Saturday, May 29, 2010

Andy Robinson says Six Nations is more important to Scotland than World Cup

It seems there has been a radical rethink at Murrayfield. In place of the system where everything revolved in four-year cycles around the Rugby World Cup, Andy Robinson, the Scotland head coach, has made it clear that the Six Nations Rugby Championship is now his over-riding priority, and that even the autumn internationals play a greater role in his day-to-day thinking than the global challenge.

“The key for me is Scotland getting the right number of matches against the southern hemisphere teams in the autumn and we have got that, playing two of them each year. The other important thing is to focus on the Six Nations 2011. Those games are where we really need to improve and start winning regularly,” he said yesterday.

He is busy finalising the side that will take on Japan A next week mainly players from the squad preparing to face Argentina next month but most of the Glasgow players are likely to be rested and he will have to call some in from the Scotland A team preparing for the IRB Nations Cup in Romania but he was also keen to look at the longer term.

“I’m really focusing on the Six Nations and autumn internationals,” he said. “When we are there, the tours will be important, but not to the detriment of the other matches. This stage of the season you can lose the likes of Euan Murray, players who have had a hard season and need to rest or tidy up injuries. We are lucky this year that we don’t have many players who need to rest.

“The Six Nations is a tournament that we play every year. We will deal with the World Cup when we come to it, but it is only once every four years, we will peak towards the Six Nations every year and we are going to be judged on how we perform in it.”

There had been fears among some supporters that Scotland’s failure to land a major tour to a top-tier nation — along the lines of the three-match series that England, Ireland, France and Wales will all be embarking on during the next decade was a demonstration of Scotland’s falling stock as a world power in rugby. In fact, it is all part the masterplan devised by Robinson and Graham Lowe, the performance director, to ensure a steady progression with the limited resources at their disposal.

“I’m really keen for the players to experience not just playing top-tier Test matches but to experience playing in places like Japan and America. That can help us grow as a team and develop that winning habit. At the end of this schedule we can look at where we are in terms of things like rankings and how many players we have developed and we will have a handle on what direction we will then want to go,” he added.

“Scotland have never played three-Test series against anybody, we do not think that is the right thing for us to do at the moment. We cannot let it get away from success in the Six Nations and the autumn Tests. The summer Tests are a building block.”

France V Scotland Hospitality

Scotland V Wales Hospitality

Six nations Hospitality

Lee Byrne urges Ospreys to show their best in Magners showdown

LEE Byrne has urged the Ospreys to “do themselves justice” during tomorrow night’s intriguing inaugural Magners League Grand Final with Leinster in Dublin.

The Bridgend Athletic product was in a cautious mood as he addressed the 19,500 sell-out showdown at the RDS between some of union’s finest players.

He’ll go head-to-head with his Lions full-back rival of last year, Rob Kearney, while James Hook will be up against Brian O’Driscoll in the centre and Ryan Jones takes on Jamie Heaslip at No 8.

Throw in the likes of Shane Williams, Tommy Bowe, Mike Phillips, Jerry Collins, Marty Holah, Gordon D’Arcy, Shane Horgan, Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan and Shane Jennings, and you’ve got a real who’s who of stardust.

The winner of the shoot-out between last season’s Heineken Cup kings Leinster and the star-studded Ospreys will become the first team to be crowned Celtic champions for a third time.

Leinster haven’t been beaten at home – it’s being staged at their ground because they finished top of the league section – in the Magners for 18 months and Byrne admits the Ospreys face a tall order in over-coming them.

But he believes the self-belief generated during last month’s 20-16 defeat in Dublin, that came at the end of a gruelling seven days which had seen them play Biarritz in Spain in the Heineken and Ulster in Belfast in the league, will stand them in good stead.

“It was the end of a hard week, we’d played three games on the road and had the disappointment of Biarritz, but to get so close to Leinster in that game maybe surprised a few people,” said the 29-year-old.

“They’ve not lost at home in the Magners in about 18 months so we know it’s going to be tough, but they’ve got to lose some time and hopefully it’s going to be our time.”

Byrne was playing his cards close to his chest because the Ospreys, despite their squad forming the bulk of two Wales Six Nations Grand Slam winning teams, have got a poor record when it comes to the knockout stages of tournaments.

The only successes the Swansea-based Ospreys have had in knockout matches was smashing the Blues and Saracens – just a fortnight before losing to them in the Heineken – in Anglo-Welsh semi-finals at the Millennium Stadium, beating Leicester in one Twickenham final and accounting for Glasgow a couple of weeks ago in their Magners last-four match-up.

But the Ospreys have lost just one of their last six fixtures in all competitions with Wales full-back Byrne beaming: “We’ve put ourselves in a good position.

“We want to try to make sure we do ourselves justice on the day, and if we hit the standards we have been it could be a good night for us.”

Although he didn’t join the Ospreys until a year after the region’s first Celtic League success, Byrne will still be gunning for his own personal hat-trick having won the title with the Scarlets in 2004, as well being a part of the Ospreys 2007 title-winning team.

And, with the Ospreys having trailed Leinster by three points in the final table, unsurprisingly, Byrne is a fan of the knockout system.

“I’ve won it twice before, but it’s a bit different this year; the play-offs have added a twist to it,” he said.

“This is the way it is now. We’ve been on a good run to move up the table towards the end of the season and it means we are in with a chance of winning it.”

Wales V England Hospitality

Ireland V France Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Six Nations: Gethin Jenkins injury blow for Wales

SHAUN EDWARDS last night put a brave face on the absence of Wales’ best forward Gethin Jenkins from their summer Tests, insisting it will open the door for somebody else to shine.

Jenkins aggravated a long-standing calf problem as the Blues charged to European glory with a stunning success over French big spenders Toulon in last Sunday’s final of the Amlin Challenge Cup.

Jenkins, who was Blues captain in Marseille and is revered by many as the best loosehead prop in the world, didn’t appear for the second half.

Ospreys reserve prop Craig Mitchell, who is on the stand-by list and has been training with coach Warren Gatland’s squad, would seem to be the front-runner to replace Jenkins in the 27-strong party.

Wales defence coach Edwards hinted that Jenkins’ Blues team mate John Yapp, and not Paul James – Jenkins’ replacement for much of the Six Nations after the calf trouble first struck – might wear the No 1 jersey against World Cup and Tri-Nations holders South Africa a week on Saturday.

“Any team that was to lose Gethin would be suffering a negative because of the fact it would be losing a lot of experience and a British Lions front-row player,” said the rugby league great.

“We all know Gethin’s capabilities, particularly in the loose, but, I’m a big believer in that when one door shuts for one person it opens for another.

“I’m sure, if the person coming in can possess the same attitude to training the other players have at the moment, we will have a very keen and committed loosehead.”

Jenkins fractured a cheekbone in the Lions’ brutal second Test with South Africa in Pretoria 11 months ago and missed the start of the season following shoulder surgery.

He was captain in place of the injured Ryan Jones when Wales concluded a disappointing autumn campaign with a thrashing against Australia in Cardiff.

But his Six Nations campaign was blighted by the calf trouble, which is understood to be caused by a toe problem.

“A prop puts his weight on through the toe at the scrummage and it’s led to Gethin getting problems with a calf,” explained Edwards.

“It’s a long-standing injury which seems to recur quite a lot.

“He needs four to six weeks out, which is particularly disappointing for Gethin.

“We would have liked him to have been fit for the tour of New Zealand and then have a rest, but the medics have said he’s got to have time off now.

“I’m sure, with the right direction and correct rest period, he will be jumping out of his skin come World Cup year.”

Centre James Hook and lock Luke Charteris have also been ruled out of the summer Tests through injury, while experienced scrum-half Dwayne Peel and veteran flanker Martyn Williams have been rested.

Wales V Ireland Hospitality

England V Italy Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Rugby: Sevens can be heaven for Cairns and Capital

BEN CAIRNS is convinced that Edinburgh Rugby is in a win-win situation thanks to their heavy involvement in this weekend's Emirates IRB sevens at Murrayfield.

Cairns says: "Hopefully we can benefit from understandings already developed in the 15-a-side game but there are also opportunities to form on-field relationships with new signings Lee Jones and Alex Blair, which can stand Edinburgh in good stead.

"It helps, too, that Colin Shaw and Mike Adamson (both Glasgow) are old colleagues who I enjoy playing alongside."

Whatever happens Cairns is looking forward to drawing on sevens experiences to make Edinburgh more competitive.

"I'm delighted to have signed on for another three years and hopefully a call up to the sevens squad can play a part in a recall to the full international side as well as looking to do even better than last year when we reached the semi-finals at Murrayfield.

"I haven't played sevens since being included three years ago when Scotland won all three pool matches on the first day and welcome this chance."

Cairns, out of favour with Scotland since the opening match of the 2009 Six Nations, adds: "I've had feedback and what I am working on is a personal thing. I'm only 24 with, hopefully, my best rugby years ahead.

"Playing sevens is a chance to showcase what I can offer, especially as Scotland have done well in the Murrayfield leg of the circuit previously.

"A lot of the skills required are similar to what we do in training with Edinburgh but, of course, they have to be performed under more of a spotlight at sevens.

"By raising standards over the next couple of days there will be benefits on the Scotland A tour to the Nations Cup this summer as well."

As an example of how good a springboard sevens can be look no further than Roddy Grant who starred in the 2009 tournament before going on to be named Edinburgh's "players' player of the year" a fortnight ago.

Grant, part of the latest sevens squad, said: "I was really humbled to be singled out by my fellow players and it is undoubtedly a confidence boost.

"I'm sure sevens played a part. Tactics are different but every individual skill is magnified.

"So much so that, if you miss a tackle, it can lead to a try. That concentrates the mind and being involved in a sevens team which did well at Murrayfield a year ago enabled me to set my personal standards a bit higher than might otherwise have been the case.

"I've also learned, through sevens, a bit more about playing in front of big crowds and dealing with matters such as getting my mind right for ties coming close together."

Grant finished the season as acting Edinburgh captain and that experience is something he hopes to draw on this weekend.

Scotland open against perennial winners Fiji although, on the overall grand prix circuit, it is a straight fight between Samoa and New Zealand for the title.

Welcoming the Fiji challenge, Grant added: "Everybody knows Fiji have an amazing sevens tradition but we beat them at the London tournament last year.

"It's a chance to put down a marker and set ourselves up for the next couple of games."

Next up for Scotland are surprise packets USA, who are already benefiting through sevens being included on the schedule for the 2016 Olympics.

"As for Wales they got to the quarter-finals in London so we know we are up against a form side. Hopefully our home crowd will be noisy."

England V France Hospitality

England V Scotland Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality