THE battle lines for Saturday tea-time were more-firmly drawn this morning, when Eddie Jones announced his England match-day squad for the Calcutta Cup game. This, in 1-23 order, is:
1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens), 2. Dylan Hartley (Captain), (Northampton Saints), 3. Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers); 4. Joe Launchbury (Wasps), 5. Maro Itoje (Saracens); . Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), 7. Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), 8. Nathan Hughes (Wasps); 9. Danny Care (Harlequins), 10. George Ford; 11. Jonny May (both Leicester Tigers), 12. Owen Farrell (Saracens), 13. Jonathan Joseph, 14. Anthony Watson (both Bath); 15. Mike Brown (Harlequins).
Replacements: 16. Jamie George (Saracens), 17. Joe Marler (Harlequins), 18 Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs), 19. George Kruis (Saracens), 20. Sam Underhill (Bath); 21. Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), 22. Ben Te'o (Worcester Warriors), 23. Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs).
That is pretty-much the England squad he was expected to name; no denying, it's a good outfit, but, it is a beatable one – because, man for man they are not, to my mind, as good as the Scotland squad. Sure, they are hyped to high Heaven by the English media, but, we have players every bit as good, and in a few cases, better than, the guy they are facing. If we can just believe, and cut down our error count, there is no reason why we should not win.
This England team also contains one or two penalty generators, who, if they get on the wrong side of the excellent Mr Owens, could cost their side dear. We are also overdue a win against the Auld Enemy, hopefully this is the year we get it.
WHEN I saw Peter Murchie getting involved in Ayr's pre-match warm-up prior to their Millbrae meeting with Hawick on Saturday, I immediately knew he would, sooner rather than later, be announced as the new Head Coach, in succession to Calum Forrester, who has just got a new and demanding day job with KPMG the major accountancy firm.
Incoming Ayr Coach Peter Murchie
I certainly wish Peter well, he is taking-on a big job, but, Ayr has a good playing organisation under Director of Rugby Jim Lymburn, and, in Glenn Tippett and Murchie's old Warriors team mate Pat McArthur, the forwards will continue to be well-organised, leaving Murchie to concentrate on getting the most out of a talented and still – Frazier Climo part, youthful back division.
There are rumours that Grant Anderson may follow big Scott Sutherland in deciding he has made the trip from Greenock often enough and call it a day, but, while Scott Lyle has been outstanding whether on the wing, at centre or at stand off this season, his best position is full back, so, the Anderson going eventually is covered.
Murchie's appointment is a continuation of former professionals stepping down to coach in the Premiership. Forrester and now Murchie at Ayr, Ben Cairns at Currie and Fin Gillies at Hawks are just a few examples of a professional football practice, of newly-retired players getting an immediate coaching opportunity at a high level, without doing an apprenticeship lower down.
This hasn't always worked in football, and there have been one or two appointments in rugby which didn't work – Nikki Walker at Hawick for instance. There is something to be said for learning on the job at a lower level – as Kenny Murray did at CQP, before moving to Ayr, or Stevie Lawrie has done, as Phil Smith's Number Two at Heriot's, prior to moving to Watsonians – who were burned slightly when the Marcus di Rollo – Simon Taylor pairing didn't really work as everyone hoped it might.
With Super Six, we may well see more occasions of players moving directly from playing to coaching, without seemingly moving away from the top level, to perhaps find-out what real life is all about.
Not every great player makes a good, far less a great coach. That has long been accepted knowledge in football, we may find Scottish Rugby takes a wee while to discover the truth of this, as the fashion for change from the top down, rather than the grass roots up, increasingly takes hold at Murrayfield.
On a linked issue, which needs talking about.
One of the seldom discussed issues around Super Six and Agenda 3 is, the SRU apparently wants to see fewer, but stronger clubs. Now, this, to me is sheer stupidity. More, stronger clubs is the way forward.
Scottish Rugby is a pyramid. At the top we have the national side; below that the two full-time PRO14 teams and below that – the age group sides and the Academy. That is the full time professional set-up.
Below that, we have the club game. At the lowest level in the clubs we have the mini-rugby sides, feeding through to the midi-rugby teams, which is where the first break occurs, with the best young players being hived-off onto the Performance Pathway, which leads eventually to the Academy an the age group sides for the best – who then go on to the two pro sides an the Scotland team.
Those who get onto the Performance Pathway, then fall by the way side will hopefully go back to their clubs and carry-on playing, up to Premiership status. One or two will perhaps be late developers, and will find their way back to the pro sides.
But, this will only apply to a very few players, and it seems to me, all the palaver about Super Six, all the upheaval to long-established clubs and set-ups, to get what will, at most, be a handful of players into the pro set-up, well, it's a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and much ado about little or nothing.
The SRU is over-interested in the very narrow top of the pyramid. They are largely ignoring the bottom and the base layers. If they continue to do this, the whole edifice is in danger of being undermined. Let's hope we can stop this, before it is too-late.
SRU Councillors take note – it's your constituencies which are in danger.