French side Racing Metro visit Murrayfield tomorrow night as Edinburgh look to avenge last week’s defeat in the Heineken Cup.
Edinburgh have made eight changes to the side that lost in France.
Scottish centre Ben Cairns returns after long-term injury. As Edinburgh’s all-time top try scorer in the competition, he is a welcome addition to a team struggling for points.
Cairns is joined in the back line by New Zealand centre Ben Atiga, whilst Piers Francis and Chris Leck form a new half-back combination. Lee Jones and Dougie Fife have been brought in to replace injured wingers Tom Brown and Tim Visser.
Robert McAlpine replaces Sean Cox in the pack, joining forces with his former Scotland age-grade colleague, Grant Gilchrist, in the second-row.
Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley could not explain how his side lost 19-9 at Racing Metro last week, slumping to their third defeat in the competition.
Following last season’s surprise surge into semi-finals, Edinburgh have failed to win qualification from the group stages.
Tomorrow’s game offers the team an opportunity for an improved performance ahead of their Pro12 double header against Glasgow Warriors.
We spoke to Scotland Centre Matt Scott and Edinburgh Second Row Robert McAlpine ahead of the clash.
What was the feeling amongst the squad after last Saturday’s defeat to Racing Metro?
Matt Scott – It was a feeling of great disappointment and frustration as we felt we played good enough rugby to win the game. Rugby games at this level are won by small margins, and unfortunately we didn’t get the majority of these small margins right.
Rob McAlpine – Everyone was pretty gutted after the defeat in Paris, the game was for the taking. We provided enough scoring opportunities to win the game, but didn’t manage to convert those opportunities into points. It was disappointing.
Is the pressure now off for tomorrow’s game with qualification looking unlikely, or are players still feeling the stress of the situation?
MS – I don’t think the pressure is ever really off when playing professional rugby. There has been quite a few changes for this game, and the new players that have come in will be looking to stamp down a marker for selection in the upcoming games.
RM – No, there is no pressure off at all. We are desperate to put in a performance against Racing Metro at home, and we owe it to our fans and supporters to get a result. Having the home advantage is a great help and we should hopefully get a result.
What has training been like this week, have you been working on anything in particular?
MS – Training has been tough as everyone is keen to get a win on the board in the Heineken cup. We have targeted a few areas that Racing are weak in, so the boys will be looking to exploit those.
RM – Training has been really good this week, especially with players stepping in and playing that have been out injured. Netani Talei (Fiji), Ben Atiga (All Blacks), Ben Cairns (Scotland), and Dimitri Basilaia (Georgia) all step in after time out injured.
What have the coaches been saying ahead of tomorrow’s game?
MS – They have been willing us to get a win in front of our own fans, particularly to gain some momentum going into the two Glasgow games, which are going to be really important in our season.
RM – .. Can’t answer too much about strategy..
Personally what do you think can be done tomorrow to get a result?
MS – I think if we get our set piece delivery better and hold on to the ball we will cause them all sorts of problems. They are a huge side and don’t like being moved around. Murrayfield is a particularly large pitch, so I’m sure you will see us using that on Friday.
RM – Racing Metro have a big forward pack and being able to move the point of contact and play a quick game we should expose weaknesses and create opportunities to score.
Finally, if you get a result tomorrow what kind of confidence would that give the team going forward?
MS – It would be great for momentum to get a win, especially against a team of racing’s calibre.
RM – The win would give us massive confidence going into the 1872 cup (Glasgow Edinburgh back to back matches) and will hopefully allow us to pick up where we left off in the Rabo Pro 12. Two wins from two against Glasgow would put us right back up in the mix in the table.
Celtic are still on track on winning their first SPL title in four years and doing so possibly by a record margin. The ten point deduction of archrivals Rangers means Celtic can reclaim the points lost at last weekend’s Old Firm match by beating St. Johnstone on Sunday, with second and third placed Rangers and Motherwell taking each others points.
In the Barclay’s Premier League Manchester City will face Sunderland at home without star striker Sergio Aguero. A win would mean the Citizens would overtake Manchester United by their superior goal difference. At least until Monday, when United will travel to Blackburn.
QPR will host the rejuvenated Arsenal at a London derby on Saturday.
On Sunday traditional sides Newcastle and Liverpool will battle for a place in Europe.
Today at 3pm Andy Murray will face Rafael Nadal at the Semi-Finals of the Miami Open. World number one Novak Djokovic will meet 21th ranked Juan Monaco later on at 7pm for a place in the final on Sunday.
At the Shell Houston Open the World’s Number 10 Carl Petersson and Argentinian Angel Cabrera are currently tying at the top of the field. Ernie Else, who needs to win the Open to gain a place in the Masters, is one under after two.
Edinburgh Rugby take on Scarlets tonight in the RaboPro Direct league at Murrayfield. They will be hoping to end their losing streak when the match kicks off at 7.35pm. Glasgow Warriors meanwhile have had a fairly successful season and will be aiming to continue their good run of results when they play Cardiff Blues tonight. Kick off is 7.35pm at Firhill.
For more on Edinburgh Rugby’s misfortunes and the return of their international players, click here.
Scottish rugby star John Beattie has announced he intends to donate his brain to science after he dies. The revelation follows a recent study which suggests that rugby players are at risk of similar long term brain injuries to those sustained by boxers. His brain will be used in a neuroscience study to determine the effect of regular head impacts on the condition of the brain. Over the next few months he will undergo a series of tests and scans which will be followed by an autopsy when he dies. This should give an accurate indication of the level of damage which has been incurred during a rugby players career.
Sean Lineen has left his position as head coach of Glasgow Warriors to assume a scouting position at the SRU and is being replaced by current Scotland backs coach Gregor Townsend.
The 29-capped former Scotland international, who had huge success at the Warriors, is to assist in scouting Scottish talent across the globe and help to reshape the development of young players.
Townsend moves to Glasgow on the back of another unsuccessful Scottish Six Nations campaign, with speculation having been rife he was to be axed. However he has received full backing from the SRU’s Director of Performance Graham Lowe and Andy Robinson.
Lineen will be missed be Glasgow fans, having guided them from perennial league strugglers to a third place finish in his fifth season. The coach is also saddened to be leaving the club, “I had an opportunity nine years ago to move from club rugby to the professional game and I have loved every minute of it.
“Seven years as head coach is more than some people get and I will support Gregor and help make it as smooth a transition as possible for him and the squad and staff we have here.”
However Townsend’s appointment will anger many club-level coaches who believe they have been overlooked once again by the SRU in favour of former professionals.
The Warriors currently sit in fourth position in the RaboDirect PRO12 with five games to go, with Lineen remaining in charge for the club’s forthcoming fixtures.
Blood, sweat and tears were all spilled at the Stade de France yesterday, with Ireland leaving Paris with a hard fought draw and a bitter taste of disappointment at having so close to taking the win.
A spirited approach by the Irish side in the first half had led even the most sceptical fans to dream of a final score which could have gone down in History.
On the 17th minute a lack of concentration on the Bleus side had allowed an opportunist Tommy Bowe to pierce a French defense which initially looked far from its usual strength.
It was far too easy for Bowe to intercept a pass from Rougerie and run in between the posts for the first Irish try, which was followed by a conversion from Jonathan Sexton.
Bowe’s effort was then accompanied by a solid defensive display by Declan Kidney’s men, which only let the French score from penalties in the first half, while Sexton punished the French indiscipline with another kick.
There was yet more Irish sparkle to come before the half time whistle, as on the 37th minute Bowe again went deep through the French defense like a hot knife through butter, chipped the ball past Mazier and scored an impressive try which pulled the curtains on the first half, with the Irish deservedly leading 17 to 6.
You could never blame the French for lacking pride, and a great deal of pride is what they drew upon to make a spectacular comeback in the second half.
There was urgency in the way France tried to gain territory, an attitude which was awarded with a penalty scored by Morgan Parra on the 47th minute.
This was followed only three minutes later by a stunning run from Wesley Fofana, who got a hold of the ball just past midfield and went all the way to score a try which cast doubts over the Irish ability to hold the lead until the end.
As another kick from Parra on 58th minute led the 80-thousand strong stadium behind the Bleus to the tune of the Marseillaise, Irish hopes looked even dimmer.
But that was, in an overall disappointing second half, the time the men in green regrouped and managed to desperately defend a score for the whole last quarter of the match.
Although all during the final period they never looked dangerous in the French half, and this will mostly be remembered as a wasted golden opportunity, Ireland should still feel some pride in coming so close to sealing a victory in this year’s most feared away match.
The pressure is on for the English rugby team as they are set to play their final game in the 6 Nations Tournament in a bid to win the Grand Slam this Saturday.
The England team, that has not won a Grand Slam in eight years, is expecting tough resistance from the opposing Irish team when they play them in Dublin on Saturday. As Brian O’Driscoll, Ireland’s captain, told the RBS 6 Nations’s official website: “It’s always a huge game for us because of the history between the countries”. He added that they would exploit the opponents’ nerves as the pressure will be palpable for the British team.
As Royal Wedding fever starts to set in across the UK, Scotland is starting to prepare for the 2nd of Royal Marriages to happen this Year. Princess Ann’s daughter Zara Phillips and fiancé rugby player Mike Tindall have chosen to hold their nuptials in Edinburgh. The summer wedding will be a small family affair, with the ceremony happening at Cannogate Kirk on the Royal Mile . The reception will take place at the Queen’s Scottish residence Palace of Holyroodhouse. Further updates on this story to follow in the tv news bulletin on Edinburgh Napier News.
It’s game on at Twickenham in two weeks time when England and France, the only sides still able to claim a Grand Slam, clash in what has the potential to be a Six Nations title decider.
England disposed of a sorry Italy at the weekend 59-13, just a week after putting Wales to the sword in Cardiff. Rugby League convert Chris Aston was England’s star man, claiming four of his side’s eight tries and in the process becoming the first English man to score four tries in a Six Nations game.
Reigning champions France came through a much tougher in test in the battle of the last two Grand Slam winners, when they took on Ireland in Dublin in the first Championship game to take place at the new Aviva Stadium. Despite being out-scored by three tries to one, Irish indiscipline gifted the French some easy points and last gasp defence at the death was enough to see the champions home 25-22.
Wales made the journey north to Edinburgh to take on Scotland at Murrayfield and it proved to be a satisfactory trip. A first half try by winger Shane Williams set the Welsh on their way, although they did have to defend with only 13 men for ten minutes when indiscipline saw both full-back Lee Byrne and second-row Bradley Davies sin-binned.
The Scots could not take advantage however, and created nothing in a performance that has set alarm bells ringing north of the border that a return to the bad old days of recent years in nigh. The second half was a scrappy affair with both sides bereft of both imagination and direction. In the end the game was settled by a neat grubber kick by Wales centre Jonathan Thomas which Williams was again alert to, collecting to score his second try.
But there was to be no heroic Scottish comeback as they limped to a 24-6 defeat.
Scotland head coach Andy Robinson has handed Edinburgh flanker Ross Rennie an international recall as one of five changes to his side that will face New Zealand at Murrayfield this weekend.
Rennie, 24, won his solitary international cap against Ireland in 2008, where he came on as a replacement late on during Scotland’s defeat at Croke Park.
He then suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury which kept him sidelined for nine months, while Edinburgh coaches Rob Moffat and Tom Smith have been keen to monitor the young flanker’s progress since his return last season.
But the Edinburgh flanker has now been given his opportunity, albeit from the replacements bench, to test himself against the world’s best side.
Robinson has also handed first test starts to young Glasgow Warriors duo Richie Gray and Richie Vernon at lock and number eight respectively.
Of his inlcusion of 20-year old Gray, Robinson said: “He has been in outstanding form for Glasgow and we hope he can continue that at the weekend (against New Zealand). He was the first name on the team sheet.”
Edinburgh scrum-half Mike Blair returns in the number nine jersey and will captain the side on the occasion of his 65th cap.
Toulon winger Rory Lamont has also earned a recall and will wear the number 14 jersey, replacing the injured Simon Danielli, with brother Sean again selected on the opposite wing.
The Scots are minus Glasgow trio Alistair Kellock, Chris Cusiter and Johnnie Beattie for the match but will still hope to challenge the world’s best side.
Head coach Robinson said: “The main thing for us is that we focus on ourselves-we put New Zealand under pressure when they’ve got the ball and we fight like anything to get it back, but when we get it, we’ve got to establish a go-forward.”
It will be a big ask for the home side, against an All Blacks team that’s lost just once this year, but Robinson and captain Mike Blair will hope that home support will guide them to their first ever win over the Kiwi’s.
The SRU announced the premier leagues fixtures after the first round split last night.
Initially introduced in order to create a more intense and a higher standard of play amongst the top two flights of Premier league rugby in Scotland, the remainder of the season will see Premier one and Premier two split into three leagues, depending on their current positioning. League A sees the top eight of Premier one, who will retain all points gained so far, continue as a smaller league to fight it out for the championship. League B will be composed of the bottom four of Premier one and the top four of Premier two. They will have their points reset and compete in a league where the top four will play in next seasons Premier one. Finally League C will be made up of the bottom eight of Premier two who will also retain their points gained so far and will be playing solely to avoid relegation to Premier three.
“Scottish Rugby and Scotland’s Premier clubs shared the need to improve the standard and intensity of Scotland’s club game”.
“The widespread opinion of players, coaches and officials is that the first half of the season has been a resounding success. Each of the first 11 matches are crucial to a team’s placement in the split which challenged the players week in week out and saw both Premier 1 and 2 go right to the wire as clubs vied for position”.
This opinion certainly seems to be the case with Kenny Murray, Head coach of Ayr RFC, last year’s Premier one champions. He agreed:
“The new league format has brought excitement and anticipation to Premier 1 with every game having significant importance for the teams. Ayr rugby club welcomes this and hopes that it will continue in the future.”
Murray’s team, currently sitting third in League A, face leaders Melrose away in what will prove to be a massive game for the current champions. Eyes though will be on the top of the table clash between Melrose and Glasgow Hawks in Glasgow. With only one point separating the two teams, Hawks’ home advantage could prove fundamental to the outcome of the season. Key fixtures in League B see Stirling County face Edinburgh Accies at home but travel away to play West of Scotland. The Glasgow side meanwhile travel to the capital to face Accies on the final week of fixtures, which could result in quite a climatic end to the season! The relegation battle of League C begins straight away for bottom side GHA. They face Kirkcaldy, only three points ahead, at home on the opening day of fixtures. They then travel to Kelso who are only two points ahead the following week.
Scotland rugby star Nathan Hines will face the ultimate test of loyalty when he lines up for his adopted nation in the Autumn International Test against Australia at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Despite being born and raised in his native Australia, Hines has played an integral part for Scotland since making his debut in 2002.
The 58 times capped lock joins an illustrious list of ‘Adopted Scots’, and like his predecessors there will be no conflict of interests come Saturday.
“It’s the same as every game for me,” said Hines in a recent interview with the BBC. “It doesn’t matter who I’m playing, Ill always give my all for Scotland.
“Obviously there is the added incentive of the fact I’m playing my homeland, but Ive lived here for 15 years now and I feel Scottish.
There will be no doubts over where my loyalties will lie come Saturday.”
Scotland have previously used the ‘adopted citizen’ rule to full effect, having called up a host of foreign-born players in the past including Kiwi Glen Metcalfe and Englishman Ben Cairns.
The SRU recently courted controversy by appointing Ex-England International Andy Robinson as head coach in June 2009.
In their entire history of past coaches, the Scotland Rugby side have only appointed one foreigner, Australian Matt Williams, who was sacked in 2005 after a disastrous 2 year spell in charge, and some fans have raised doubts over the employment of another non-Scot.
However, SRU Youth Coach Michael Davidson is confident that Robinson will give nothing less than 100% when he leads his side out against a formidable Australian team on Saturday.
Davidson exclusively told EdinburghNapierNews: “He is a fantastic coach and we are very lucky to have him,”
“I don’t think it matters where he is from, he has the ability to turn the team around and that’s the most important factor for me.
“I don’t think the Scotland fans will care much about Robinsons nationality should he achieve the impossible and beat Australia.”
After last week’s comprehensive 23-10 win over Fuji at Murrayfield, Scotland will be brimming with confidence going into the clash against a country they haven’t defeated since 1982.
Fans will also be buoyed at the news Captain Mike Blair and Flanker Johnnie Beattie have both travelled with the squad ahead of the game.
At the end of his first game as head coach, Andy Robinson’s head must have been filled with mixed emotions. His primary aim of acheiving victory had been accompolished; victory over a team that was until last weekend, ranked above Scotland in IRB rankings, is on paper a day well spent at the office.
But if he looks at the weekend’s 23-10 win over Fiji from a wider perspective, the former England coach will realise that this did very little to inspire the rugby loving public into believing that Scotland may once again be a force to be reckoned with in world rugby.
“That was a very good performance. We’ve beaten quality opposition and we’ve beaten them comfortably”, Robinson stated proudly at the post-match press conference.
But while the head coach will always look to defend his troops in light of harsh criticism, and dear God Scottish rugby has had its fair share of that in recent years, surely Robinson is pushing the boundaries of all that is charitable by describing his team’s performance as “very good”.
The Fiji team that took to the pitch last Saturday were indivdually an ok-match for the Scots on their first run-out of the international season, but as a collective unit their set-up was farcical. Stripped of their best players by English and French clubs who refused to release them for the November series, that Fiji managed to produce a someway competitive team at all is highly commendable.
Here is where we get to the crux of the arguement. Scotland, while not blessed with same resources as other European top-tier nations such as England, France, Wales and Ireland, in comparison with Fiji are, for want of a better expression, “rolling in it”. Training days in St Andrews and international camps are but dreams to the islanders.
In the immediate aftermath of the weekend’s game the buzz (short in supply it may have been) was about the strenght of the Scottish pack and how they managed to destroy the “big men” of the Pacific.
There was some substance to this; the pack wasn’t on the back foot once and the lineout was almost faultless for the majority of the afternoon. Scotland had been in camp for weeks in the run-up to this game however. How long do you reckon the Fijians had? Well add all of the days Andy Robinson had with his men and divide by the square root of nothing and you still aren’t close.
They say a week is a long time in sport; this may be the case if you are the well prepared, teak-toned unit Scotland aspire to be, but not so on the Fijian front.
There remains hope though that this was a simply a rusty performance against a team that was never really good enough to beat Scotland at home anyhow. Fair comment but if we can only labour our way to victory against the minnows, how is victory over the current pace-setters of the world game ever a going to be a realistic achievement? It seems to be a basic case of believing we can run before we can walk.
The visit of Australia this weekend will be a real test of this currnet side’s mettle. They may have destroyed the Fijians but how they will deal with a side that has for the past number of months, been mixing it up with the Springboks, All Blacks and most recently, the current Grand-Slam champions, Ireland, is another matter. You fear for them really.
Rugby is a funny old sport though where anything is possible and to be fair to the man from down south he delivered victory from a game that was certainly there for the loosing. But instead of a new dawn, the rain clouds of a time we hoped had passed lingered a little too close for comfort. A good attempt at stealing some Aussie sunshine would go a fair way towards banishing them.
Gavin Hastings and Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie at the start of the West Highland Way
By David Henderson
Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie has enlisted the help of a rugby legend to give Europe the edge over America in golf’s biggest event.
Former Scotland captain Gavin Hastings is advising Monty on how to turn individuals into succesful team players. Montomerie takes charge of Europe at Celtic Manor in Wales next year.
Hastings warns Montgomerie that a team sport is a whole different ball game from his comfort zone in the solo sport of gold. Hastings told Edinburgh Napier News: “I’ve been a friend of Colin for years and I’m in no doubt he has what it takes to be a leader of men – and a succesful one. The Ryder Cup is unique in golf in that it is a team event. Monty is used to being a solo performer, used only to worrying about his own game. As captain, he needs consider the needs of the entire team”.
Gavin Hastings saw how to deal with the needs of a multi-national group of sports starts when captain of the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand in 1993. He’s cautioning Monty that he’ll have to manage egos to get results: “As captain of the Lions, I had to juggle my own needs with those of the rest of the squad. You need to manage the team as a group but also break it down and ensure that each individual is catered for correctly. Different players need different managerial techniques, sportsmen are all individuals. It’s about preparations and morale as much as it is about sporting form. I think that I can really help him and he seems to want to learn from my experience.”
The former Scotland captain is with the Ryder Cup captain on a fundraising walk for the Elizabeth Montgomerie Foundation, the cancer charity formed by the golfer after his mother died of the disease in 1991. The sports stars were joined by Scotland football manager George Burley on their trek along the West Highland Way which aims to raise £100, 000 for the charity.
In the final moments of this game it looked as though Glasgow may well have sent the Basques of Biarritz back to the south of France with nothing more than a losing bonus point.
Sean Lineen’s men ended their opening Heineken Cup match camped on their opponents line but in failing to cross were ultimately left to rue another missed opportunity, eventually succumbing 18-22 in Firhill.
Glasgow started well dominating early posession and forcing Biarrtiz to concede penalties which the in-form Dan Parks duly turned to points, 9-0 after 15 minutes.
When Biarritz finally got going with a 17th minute venture into the Glasgow half, Dimitri Yachvilli proved himself as eagle-eyed as Parks, slotting his first attempt neatly through the posts. It was game-on minutes later as Damien Traille landed a drop goal to bring the Basques within three points of their hosts.
The Scots were not rattled however as Parks disected the posts with a monster penalty 57 meters from the Biarritz line but this was cancelled by another Yachvilli penalty. Parks sent an attempted drop goal wide minutes later but centre Marcelo Bosch made no mistake at the other end – all square at half time.
You got the feeling the game was there for the taking for either side and it was quick thinking by England international flanker Magnus Lund that ultimately proved the differnence between the sides.
From a sloppy Glasgow lineout the ball spilled free and resulted in a race to the line between Lund and Glasgow scrum half Colin Gregor. Lund was first to apply downward pressure and with the subsequent conversion, added by Yachvilli, Biarritz were four points clear and well and truly in the acendency.
A Dan Parks drop goal brought the margin back to just one point but further Glasgow indiscipline in their own half allowed Yachvilli restore the four point advantage with a wonderful kick from wide on the touchline.
Glasgow needed a try and were urgent in their play in the final minutes but their frantic efforts bore no fruit. So near yet so far.
Scotland is facing a kilt famine after kilt hire shops reported a massive upturn in sales.
This is mainly due to the recent international sporting events, with 15,000 football fans travelling to Amsterdam at the weekend and the recent 6 nations rugby.
With Scotland due to play Iceland on Wednesday anyone hoping to hire a kilt for the match could be left disappointed. Sales for accessories such as belts, socks and sporrans have also been popular as the Tartan Army look to support their troubled side.
“We supply all the kilts for the Kirkcaldy Tartan Army and we always have a really busy time of it when Scotland is playing.
“The kilt hires have gone through the roof this week and the sales of sporrans and belts have also gone up.
In Glasgow, Dominic Capaldi, manager of MacGregor MacDuff, has admitted he has had to order in more stock as the demands exceed expectations.
“The demand from the Tartan Army has been phenomenal this week. We were really bust last week but I’m sure we are about 30 per cent up on that figure, which is amazing.
“The hire of the Saltire and the Thistle kilts have gone through the roof. They are definitely the most popular kilts we have available.”
If you are unable to get a kilt for Wednesday your best bet would be to go a higher class kilt makers. Beware though, as you may have to pay for it. The manager of Geoffrey Taylor in Edinburgh, Hugh Stratham, still has a healthy number of stock available as he feels the price has deterred many from using his shop.
” We have only sold 2 or 3 kilts for the football so it has not really affected our business. People have been shopping around and the prices seemed to have scared them off.
Our shop is at the higher end of the market so our kilts are mainly for long term, not for a one off football match.”
So if you are going to any ceilidhs or weddings, then you better be quick as there is a shortage of our national dresswear.
The RBS Six Nations tournament kicks off this weekend and is set to be one of the most exciting since ever.
Rugby at this time off year captures the imaginations of millions, whether they are fans of the sport or not. Although the Tri Nations has a higher quality of player, rugby clubs throughout Western Europe will be full and the beer will be flowing. And this could be the closest championship since Italy’s inclusion back in 2000, with Europe’s elite six expecting to thrill fans across Europe.
But how will each team fare? Will Wales defend their crown and continue to sing in the Valleys, or will the Irish eyes be shinning? And what for Scotland? Can they get that elusive victory at Twickenham? Either way many of the home nation players will be looking to boost their chances of being picked for the Lions tour to South Africa this summer.
Here is a run down of each team, plus a few players to watch out for. Let the games begin…
Martin Johnson will be looking to improve on England’s Autumn International performance in his first Six Nations as coach, starting with dropping Danny Cipriani in favour of Andy Goode. Johnson will be going back to basics by playing a tactical and territorial game. Once their fall back tactic, this looks to be their new plan A.
He is still to shore up the midfield after Will Greenwood’s departure and the current pairing of Ricki Flutey and Mike Tindall have yet to find their feet at international level.
Anything less than three home wins will be seen as a failure for England.
Danny Care: This is a tough one as there are no real superstars in the team. The scrum half had a good 2008 and England will need him to be on top form to have a successful Six Nations.
My Prediction – Fourth
They face a tough opening match at Croke Park, which could determine how their campaign will be fought. They have picked a more conservative squad than in recent years. With Shabal in the second row they add a lot of muscle and aggression, but weaken their lineout as a result.
Poitrenaud sums up the French team. Brilliant one day, disastrous the next. Coach Marc Lievremont will be seeking consistent performances from his squad. They will miss the mercurial talents of Freddy Michelak and the team will have to step up if there is going to be a new generation of French flair.
Yannick Jauzion: A deadly mix of pace, balance and precision passing. He could be not only a match winner but a Grand Slam winner.
My Prediction – Third
Inconsistency has been the main theme for the Irish in recent years. Coach Declan Kidney will have to rectify this in 2009. There are a few promising young players coming through including Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald and these will add impetus to ageing stars like Brian O’Driscoll. The centre is no longer the devastating attacking force he once was, but is still strong in defence.
The front five remain strong and in David Wallace they have one of the best back rows in the tournament. They have a decent fixture list with England and France at home. Wales at the Millennium Stadium may prove to be a game too far for their Grand Slam hopes.
Ronan O’Gara: Some say the stand off dominates games, others say he fails to inspire. He needs to take the ball up to the game line and throw those defence splitting passes we all know he is capable off.
My Prediction – Second
As in any year the Italians aspire to just the one win. This year they could struggle to achieve this as they have no recognised half backs. There have been several stop gaps with centre, Paz, asking coach Mallet to stop playing him out of position.
Italy do have some genuine world class players in Prop, Castrogiovanni, Sergio Parisse and Bortolami.
They may surprise Ireland in Rome, but apart from that Murrayfield may prove yet again to be their only hope of avoiding that dreaded wooden spoon.
Sergio Parisse: One of the best players in the tournament. If he hailed from New Zealand he would be a household name. He is a top performer for club side Stade Francais and is easily the Italian’s best player.
My Prediction – Sixth
Scotland will be looking to improve on last year’s performance on one win, albeit against England. Scotland has still to field a backline capable of worrying an international defence since the turn of the century. However there is a degree of optimism this season with Tom Evans emerging as a genuine try scorer. There is also a new pace and creativity in the centre.
These players are untested at the highest level so it could go either way. There is still debate about the number ten jersey – Godman’s flair versus Park’s boot and reliability, but Godman could galvanise the exciting backline if he is in the starting lineup.
A key to Scotland’s success will be the powerful forward pack – a match for any team – and contains some genuine world-class players. They will have to create quick ball to allow the backline to function. Maybe then Scotland can start crossing the try line.
Mike Blair: The IRB world player of the year nominee can make Scotland tick. His roaming runs and crisp delivery must free up the midfield runners and build on the quick ball if Scotland are to start chalking the teams off their list. The captain needs a big tournament to boost his Lions credentials and his nation’s chances.
My Prediction – Fifth
Without a doubt the most talented team in the competition. They were the only northern hemisphere team to beat one of the big three in the autumn, pushing South Africa close and beating Australia.
Shane Williams is back from injury which will be a massive boost for Coach Warren Gatland. Roberts and Henson will provide a good mix of muscle and skill in the midfield and both James Hook and Steven Jones are capable match winners.
Pivotal to their success is the back row trio – Martin Williams, Andy Powell and Ryan Jones all complement each other and the rest of the Welsh side.
They could sneak the Championship on points difference, but watch out for a hiccup at Murrayfield this Saturday.
Ryan Jones: The defensive lynchpin, ball carrier and inspirational leader. He’s also tipped to lead the Lions this summer. His performance last year was awesome and the same will be required again.
With a busy weekend of sport ahead, Ross Hart takes a look at the upcoming action.
Weather permitting, there is a full card of league fixtures this weekend and a Scottish Cup tie this evening.
Tonight, Inverurie Locos and Vale of Leithen will attempt for the fouth time to play their third round Scottish Cup tie after adverse weather conditions resulted in three postponements. The winners will be rewarded with a home tie against SPL side Motherwell in the fourth round.
In the Scottish Premier League this weekend, Rangers travel to in form Dundee United in the early kick off on Saturday. United have only lost once in their last 14 league and cup games and sit third in the table, while Rangers will look to put more pressure on leaders Celtic after defeating Hamilton 7-1 last weekend.
Celtic meanwhile are looking to recover from last weekend’s loss to Hibernian by defeating the other half of Edinburgh at Celtic Park. Last night’s Champions League victory over Villarreal provided a confidence boost but Hearts have won five successive matches to maintain their push for European football next season.
Hibernian will look to build on their victory over the leaders last week by defeating struggling Hamilton at Easter Road. The visitors sit bottom of the table after recording only one win in their last 12 league matches but are boosted by striker Richard Offiong signing a contract extension.
In the other SPL games, Aberdeen will look to maintain their position within the top six at home to Falkirk, while St Mirren will climb above Inverness with victory at Love Street. Motherwell host Kilmarnock on Monday evening in a game to be broadcast live on Setanta Sports.
The Edinburgh Gunners are again in action this weekend as they travel south to play London Wasps in a Heineken Cup pool two clash. The sides met at Murrayfield last weekend with the Gunners falling to a 25-16 defeat so Andy Robinson will be hoping his team can gain revenge on former Scotland coach Ian McGeechan’s team on Sunday afternoon.
Scotland’s other European representatives Glasgow Warriors take on Bath at Firhill on Sunday and will also be looking to avenge defeat by their English counterparts. Sean Lineen’s team narrowly lost out last weekend by 35 points to 31 at the Recreation Ground.
Ronnie O’Sullivan is looking to defend his Maplin UK Championship title as this year’s tournament gets underway on Saturday in Telford. Current World Champion O’Sullivan kicks off the defence of the UK Championship against Rory McLeod on the opening day of the tournament.
There is plenty of Scottish representation, with five players flying the saltire. Five time UK Champion Stephen Hendry takes on England’s Stephen Lee while the ‘Wishaw Wizard’ and current Grand Prix champion John Higgins faces world number 20 Joe Swail.
Former World Champion Graeme Dott faces Ireland’s Ken Doherty while the clash between world number two Stephen MaGuire and Jamie Burnett, ranked 43 places below, guarantees a Scottish name in the second round.
Graeme Macleod previews this weekend’s sports action.
Heineken Cup Pool Two
Edinburgh Gunners vs. London Wasps
The Gunners welcome Guiness Premiership champions Wasps to Murrayfield for this Heineken Cup clash on Friday. Edinburgh coach Andy Robinson is set to make one change to the team that defeated Ospreys last week. That means full-back Chris Paterson is set to make his 50th european appearance for the hosts as they look to repeat their 2005 win over Wasps.
The visitors are two-time winners of the competition with their last success coming as recently as 2007. This will be Wasps first match since a boardroom reshuffle – which saw World Cup winner Lawrence Dallaglio appointed a director of the club – earlier this week.
Scottish Premier League
Falkirk are looking to bounce back from conceding a late equaliser against Hibernian last week when they host St Mirren.
Inverness CT welcome Dundee United to the Caledonian Stadium while Kilmarnock host Aberdeen at Rugby Park.
Motherwell were dumped 2-0 at Pittodrie last week and will be looking to get back to winning ways when they host in-form Hearts at Fir Park. The Jambos picked up a superb three points last week thanks to a 2-1 win over Rangers at Tynecastle. That means Csaba Laszlo’s side have won five games in a row, lifting them up to third spot in the SPL table.
Rangers take on Hamilton to Ibrox looking to bounce back from that defeat. Walter Smith is likely to have Kenny Miller, Sasa Papac and Steven Davis back in the squad.
In Sunday’s match, Hibernian entertain Celtic at Easter Road. Mixu Paatelainen’s men salvaged a draw at Falkirk last week thanks to sub Colin Nish’s late strike and the towering forward is likely to be vying for a start when the champions visit. Celtic on the other hand are looking to rack up their 13th consecutive league win before Wednesday’s Champions League match agains Villarreal.
In the re-arranged third round fixtures, Edinburgh City host Brechin City at Meadowbank Stadium while Spartans travel north to play Elgin City. Forfar Athletic take on Stranraer and the all non-league matches see Forres Mechanics face Dalbeattie Star and Inverurie Locos host Vale of Leithen, with the winners in that match set to be take on Premier League Motherwell at home in the next round. Junior outfit Lochee United host Second Division Ayr United with the winners meeting Kilmarnock in Round Four.
Amir Khan vs. Oisin Fagan
Bolton fighter Khan returns to the ring for the first time since his 54-second knockout at the hands of Breidis Prescott. The Olympic silver medalist is looking to rebuild his career following that defeat, the first of his professional career. The 21-year-old boast a record of 18-0-1 and will have to win this one to keep his hopes of a world title fight alive.
Opponent Fagan turned professional in 2003. The Irishman goes into this fight in London with a record that reads 22-0-5. The ‘Gael Force’ last fought in March against Paul Spadafora when he lost in a split decision after 10 rounds.
Oscar De La Hoya vs. Manny Pacquiao
After Khan vs. Fagan, attention turns to Las Vegas where Oscar De La Hoya takes on Manny Pacquiao. This fight sees two of the best pound-for-pound fighters going head-to-head with the winner likely to be rewarded with a multi-million pound match with Ricky Hatton next year.
De La Hoya’s record reads 40-0-4 and his last appearance in the ring was a win over Steve Forbes in May. Pacquiao comes into the fight with a record of 47 wins, two draws and three losses. This clash with the ‘Golden Boy’ presents probably the biggest challenge of the Filipino’s career.
Haddington Under 17s Rugby team smashed the world record for the highest number of succesful conversions in one hour on Saturday.
The boys known as The Young Scarlets, outkicked the previous record by 250 kicks raising the number from 124 to 374.
The squad of 14 boys held the event to coincide with “Guiness World Records Day” which took place on Thursday 13th and saw records being broken all over the world.
Coach Kevin Bowen said: “This is a great achievment for the boys, it was a great oppertunity for the boys to use their skills to raise funds and hopefully get a mention in The Guiness Book of Records.”
Many local busineses made donations to the club and all the boys recieved sponsorship to take part in the fundraising event which will allow the team to continue touring each year.