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Scots learning how to turn close defeats to wins – Barclay

June 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Skipper John Barclay says Scotland are learning from their agonising defeats and are better equipped at closing out tight Tests after toppling the Wallabies in a famous victory in Australia.

BArclay

The Scots will climb to fifth in the world rankings from sixth after holding on for a resilient 24-19 win in Sydney on Saturday, spiritedly defending their try-line as the Wallabies laid siege.

It was Scotland’s second-straight win in Australia after edging the Wallabies 9-6 in Newcastle in 2012, and comes on the back of two heartbreaking one-point defeats at Murrayfield last year and in the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup at Twickenham.

Scotland have now won three of their last six encounters with the Wallabies and will take home the Hopetoun Cup, one of the few trophies that had been remaining in Australia’s possession.

Barclay, the 62-capped blindside flanker from Llanelli’s Scarlets, said Scotland’s skills have been under-played and they were making their presence felt in international rugby.

“It will give us confidence. You cannot deny the fact that we’ve been on the wrong side of a couple of these against the Aussies for the last couple of years and it was nice to close one out,” Barclay told reporters after Saturday’s triumph.

“But in this year’s Six Nations we closed out a couple of really important games, tight games against Ireland and Wales, so I think we are getting better at closing out games.

“The important thing is that you learn from the close defeats. Everyone always talks about the Scots being brave, but I don’t think we speak enough about the skills of the guys have.

“Look at the tries we’re scoring, I think it’s brilliant and I think it’s under-played at times.”

Scotland matched the Wallabies’ three tries and after regaining the lead midway through the second period, they held on gamely for a morale-boosting win.

“It’s really a proud day for us all,” said coach Gregor Townsend, who has now won his first two games in charge after last week’s 34-13 victory over Italy in Singapore.

“For everyone involved in Scottish rugby to blow away those frustrations of the last couple of seasons and come away with such an important win is a credit to the players.

“If you have to defend 10-15 minutes like that against a brilliant attacking team, then you need strong bones and that’s what this team has.

“We knew that it would be really tough, Australia showed a lot what they could do in attack but our width in our defence, the fact that everyone in that 15 were looking to get back and compete for ball, really helped us to get a place and slow down their ball.”

Townsend and Barclay paid tribute to the on-field leadership of 29-capped fly-half Finn Russell, who later was called up as one of six injury reinforcements for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand.

“I have to say that Finn Russell was outstanding. He leads our attack, but I thought he led our defence really well, the amount of tackles he put in and putting his body on the line,” Townsend said.

Barclay added: “I thought the way Finn Russell has changed as a leader and his composure on the pitch breeds confidence to those around him.”

Scotland left on Sunday for their third and final Test of their tour against Fiji in Suva on Saturday.

Fiji cruise at Las Vegas Sevens

March 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Olympic champions Fiji launched the defence of their USA Sevens crown in style, thrashing Japan before overpowering Scotland to remain on course for the quarter-finals.

Fiji

The Fijians, who are still without a tournament win in this season’s World Sevens Series, looked like a team on a mission with a ruthless 41-0 demolition of Japan in their opening Pool D game at the Sam Boyd Stadium.

The 2016 Rio de Janeiro gold medallists then followed that up with a 24-12 victory over Scotland in their second game.

The Scots had earlier finished on the losing side in the best game of Friday’s opening matches, losing 28-21 to Australia in a thrilling duel.

Scotland had looked to be on course for a deserved win after surging into a 21-7 second half lead.

But two tries from Lachie Anderson helped Australia draw level before skipper Ed Jenkins came up with the decisive score on the whistle.

Elsewhere Friday, series leaders South Africa were made to work hard by a physical Canada side in a 26-7 win.

The Blitzboks, who have won tournaments in Dubai, Wellington and Sydney this season, were then too strong for France in the final match of the night, winning 31-0.

New Zealand meanwhile failed to impress in their opening games against Kenya and Russia.

The Kiwis trailed 5-7 against the Kenyans at half-time before grinding down their opponents in the second half to win 24-7.

The New Zealanders also struggled to convince against Russia, making hard of subduing the physical European minnows before running out 19-5 winners.

In Pool B, the United States and England are on a collision course after opening wins that set up a group decider on Saturday.

The USA opened with an emphatic 26-5 win over Samoa, Danny Barrett scoring a fine hat-trick as the South Pacific Islanders struggled to cope with the Americans speed and tempo.

The US then swatted Chile 31-0 to set up a showdown with England, who also won their opening games. England downed Chile 31-5 but were pushed hard by Samoa, hanging on for a 12-5 win.

Injured Irish trio expected to face France

February 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland stars Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney and Conor Murray are expected to prove their fitness for Saturday’s Six Nations showdown with France by taking part in a full training session on Tuesday.

Ireland

Sexton has been sidelined for Ireland’s first two Six Nations matches against Scotland and Italy due to a calf injury.

Kearney has struggled with a biceps problem and Murray sat out training on Friday with an adductor issue.

But team manager Paul Dean tipped the British and Irish Lions fly-half Sexton to use Tuesday’s training session to show he can face the French in Dublin.

“Everybody looks good to fully train tomorrow,” Dean said on Monday.

“Johnny Sexton will play a part in training today, but will fully train tomorrow. Hopefully when he comes through that, he’ll be fine for the weekend.

“Rob Kearney continues to make progress. He’ll do some contact work today and he’ll fully train tomorrow.

“If you talk to Johnny and Rob they’ll both say that they’re 100 per cent fit and ready to go, so we just need the medics to pass them and they need to prove to us that they are.

“Conor Murray’s workload was managed in Monaghan last week. It was a difficult week for the players last week, but I’m happy to report that the outlook is positive.”

Ireland, who also expect flanker Peter O’Mahony to return after hamstring concerns, narrowly lost their Six Nations opener against Scotland and then thrashed Italy in Rome.

Scotland captain Laidlaw out of Six Nations

February 15, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Scotland suffered a major blow on Wednesday as the Scottish Rugby Union announced captain Greig Laidlaw will miss the rest of the Six Nations with an ankle injury.

Laidlaw

The Gloucester scrum-half, capped 58 times, had to go off during the first half of Scotland’s 22-16 loss to France in Paris on Sunday and a subsequent scan revealed he had sustained ligament damage.

“Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw has been ruled out of the remainder of the 2017 RBS 6 Nations with an ankle injury,” the SRU said in a statement.

“Laidlaw will see a specialist later in the week to determine the best course of management and estimated time out of the sport.”

Laidlaw, 31, started the tournament in style, kicking two late penalties to give Scotland a thrilling 27-22 victory over Ireland in their opening match.

But he spent just 24 minutes on the field against France and left the Stade de France on crutches before returning to Gloucester on Monday to be assessed by the club’s medics.

The injury robs head coach Vern Cotter of both Laidlaw’s leadership skills and his abilities as a kicker.

Glasgow’s Ali Price came on for Laidlaw in Paris and is expected to retain the number nine jersey when Scotland welcome Wales to Murrayfield in their next game a week on Saturday.

Scarlets flanker John Barclay took over as captain against France, but was then forced off by a head injury.

It leaves Glasgow co-captain Jonny Gray as the most likely candidate to skipper Cotter’s men against the Welsh.

France edge past battling Scotland in Six Nations

February 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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France pulled clear in the final 10 minutes to defeat battling Scotland 22-16 in the Six Nations on Sunday.

France

Scotland outscored France by two tries to one but Camille Lopez kicked 17 points to guide the hosts to victory.

Although wasteful at times, France coach Guy Noves said it was important to win following defeats to England, New Zealand and Australia in their previous three games.

“We’ve just lost three games to big teams. Those matches were close but today what I want to take away is this victory,” said Noves.

For 70 minutes Scotland looked capable of causing a second upset in successive weeks following their 27-22 victory over Ireland at Murrayfield.

But two late Lopez penalties as France turned the screw proved decisive.

“First of all we’re not particularly happy to lose the game,” said Scotland’s New Zealander coach Vern Cotter.

“We’ll have a good look at some of the reasons we didn’t have control from start to finish. There will be an honest review and then we’ll move on from there.”

Scotland weren’t helped by losing four players to injury during the game, including captain and kicker Greig Laidlaw.

Yet still they twice led after tries from Stuart Hogg and Tim Swinson, but a failure to convert either didn’t help.

France put the first points on the board when Josh Strauss was penalised for not rolling away and Lopez kicked a seventh minute penalty.

But a mistake by Scott Spedding gave Scotland a line-out on France’s 22-metre line and the visitors went through 15 phases before Hogg’s dancing feet took him over in the corner on 17 minutes.

Laidlaw’s conversion came back off the woodwork and moments later a second Lopez penalty put France back in front.

Scotland suffered a blow on 25 minutes as Laidlaw hobbled off.

Both sides were showing plenty of ambition but too often poor handling or an ill-advised offload brought a promising move to a shuddering halt.

Scotland had a let off when a relatively simple Lopez penalty came back off the upright.

But France soon rumbled up to the Scotland five-metre line and quick hands sent the ball right where Gael Fikou ducked under two tacklers to dive over in the corner on 31 minutes, Lopez nailing the conversion from wide right.

Just as France looked to be taking control, Scotland came storming back despite the loss of flanker John Barclay to injury as Finn Russell took over kicking duties and landed two penalties to send his team into the break trailing only 13-11.

The second half got off to a bad start for Scotland as Barclay’s replacement John Hardie also went off injured, meaning lock Swinson had to come on and play flanker.

And yet moments later, a brilliant offload from Russell sent Tommy Seymour scampering down the right wing. He gathered his own chip ahead and fed Swinson to go over under the posts.

But remarkably, from right in front of the posts, Russell hit his conversion under the bar.

That let France level up at 16-16 on 47 minutes through another Lopez penalty.

Scotland’s discipline was an issue and they were repeatedly penalised at the scrum.

Scotland saw centre Alex Dunbar go off for a head injury assessment, although he was able to return to the fray, but hooker Fraser Brown was next to take a knock to the head and be forced off.

France turned down two kickable penalties in a row, kicking the first to touch and opting for a scrum second time around but it came to nothing as Remi Lamerat lost control of the ball when trying to ground it one-handed.

It could have proved costly but Huw Jones was penalised for holding on after the tackle and this time Lopez dissected the posts, giving France the lead with eight minutes left.

And with his fifth penalty of the match three minutes from time, Lopez made the game safe.

‘Magnificent’ Hogg helped by better Scotland

February 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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When Stuart Hogg’s name appeared on the Scotland teamsheet for Sunday’s Six Nations clash against France, the Glasgow full-back was set to win his 50th cap.

Scotland

What makes that so remarkable is that Hogg is just 24 years old, but such is the stature of this powerful and incisive runner that he is not only a certain starter for Scotland but also widely expected to wear the No.15 shirt for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand this summer.

“I think it’s synonymous of the modern game that a guy of just 23 or 24 years of age can trot up 50 caps,” said Scotland’s assistant coach Jason O’Halloran.

“He’s been such an important player throughout that period and he’s certainly a talisman for us at the moment.”

Hogg scored two tries in Scotland’s surprise 27-22 win over Ireland last week in their Six Nations opener and was his team’s standout performer.

“He’s got quality players around him. I’d like to think that as dominant as Stuart was last week, we’ve got other threats on the field as well,” added O’Halloran.

“That makes him all the harder to look after when you’ve got Huw Jones inside of him, as well as Tommy Seymour and (Sean) Maitland around him as well, and Finn (Russell) on the inside with Alex (Dunbar).

“So we’ve got threats across the back line. He’s a magnificent guy who has a good way about him. He’s always got a smile on his face, he’s willing to play.”

Hogg is an integral part of a Scottish side that has earned plaudits for an attractive, attacking, running game.

And O’Halloran said this is no longer the Scotland of old that would hope for poor conditions and try to battle their way to a tight victory on the back of forward grunt and landing penalties.

“We want to be in control of our own destiny, we want to win or lose the game by the quality of our own performance, not turning up and relying on the opposition playing poorly to sneak a few penalties or maybe some sort of intercept try or turnover with our defence,” said the former All Black international.

“We want to construct tries with the quality of our attacking game and put them under pressure with our defence, and being good both sides of the ball.

“But we don’t want to win because they play badly.”

France bring in Goujon for Six Nations clash with Scotland

February 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Flanker Loann Goujon replaces Damien Chouly in coach Guy Noves’s solitary change to his France team announced on Friday to face Scotland in the Six Nations on Sunday.

Goujon

France made a positive start to their tournament campaign last week but still went down 19-16 to England at Twickenham and Noves has kept faith with almost his entire starting line-up.

It means young Bordeaux-Begles scrum-half Baptise Serin, who only made his France debut in June, retains his place ahead of Maxime Machenaud.

Goujon, 27, will win his 15th cap as he replaces veteran Chouly, 31, who drops to the bench.

It’s Goujon’s first start since he was injured in France’s 52-8 win over Samoa at the beginning of November.

Although losing to last season’s Grand Slam winners a week ago, France posted some impressive statistics during the match, making more yards, more offloads and beating more defenders than England over the 80 minutes.

All that was lacking was points on the board and Noves has retained 21 of his match-day 23, the only other changes seeing forwards Christopher Tolofua and Julien Le Devedec come onto the bench in place of hooker Clement Maynadier and lock Arthur Iturria.

“It’s normal (not to make many changes) if changing everything means that we’re not satisfied with what happened — when you lose a match by three points in England in the last nine minutes,” said Noves.

“For the most part the lads delivered, even though once again we need to develop more character to finish matches in the right way.”

Noves said Goujon would give his side more power.

“We wanted a little more density in the pack, although they’re two very similar players,” said Noves.

“The aim is to be a bit more powerful.”

Noves keeps faith with tighthead Uini Atonio despite the New Zealand-born front-rower being penalised several times against England.

His second half replacement Rabah Slimani made an instant impact and scored France’s only try of the game.

“We wanted to see if Uini has understood what we’ve told him and whether he’ll perform differently. We wanted to offer him an olive branch,” Noves said of the 26-year-old former Samoa youth international.

France’s defensive statistics were also better than England’s with fewer errors and tackles missed.

But for the third time in a matter of three months, they lost a closely-fought encounter against a top side following test defeats to Australia (25-23) and New Zealand (24-19) in November.

“It’s true that against Australia we could have won but didn’t; against New Zealand we had a chace at the end and lost by little; against England we lost at the end: it’s annoying,” said Noves.

They welcome a buoyant Scotland who were in fine form a week ago as they eased past highly-fancied Ireland 27-22 at Murrayfield.

“They had a tough year or two but now their work is starting to bear fruit,” Noves said of the Scots.

“You can see that physically and technically they’re not the same Scotland of a few years ago.”

Two yeas ago, Scotland finished bottom of the table with five defeats from five but they have come on leaps and bounds since then under New Zealander Vern Cotter.

They were a minute away from knocking Australia out of the World Cup quarter-finals in late 2015, finished above France in the Six Nations last year and, having run Australia close again in November, they toppled Ireland last week.

Australia edge Scotland 23-22 at Murrayfield

November 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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For the second time in 13 months, a late kick by Australia fly-half Bernard Foley denied Scotland a famous victory against the Wallabies at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Wallabies

The Scots were leading 22-16 in their opening November international when centre Tevita Kuridrani broke through an attempted tackle from full-back Stuart Hogg to peg their deficit to 22-21, providing Foley with an opportunity to snatch victory with a close range conversion.

The Waratahs outside-half duly slotted the ball between the posts – against a backdrop of unsporting boos – as he had done to controversially win the 2015 World Cup quarter-final between the countries at Twickenham, 35-34, with an unjustly awarded 79th minute.

In doing so, Australia kept their Grand Slam tour hopes alive and Scotland were cruelly denied a famous victory that beckoned after two tries from Edinburgh-born Stormers centre Huw Jones, who made a storming first start for Scotland in his home city, and lock Jonny Gray.

“Too close for comfort!” said Australia skipper Stephen Moore.

“We just got there in the end. I’m very proud of the guys digging in there. Lot of respect for the Scots, it’s always tight.”

Scotland’s Jones added: “It’s absolutely heartbreaking, we’re gutted to lose like that.

“Our discipline just wasn’t good enough.”

Scotland had never beaten one of the southern hemisphere’s big three – Australia, New Zealand or South Africa – in the opening match of a November series but they came out of the traps firing in their first Test for five months.

With two minutes on the clock, centre Alex Dunbar made a huge dent in the Wallabies’ defence with a diagonal run from midfield. The Edinburgh player was hauled down by Australia full-back Israel Folau but the Scots were awarded a penalty for offside and Greig Laidlaw, Scotland’s captain and scrum-half, kicked them in front, 3-0.

Australia attempted to hit back immediately but their giant tighthead prop Sekope Kepu spilled the ball under tackle with the try-line in sight. Then Scotland struck with the opening try in the eighth minute, fly-half Finn Russell chipping through for Jones to collect and beat the cover defence with a mazy run to the line.

Greig Laidlaw’s conversion gave Scotland a 10-point cushion but they were pegged back to 10-7 in the 13th minute when Australia showed the first glimpse of the cutting edge that carved apart Wales. It came from a line-out move on their own 10m line, lock Rory Arnold claiming possession and Genia and right wing Dane Haylett-Petty coming into the line on the left to feed a scoring pass to the razor-sharp Hodge.

Foley landed the conversion and the Wallabies would have added to their tally had Jones not snaffled a pass from flanker Michael Hooper that threatened to furnish Hodge with his second score. Still, in the 23rd minute, Foley nailed his first penalty to level the scores at 10-10.

Not that the momentum remained with the visitors for long. Indeed, Jones made it two debut tries in the 27th minute, taking a feed from Fagerson and skipping through two would-be tacklers to score on the left. Laidlaw converted and Scotland were 17-10 up at the half-time interval.

Foley made in 17-13 with a penalty three minutes into the second-half but Scotland hit the Wallabies with a third try in the 48th minute. Though full-back Stuart Hogg was halted on a blindside break by Kuridrani, Jonny Gray barged over from a close range ruck. Laidlaw’s attempted conversion hit the near upright but his side were ahead 22-13.

A third penalty success by Foley cut the gap to 22-16 in the 56th minute but a huge defensive effort by the Scots held the Wallabies (who lost replacement lock Will Skelton to a yellow card in the 68th minute) at bay until the 75th minute. Furnished with possession 10 metres out, Kuridrani had the power to elude Hogg and score the decisive try that Foley converted to deny the Scots.

England sweep Scots away, France hit back to win

November 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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England shrugged aside the potential ramifications of sanctions over poppy emblems Friday with a 3-0 Wembley win over Scotland to bring a 2018 World Cup berth a step closer.

England

A trio of headers from Liverpool pair Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana and Chelsea’s Gary Cahill saw interim coach Gareth Southgate’s side cruise home, the win consolidating England’s leadership of Group F as they made it 10 points from four games.

For Southgate, who replaced newspaper sting victim Sam Allardyce following an opening away success in Slovakia, the three points were a welcome boost after a nervous draw in their previous outing in Slovenia, aiding his chances of taking the post full time.

Slovenia stayed in touch just two points behind the leaders after edging Malta 1-0 away while Slovakia are two points further back after whipping Lithuania 4-0.

The Scots meanwhile now trail England by six points, their hopes of snatching a place in the finals in Russia seemingly at an end as coach Gordon Strachan hangs on to his job by his fingernails.

While England and Scotland defied FIFA’s opposition to symbols which might be seen as political by wearing armbands featuring poppies to mark Armistice Day, emotions ran high in Paris as France hosted Sweden a year on from terror attacks in the French capital.

A capacity crowd of 80,000 at the Stade de France held a minute’s silence to mark Sunday’s first anniversary of the attacks which left 130 people dead prior to the hosts’ come-from-behind 2-1 win over Sweden.

On the night of the coordinated attacks across Paris, France were playing Germany at the same stadium in a friendly when three suicide bombers blew themselves up immediately outside the ground, killing one man.

French president Francois Hollande attended the Sweden game, as he had the Germany match, Friday’s encounter held on a public holiday marking the day that saw the guns fall silent at the end of World War I in 1918.

France’s win — courtesy of goals from Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet after Emil Forsberghad put the Swedes ahead — lifted them atop Group A with seven points from three games as their visitors slid three points off the pace.

Holland have a chance to join Sweden on seven points if they win at makeweights Luxembourg on Sunday.

Reigning world champions Germany gave no quarter to Group C minnows San Marino with debutant Serge Gnabry of Werder Bremen helping himself to a hat-trick in an 8-0 rout in Serravalle.

Sami Khedira bagged the first on seven minutes and then Gnabry added a quickfire second before Jonas Hector bagged a brace, his second coming in between Gnabry’s second and third strikes.

A Mattia Stefanelli own goal made it seven and Kevin Volland put the icing on the cake as Germany made it four wins in four.

In the same group Northern Ireland swamped previously unbeaten Azerbaijan 4-0 in Belfast with Kyle Lafferty, Gareth McAuley, Conor McClaughlin and Chris Brunt on target.

The win moved the hosts joint second with the Azeris but five points behind the Germans, who have yet to concede a goal.

Also in the Germans’ group, the Czech Republic edged out Norway 2-1 in Prague with Jaromir Zmrhal’s winner giving his countrymen a first win.

Elsewhere, the Group E match between Romania and Poland in Bucharest was briefly halted after a firecracker thrown from the stands went off near visiting forward Robert Lewandowski.

The second half incident could see a stiff UEFA punishment for the Romanians, who slumped to a 3-0 loss which saw the Poles go top of the pool.

Kamil Grosicki had notched an early opener before Bayern Munich’s Lewandowski had the last laugh with two late goals.

In the same group, Denmark beat Kazakhstan 4-1 helped by two goals from Christian Eriksen to vault into third spot ahead of the Romanians.

Also in Group E, previously pointless Armenia did Poland a favour by coming back from two goals down to edge previous leaders Montenegro 3-2.

A piledriver in the final seconds from Gevorg Ghazaryan gave Armenia their first competitive win for three years.

Wayne Rooney to make England return against Scotland

November 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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England captain Wayne Rooney will return to the starting line-up for his country’s 2018 World Cup qualifier against Scotland on Friday, interim manager Gareth Southgate announced on Thursday.

Rooney

Rooney, 31, started on the bench in England’s last game, a 0-0 draw away to Slovenia, after losing his place in Manchester United’s starting XI.

But he has started United’s last two games, scoring from range in their 2-1 Europa League defeat at Fenerbahce last week, and will win his 119th cap from the start against Scotland at Wembley.

“He is in a better place than he was in the last get-together in terms of his sharpness,” Southgate told reporters at the St George’s Park football centre in Burton-on-Trent, central England.

“I think he’s an experienced player for a game like this. There was no hesitation from me in selecting him.

“He’s playing well for Manchester United. I think he’s a player who it helps when he gets into a rhythm.”

Rooney takes the captain’s armband back from Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson, who Southgate confirmed will start.

Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane is also in contention to start after proving his fitness in training following his comeback from a seven-week lay-off with an ankle ligament injury.

Southgate said he had a fully fit squad to choose from.

England are top of UEFA qualifying Group F after three games, two points above Lithuania and Slovenia and three points clear of old rivals Scotland.

Scotland clinch World Sevens Cup with late Fife tries

May 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Scotland’s Dougie Fife scored two tries in the final two minutes as they snatched a thrilling 27-26 victory over South Africa to claim their first World Rugby Sevens Series Cup at Twickenham on Sunday.

Scotland clinch World Sevens Cup with late Fife tries

With the clock ticking down, the Scots looked beaten as they trailed 21-10 and then 26-15 with 30 seconds left.

James Fleming started the revival and, after Rosko Specman appeared to secure a Boks’ victory, two moments of last-gasp magic from player of the final Fife won Scotland the title in their first appearance in a final. Their previous best position in a World Series event was fourth.

“We were a long way behind in the final but the boys stuck on task and we managed to get over the line at the end,” said Scotland captain Scott Wight. “It took a massive amount of effort and I’m honoured to say I’m captain of this side.”

Fife, who has won six Test caps for Scotland, said: “It is just an unbelievable feeling. This team have come a long way and we believe we can beat anyone on our day. I think we surprised a few people today.”

Fiji came fourth after losing 26-19 to the United States in the third-place playoff but go into August’s Rio Olympics as World Series champions — and top seeds — having secured enough points on Saturday. It was their second straight world title.

South Africa and New Zealand finished second and third in the standings behind Fiji to claim a top-three Olympic seeding.

Hosts England, who topped their pool on Saturday, had a disappointing day, losing 17-0 to Scotland in the Cup quarter-finals and 35-10 to New Zealand in the Plate semi-finals.

“We’re devastated, playing on our home turf and the quality we had in our side. Against Scotland, we just didn’t get in the game,” said England’s Phil Burgess.

New Zealand beat Argentina 29-14 in the Plate final, while Wales won the Bowl final with a 24-19 victory over Australia. Kenya beat Russia 31-7 to claim the Shield final.

Tier Two sides to face Scotland, Italy in June

March 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Tier Two rugby nations Japan, Canada and the United States will face top-tier opponents in a series of June tests announced by World Rugby on Wednesday.

Rugby Union - United States of America v Japan - IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool B - Kingsholm, Gloucester, England - 11/10/15 General view as the teams walk onto the pitch before the start of the game Reuters / Eddie Keogh

The sport’s governing body has sought to build on the success of last year’s World Cup when Tier Two sides made a huge contribution with a June schedule that features a number of fixtures between established rugby nations and lower-ranked opponents.

Japan, who completed the biggest shock in Rugby World Cup history last year when they stunned South Africa in the pool stage, will play two tests against Scotland. The U.S. and Canada both take on Italy.

Rugby has traditionally been dominated by the 10 Tier One countries that include the northern hemisphere’s Six Nations teams and those of the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship.

The Tier Two sides were in the past seen as little more than whipping boys for the top nations at World Cups, although the gap between them has been steadily closing.

The lower-ranked sides have been calling for more games against the rugby powerhouses in order to continue their development.

“Tier two sides conceded fewer points and scored more tries against their tier one opposition at Rugby World Cup 2015 than in any previous tournament,” World Rugby’s head of competitions and performance Mark Egan said in a statement.

“We are committed to closing the gap further as we work towards the next Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019.”

Georgia, another Tier Two side who enjoyed a good World Cup with victories over Tonga and Namibia and performing creditably in defeat by the All Blacks, will play Fiji, Tonga and Samoa in the Pacific Islands in June.

World Rugby announced in November that they would give the Tier Two sides a greater say in the running of the game, by widening voting rights on the World Rugby Council.

Ireland left with negative Six Nations feeling

March 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland ended their Six Nations campaign on a winning note against Scotland, but skipper Rory Best admitted they will view this year’s tournament in a negative light.

Ireland

Defending champions Ireland were looking to create history by becoming the first team to win three titles in a row.

However, a draw against Wales in the opening game put paid to hopes of a Grand Slam, and the title was surrendered following narrow defeats to France and England, despite holding second half leads in both games.

Ireland ended the tournament with convincing victories — 58-15 over hapless Italy and 35-25 against Scotland on Saturday, but it was too little, too late as far as Best was concerned.

“It’s been good to finish with two wins, two good results, but for us we expect to win every game — that’s the standard that’s been set,” Best said.

“So we’ll look back and be disappointed. The most disappointing part was the France game. We won the first half and then we let them off the hook and didn’t keep attacking them.

“We’ve increased how we trained each week. A lot of guys who’ve come in over the first three games, they realised you can prepare a bit during the week and play, but to win a game you have to minimise your mistakes.

“Sometimes it takes those few weeks (to learn), but we’ve a good pool of players now who know how to win after a few tests.”

Ireland impressed against Scotland on Saturday, backing up their nine-try showing against Italy, with four more tries, and Best was thrilled with how the team continued to create — and finish — chances.

“We did a lot of the stuff we’ve talked about, that were big things for us over the past two years,” he said.

“We kept the ball, took them through phases, made them make tackles. I know how it is when you’re on the back foot like that, it increases pressure on teams, and makes you concede penalties.

“We carried over the gain-line well, and won penalties, and put pressure on the referee too. We felt in control.”

Scotland head coach Vern Cotter was unhappy with the result, but was pleased with the progress he believes his team are making.

The Scots scored three tries for the third game in a row — a first since 1999 — but missed out on the chance of a third championship win in a row thanks to a slow start and ill-discipline that saw two players sin-binned.

“We’re not particularly happy, obviously, because we want to win games,” Cotter said.

“We controlled major parts of the game, but not to the end, and sustaining pressure to the end was one of the key things.

“In the Italy and France games I thought we did that. Today, I saw character from the group, even though we were behind on the scoreboard.

“We didn’t start well but the guys didn’t give up. These are good things to keep bringing to the fore, and there were clearly things we could improve on.

“It’s better than last year, but we’re still not completely satisfied. We want to get much better than that.

“I think this year is the highest number of points that Scotland have scored in the Six Nations. There are a few things that you could rattle off that are indicators that things are getting better. There is ambition within the group and we’ll keep developing that.”

Cotter praises Scotland character after famous victory

March 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Scotland coach Vern Cotter believes his side are putting the pieces in place to continue their upward momentum following a 29-18 Six Nations victory over France on Sunday.

Cotter

An outstanding team display ended the Scots’ six-game losing streak at Murrayfield and secured a first Six Nations winover France since 2006, only their second victory over the French since the tournament began in 2000.

“Our set-piece was good and they showed character. They aregood ingredients if you want to get somewhere in the game,” Cotter told BBC Sport.

“The guys are a humble bunch but they will want to enjoy this.

“I think the game was built piece by piece. You need a goodscrum to do that and even though we were under pressure at times they kept their heads.

“They know their strengths and are getting to know them better and playing to them.”

Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg, who finished off a fine try in the first half, was elated after the win.

“We have had poor performances in the past,” Hogg said. “But to make amends is brilliant and we are looking forward to going to Ireland.”

Cotter took the Scotland job in May 2014 and endured a poorSix Nations campaign last year in which his team lost all five matches.

The Scots, who have leap-frogged France into third in the table, are only one point behind second-placed Wales ahead of their trip to second-bottom Ireland on Saturday.

England end five-year wait as Scotland beat France

March 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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England won the Six Nations for the first time since 2011 after Scotland beat France for only the second time in the competition with a 29-18 victory at Murrayfield on Sunday.

Dylan Hartley receives an offload from Chris Robshaw during England’s Six Nations win over Wales.

Defeat means France, who were beaten 19-10 by Wales a fortnight ago, remain on four points and cannot overhaul Eddie Jones’s side when they meet in Paris next Saturday with England looking for a grand slam.

England, who secured a thrilling 25-21 victory over Wales on Saturday, have eight points after four matches and secured the title for only the second time since their 2003 World Cup triumph.

France opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a try by hooker Guilhem Guirado, but Stuart Hogg and Duncan Taylor scored two tries in the space of three minutes at the end of the first half.

Scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw converted the second try and added three penalties in the second half for a personal haul of 11 points.

Gael Fickou ran in France’s second try on the stroke of halftime, but Tim Visser’s third for Scotland in the 67th minute saw the hosts leapfrog France into third place on four points.

“We’ve had poor performances in the past,” fullback Hogg said to the BBC. “But to make amends today is brilliant.

“I can see how much it means to our home fans, who were unbelievable.”

“This is the reason why we pull on this jersey and make so many sacrifices,” said Laidlaw. “We make so many sacrifices, and that was for the fans.

“To lead this team at Murrayfield is something that will stay with me forever. We were all as one today. It was outstanding.”

Scotland ended a two-year wait for a Six Nations victory with a 36-20 triumph over Italy in Rome in February ending a run of nine successive losses in the tournament.

They started poorly and soon fell behind when France captain Guirado barrelled over the line.

The home side lost flyhalf Finn Russell to injury in the aftermath of the French try, but his replacement Peter Horne was influential as the Scots scored their first try through Hogg, building on the fine form he demonstrated in Rome.

Taylor added the second try two minutes later in the outstanding moment of the first half. Taking a penalty in the Scottish half, the centre decided to go the distance, dashing down the right flank to score with a magnificent solo effort.

France responded immediately as Fickou bundled over the line following sustained pressure in the 40th minute to go in 18-12 behind at halftime and set up a tense second period.

The visitors kept their intensity up after the break, with Hogg’s penalty cancelled out by scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud’s pair of kicks.

The tiring Scots extended their advantage in the 67th minute against the run of play when wing Visser scored in the corner following fine interplay from Hogg and Laidlaw.

“We played a weak game,” complained France coach Guy Noves to France 2. “It’s more us losing the game than them winning it.”

“We made stupid mistakes,” said Machenaud.

Scotland win over Italy means everything says hero Laidlaw

February 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Scotland’s entertaining 36-20 Six Nations win over Italy in Rome on Saturday meant “absolutely everything” to Vern Cotter and his squad, according to captain Greig Laidlaw.

Rugby Union - Italy v Scotland - RBS Six Nations Championship 2016 - Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy - 27/2/16 Tommy Seymour (2nd L) celebrates scoring the third try for Scotland with Stuart Hogg (L) Action Images via Reuters / Peter Cziborra Livepic

Laidlaw struck three conversions and five penalties at the Stadio Olimpico, scoring 21 points, as Scotland ended their miserable nine-match losing streak in the Six Nations.

It was their first win in the competition since February 2014, a first for coach Cotter and many members of his squad.

“It means absolutely everything to us,” Laidlaw told ITV, “to this jersey, to the players who have worn it in the past, and to the players who are in it now.

“We’re trying to build a culture here, a ‘no excuses’ mentality, and you’re starting to see that come through.

“We’ve won the game comfortably and I think it’s fair to say we deserved to win,” he added.

“For the young players, for Vern, for all the coaches, it’s a great time and we can’t wait to get back to Murrayfield, to wear the jersey again and to try and get a win against France.”

Scotland finished bottom last year but after their fine showing on Saturday, Cotter’s side have a platform to build on while Italy, who have now lost their last seven home matches in the competition, look favourites for the wooden spoon.

“It’s a bit of a relief, the team’s been improving and we can probably improve in a few areas as well. We won’t sit back and say that’s the finished article because it’s not,” he said.

“We’ll just enjoy our week I think, and then we’ll look at things we can improve and keep on moving forward.”

England beat Scotland to give Jones winning start

February 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Tries by lock George Kruis and wing Jack Nowell gave England a hard-earned 15-9 Six Nations victory over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday in coach Eddie Jones’s first match in charge.

England

It was not exactly a flying start to a new era for Jones and his team but, after the ignominy of England becoming the first host nation to exit a World Cup before the knock-out stages, a sixth successive Calcutta Cup victory against Scotland qualified as a solid first step.

For the Scots, having come within a whisker of reaching the last four at the World Cup, the result and the performance came as a disappointment.

Their Kiwi head coach Vern Cotter is still waiting for his first win in the Six Nations, Scotland having suffered a whitewash in his maiden season last year.

Equally depressingly, the Scots drew a sixth successive Murrayfield blank on the try scoring front against England.

Not since a Simon Danielli score back in 2004 have they crossed the England whitewash at Murrayfield.

All they managed on Saturday were three penalties by their captain Greig Laidlaw.

“It’s a really well done job. We’ve won the Calcutta Cup,” Jones told the BBC.

“We were a bit shabby in attack, but I thought that would be the case. Our tackles will mature as we spend more time together.”

New England skipper Dylan Hartley admitted it wasn’t the most stylish of displays.

“It’s a good start but not the prettiest performance,” he said. “It was physical and we’re happy to get that one out the way.”

Cotter insisted his team did not show their true side in the game.

“The players are very disappointed. I thought we created opportunities and didn’t finish them,” said Cotter.

“There’s lots more to come from the team. We can’t do much about this one but we can certainly look to the next one. We know we can do better.”

England were on the front foot from the off, spending the opening stages deep in home territory.

The Scottish defence held firm, though, and they breathed a sigh of relief when England fly-half George Ford pushed wide a drop goal attempt in the tenth minute.

It proved to be a temporary reprieve. English pressure told in the 14th minute, Harlequins lock Kruis barging through three defenders to score his first international try from an attacking scrum.

Owen Farrell added the conversion to furnish England with a 7-0 lead but Laidlaw nailed his first penalty attempt to peg the gap to 7-3 in the 17th minute.

Laidlaw had a chance to cut the deficit to a single point in the 29th minute when Ford was penalised for not releasing in the tackle but this time the scrum-half pulled his kick wide of the posts.

Still, after a powerful Scottish scrum, England lock Joe Launchbury was penalised for holding on to the ball at the bottom of a ruck and Laidlaw made amends with his second penalty success in the 38th minute,

The Scots might even have led at half-time but, after fine work by flanker John Hardie, fly-half Finn Russell was off the mark with a drop goal attempt.

As it was, England turned round with a 7-6 advantage.

They had to withstand some early pressure after the interval but steadily asserted their authority.

Farrell missed a penalty attempt but in the 51st minute the inside centre fed Nowell into the right corner for England’s second try — thanks to a deft pass from replacement prop Mako Vunipola.

It was the Exeter wing’s eighth try in eleven matches for England.

Farrell was off the mark with the conversion but England led 12-6. Farrell stretched the lead to 15-6 with his first penalty success in the 63rd minute.

Laidlaw reduced the gap with a penalty in the 69th minute but that was scant consolation for the Scots, who blooded 20-year-old Glasgow prop Zander Fagerson as 69th minute replacement — their youngest prop since Bill Black in 1948.

Scotland face Wales next in Cardiff on Saturday, February 13.

England, who gave a debut off the bench to Harlequins back rower Jack Clifford, face Italy in Rome a day later.

England start afresh, Ireland look to Best

February 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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English rugby’s shot at redemption under new Australian coach Eddie Jones and fiery captain Dylan Hartley begins against Scotland in the cauldron of Murrayfield on Saturday in a Six Nations melting pot of teams looking to erase memories of World Cup disappointment.

England's Head Coach Eddie Jones (L) with Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley, James Haskell and George Kruis (R) during training. England Training - Pennyhill Park Hotel - 4/2/16. Action Images via Reuters / Paul Childs Livepic

Though England’s memories of last year’s global showpiece are arguably the most bitter, having become the first hosts to be eliminated at the pool stage, the quarter-finals were as good as it got for Ireland, Wales, France and Scotland in a tournament dominated by southern hemisphere teams.

England are not the only team to signal a changing of the guard, with Ireland handing the captaincy to Rory Best after the retirement of talisman Paul O’Connell, while France emerge under a new coach, Guy Noves, and a new captain in Guilhem Guirado.

Bookmakers have made England favourites, ahead of Wales and Ireland, despite winning only one Six Nations title since 2003.

Straight-talking Jones takes the English reins with a reputation as a ruthless and demanding coach, who fullback Mike Brown says will want England “to play quick, never let the opposition defence settle, get the ball to space and go at teams”.

Jones’s attention to detail is meticulous, evidenced by the way his well-drilled Japan side ruffled more than a few feathers at the World Cup.

After calling up seven uncapped players in his initial squad, Jones has played it safe by naming a relatively conservative team for his first match, with all eyes on recalled hooker Hartley, whose career has been plagued by disciplinary problems.

Joe Schmidt’s Ireland have their own demons to exorcise despite having won the past two Six Nations championships.

Fancied to reach the World Cup semi-finals for the first time, the Irish were crushed by Argentina in the last eight and are now hampered by a number of injuries, though flyhalf Jonny Sexton has been passed fit after concussion concerns.

Coach Schmidt believes his side face a huge test on Sunday against a hugely experienced Wales line-up.

“They comfortably have 300 caps more than any other country in the competition; and on top of that, we know how physically combative they are,” Schmidt said.

“The stats from the World Cup show that they are, literally, the biggest team in world rugby, averaging 106 kilos a man. For us, that’s always a massive challenge.”

Wales emerged from the World Cup with huge credit after their injury-ravaged squad beat England en route to the quarter-finals, where they succumbed to a late South African try at Twickenham.

Fullback Leigh Halfpenny and scrumhalf Rhys Webb have not recovered from the injuries that ruled them out of the entire tournament, but Wales’s strength in depth should not be underestimated.

France, like England, begin a new era under veteran coach Noves, who has replaced Phillipe St Andre and is charged with restoring some panache to the French game after a dreary run of shapeless performances.

An opening win over Italy at home on Saturday will be a must for Noves, who guided French club side Toulouse to four European Cup triumphs.

For Scotland, hope springs eternal.

With only one win in their past dozen Six Nations matches, they begin again with renewed optimism after coming desperately close to reaching the World Cup semi-finals, denied by a controversial last-gasp Australian penalty.

The controversial penalty that ended Scotland’s World Cup

October 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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A last-minute penalty kick by flyhalf Bernard Foley clinched a 35-34 victory for Australia against Scotland in their World Cup quarter final on Sunday. But should it have been given?

Rugby Union - Australia v Scotland - IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Quarter Final - Twickenham Stadium, London, England - 18/10/15 The referee awards Australia a penalty as Jon Welsh of Scotland is caught offside Action Images via Reuters / Henry Browne Livepic

An errant lineout from Scotland saw a host of players scrambling for the ball, and when Scotland replacement prop Jon Welsh finally gathered, referee Craig Joubert deemed he was deliberately offside and awarded the kick at goal.

Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw saw it differently, as did a host of pundits and the thousands of Scotland fans and neutral rugby supporters that crammed into Twickenham.

Replays indicated that Australia’s replacement scrumhalf Nick Phipps got the final touch on the ball before Welsh instinctively grabbed it. That should have been an accidental offside and a scrum-down Australia.

“I asked him (Joubert) on several occasions to (go to the television match official), I don’t know what the protocols were…He was certainly looking at the big screen,” a visibly shaken Laidlaw told reporters after the match.

“I thought there was an Aussie arm. We are not the type of people to blame little things and if we’d tightened up in other areas we might not have been in that position.”

Whether Joubert was right or wrong with the initial decision it seems he was right not to refer it.

Referees were criticised early in the tournament for wasting time with unnecessary video reviews but quickly found a way to speed up the process, often discussing replays with the TMO while play continued

Fans chanted their disapproval at Joubert’s decision not to have a second look at the incident, but a World Rugby spokesman said the South African had been right and that such an incident did not fall under the protocols for involving the TMO.

Nevertheless, instead of waiting for his touch judges and then shaking hands with the players at full time as is the norm, Joubert ran from the pitch immediately after the final whistle. A fan lobbed a water bottle that narrowly missed him.

“If I see referee Craig Joubert again, I am going to tell him how disgusted I am. It was disgraceful that he ran straight off the pitch at the end like that,” said former Scotland captain Gavin Hastings.

“The referee is not expected to make the right decision all the time. That’s what the TMO system is in place for. This is the quarter-final of a Rugby World Cup. This is the highest end of our sport and they have to get these decisions right.”

Scotland coach Vern Cotter took a more pragmatic view.

“We will take the emotion away from it. We are going to sit back and take a look at the game again and we will be reviewing it,” he said.

Australia are unlikely to bother.

‘We got lucky’ says Genia after nerve-jangling finish

October 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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Australia scrumhalf Will Genia admitted his team was lucky to “scrounge” a penalty in the dying moments to knock Scotland out of the Rugby World Cup on Sunday and advance to a semi-final against Argentina.

Rugby Union - Australia v Scotland - IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Quarter Final - Twickenham Stadium, London, England - 18/10/15Australia's Adam Ashley-Cooper, Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Will Genia celebrate at the end of the gameReuters / Eddie KeoghLivepic

Replaced by Nick Phipps with 10 minutes to go, Genia was forced to watch the dramatic finale from the bench. But he said he could not even bear to look as team mate Bernard Foley, who had earlier missed three conversions, strode up to take the decisive penalty after a controversial offside decision against Scotland that prompted the Twickenham crowd to erupt in a deafening chorus of boos.

“Obviously (we were) kind of a little bit out of the game with a couple of minutes to go and to somehow sort of scrounge a penalty to give us an opportunity to get the win and for Foles to knock it over was pretty special,” Genia told reporters.

“I put my head down and just thought ‘If I hear a really loud cheer he’s missed, if I hear a little bit of a cheer he’s got it, so I was real grateful it was a little bit of a cheer.”

In a tense, enthralling contest where the lead changed hands five times, Scotland had seemed set for their first World Cup semi-final since 1991 until Foley’s kick snatched back the lead to set up a 35-34 win.

“I don’t know how to feel — just relieved more than anything else,” Genia said, paying generous tribute to his Scottish opponents.

“They played so well that first half, they maintained possession,  they built momentum in our 22 and obviously came away with points pretty much the whole time,” he said.

“You’ve got to give credit to them and they pretty much were a whisker away from being in the semi-final. So we got lucky this time and we’re really grateful obviously for another week being in.”

Genia said he had congratulated the disconsolate Scottish players and coaches after the game and saved a special word for his opposite number, captain Greig Laidlaw.

“I said it was a pleasure to play against you, you’re an incredible player and you’re an inspirational leader for your team, and thanks for the game.”

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