 2009, so qualification for the global event will not be taken for granted.

The North Sea Pro Series (NSPS) has given the Scots ample opportunity to adapt from one limited-overs format to the next. Coach Grant Bradburn has stated time again that his chargers must and will make the transition because that is the nature of the modern professional cricketer.

Despite the quantity of preparation in the Pro Series, it was the quality of the cricket that concerned some of the Scotland squad. The Highlanders franchise successfully defended their T20 crown, but apart from a couple of less than convincing displays, Preston Mommsen’s team lost only one of their 10 matches – and even that could of gone either way.

So, with arch rivals Ireland hosting their near-neighbours over the next few days, Bradburn’s side will finally have a decent opponent from which to judge the currency of the NSPS cake-walk.

Speaking to CricketScotland Bradburn said: “This series against Ireland is a great opportunity for us as a unit to roll out the style of play we want to bring to the format.

“T20 is a format we’re very comfortable with. We’ve played a lot of white ball cricket, and had a really good couple of weeks leading up to this series, with lots of specific training towards T20.”

Speaking earlier in the year the former Kiwi off-spinner made it clear that he expected his players to embrace the challenge of switching cricket formats, but that the lack of depth of numbers in Scotland is an issue as well as quality of players at his disposal.

“Ireland always pose a big challenge, and we have a huge amount of respect for them. They’re very strong, particularly at home, and it’s ideal for us to be putting our skills against the best associate side,” added Bradburn.

“We have an amazingly skilled group of players. You can’t always play dynamically, but with the skills that we have we can, and we can play positive cricket. We’ve got everything, in terms of pace, spin, swing, and guys that can clear the rope as well.

“This is a side selected specifically for this format, and I’m looking forward to giving these guys opportunities.”

No matter what result of the Irish series brings, Scotland know that the ultimate goal is to have their plane tickets booked for the subcontinent before the summer is out.

Failure is not an option; with this group of youth and experience and match-winners, all one can do is hope for an Indian summer, one way or another.


PART TWO Grant Bradburn: The next step

In part one of Grant Bradburn’s interview he discussed the improvements that need to made on all fronts for Scotland to be competitive at the highest level.

The Saltires take on Afghanistan in Stirling in their first game of the Intercontinental Cup (weather permitting), which will see the top Associate nation have a shot at gaining Test match status.

A comfortable win over a United Arab Emirates XI last week at the Ageas Bowl in Hampshire, by an 275 runs has seen the shift from one-day cricket to the longer format of the game.

Scotland went to the 2015 World Cup in confident mood with the self-set target of not only winning their first World Cup match, but to win two or three if they reached a level of optimum performance.

They did not manage to do this and subsequently lost all six group matches.

Criticism from many corners followed, some constructive, some objective, but some questionable.

Journalists (some of whom understand little of the game, but might have been forced to report), many commentators’ views were harsh, borderline vindictive and one can only assess or speculate that they were based on ulterior agendas.

Scotland’s bowling attack was derided (unfairly), particularly by the English commentators during their match against England, for its lack of quality and pace.

The players have discussed it among themselves and it was a hot topic of conversation among Scottish cricket supporters during the tournament.

However, other than Australia and South Africa at international level, few teams have genuine out-and-out quick bowlers.

When it was put to Bradburn that the bowlers’ speed and quality was being discussed, he said: “I’m so excited by the fact that we’ve come away from being exposed at the highest level of cricket after coming off a diet of one match against a Full Member  nation in the previous year and we competed [at the World Cup].

“I tend to look at things a wee bit differently,” he said, swatting away criticism. “I tend to look at the glass is half full not empty and I’m so excited looking around the dressing-room knowing the majority of players – I believe – are two or three years away from being at their peak as a team and learning their trade.

“At times we fought back tremendously well with the ball. Yes, the team that we selected did not have the pace of other teams, but we do have that pace at a lower level and in our squad. 

“There is quicker bowlers who are learning their trade and are likely to come forward onto the Scottish scene.

“We [also] have an abundance of young spinners who are ready for opportunities,” added the former Kiwi off-spinner, highlighting the Scots’ bowling options.

Bradburn believes that Scotland has the players to compete with the best and that it is only with more playing opportunities against higher calibre opposition, played with regularity, that will allow the Scots to reach their potential.

“We’ve shown with the bat that the skills are there and with more experience at playing on those conditions against good quality teams – and I include Ireland and Afghanistan in that. 

“If we can play more of the top Associate and Full Members regularly, we will get better very very quickly. This team is an intelligent team and we want to use that to our advantage. We must be fast learners. 

“We don’t get a huge amount of cricket to learn our trade, so what cricket we do get, we must learn fast. We’ve put a lot of structures in place to anchor their learnings from the World Cup and actually apply them.”

A part of the Scots’ game that has been highly impressive in the last year or so is the fielding. However, this department was not up to standard in Australasia and is clearly a source of frustration.

“It’s an area of the game that I pride myself on as player and a coach, so I’ve brought an importance to fielding.

“We’ve got a full-time fielding coach in Toby Bailey – he’s also our analyst – and together with our strength and conditioning coach Simon Smith, we’re starting to develop our athleticism skills that are required to take our fielding to where we want to take it. 

“We’re not yet halfway to taking our fielding to where we want it to be,” he explained.

“It’s something that we pride ourselves a lot on. It’s a part of the game we demand as a selector and coach point of view that we must bring to the table, whether you are a specialist batsman or bowler and…no longer is there room for passengers.

“It’s a great message to bring to our young players that we’re working with here and it’s a message to them that it’s not acceptable to not be a quality fielder.

“Maybe there was an acceptance in the past that we could have some fielders that are amateurish, but if we’re going to compete on the world stage, there’s no reason why we can’t be among the best fielders in the world because the athleticism and the skills are there.”

Bradburn sets the bar high, recalling the fielding statistics with unerring accuracy.

“We took 31 [catches] and dropped 15, but that says we are creating opportunities and thats a credit to the bowling unit and it’s also a credit to the fielders in a way because we’re very hard in how we measure that [any dropped chance]. 

“Anything that they should’ve got a hand onto or did get a hand on, so there’s only one way to measure that in our minds and that’s [to be] brutally tough…that’s a not our skill level I don’t think, it’s just a mental approach and application of our skills on the big stage and we need to get used to [the pressure]. 

“We didn’t hit the stumps for a direct-hit run-out once at this tournament, whereas, at a lower level we can do that, so it’s just an example that at the highest level, we just need to get comfortable being under pressure. 

“It’s something we work extremely hard at and it’s something we will continue to demand from our team.”

PART ONE Grant Bradburn: Scotland’s development and what he expects of the current crop

Ahead of Scotland’s first match of the Intercontinental Cup against Afghanistan in Stirling, Saltires’ cricket coach Grant Bradburn gave some insight into these areas and where the national team stand in terms of developing these skills to compete at a higher level.

Cricket is the most fascinating of team sports, played by individuals, incorporating different sets of skills to form vital components in the make-up of any XI.

No other sport requires its participants to be flexible in a different variety of skills, dealing with many different variables; ranging from playing conditions to climate, equipment and rules.

There is the batting and bowling units, often selected on the base requirements of the playing conditions dictated by the pitch.

Fielding is another department that can be equally split into two categories: ground fielding and catching, and field settings and circumstances.

Every successful team will excel in all three facets of the game. Those that lack quality in any one department will be less successful than a side that is well-rounded.

Then there is the different formats of this intriguing sport, which require subtle technical adjustments and a unique versatility from all players because sometimes a bowler has to bat or a batsman is used as a bowling option.

“First and foremost, you have to respect the conditions,” said Bradburn when quizzed on game-management and style of cricket played by his team.

“The conditions in New Zealand and Australia at the World Cup and the size of the boundaries, meant that there were some very big scores and some very attacking play and the conditions allowed that. 

“Sometimes conditions at club level or pro series level might not allow that. It might demand different skills from our players, but the thing that should consistent is bringing to the table performances.

“Performances that dictate the course of a match or win a match, not contributions that threaten to change a match,” he continued. “We’re looking for significant performances that do positively effect the outcome. 

“We’re also looking for players to be multi-skilled and thinking cricketers who are adapting to different scenarios; different conditions; different opposition, but all the while having that determination to bring a significant performance. 

“We’re not expecting our players in Scotland to go out playing like Glen Maxwell does in Australia because the conditions don’t always allow that.”

This is a very important acknowledgement from someone that played at the highest level for New Zealand, in both Test and one-day international cricket.

“The thing we all need to realise in the one-day game is [and] we’ve seen it in the Test game over recent times,” says Bradburn, stopping to watch an ongoing PE session in the gym where we are conducting this interview.

“If there’s one thing I want to impart in our Scottish game at club level, pro-series level and definitely at the highest level, is that we need to foster skill-full players.

 “We need to be clear about selecting and providing balanced teams, so that we are encouraging a variety of roles to be played and that we’re putting the demand on players to perform a role and bring skills to the table.

“Whether that means learning to bowl quicker; learning to swing and seam the ball; learning how to spin the ball; learning how to bowl variations and all the while, maintaining a strong discipline of line and length from a bowling point of view.” 

An area that let Scotland down in Australia and New Zealand was their batting. Seen as the team’s strong point, they failed at the top of the innings. When they did get a partnership going the batsmen gave their wicket away, either at a crucial stage or on reaching a milestone.

This can be put down to lack of experience, but the mental side is vital in dealing with the intensity of quality bowling attacks at international level. How do you solve this problem?

“From a batting point of view, learning the full variety of shots that will enable you to thrive in all conditions. Learning the tactical side of the game. Learning how to withhold pressure. Learning how to absorb pressure and learning over time, how to commit your skills to the situation to dominate [a match].”

The 49-year-old has identified his squad’s strengths and weakness, now it’s about developing their collective talents and moulding them into his image, tougher, both physically and mentally.

“I think it’s so exciting because this game is demanding a skill-full breed of player and that’s exactly what we’re trying to foster here at Cricket Scotland. 

“The game is becoming faster, more athletic, more demanding on players because they’re playing more regularly. They must be fitter as a result. They must be more resilient: the game can’t carry any passengers anymore at any level.”

South Africa win tight Plate Final against plucky Scotland

So near yet so far for Scotland at their home tournament. A dramatic Glasgow7s Plate final was won by South Africa 12-10 with the last kick of the match. Russell Weir’s conversion to level the scores rebounded back off the cross bar leaving the Scots defeated in their last home series event.

BlitzBoks pose with Plate after beating Scotland 12-10 // Kaylan Geekie Images
BlitzBoks pose with Plate after beating Scotland 12-10 // Kaylan Geekie Images

Scotland came back from 12 nil down to within a whisker of taking the game into extra time after Damien Hoyland scored after the final siren had sounded. Moments earlier James Johnstone had given the Scots a chance at the come-back when he his try put the home team on the board.

The BlitzBokke started in commanding fashion and led at half-time through tries by Ruhan Nel and Werner Kok and a conversion from Branco du Preez.

Dreich is the word that would aptly describe the foul weather conditions at Scotstoun. After yesterday’s mild conditions and matches played under blue skies, Scotland’s Plate final against the HSBC Sevens World Series leaders South Africa was played in persistent rain.

Since the South African’s elimination from the Cup competition coach Neil Powell has opted to mix up his starting line-ups. For the final, Powell left Cecil Afrika and Seabelo Senatla on the bench, Scotland would have to start fast.

The music was dialled to 11 and the home support danced while the rain poured. Could Scotland get another famous win over their much heralded opposition?

South Africa opened the scoring when Kyle Brown threw a skip pass to Nel wide on the right wing, who dived over the white-wash, 5-0 it stayed when missed the conversion.

The BlitzBokke almost scored again in the same corner but Frankie Horne’s knee was in touch. Slippery conditions forced a turnover in Scotland’s favour when Horne knocked on, but could not make it count.

The conditions dictated that a score of seven or more would prove difficult to overturn. At 5-0 with a minute to play Flower of Scotland rang around the ground until the hirsute Kok scored under the posts to increase the visitors’ lead.

Du Preez broke to the open-side from a scrum near the halfway line, found Stephan Dippenaar, who switched play. Brown’s long pass to Kok did for Gavin Lowe who was beaten for pace. Du Preez added the extras, 12-0 at the break.

The second period started in rather mute fashion for Scotland and their supporters. Some magic would be needed and it almost came from Mark Robertson. The No 6 kicked a ball forward to chase but Kok cleaned up under pressure from Lowe.

The penalties were being traded equally and this time Scotland – with time running down – had to make something happen. A try duly arrived when Joe Nayacavou’s quick thinking ignited an attack that caught the African side cold.

Taking the ball through the hands, Johnstone beat his man to reduce the deficit to seven points after Colin Gregor missed the conversion.

Scotland take time with their fans after losing to South Africa // Kaylan Geekie Images
Scotland take time with their fans after losing to South Africa // Kaylan Geekie Images

Scotland believed now and almost scored in the same corner, but Nyle Godsmark was tackled into touch. The ball came off South African hand, but Scotland lost the ball on their throw. Silly errors, but the wet ball was not easy to handle.

Calum MacRae’s men went through he phases on the siren and when Nayacavou broke down the centre, the Scots had a penalty.

Could they do it? Scotland banged away at the South African try line and the pressure told when Hoyland scored near the posts. 12-10 and time up.

Weir, now on, with the hush of the crowd ringing around Scotstoun, had his chance of glory, but the ball bounced back off the cross bar and the plate was gone.

Scotland beat Canada in thriller to make Plate Final

Scotland earned their place in the HSBC Sevens World Series Plate final with a close fought 14-12 victory over a strong Canada team led by the charismatic Johnny Moonlight. The Scots will play South Africa, who defeated Australia 21-12 in the other Plate semi-final.

Tries from Russell Weir and Joe Nayacavou and two Colin Gregor conversions was enough to see off the north Americans, who were on the score-board with tries from Sean Duke and Pat Kay. Harry Jones managed only one of his conversion attempts, which proved the difference at the final whistle.

The post-match analysis showed Scotland missing less tackles, making less handling errors; conceded fewer penalties and importantly, winning 13 set-pieces as well as 11 successful ruck-turnovers.

A tight first half was proof of where both teams stand in the world game. The Scots defence much improved from yesterday, Canada could not breech their opponents line during the first seven minutes and in truth, never really threatened to score.

By now the mercury had dropped, Saltires were flying and Kenya were doing a lap around Scotstoun to loud cheers. One of the questions Calum MacRae’s team would need to answer: How to stop Johnny Moonlight?

Conditions under foot were slippery and this made the handling trickier. The team to eliminate the mistakes from their game would be victorious.

After some fancy foot-work from James Eddie on the right touch-line, Scotland recycled the ball and Weir scored under the posts after receiving the pass from Gregor, who converted his own score, putting the home team 7 nil up with 43 seconds to play in the half.

Scotland came close again when James Johnstone broke, however, the support was lacking and the half-time hooter sounded without any more points added.

Moonlight had been quiet but won the second-half restart and was involved in the opening three phases of the second half.

From a tap penalty, Nathan Hirayama played the ball in-field, which involved a skip-one-loop with Pat Kay, who passed to Duke to go over in the left corner. Jones missed the conversion attempt but Canada were back in the match at 7-5.

Scotland looked stunned when Canada struck again a minute later, their second try after a break through the middle saw Kay go unchallenged under the sticks, Jones converted and the Scots were now behind 12-7.

Scotland were by now chasing the game. Discipline would haunt them again, ceding territory and possession with two-minutes to play. Mistakes can be costly (and thay were). Weir kick-through resulted in a line-out ten meters out.

Scotland went wide, Jones almost going over. Another line-out five meters from Canada’s line gave the home team one last opportunity.

Johnstone attacked the gain-line, was brought down by two defenders, but offloaded to Nayacavou for the winning score, Gregor added the extras and Scotland were in the Plate final were the BlitzBoks await.


Scotland go down fighting against New Zealand in Cup quarter-final in Glasgow

Scotland lost their HSBC Sevens World Series Cup quarter-final 17-7 to the 2014 defending champions New Zealand after a spirited display in Glasgow.

Scotland opened the scoring through Colin Gregor, but the All Blacks hit back with three tries from Rieko Ioane, Joe Webber and Scott Curry to book their place in the Cup semi-final where they will play England.

This will be the last Sevens World Series event held in Scotland. After four years at Scotstoun and many others at Murrayfield, the series will move to France.

Despite the cold, wet, damp the crowd were in good spirits, picking up where they left off the previous day; beers in hand, fancy dressed to the max and in full voice.

This would be Scotland’s chance to show the suits at Murrayfield that the sevens game needs to nurtured not neglected – but when did the top brass really worry about the good-of-the-game?

Gregor fancy footwork gave the Scots the lead  after they went through several phases. The try-scorer beat two defenders before scoring under the posts. He converting his try and the home team led 7-0 in the third minute to an ear-breaking roar from the partisan crowd.

But, once again the restart nightmare continued to plague the Scots,ceding possession and territory. New Zealand could not capitalise on the hosts’ generosity though; Scotland forcing a turnover to allow some breathing space.

Scotland defending for their lives against New Zealand // Kaylan Geekie Images
Scotland defending for their lives against New Zealand // Kaylan Geekie Images

Again they gifted the ball to the opposition when Gregor missed his penalty touch-finder. From this the All Blacks went wide and through Ioane, scoring in the corner after brushing off the cover-defence and the last ditch tackle of Damien Hoyland.

Gillies Kaka missed the conversion was missed and the Scots held a slender 7-5 lead at the break.

After the previous evening’s thumping from Fiji, Calum MacRae will be happy with his side’s defence. For two minutes into the second half the defensive-line held firm until Webber slipped a tackle and dived over in the right hand corner to give the Kiwis a 10-7 lead. Kaka again missed the two-pointer leaving the Scots three points behind.

Ioane was causing all manner of problems for the outside defenders with his strong running. Joe Nayacavou was excellent at the breakdown, while Russell Weir’s marshalling of the backs was crucial in this improved defensive effort.

However, with two minutes remaining MacRae’s team’s ill-discipline cost them a penalty when in an attacking part of the field.

The Kiwis kicked for touch, won the lineout, ran wide and eventually won a scrum when Beaudein Waaka forced Scotland to ground the ball behind their line for a Kiwi five-meter attacking scrum.

The Scots managed to keep the New Zealanders out and with thirty seconds remaining mounted a last ditch attack. Then another case of deja vu from the Scots; losing possession and with it the match.

Last year’s champions took a (controversial) quick line-out and Curry scored under the sticks, while Scotland’s players looked bafflingly at the touch-judge. No 8 Kaka could not miss this time and with his conversion Scotland’s Cup competition ended.

The home team left the field to a rousing cheer from the crowd and will continue their tournament in the Plate semi-final against Canada.


In company with Andries Strauss

Andries Strauss enjoys life in Edinburgh, not least the brew from one of the city’s popular independent coffee houses. The South African made the journey from the sunnier, warmer climes of his home country with his wife in January 2014, reuniting him with former Kings coach Alan Solomons. 

Strauss is fulfilling a flight of fancy dating back to 2007, when he first visited the capital while playing for the Blitzbokke in the World Sevens Series.

The 31-year-old laughs when probed on a past interview from back then, when he said that if there was a city in the UK that he had an opportunity to play rugby, it would be Edinburgh.

“Well that was eight years ago,” he said – still grinning.

“I just fell in love with Edinburgh. It’s a great city and I think it also helped that I came here in the summer time, which makes it a lot easier to fall in love with Edinburgh; I’ve always liked Edinburgh and enjoy the people.

“I thought that if I got an opportunity to come play here I would grab it with both hands and it worked out for me that when the opportunity came to play here, I was quite happy to say ‘yes please’ and move over as soon as I could.”

It is said that the grass is not always greener on the other side, so it is interesting to hear how Strauss acclimatised to a cold, damp climate, far away from family and friends.

“My wife came over with me and she’s quite happy, so it’s made it easier for me to adapt to a different [life]style and different conditions. We’ve made the best of it, we’ve enjoyed everything Edinburgh has to offer and we’ve been welcomed into the club by all the players and their wives.

He added: “For us it’s just one big holiday and we’re just enjoying the fact that we can experience a different culture and [are able] to travel from here and do what we love.”

The day of the interview, it is a warm 18 degrees outside and winter seems a distant memory. Something else lured the former Cheetahs player towards Scotland and not just the architecture or “Scottish charm”.

“I have managed to play a bit of golf,” he says laughing again – by a bit, he means a little less than a lot.

“I haven’t had an opportunity to get onto the Old Course at St Andrews yet, [but] I’ve played a couple of the other courses; I’ve been down to the Turnberry Resort and all over Scotland.

“If I can put my golf in Scotland in perspective, I don’t think that I’ve really hit the highs that I would’ve wanted to and hopefully this summer will see me playing a bit more golf.”

Golf however, is not Strauss’ bread and butter. Edinburgh made history, defeating the Newport Gwent Dragons in the European Rugby Challenge Cup (ERCC) semi-final at Murrayfield, becoming the first Scottish club to reach a European rugby final.

Tonight’s game at the Twickenham Stoop against Gloucester was secured after a superb 45-16 victory against the Dragons, which set-up Edinburgh’s date with destiny. The match was rated as one of the best the team has played this season, but Strauss disagrees.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said, shaking his head. “We obviously played quite well and we managed to play in the right parts of the field, which helped us to score a lot of points, but I do think that we’ve played matches in the past that we were even better [in] and even lost those matches.

“The semi-final was special for us because it did feel like everything worked for us and we managed to get the bounce of the ball a few times and we scored some good tries, and eventually, we kind of ran away with the scoreboard and that allowed us to get even more points on the board.”

Rugby flows through his family’s veins; brother Richardt Strauss plays for Ireland and Leinster and cousin Adriaan Strauss, plies his trade with Super Rugby franchise the Bulls and is a Springbok.

All three were schooled at Grey College – one of South Africa’s most prestigious schools and a centre of sporting excellence, which is situated in Bloemfontein.

Strauss has played in 24 of the team’s 28 matches this season. In the modern-day game, where collisions are often described as being akin to a car crash, this is some feat for a centre because the contact in the midfield is brutal.

He is a two-time winner of the Currie Cup, South Africa’s premier rugby competition, yet Strauss’ pragmatism reveals a level-headedness not evident in many elite athletes who have tasted success and played in the ‘big’ career defining games. Edinburgh are 80 minutes away from a first European trophy.

Can Edinburgh win Friday’s date with destiny? “Yes we definitely can,” said Strauss, calmly sipping on his flat-white before reassessing. “Will we win?” he says.

“Well, I don’t know. We will have to wait and see, but if we play like we have in the past and improve on the performance that we had against the Dragons on the weekend, we can definitely win the competition.

“I don’t think any side reaches the final and [is not able to] win that final, so we [are] going there with the soul purpose to win it.”


Cotter laments fifth loss of Six Nations campaign

  • Scotland were thrashed 40-10 at Murrayfield by a rampant Ireland
  • Ireland land back-to-back Six Nations crowns 
  • Vern Cotter rues missed opportunities and costly mistakes
  • Geoff Cross picked up Scotland’s fifth yellow card of the tournament and ninth in 12 Tests under the Kiwi

Scotland’s 40-10 thumping at the hands of the Ireland at Murrayfield has left coach Vern Cotter at a loss for any positive thoughts. 

The 53-year-old coach cut a dejected figure as he poured over the catastrophe that is the 2015 Six Nations, blaming missed opportunities and “unforced errors” as well as lady luck. 

Cotter also feels his team need to be “smarter” in game management, particularly with yellow cards.

The New Zealand-born coach felt Scotland’s slow start to the Test and a missed five-pointer at the end of the first half cost the Scots the match and led to other areas of his side’s game being below par.

“We conceded a line-break very early on in the match and that gave them confidence,” Cotter said.

“I thought that if we scored another try just before half time with the ball that was ripped out of hands…

“I thought if we had scored then, maybe it would of changed and maybe [we] would have applied a little bit more pressure, so a couple of things didn’t go our way and that’s going to happen.”

Cotter did concede that Ireland were clinical and that at this level of international rugby, his team paid the price for their mistakes and profligacy.

He said: “Ireland are too good a team to give those opportunities to.”

The former Clermont Auvergne man does not believe it is all doom and gloom though, but acknowledges that there is a long road ahead and that his team must find a way to turn pressure into points.

Scotland missed 22 tackles but the Irish were worse with 25 missed tackles, however, it was on the scoreboard where the home team once again faltered.

“We will have to become more efficient. There were too many missed tackles today, there are a lot of things I genuinely think can be worked on reasonably quickly.

“If I said we were dominated from start to finish i’d be worried. I think there were periods of the game where we had them under pressure, so to keep repeating those things [errors] will be a message we will be trying to hammer back.

“We know we can do it…lets develop that; it’s part of our building programme, our process of applying pressure. Lets apply it, continue it. Take away unforced errors, take away possessions lost when we have control playing with the ball.”

He added: “They managed the second part of the game very well…we had our opportunities as well to score a couple of tries.

“Simple things let us down: we had a couple of balls lost just in front of the line, we didn’t apply pressure; we knew we had players that it [the game] broke up, it would suit us.

“We started the first five minutes of the second half poorly; we lost the ball twice; we conceded field position and then their game plan became easy for them.”

When quizzed on this latest set-back and Geoff Cross’ sin-binning, Cotter agreed that momentum has been lost due to disciple.

Citing the penalty count of 12 to six (in Ireland’s favour), he also contested that luck, poor refereeing decisions and an Edinburgh Royal Infirmary type injury list, has not been helped by a fifth yellow-card in the championship.

“If we look at the momentum, if we got the bounce of the ball, maybe against France or maybe against Wales, hadn’t had suspensions and injuries? We lost momentum. that is for sure.

“There were periods against France where we dominated, periods against England, periods against Wales,so those are the things we need to find and understand and once we understand how to build pressure and build a game, not to just be content with two or three phases of it.”

Scotland’s injuries are a concern, more so than most teams because replacements are thin on the ground.

He said: “We know that we don’t have a large number of players; we are who we are are. But there are things within that I think that we can improve on. We know that we can’t get a lot of injuries, we know that we don’t have depth in some positions. I knew that was going to be tough.”

Cotter feels that his side need to aspire to a more focused thought process if they want to improve and start winning games.

“That’s a mindset change we will have to move to,” said the coach. 


Ireland run riot, while Scotland claim another wooden-spoon

  • Ireland heap more misery on Scotland as they romp home 40-10
  • Scotland finish Six Nations winless as autumn hope turns to spring lament
  • Sean O’Brien’s brace and towering loose forward display earn him Man-of-the-Match award
  • Ireland score four tries and do enough to retain Six Nations title

This was high-octane from an Ireland team who knew that they had to win and close gap of 21 points on Wales – who earlier had thumped Italy in the eternal city and make it tough for England.

Scotland were searching for their first win and some respectability but an onslaught from Joe Schmidt’s Green Machine consigned the Scots to a fifth straight campaign defeat, while Ireland retained their title despite classic at Twickenham.

18 points from the boot of Jonathan Sexton, two from Ian Madigan along with tries from Ireland captain Paul O’Connell, Jared Payne and a brace from O’Brien heaped pain on Scotland, who scored a try through Finn Russell and five points from skipper Greig Laidlaw.

Vern Cotter will rue another performance where his team made far too many errors and were not clinical where the opposition took most chances that came their way.

Where this leaves the team is uncertain but once again there is enough evidence that Scotland’s future is not lost. Finn Russell, Mark Bennett, Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray were excellent. David Denton carried the ball well, but the visitors had too much.

The front row had parity; the line-out was excellent. Scotland made more off-loads, beat more defenders, equalled Ireland in line-breaks, missed less tackles, but to no avail.

The game was won on the floor; Ireland won more rucks; more turnovers; more penalties; more points, and most importantly, the scoreboard was won too.

The statistics make for incredible reading but once the crux of the matter is dealt with, Scotland’s errors in important areas of the field and at crucial stages, set the tone for the loss.

Vern Cotter cut a dejected figure as he was questioned by a disappointed Scottish media contingent, tired of listening to the same excuses but wary that it is not all the Kiwi’s fault. 

Scotland needs a root, branch, tree, heck, forest overhaul from junior rugby through schoolboy to club, never mind, the two franchise teams in a weak Pro12.

The match started with both sets of players looking to find space wide. This led to mistakes from Scotland inside the opening five minutes, which plagued them for the next 75 minutes.

Ireland started brightly and after going 10 phases, were on the board when O’Connell crashed over line from close range. Sexton added the extras, 7-0 after four minutes. Warning signs.

Two minutes later Laidlaw was pinged for obstruction – much to his bemusement – and Sexton kicked the visitors into a 10-point lead.

With Wales doing their part in Rome, the Irish had to revert to a more open, expansive form of rugby – something Joe Schmidt’s team are not altogether at ease with, however, O’Connell’s team upped the ante and Scotland’s defence was creaking as Ireland pounded away in the early exchanges.

Somehow the home team withstood most of the heat and found some attacking impetus of their own.

After some sustained attacks, Scotland captain Laidlaw got his side on the scoreboard when he kicked a penalty after Rory Best was penalised for being on the wrong side of a ruck, 10-3.

Jared Payne tackled Adam Ashe in the air from the restart and was lucky not to be yellow-carded. Early indications that this might not be Scotland’s day.

Referring inconsistency has been the theme of this Six Nations and Jerome Garces had already been questioned by both captains inside the first quarter regarding his interpretation of the laws.

Stuart Hogg continued his fine cover-defensive work, stopping an Irish attack when he took Luke Fitzgerald into into touch.

Scotland’s line-out has been the envy of the tournament and credit to Cotter and his coaching staff for making it a force, but having just won the resulting set-piece, Scotland failed to sufficiently clear their 22. They then proceeded to gift O’Brien the softest of tries.

Rory Best found Devin Toner who, on landing, placed the ball in the flanker’s bread-basket after the Scotland line-out parted like the Red Sea and roared over to score.

Sexton made no mistake and Ireland increased their lead.17-3 with 15 minutes remaining of the first half, at the same time, eating into the Welsh points difference.

The Scots were not phased, running the ball back at every opportunity. By now it was shelter-skelter.

O’Brien found himself with the try-line beckoning only to be brought down by some last-ditch defending. Then Scotland tested out the Irish scramble defence, Ireland held firm but not for long.

On the half hour after the  Scots hit back when Russell scored from a bit of professional opportunism from Hogg and neat footwork from Tommy Seymour.

The fullback juggled a pass that went behind his back, but into the hands of Seymour, who kicked through. Rob Kearney botched his collection,Hogg regathered and popped the ball to the wing, who was brought down 10 metres out.

From the resulting ruck Laidlaw broke blind and skipped Ashe to Russell to score unchallenged.

Laidlaw added the two and the game was back on, 17-10 and end-to-end. This was a microcosm of the attacking threat that has been instilled since Cotter took the reigns.

Soon it was 20-10 minutes later when Sexton converted another three-pointer taking the score to a 10-point margin. Scotland’s penchant for conceding straight after a restart is a cause for concern, but they know that.

Scotland were relentless in the last 10 minutes before halftime and if it was not for some poor handling in the off-load, the deficit could have been less.

Russell showed the magic that underpins his talent and potential when he dinked a kick over the on-rushing Irish defence for Bennett to gather, only to lose the ball forward in attempting to off-load back to the fly-half; 20-10 it stayed until halftime.

Within five minutes of the second half, Sexton had knocked over his third penalty when Garces penalised Scotland for not rolling away at the ruck after several phases on the Scots’ whitewash and Ireland led 23-10.

For all the talk of Schmidt’s team being the equivalent of the GAA, Scotland’s back-three dealt with most of the box kicks from Conor Murray and the garyowens that reigned down on them.

Silly errors were costing territory and increasing the pressure on the defence. Scotland defended the driving mauls of admirably but it was the fringes where Ireland made hay.

And make hay they did. After two attempts at bulldozing the Scots’ pack, Sexton combined with Payne in a neat dummy move. Payne went route-one for the posts and Blair Cowan could not hold on.

The Ireland fly-half was spot-on with his conversion, putting the glorious Edinburgh daylight between the teams as the scoreboard ticked over to 30-10 after 50 minutes.

Again the hosts were obliging in easy points, but this time Sexton missed a sitter by his standards as his penalty hit the post. Scotland survive but another wave of green kept coming.

For Cotter, it must have crossed his mind that damage limitation was all he could get from a rampant Ireland. Geoff Cross was soon sent to the bin for going off his feet; another card to go with the eight in the previous 11 Tests under the Kiwi.

Tommy Bowe came close only to find his inside flick-pass go to Bennett who saved his team’s bacon.

With Cross off the park and Murray unable to return Garces had no option but to call for uncontested scrums.

From the scrum Ireland won another penalty when Cowan was pinged for not releasing. This time Sexton made no mistake; 33-10 and Wales were now the hunted.

The travelling fans were getting louder, could Scotland rain on their parade?

From an attacking line-out Scotland threw everything; Denton took the ball up on multiple phases as his team searched for a score, again and again, but then another costly handling error turned possession over.

With the points difference clawed back the Irish started to alter their game-plan, kicking in behind Scotland’s backs, pushing them deep into their half.

A line-out saw Sean Cronin hit his man and Ireland surge towards the line, wave after wave of sustained attacks culminated in O’Brien grabbing a brace.

Madigan on for Sexton, made no mistake with the conversion and with the score at 40-10, Ireland were in poll position to retain the Six Nations…if France could give them a helping hand.

On the siren Madigan missed a potentially crucial penalty in their attempt at increasing their points difference, but the Scots could care less.


Q and A with Fraser Watts

I caught up with former Scotland cricketer Fraser Watts to discuss the Saltires’ World Cup in Australasia among other hot topics, such as the ICC’s contentious decision to reduce the 2019 edition in England from 14 to 10 teams, essentially, leaving Associate cricket on the periphery of the world game.

  • Scotland arrives back home from the 2015 Cricket World Cup next week still in search of a maiden tournament win.
  • Performances were positive considering the team has not qualified for the past four International Cricket Council (ICC) tournaments.
  • The Carlton Cricket Club captain played over two hundred matches for Scotland and represented his country at three World Cups in a career spanning 15 years.
  • The 35-year-old cuts an unassuming figure, but even two years into retirement, the Edinburgh-based bank manager’s passion for the game burns bright.
  • Like in his playing days, Watts is outspoken and offers a withering assessment of both governing bodies, as well as non-partisan views on the Scots’ fierce rivals Ireland – who have overtaken Scotland as the leading Associate nation.
  • Ireland’s rise has coincided with Scotland’s decline in the past decade and the Irish are the favourites to be granted Test status and Full Membership to world cricket’s top tier, after another successful stint at the game’s showpiece event down under.
  • Join Fraser in signing the calling on the ICC to reverse the decision to reduce 2019 World Cup petition

Q: What are your thoughts on the Scotland’s performance at the World Cup?

A: Although the results haven’t really flattered them, people will obviously say ‘four losses out of four is not good’, I think they’ve played a lot of good cricket in patches; the first two games were a struggle.

I think on the whole they’ve performed pretty well, although the stats don’t really back it up, unfortunately.

Q: Do you think they should have performed better or was there a bit too much pressure?

A: Yeah, I totally agree with you on that, but I think the New Zealand game you couldn’t do much about and [we] should just accept that.

The England game wasn’t ideal for them because Scotland went in almost as favourites and Scotland aren’t favourites in that sort of game.

England are a good side, they had a couple of bad performances, so suddenly the press say ‘England are rubbish’ and Scotland should beat them, which is not true.

Q: You don’t prescribe to some of the feeling among the media and pundits that Scotland is a bit of a ‘soft touch’?

A: Definitely not. I think that it’s a shame; I’m not making any excuses, but some of the things haven’t really gone Scotland’s way. In the England game, they won the toss and bowled.

The ball in those conditions should’ve moved a lot more than it did, but it didn’t. They’ve been on the wrong end of a few things.

The New Zealand game is another example. The first 10 overs lost them the game because the ball was going around corners; top, top, batting line-ups would’ve struggled to face that, let alone Scotland.

Q: Do you think the team’s participation at this tournament will have an impact on the future for cricket in Scotland?

A: I hope it will and it should do, but there’s a lot that needs to be done following the World Cup. A lot of that goes down to the administration of Cricket Scotland, the board and the new CEO, whoever that is?

It’s a vital time for me, the six months leading up to the tournament and the six months after it when the World Cup is fresh in peoples’ minds.

You have to capitalise on that time for raising sponsors, marketing and getting exposure for the game, and let people in Scotland know they’ve got a cricket side and that they are quite good.

I don’t think they did that well leading up to the World Cup and they need to hammer the next six months after the World Cup because it’s a great opportunity, a great time, to raise the profile of the game.

I think it’s crucial that they do that for the longer term and growth of the game in Scotland. It’s key that the board get this right and if they don’t, questions should be asked.

Q: The ICC’s controversial plan to reduce the number of teams at the 2019 World Cup from 14 teams to 10 teams has been a major talking point throughout the tournament: What are your thoughts on this?

A: I think it’s an absolute disgrace. As much as I hate to ‘big-up’ Ireland, they’ve been consistently good at World Cups and ODIs.

They’ve done well; they’ve beaten the West Indies and Zimbabwe,  the UAE as well. They’ve beaten teams consistently at the last two or three World Cups and then the ICC suddenly say ‘you don’t qualify’ which is ridiculous.

So you going to say that they have to qualify for the next World Cup, is absolutely shambolic and disgraceful.

Why not make England qualify? Why not make the West Indies qualify? Teams that are getting beaten quite consistently by the bigger sides.

It seems to me an absolute farce and a joke. I’m sure it’s money orientated and there will be some sort of reason for it.

The ICC are lining their own pockets and making sure the bigger teams are guaranteed to appear and play to increase revenues.

Sign Petition for change: petition 

Q: Do you think that Cricket Scotland’s administration has got stale?

A: The first thing to say is that the development aspect of cricket Scotland has been quite good, they’ve done well at grassroots, but it’s when we get further up.

I think we need to have a review of the situation. Unfortunately, Cricket Scotland [over] the last five years has been a bit stale.

I don’t think anyone has been accountable for the lack of income and if you compare us to Ireland, I think you mentioned it, their turnover is about double ours.

I don’t think anyone has ever actually questioned that. Why’ve we not got any sponsorship? Why the development of the game hasn’t increased the way it should’ve done?

Why we’re not on a par with Ireland when it comes to the development and exposure of cricket in Scotland? And I think the CEO and the board have got a lot to answer for.

Q: During the middle part of your career Scotland qualified for three ICC World Cups in succession but have not qualified since. What do you put this down to?

A: I think the last golden period for Scottish cricket was in 2006, 2007; we won the ICC Trophy in 2005 and we won the Intercontinental Cup in 2004. At that time we had a really good side with players like Craig Wright, Dougie Brown, Gavin Hamilton and Paul Hoffmann.

It was a great chance for Scottish cricket to put us on the map, show what we can do and push for inclusion in these tournaments; get marketing, get long term sponsors and up the exposure of the game in Scotland.

But I think people, potentially, fell asleep at the wheel and were almost complacent and we didn’t push or squeeze as much out of it as we could have, as Ireland did when they played in the World Cup in 2007.

Their board and administrators really hammered that home, got big sponsorships on board and shouted to the ICC ‘we want Test status’.

We were a bit backwards in coming forward when we had the chance to really make a difference, make a mark, and use the performance of the team as a springboard on the commercial side of things.

Q: The World T20 Qualifier is being co-hosted by Ireland and Scotland this year. What will the consequences be should Scotland not qualify?

A: It would be a setback. We haven’t qualified for the last few World Cups; we’ve sort of just muddled along, but these are the things we must be targeting saying ‘we must qualify’.

It’s in our own backyard, so we’ve got to make sure that the grounds and wickets are set-up for us to make sure we’ve got the best chance to qualify.

Q: Scotland has performed well, even though they have lost all their games. Do you think Ireland is carrying the hopes of the Associates?

A: Unfortunately Scotland hasn’t won any games yet, but Ireland have been magnificent and they do carry the hopes of the Associates.

It’s a major coup for these so-called minnows beating a lot of the big sides and I think it will, hopefully, make the ICC change their decision [the ICC’s proposed reduction of the 2019 World Cup].

As I said before: It’s an absolute disgrace. Hopefully, they will do well and make the ICC think again, and change the stupid idea they’ve had so far.

Q: Any predictions for this World Cup? Who has impressed you the most?

A: New Zealand and Australia. South Africa hasn’t done as well as they’d hoped to have done, but again, they are dark horses, which might actually suit them.

I think India are a side that could be dangerous and seem to be peaking at the right time, so two of those four will probably contest the final [but] probably Australia in my book.


Associates fighting for World Cup survival

  • Time for cricket to be inclusive and forget its roots in colonial elitism
  • The 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup has been richer for the performances of the Associate nations
  • Ireland leading the charge by beating Zimbabwe and West Indies
  • Scotland captain Preston Mommsen takes aim at ICC voicing concerns at how they administer the game
  • Calls for more cricket between Associate and Full Members growing
  • Online petition has over 19,200 signatures

Ireland are leading the fight for the associates having beaten two full member sides and should they beat Pakistan and other results go their way, they will make the quarter-finals. 

Scotland are still searching for their first World Cup win, but their performance in taking the Bangladesh down to the wire on Thursday in Nelson, is another shot fired at the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Criticism has been levelled at the game’s governing body and its chief executive David Richardson, for defending the much-maligned decision to reduce the number of teams at the next event to 10 teams in England in 2019.

“The World Cup itself, the premium event, without exception should be played between teams that are evenly matched and competitive,” said the former South Africa wicket-keeper.

However, this fiasco has had a galvanising effect on the associate members and their supporters.

Even those who would see the associate nations fall to the wayside cannot deny that many of the best games at this edition of the 50-over event have involved the tier two teams.

Ireland versus the West Indies; Scotland versus Bangladesh and the Scots versus Afghanistan were all exciting, close fought matches.

Many of the Test-playing nations’ matches have been one-sided routs. England are by far the worst offenders and the tournament will be better when they are sent packing.

Are the West Indies even interested unless they are making their fortunes in the Indian Premier League?

They are the games biggest concern, mercenaries who long ago lost touch with the ‘spirit of cricket’, if it ever existed.

Zimbabwe? A rag-tag outfit along with Bangladesh, who have squandered their opportunity to dine at the game’s top table yet enjoy the a three-course meal, while the associates feed on the scraps.

A petition calling on the ICC to retract the current decision to reduce the World Cup in 2019 has already gained traction with over 19,000 signatures.

Current and former players are also voicing their concerns at the state of affairs and the short-sightedness of those cashing the cheques.

Sachin Tendulkar has lent his support for an all-inclusive World Cup and for the associates to get more games against the full member countries.

“I found out the next World Cup would only be ten teams,” said Tendulkar.

“Which is slightly disappointing because as a cricketer I want the game to be globalised as much as possible and, according to me, this is a backwards step.”

Current World Champion’s captain and cricket demigod Mahendra Singh Dhoni, has echoed his support but with the caveat that the associates do not play India because there is no space in the calendar. Hmm?

Now MS is a fine cricketer and one of the greats of the game, but his statement sounds like the words of his paymasters.

He is just another mouthpiece for the puppet masters at the BCCI, towing the party line like a good employee.

“Yes, the associate nations, if they can get a few more games, better scenario, good facilities, it will be good for them, said the World Cup-winning captain.

“At the end of the day, it’s like a circus where you want to play in front of people, want to compete in best scenarios.

“So we’ll have to formulate a way, but please, not India. India can’t play any more games.”

He added: “I don’t see even a few days off to play any more cricket than what we play. Our calendar is nine and a half months.

“We play IPL for two and a half months and also the Champions League T20, and even then we match every other Test playing nation when it comes to the number of Tests and ODIs.

“I don’t see India playing any more games. We can’t, unless we play two games in one day, which is just not possible.”

How very admirable of Dhoni to wade into a subject he could not be remotely be interested in; his indifference is deafening.

Ireland’s performances at the 2007 and 2011 tournaments have been the most significant and they have continued at this edition.

They beat the West Indies – chasing over 300 – which barely registered on the seismometer for cricketing-upsets and is evidence that the gap is closing between the two tiers (teams).

Those arguing about the watering down of the World Cup are narrow-minded.

It is something the sport has struggled with throughout its existence: a sport that sees itself as elite and has often conducted its business that way, an us and them attitude.

Scotland captain Preston Mommsen has  been vocal in his criticism of the ICC and feels more needs to be done to grow the game.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future regarding World Cups and the participation of associate nations,” he said after his side’s narrow loss to the Tigers.

“I think a lot of discussions need to be had and the right decisions need to be made because at the moment I don’t think people are making the right decisions in terms of associate cricket.”

Money is all that matters, however. Huge Indian broadcast revenues fuel their mafia-like control of the game.

It is detrimental and will have disastrous consequences should the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) continue to rule with an iron fist, clenched in greed and self-interest.

India would do well to remember that they were once scoffed at in the middle of the last century, and it was not until a Kapil Dev inspired World Cup victory in 1983 that they were taken seriously.

Sri Lanka and Pakistan were once the whipping boys of cricket, lying on the periphery of a sport which saw them as the full members see the associates.

The stagnation of Bangladesh and the regression of Zimbabwe only enhance calls for a fairer redistribution of funds in cricket’s outposts and more matches between tiers.

It is bonkers that the associates will take home peanuts compared to the millions of the those two countries.

In 2007 Ireland famously beat Pakistan and tied with Zimbabwe in the group stages, qualifying for the Super Eight stage of the tournament, where they defeated Bangladesh.

Ireland took home $56,000, Zimbabwe $11 million. Both Pakistan and the African side failed to reach the Super Eights. Laughable as it is disturbing, I know.

A game whose foundations are built on sand (much like the 2008 financial crisis) is dangerous. What happens when – not if – India’s economy collapses?

Mommsen added: “If you’re focusing on a World Cup; it’s a World Cup; it’s a world tournament, so it should include teams from all over the world.

“But if you’re cutting that down, I’ve said it before, it’s just going back to having another Champions Trophy, so I don’t think it should be called a World Cup if you’re cutting down the teams even more.”

Like Rome, Constantinople or the British Empire before, times change. The cycle of financial meltdown is also inevitable, despite what bankers and politicians will have you believe: the bubble always bursts, cricket’s will too.

The game and its guardians have a duty to look after the best interests of the sport, not to rinse every rupee.

It is time to do away with meaningless, flogged-to-death ODI series that have no context.

Time to engage the associates and play more tri-series tournaments or quadrangular series’s, as was done throughout the nineties

This long bi-lateral series nonsense is boring. Countries facing each other five or seven times after or before a Test and T20 series, has lost the fans’ imagination. It is time for change.

The gap will close if more opportunities are given.  But with qualification points favouring associate wins and loss of points for full members, it is easy to see why more matches don’t take place.

Mommsen added: “I know a lot has been made of World Cups, but for me what is even more important is what happens in between every World Cup and the fixtures that are made available to associate nations and the amount of cricket that they’re playing and the amount of cricket they’re playing at a high quality level.

“Because at the moment, it’s quite clearly not enough.”


Sign the petition at:





Scotland versus Bangladesh Preview

  • Scotland yet to win a World Cup match
  • Bangladesh best opportunity to end losing steak going back to 1999
  • Batting been disappointing as Scotland giving their wickets away

Scotland’s match against Bangladesh at the Saxton Oval on Thursday is not a must-win, but a have-to-win, if they are the secure their maiden One-Day International cricket World Cup win.

Grant Bradburn’s team arrived down under full of confidence and hope; hope to end the country’s drought at the game’s showpiece event, which has encompassed two previous tournaments in 1999 and 2007.

It has not quite gone to plan for the Saltires, losing all three of their Group A matches, including the gut-wrenching one-wicket defeat at the hands of Afghanistan in Dunedin last Thursday.

Bradburn and his coaching staff targeted their fellow Associate as a game that could be won. Talk of not only winning a first 50-over World Cup match but two, might look fanciful now, especially after recent results, but one will suffice now.

Things have not gone to plan but this is not to say that Scotland will be sulking and feeling sorry for themselves. There are no ‘gimmes’ in elite sport and any victory will have to be hard fought and earned (they know this).

“Unfortunately we don’t have a win, which is disappointing, but at the same time we’ve had some invaluable experiences during those three games,” said captain Preston Mommsen. 

“It’s the first World Cup for many of the players, so you know, we’ve been exposed to things we’ve never been exposed to.”

Scotland earned the right to be at the tournament, qualifying the hard way and under immense pressure in New Zealand last year and they will not give in.

Bangladesh have beaten Afghanistan and lost to Sri Lanka but gained a valuable point against Australia – due to the washout in Brisbane courtesy of Cyclone Marcia.

If they beat the Scots they will have an outside chance of a quarter-final shot – should results go their way and provided they get another win – and will be up for a fight.

Scotland on the other hand will just want to win, no matter how it is achieved.

Mommsen, although dejected after the recent set back, said that he was pleased for Afghanistan (who won their first ever World Cup match after beating Scotland) but will be looking to getting this monkey off his team’s back.

The 27-year-old cited inexperience as reason for not closing out the match when Scotland had Afghanistan 97 for seven, only to lose at the death after Samiullah Shenwari scored a match-winning 96 from 147 balls.

“We managed to gain quite a bit of control through the middle there when we got to I think it was 100 for 3 or something like that,” said the skipper after the defeat.

“Then…soft dismissals just handing it back to them, opening the door for them, whereas we had the opportunity to really nail it in and get a very good first inning score on a wicket that is offering a bit to the bowlers…that is disappointing.”

Scotland’s strength is their batting but it has not fired. Calum MacLeod, Matt Machan and Richie Berrington can be devastating when they get going, but they need others to bat around them.

Vice-captain Kyle Coetzer, Hamish Gardiner and Mommsen are the rocks from which the innings can be built, however, they need to kick-on once they reach the 20s and 30s.

The team has shown character but the mini-collapses either side of crucial partnerships in all three group games has let the team down and the top-order cannot expect to lay a platform for victory if Scotland is always 100 for six.

Majid Haq (31) and Alasdair Evans’ (28) 62-run ninth wicket stand against Afghanistan was excellent and proved they are not walking wickets, but the tail cannot be expected to get the batsmen out of jail.

Mommsen added: “That is something that we need to look at as a batting group. Guys are getting in, doing all the hard work, and then not going on to make it count. Going on to win games.”

A few days R and R in will freshen tired minds. Then it’s on to Nelson and do-or-die for Scotland because Sri Lanka and the Aussies are a different proposition to the Tigers; it’s a game they cannot afford to lose, not after all it took to get here.


Scotland need to step-up and deliver on promise

  • Scotland still looking for first World Cup win after three defeats
  • Batting, bowling and fielding been poor
  • Bangladesh can be beaten but Saltires must deliver all-round performance

Scotland came to this edition of the cricket World Cup looking to bloody a few noses. Three games in and the Saltires are still searching for that elusive first victory.

Scotland’s strength is their batting but it has not been near the standard they would expect and none near what other teams have been producing down under.

Being bowled out for scores of 142, 184 and 210 against the Black Caps, England and Afghanistan respectively, will not win games, especially when 330 plus looks about par at this tournament where batting records are tumbling daily.

Kyle Coetzer, Calum MacLeod, Matt Machan and Richie Berrington can be devastating when they get going.

Except for MacLeod, who has two ducks and four in three innings, Coetzer, Machan and Berrington have all scored fifties and contributed some twenties and thirties.

The rest of the batting unit must also step up because collectively they have failed. The top order keeps getting blown away.

In all three games Scotland had consolidated after a poor start. Machan and Berrington put on 97 runs for the fifth wicket against the Kiwis before both played poor shots to get out, gifting the opposition their wickets and effectively, the match.

The next highest partnerships were 11 and 12 and in the process the visitors equaled an ODI  world record for golden ducks in an innings with four.

Chasing 304 to win against England was always going to be a tough ask, but another mini-collapse either side of a 60-run partnership between Kyle Coetzer and the skipper, all but ended any chance of Scotland causing an upset.

In Dunedin last week, Machan and Mommsen, put on 53 for the fourth-wicket off 10.1 overs, scoring at 5.21 runs to the over, shifting momentum as Afghanistan started to wobble. The game was in the balance until catastrophe.

Once again, Scotland’s batsmen found a way to get out. Machan played a loose shot and was bowled, setting in motion another run of dismissals and handing the initiative to the opposition. The others threw their wickets away with nothing shots.

Only a 62-run ninth-wicket partnership between Alasdair Evans and Majid Haq, saw the Scots reach a respectable total and give the bowlers something to defend.

210 is not a big score. The 31-run second-wicket stand between Coetzer and Hamish Gardiner and a 37-run sixth-wicket partnership between Matthew Cross and Berrington, are two more examples of batsmen getting out after getting in.

Big-hitting Michael Leask has not had a game but will almost certainly play in Nelson. His off-breaks will add some diversity to the bowling attack too and MacLeod could make way in a batting-order rejig.

By taking pace off the ball, the 360 degree scoring frenzy seen at this tournament will be nullified.

Leask and Haq could offer some threat and control as Imran Tahir, Daniel Vettori and Rangara Herath have for their sides.

The Scots’ bowling has been a problem for some time. Teams have taken a liking to the military medium pace of the seamers in Australasia.

The co-hosts and the Auld Enemy took a shine to Scotland’s front-line bowlers.

Although, New Zealand eventually ended seven wickets down chasing 142, it was not through excellent bowling.

Despite Trent Boult and Tim Southee hooping the ball around corners, Ian Wardlaw, Rob Taylor and Josh Davey could not extract the same prodigious movement through the air and bowled far too short.

It was Brendan McCullum’s attacking intent – for reasons of targeting his side’s net run rate – which offered up consolation wickets to make the game look closer, when it in fact was not.

Moeen Ali took Iain Wardlaw, Josh Davey, Evans and Berrington apart with the help of Ian Bell and Eoin Morgan. Ali (128) and Bell (54) put on 172 runs for the opening stand in quick-fire time, all but ending the game as a contest after an hour.

Scotland’s bowlers looked nervous, perhaps the hype and pressure surrounding the anticipated clash with the English, coupled with their near-neighbours’ wretched form, they bowled short and wide (15 wides and a no ball in total, to go with the five wides against New Zealand).

The bowling unit got it right in Dunedin until Shenwari took a shine to Haq (who dropped him on 20) striking the spinner for three sixes in his final over, which ultimately, guiding his team home.

The much-improved fielding of the past eighteen months has been below par and assistant coach Paul Collingwood will have to get the standards back to where they were.

The Scots have shelled catches in all three games to date. Some scrappy ground fielding needs to be put right too, for any chance of that elusive first win.

All in all, Scotland have it all to do. The question is: can Scotland put the recent losses out of their mind? Keep calm and win.



Scotland versus Italy Six Nations In-depth Analysis

  • Scotland concede three tries to one in hammer-blow defeat
  • The Scots had two players yellow-carded, one vital the other inconsequential
  • Cotter is yet to win a championship Test, losing all three so far with two to play

Scotland’s 22-19 defeat against Italy at Murrayfield on Saturday, when looked at closer, cracks appear from nowhere and lend weight to the credibility of the Italian job pulled in the capital.

This was not meant to be. After a promising autumn, the winter has been harsh on Vern Cotter’s nascent team.

The green-shoots of a new era have given way to a false dawn. But how has it come to this?

Scotland played well in Paris only to lose out by a converted try and two weeks ago in Edinburgh, matched Wales but still fall short of that much-needed win against a top ranked side.

The stats do not make good reading. Scotland had more possession, more territory and made 438 metres to Italy’s 276, with four line-breaks to one.

Italy, as ever, made the most tackles despite winning (118-97) with a tackle success rate of 85 per cent to the hosts’ 92 per cent (21-9); this certainly enhance the Italian job done in Edinburgh.


Once again the Scots found themselves in a scrap for the wooden spoon with perennial challengers Italy and it looks like the outcome has been decided at the mid-point of the competition.

Scotland go to Twickenham to play a revitalised England fighting for the title and have not won in London since 1983. Ireland will almost certainly be too strong, unless a loss today against the English halts their nine Test winning streak.

Cotter’s team is a blend of youth and form. However, it has only taken some injuries to flag-up the dearth in the ranks.

With Finn Russell suspended and Richie Gray out injured, Scotland lost two of their most important players.

Russell has been a breath of fresh air since making his debut against the United States of America last year and has fought off all opposition for the No 10 jersey including last year’s hero against Italy, Duncan Weir.

Gray has been partnered with brother Jonny in the boiler house and the duo have been instrumental at the line-out, a set piece that had been on the downward spiral for a few seasons.

Scotland won  six from eight line-outs registering 75 per cent with two steals. This is down 10 per cent from both France and Wales matches, which were 85 per cent (11/2).


The older Gray’s absence was keenly felt today, particularly at the ruck and definitely in an unconvincing line-out performance from Tim Swinson, who won one line-out.

Swinson lasted until 70 minutes and was replaced by debutant Ben Toolis, whose yellow card preceded the match-winning penalty try – proof of the lack of obvious replacements for key players.

Italy lock Joshua Furno made the fifth most metres made (45) during the match and won five line-outs to Jonny Gray (four) and Swinson (one).

The No 5’s partner equaled the younger Gray brother for tackles with a joint best 14. This paints a telling picture.

Scotland lost two of their six throws and could defend against the Italian’s driving maul, which was devastating.

The home team were caught napping three minutes from half time when they let a missed penalty from Kelly Haimona bounce after the ball struck the right-hand post.

It was a school-boy error compounded by several Scots not preventing Giovanbattista Venditti from manoeuvring the ball to the base of the protective padding for the try.

An easy seven points given away.

Italy’s forwards used the driving maul expertly for their first try and the match-winning score, when the hosts were down to 14 players after Toolis’ sin-binning for collapsing the maul.

Scotland have been issued four yellow cards in this year’s Six Nations and eight in 10 games under Cotter


This has stemmed from referee George Clancy warning Scotland a number of times during the final 10 minutes that he would go to his pocket if they continued to impede.

Maybe Scotland’s forwards did not take notice or maybe the Italian’s smelled blood after Furno scored his side’s opening try after a 20 metre drive, which eviscerated the Scots’.

However, as Morne Steyn from South Africa will attest to; missing crucial penalty-kick clearances is costly, especially at the death and certainly when your own team is under the strain of repeated attacks.

Peter Horne had a decent match, running with intent and flipping passes this way and that.

But his missed touch-finder is all anyone will remember, and it gave the visitors the ball again increasing the heat on his forwards.

Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Defending a four point margin, his forwards must have cursed when they found themselves defending for their lives again.

Ultimately, they would crumble under the weight of pressure Sergio Parisse and Co as the clock ticked down.

The multiple mauling in the last couple of minutes could not be stopped and Scotland’s two debutants were punished.


Blair Cowan said after the match that the penalty count was down in this game as opposed to the first two games but this is not entirely correct. 

Against France, Scotland conceded 12 penalties and no free-kicks and against Wales, the count was 13 and 0 short-arms. against Italy, the count was 13 penalties and one free-kick, far too many still.


Australian-borne Toolis before the penalty try and Hamish Watson after and on the final whistle.

Though not entirely their fault the damage had been done before the break and one can only speculate the impact Richie Gray would have had on proceedings in that facit of play.

Although Scotland were weakened for different reasons, losing to Italy at home was not part of the 53-year-old Kiwi’s remit when he took the job.

The coach will need to find a way to get his team ready for their date with England and cut out the mistakes and somehow keep 15 men on the park or another heavy loss will be in store.




Blair Cowan admits defeat to Italy hurts but Scotland can turn things around

  • Blair Cowan describes scenes in dressing room after shock 22-19 Italian job
  • Flanker feels the loss is not catastrophic and that the team is will get over it
  • Words echo team-mates’ feelings on poor display in the capital

Blair Cowan has been one of the outstanding performers under Vern Cotter throughout the autumn series and in this year’s Six Nations.

As with many of his team-mates and supporters, nobody quite foresaw Italy burgling a win at Murrayfield, not least after their thrashing at Twickenham against England and Scotland’s improvement under the 53-year-old Kiwi coach.

“We created plenty of opportunities when we got in their 22,” Cowan said

“But I think we were over excited to be honest, we were enjoying our attacking rugby and the over excitement maybe took us away from our structure and what we are good at.

“We had plenty out there to win that game; plenty and I think that will be the biggest disappointment.”

Maybe it was naivety. Maybe complacency from the Scots, but this loss – their third in the championship – did not enter the flanker’s mind but he did give some insight into what might have been the root cause for this Italian job.

“I never thought we were going to lose that game until the very end, until we lost the game,” he said. 

“We created plenty, it was just turnovers in silly places. Our penalty count was down, you might not think so but it is. It was just those critical areas on the field where we gave away the penalties and it’s another thing we have to rectify because we can’t afford to be doing that [give penalties away in dangerous areas].”

Cowan did not accept that youth and inexperience had a part to play in the defeat, brushing off that notion as an excuse and feels the team will learn from this chastening experience.

 “I don’t think that’s the reason for it at all because we’ve been building for some time now, from the autumn all the way up to this point now, and even though we may not be winning these games, every game we have taken a step forward even with a loss.”

The 28-year-old echoed the words of Mark Bennett and believes the team can pick themselves up for their clash with England and that another game offers a chance at redemption.

He added: “I feel this game maybe more of a step sideways but we’re very strong…we’re hurting, we really are. I can honestly say that I’ve never been this gutted and down in my whole career and I think that’s a good thing. It will give us the passion to go to Twickenham and take on England and [try] do what Italy did to us.

“I was actually in the showers and I was pretty gutted, I had the head down and Ryan Grant was next to me. The first thing he said is: ‘the only thing we can do now, is beat England at Twickenham’.”

“The beauty of this game is that we’ve got a chance to turn this around.”

When quizzed on what Cotter said to the team afterwards, Cowan took his time and chose his words carefully, not betraying the sanctity of the dressing room.

“He’s very good with his words.

“You only had to in and see the boys in the changing room after the game to get a sense of what the feeling was in there [change room] to realise that there wasn’t too much he could say.

“He just told us to stay together and stay tight. It’s a tough road after a loss and the only to look is forward.”





Rugby: Scotland hit Georgia for six after Rugby Park rout

By Kaylan Geekie | Back Page Heroes

Date: Saturday, November 26 Venue: Rugby Park, Kilmarnock Kick-off: 14:30 GMT

Autumn International

Final score: Scotland 43 (31) v Georgia 16 (11)

Scotland: Tries: Seymour, Penalty try, Maitland, Hogg (2), Watson Con: Laidlaw (5) Pen: Laidlaw

Georgia: Tries: Lobzhanidze (2) Pen: Kvirikashvili (2) Yellow Card: Mikautadze

Scotland thrashed Georgia 43-16 at Rugby Park scoring six tries to finish the Autumn Internationals with two wins from three. The game was won during a pulsating first-half display, as the home team ran the opposition ragged.

The win was the most complete performance this autumn and had Vern Cotter’s men played like this against Australia, they would have ended undefeated.

Stuart Hogg scored a brace either side of the break to go with tries from Tommy Seymour, Sean Maitland and Hamish Watson as well as a penalty try. Greig Laidlaw was flawless with the boot scoring 13 points.

Scrumhalf Vasil Lobzhanidze scored a double and fullback Merab Kvirikashvili kicked two penalties but it was not enough. Despite taking a fifth minute lead, the Lelo’s were always playing catch-up.

The Scots matched the Georgian physicality but, it was their class in attack that won them the Test. The only area of concern was the scrum, although, with the home side’s dominance in all the other areas of play, it did not matter.

Scotland scored tries at crucial moments throughout the game; after they fell behind in the opening stages; five minutes either side of half-time and at the death.

The execution of the tries was of the highest level, coming from all over the field and from different game situations. 

Vern Cotter had said he expected an “arm wrestle” against a “very tough, physical Georgia” but Scotland, undaunted by the challenge, raced into a 24-8 lead inside the opening half hour and never looked like relinquishing the scoreboard superiority.

It was the visitors who struck an early blow. From a line-out penalty, Georgia set-up a driving maul inside Scotland’s 22. As the drive began to halt, the ball popped out the back resulting in Lobzhanidze to change the point of attack.

Some quick-thinking saw the scrumhalf collect the ball, dart around the blind-side, beat Seymour’s weak tackle and score. Kvirikashvili missed the conversion.

Scotland hit back immediately. Seymour, atoning for his previous defensive lapse, chased Hogg’s kick and beat Lobzhanidze in a foot-race to the ball.

The move had started from midfield, passed through the hands from Allan Dell to Ryan Wilson to Hogg, whose pin-point kick was latched onto by the winger.

As with the previous scoring play, the TMO had a few looks before deciding to award the five-pointer. Laidlaw’s conversion was good and Scotland led 7-5.

The second came after some sustained pressure. It was Scotland’s turn to use the driving maul, which Georgia collapsed on their goal-line.

Referee Matthew Carley awarded the penalty-try after the first infringement and sent lock Kote Mikautadze to the sin-bin.

Kvirikashvili landed a long range penalty to reduce the score. Three minutes later, Scotland extended their lead when Maitland danced his way through tackles from Lobzhanidze and Merab Sharikadze to score. Laidlaw added the extras, 21- 8 inside the first quarter.

Scotland were matching the Georgian physicality at the breakdown and with ball in hand.

Man-of-theMatch Ryan Wilson, Ross Ford, Richie Gray, Zander Fagerson and Rob Harley, all carried the ball with authority, breaking first-time tackles and getting over the gain-line with every charge.


This collective effort from the forwards set the platform from for the victory, allowing the backline to attack with quick ball and on the front foot.

Georgia’s defence was being breached consistently and often, particularly out wide in the left channel and they struggled to stop the Scots at the breakdown.

Laidlaw and Kvirikashvili traded penalties but the momentum was with the home team, who led 24-11.

One area Georgia had the edge, was the scrum – an area of the game they dominated. With 30 minutes played they bulldozed Scotland’s pack for the first time, resulting in the three points.

If Georgia’s scrum was excellent, their kicking game was anything but. They fed Seymour, Maitland and Hogg time and again.

The source for all the Scots’ counter-attacks came from the back three and Georgia paid the price.

Not to be outdone by the two wingers, Hogg, receiving Finn Russell’s long pass in the centre of the field, produced another piece of magic. 

The fullback sped up-field, chipped the ball over the onrushing defenders and regathered on the bounce.

The kick was perfectly placed and landed in-between Sharikadze and Sandro Todua, who were left flat-footed, looking at each other bemused while Hogg raced to the try-line. 

The captain added the extras and the Scots went into the break with a 20 point lead.

The talk in the dressing-room would have been about keeping the pressure on the opposition and to keep up the intensity. 

The first half had not been without incident. Georgia had let their frustration get the better of themselves, resulting in several off-the-ball scuffles.

This continued and the visitors were penalised for cynical play when Giorgi Nemsadze was penalised for shirt-tugging.

Russell kicked to the corner and the forwards set-up another driving maul, sucking-in defenders from around the fringes.

Fagerson recycled the ball from Richie Gray and delivered to Watson, in the fashion of a quarterback feeding a runningback behind the line of scrimmage.

The flanker oblidged and from close range, bashed through on the run to score and put the game beyond reach.

This did not dishearten the travelling away support. Chants of “lelos” (the team’s nickname and also means try) rang out on every Georgia attack as the away fans urged their heroes on.

An attacking scrum was capitalised on by their pack and powerful drive pushed Scotland’s pack over their goal-line.

The referee was about to blow for a penalty try but allowed Lobzhanidze to gather the loose ball and dive over for his second. 

Georgia were tiring and could be seen with hands on heads at every break in play. Scotland, clearly the fitter team, did not relent.

Both coaches had emptied the bench. Ali Price on debut, replaced the skipper, took a quick-tap penalty and burst through the off-side defenders before he offloaded to fellow substitute, Rory Hughes.

Hughes’ speed did for Georgia and Hogg, in support, was on hand to collect the pass and run in untouched to score his second and complete the rout. Next stop, Six Nations.

Attendance: 15,401

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Dell.

Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Moray Low, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 John Barclay, 21 Ali Price, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Rory Hughes.

Georgia: 15 Merab Kvirikashvili, 14 Giorgi Aptsiauri, 13 Merab Sharikadze, 12 Tamaz  Mtchedlidze, 11 Sandro Todua, 10 Lasha Malaghuradze, 9 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 8 Beka Bitsadze, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze (captain), 6 Vito Kolelishvili, 5 Giorgi Nemsadze, 4 Kote Mikautadze, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili.

Replacements: 16 Badri Alkhazashvili, 17 Kakha Asieshvili, 18 Dudu Kubriashvili, 19 Lasha Lomidze, 20 Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, 21 Giorgi Begadze, 22 Beka Tsiklauri, 23 Shalva Sutiashvili

Referee: Matthew Carley (England)

Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Dan Jones (Wales)

TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)