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Andy Robinson

Saturday
And the tens of thousands rolling up to Old Trafford had the opportunity to clap eyes on the bronze statue of Sir Alex Ferguson, unveiled the previous day in the company of the likes of his former charges, including Eric Cantona, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Edwin van der Sar, Peter Schmeichel, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Bryan Robson and Gary and Phil Neville.

The nine-foot statue was commissioned 2011 to mark Fergie’s 25 years at Manchester United, when the North Stand was also renamed the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.

“Normally people die before they see their statue, so I’m out-living death,” said Ferguson, words that Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Law will have been especially pleased to hear, given that Fergie was on hand to see them unveil the ‘Holy Trinity’ statue – dedicated to the Englishman, the Scotsman and their partner George Best – back in 2008.

So Fergie joins the array of footballing talents – like Charlton, Law, Best, Sir Matt Busby, Sir Alf Ramsay, Bobby Moore, Jock Stein, Bill Shankly, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, Joe Mercer, Billy Bremner, Billy Wright, Thierry Henry, Tony Adams, Herbert Chapman, John Greig and Jimmy Johnstone – cast in various metals, around the country.

Yes, after winning 37 trophies including 12 Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues during his 26 years at Manchester United, Fergie is deserving of the accolade for his impressive records. And it’s for impressive records most people have statues outside football grounds. Like Michael Jackson at Fulham …

Sunday
Sad news today with the passing of Dave Sexton, the former Chelsea, QPR and Manchester United manager, aged 82.

He almost did the unthinkable in the 75/76 season, by taking the unfashionable QPR to the Championship title, pipped in the end by just a single point by Liverpool. He later managed at Old Trafford, but he was best known for his achievements at Chelsea, or at least he was by some. In 1970 he led them to victory over Leeds United in the FA Cup, a passport into Europe where he guided the Blues to a Cup-Winners-Cup final win over Real Madrid.

Twenty-plus years later, I was in a queue with Stephen Hendry, waiting to collect our tickets outside Stamford Bridge. The chap in front stepped forward.

“Could I have my ticket please. For Dave Sexton …”

“Who?” came the question from the geek behind the glass.

“Sexton, Dave Sexton,” he replied, half-turning to look behind to see if anyone had noticed what had just happened. We had.

So too did the bloke behind us, who enquired with words and expletives in equal measure, who exactly had given this youngster his job. Without looking behind, Sexton raised his hand, waved it slightly, hushing the ranting fan. He took his ticket, turned, and gave an embarrassed smile.

“He’s only young,” Sexton said as he walked into the night.

Words lost on Mr Angry once he got to the head of the queue …

Monday
The early phone call was a booking for me to give an interview to STV News following the abdication, sacking, resignation, call it what you will, of Andy Robinson as coach of the Scotland rugby team. Robinson goes the way of Craig Levein, his one-time counterpart with the national football team, so leaving the top managerial positions for both major team sports in Scotland vacant.

As I said in my STV interview, questions need to be asked of the SRU and SFA for employing these men in the first place, and, for leaving them in charge when it was evident neither was up to it. You really couldn’t see it ending any other way for Robinson after the Scots were beaten by Tonga at Pittodrie on Saturday. A bad loss any day of the year, but especially given the 12 months Robinson had endured, with a Wooden Spoon in the Six Nations, three straight home losses in Autumn Tests, and relegation into Pot 3 for the World Cup draw.

Despite the catastrophic record, Robinson – just like Levein before him – reckoned he had left Scotland in a better place. I can only think that after a while fulfilling such roles eventually leaves you delusional. Robinson can lay the blame where he likes, and claim the stats didn’t match the team performances, something most people would dispute. What was indisputable was that on Saturday, Scotland lost to an island nation that has only half the population of Aberdeen.

Or put another way, there is probably a household in Tonga with a better scrum than Scotland …

Tuesday
And Elgin City are fined £25,000 by the Scottish Football League following the postponement of the match against Rangers at Borough Briggs. Elgin were forced to call the game off after printing 1100 more tickets than their ground would hold. A hefty price to pay. But pay they should.

I can’t really feel too sorry for those who had turned the visit of Rangers into some kind of circus. If they’d spent more time concentrating on ticketing and less on churning out commemorative scarves, badges and whisky, they would have had their profitable day.

The one thing Elgin did avoid was a points deduction. That was never on the card to be honest. You wouldn’t be wanting to hand anyone an advantage now, would you …

Wednesday
On a day when it was revealed that Gareth Bale’s favourite goal was the winner he scored against Scotland for Wales in the recent World Cup qualifier, I couldn’t help but think that some kind of justice (or is it vengeance) was done tonight during the Spurs game against Liverpool.

See what I mean here

Thursday
Twitterland is debating whether Rangers should accept an approach from Newcastle owner Mike Ashley so that he can rebrand Ibrox the Sports Direct Arena. This was a subject ironically enough, that I touched on at the start of the month while discussing similar plans for Murrayfield.

Going by most fans reaction, Rangers should take the money, just as they did with the other million Ashley has apparently invested with the Ibrox club already. Most people see it as I have always viewed renaming initiatives, in as much as fans still call the ground by its original name. Only rival fans will ever mention the venue by its brand name, and that is just to get under the skin of some of the home support.

Only rival fans, oh, and at least one news corporation who seem intent in putting ‘new’ ahead of Rangers at every mention …

Friday
Former England cricket captain Andrew Flintoff makes his professional boxing debut tonight against American heavyweight Richard Dawson in Manchester.

The contest, over four, 2-minute rounds, will see Flintoff face Dawson who has an impressive CV. He knocked out his first challenger in just 19 seconds, then in this second bout, he broke the ribs of his opponent.

Flintoff’s fight is sponsored by Jacamo, who do a wide and varied selection of clothing for the fuller-figured gent. Denims, tops, shirts, jackets all part of the range. I really do hope for Flintoff’s sake, we don’t need to find out if they do hospital dressing gowns …

WE all tend to reach for the familiar whenever we get into difficulties and Andy Robinson is no different.

The Scotland coach is as much a Bath fixture as there is possible to be. He played for Bath for 11 years, he coached the club, has lived much of his life there and knows the club and its players better than most. That is why, when faced with the ongoing problem of a lack of quality Scottish fly halves, Robinson has opted for an uncapped and largely untried 20-year-old from Bath to fill the gap. That young man is Tom Heathcote. Heathcote was born in Inverness but has played through the England age grade ranks to get to where he is now. Apparently he has a good boot on him, both from hand and from the tee and is seen as a “good prospect”.

But, however good a prospect he is, it is still an astonishing gamble to drop the experienced Ruaridh Jackson from the Scotland squad to make way for Heathcote, particularly as Heathcote has yet to break into the first team at Bath.

However, there is a pattern here. A year ago, Robinson brought Bath fullback Jack Cuthbert into the squad and into the team for a friendly against Ireland. Cuthbert didn’t make enough of an impression to be taken any further and many were surprised to see him on the field in the first place. But Cuthbert, like Heathcote, is a Bath player and this seems to be an easy way to get the coach’s eye.

Everyone will forgive Robinson if Heathcote becomes the star fly half Scotland have needed since Gregor Townsend retired but there will be other young men trying to impress the Scotland coach who have every right to grumble and complain at the way that Bath players seem to get an express route to the front of the queue.

Jackson himself has every right to be miffed. He is coming back to his best form. Yes, a couple of the options he ran on Saturday against South Africa were wrong but Scotland were chasing the game and he took chances when perhaps he would not have done at other times. If Robinson does feel Jackson should be dropped and is looking for exciting young players to bring into the squad to see if they can provide the answer to Scotland’s problems, then there are several who he could turn to.

There is the brilliant young centre Mark Bennett who has just come back to Glasgow after a short spell at Clermont Auvergne.

If Robinson is looking for answers at fly half then he could give Edinburgh’s versatile Greig Tonks a run there. Then there is always Matt Scott who has settled into the 12 slot but played at ten extensively in his formative years and has already shown he has the composure to handle international rugby.

However, the best Scottish-qualified fly half at the moment is Duncan Weir. The Glasgow number ten is out injured but, if Robinson has doubts over Greig Laidlaw and Ruaridh Jackson, as he patently does, then he should give Weir an extended run at ten to see if he can make the position his own. Jackson is not far behind Weir and could even come closer to matching his Glasgow rival if he could only improve his goal kicking. Heathcote may be the next best thing to Weir and we may find out on Saturday when he will surely get a run out against Tonga – but so also might Tonks or Scott. We won’t know about them, however, unless they get the chance to prove it, which seems unlikely at the moment.

Robinson did go for youth, though, at scrum half last Saturday, picking the apparently workmanlike Henry Pyrgos as reserve nine and then bringing him on to replace Mike Blair not long into the second half. This paid off. Pyrgos scored a great try and looked sharp with his passing and also round the fringes.

One youngster who could easily make waves at nine, though, is surely the exciting young Sean Kennedy at Edinburgh who is having trouble securing game time in the capital. If he can get more of a run out in the RaboDirect Pro 12 then maybe he too could be seen as a future replacement for the ageing Blair and Chris Cusiter – he might have to move to Bath first, though.

Matt Scott makes a break against Australia at Newcastle Picture: SRU

“Make sure there are no rocks under your beach towel,” was the message that Scott Johnson, Scotland’s new attack coach, gave the players before their game with Samoa at the weekend.

What Johnson, an Aussie, meant was this – don’t go off on holiday with something bugging you, something making you uncomfortable, something that’s ruining your beach holiday.

With the final victory of their southern hemisphere tour secured, the Scottish players can now go off on holiday with no unfinished business, nothing uncomfortable in the back of their minds – nothing, indeed, to ruin their well-earned relaxation because they have done what they set out to do.

They have just come through a difficult and gruelling set of matches, played in arduous conditions, and won them all. There really should be no rocks under their beach towels for the rest of the summer.

It isn’t the same for the rest of the northern hemisphere, though. Ireland, for instance, played three and lost three. It was the same for Wales – played three and lost three – while England did marginally better (but not much), playing three, losing two and drawing one.

Compared with their Six Nations counterparts, Scotland’s record of played three, won three looks extremely creditable.
Critics will point out that the comparison is not a fair one and they would be right. It is hard to see Scotland coming close to New Zealand, particularly in the awesome form they showed when dismantling Ireland 60–0 on Saturday.
Scotland would also have struggled against South Africa and almost certainly against Australia in the warm sunshine of Sydney rather than the monsoon of Newcastle, which is where Scotland ambushed them on the first game of the tour earlier this month.

But there are two important factors to consider: first, you can only play what’s in front of you. Scotland faced three tests away from home in vividly contrasting conditions, the first game played in a deluge and the last two played in sweltering tropical heat – and they won them all.

Secondly, Scotland’s itinerary was daunting. It may not have been as hard as the schedule faced by Wales, Ireland or even England, but it was difficult. They played Australia away from home and won, something they hadn’t done for 30 years.

The respected rugby writer Allan Massie, for instance, said it would be “miracle” for Scotland to win all three games, and there were many observers who feared that Scotland would return without a single win.

Make no mistake, this was a very difficult tour and to win three out of three is highly laudable.

Many Scotland fans have bemoaned the fact that coach Andy Robinson seems to be able to inspire wins when it doesn’t really matter, but he has a dismal record in real competitions.

That is true and it is something the team need to sort out, but Scotland are in a much better place now than they were at the end of the Six Nations.

So what have we learned from this successful tour?

1 – Scotland’s scrum is good again. The setpiece was magnificent all tour. The way the tight eight destroyed the Aussie scrum in the first game to earn the last-ditch penalty and win the game was fabulous, but it carried on against Fiji, when the Scottish forwards won a penalty try by driving the Fijians back over their own line and they then achieved parity with the immense Samoan forwards too.

2 – We have a number of good props now. Having left Allan Jacobsen at home, it was a chance for Glasgow’s Ryan Grant to show what he could do and he was fantastic. With Euan Murray displacing Geoff Cross on the tighthead and returning to the form that made him a Lion in 2009, the front-row options are now better than they have been for years.

3 – Ross Rennie is a very classy openside flanker. We thought John Barclay would hold on to the seven shirt for years, but he will have trouble ousting the excellent Rennie now. Rennie’s tackle count was superb but it was his linking work with the backs and the work he put in at the breakdown that really marked him out. He is getting better and better.

4 – We still don’t know who our best scrum-half is. Oddly, both Mike Blair and Chris Cusiter seemed to perform best when they came on as substitutes, upping the pace and making an impact while neither was at his best when starting a game. Blair’s box kicks were often misplaced, but his running into space and releasing of players (particularly his run and pass which released Rob Harley for the last-minute try against Samoa) were excellent.
Cusiter’s pass from the base and harrying of opponents is better than Blair’s – but again, he didn’t look so good when starting – as he did against Samoa.

5 – Greig Laidlaw is improving as a number ten but still doesn’t quite look the real deal. Laidlaw looks more composed with every game and he releases his backs reasonably well now. Unfortunately he can’t kick from hand to touch with authority or distance, but he does take the ball flat and vary the game well. He has been pretty much exemplary from the tee, though, without which Scotland could have lost two of the three games on tour.

6 – Scotland have a try-scorer or proven ability now. Everyone was waiting for Tim Visser’s arrival as a Scotland player and the Celtic league’s top scorer for the past three seasons didn’t disappoint, grabbing two tries in his first game against Fiji. Samoa, though, did their homework and closed him down from the start – something he will have to get used to. Also, he looked a little at sea defensively and against the high ball, qualities he will have to improve on if he is to really become the answer to Scotland’s problems. What is interesting, though, is to see how many of Visser’s tries come when Nick de Luca is at outside centre. It may be worth Robinson keeping De Luca at 13 with Visser at 11 because the two have developed such a great understanding at club level.

7 – Scotland now have youngsters who should be able to match anything in the Six Nations. Matt Scott at inside centre really grew as a rugby player on this tour, particularly against Samoa where his break in the first half set up the try for Joe Ansbro. Stuart Hogg was increasingly solid at full-back, even though the sneaking suspicion remains that his best position is at outside centre. Are we in danger of doing another Chris Paterson with the best young Borderer to emerge since Paterson? Playing him at the back because there is a gap there, not where he should be playing?

8 – There were other lessons, too, for the Scotland management and not all of them from this tour. At the under-20 world championships, centre Mark Bennett again showed why he is the best passing and handling back to emerge from Scotland in years and he should be fast-tracked into the main Scotland set-up. Wing Jamie Farndale, who was playing for Edinburgh Academy just a year ago, was the top scorer in the competition and should – hopefully – get some games for Edinburgh this season to see if he can thrive in a more difficult environment.

As the tour finishes, it seems as if Robinson’s First XV for the autumn tests will look someting like this: Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Al Kellock, Kelly Brown, Ross Rennie, Dave Denton, Mike Blair, Greig Laidlaw, Tim Visser, Matt Scott, Nick de Luca, Max Evans, Stuart Hogg.

If he was more adventurous and had more of an eye for the future, Robinson might try this exciting formation: Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Al Kellock, Dave Denton, Ross Rennie, Ryan Wilson, Chris Cusiter, Duncan Weir, Tim Visser, Mark Bennett, Stuart Hogg, Max Evans, Grieg Tonks.

Either way, there is hope and even expectation now, which is no bad thing – both have been absent for quite a while.

Ross Rennie makes a break against Wales in the Six Nations Picture: SRU

After three years of waiting, Tim Visser will pull on the dark blue of Scotland this summer. The Dutchman is the most prolific scorer in British rugby, having been the Celtic league’s top scorer for the past three seasons.

But will he transform Scotland – probably the worst side in the world at converting chances into scores – into a winning team, or will he become infected with Scotland’s white-line fever and dry up too?

Visser was the most high-profile addition to the Scotland squad announced by coach Andy Robinson yesterday, and the most unsurprising. Visser is good. He is very good. So, if anyone can end Scotland’s try drought, it will probably be Visser.

If he is successful, then his influence will be felt elsewhere too. Opposition teams will have to mark him. That in itself should leave gaps for other players to exploit elsewhere on the park.

All of Scotland should hope that Visser can become the international try-scorer that he has threatened to be for so long, because it is a long time since Scotland have had anyone who could really terrorise defences.

Wales have had Shane Williams and now have George North and Alex Cuthbert, Ireland have had Brian O’Driscoll and England have had Chris Ashton. Scotland? Well, we’ve had nobody.

The ideal scenario would be for Visser to suck in the markers with his strength and speed and then for Stuart Hogg to exploit the space and use his acceleration and guile to score tries.

But, to do that, Scotland will have to secure clean ball up front and to ship the ball to the wings – something the team haven’t been that good at recently.

Robinson issued something of a statement of intent by dropping Ruaridh Jackson and Graeme Morrison from the squad, players who were his chosen ten and 12 as recently as the start of this season.

Instead, he has gone for Duncan Weir and Greig Laidlaw as his preferred fly-halves for the Australasian tour. Laidlaw has been inspired when leading Edinburgh on their great Heineken Cup run this season, but has yet to convince in a Scotland jersey. His kicking from hand lacks depth and he often stands far too deep to threaten international defences.

Laidlaw still represents a gamble. Robinson obviously hopes the borderer can make the transition to international rugby, but there are many others who feel he will always be a converted scrum-half and that Robinson would be better going for out-and-out number tens.

Weir, though, is almost the complete package. He has confidence, the ability to kick accurately from hand or tee, a good pass and a good break. He lacks a little consistency and sometimes passes behind his inside-centre (for lessons on how to release the centre with the ball in front, look no further than the sublime Johnny Sexton of Leinster).

Dropping Jackson is harsh. He is clearly second choice at Glasgow and, as such, has not had the game time he needs to get up to Weir’s level. But, as he showed when he came on late against Leinster in Glasgow’s play-off game last weekend, there is no one better in Scotland at sliding the grubber through behind defences, a tactic that saw Hogg score with the last move of the match.

Jackson, though, cannot really be trusted from the tee – and as all of Scotland’s summer tour matches are going to be tight, Robinson needs his best kickers on the park – hence Laidlaw and Weir.

It also seems likely that he will rotate his half-backs as pairs, with Chris Cusiter working with his Glasgow team-mate and Mike Blair selected with Laidlaw – continuing the partnership that worked so well for Edinburgh.

Up front, Allan Jacobsen is being rested, which gives Jon Welsh the chance to build on his one cap. Jim Hamilton is banned, so Al Kellock has the chance to win back his position at lock.

With David Denton and Kelly Brown injured, Robinson lacks options at six – but Glasgow’s Rob Harley is a combative and fiery individual and deserves the chance to show what he can do at the back of the scrum.

Scotland will need his ballast too, if Robinson is forced to go with John Barclay at eight or even Richie Vernon, who has pace and good hands but not the bulk the Scotland back row will need against the hulks of Fiji and Samoa.

It is a young squad and, in many ways, an exciting one. If there is a worry, though, it is that the squad looks a little lightweight. It lacks the sort of grizzled experienced backbone that will be needed if Scotland are to win any of the games this summer.

So, once again, it will come down to possession and securing clean ball. If Scotland can do that, then the backs could cause some damage to the opposition. If the forwards are beaten up front, though – and there is every danger that could happen against Australia, Fiji and Samoa – then it doesn’t matter how quick the backs are, they will end up chasing the ball and the game.

● Robinson’s first-choice team for the Australia test (with Visser ineligible until the Fiji game) appears to be: Jon Welsh, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Richie Gray, Al Kellock, Rob Harley, Ross Rennie, Richie Vernon, Mike Blair, Grieg Laidlaw, Max Evans, Matt Scott, Nick De Luca, Jo Ansbro, Stuart Hogg.

What Sir Chris Hoy won't be wearing this summer

What Sir Chris Hoy won't be wearing this summer

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
This Saturday will forever be remembered for what became the Miracle of Muamba.

I was watching the Spurs–Bolton cup tie but thought Fabrice Muamba had suffered an injury and concentrated for a moment on the England–Ireland rugby.

But it was quickly evident that things were critical, dare I say pessimistic, with the unwelcome comments of a few broadcasters. It was good to see and hear John Barnes bring reality and caution to proceedings by saying that people do often survive on such occasions.

Muamba was one of the lucky ones, due entirely to the quick intervention, skill and dedication of the medical people around him.

It doesn’t always have a happy ending. A mate of mine, a five-a-sides during the week, Sunday football player, collapsed and died from some convoluted medical condition that I could rhyme off once upon a time.

That was 17 years ago. And it still happens.

There was no miracle in Rome where Scotland finished their atrocious Six Nations campaign by collecting the wooden spoon.

Coach Andy Robinson has a dedicated bunch of players around him, many of whom were stepping forward to take the blame for drawing a blank in the championship.

All very honourable. Yup, it is you and your team-mates who make the wrong decisions, make the wrong calls, drop the ball and get sin-binned. But ultimately it is Andy Robinson who picks you.

And I repeat again: would Andy Robinson have survived this long in football? I think not …

Sunday
Couldn’t quite work out Ian Payne’s logic behind not reading out the winner of the Australian Grand Prix because BBC TV were showing the highlights.

OK, he might be cheesed off that his one-time employers have the exclusive rights to F1 – but if he had maintained his thinking, neither would he have read out the Hearts–Hibs score, when the highlights were to be shown in Scotland that evening.

Or did that not count? Thinking about it, if BBC Sport didn’t broadcast the results of sports they only showed the highlights of, sports bulletins and programmes would last about five minutes … per day.

Monday
There are some stories that has something for everyone, and details of the Olympic Flame for the London 2012 Games certainly had that, from the 8,000 local heroes and runners who would carry the flame, to how trains, planes, boats and training shoes would play their part on the marathon journey, right down to 95 per cent of the population being within an hour’s travel of the flame.

That last stat prompts a question: why not just have a series of gigantic fires that everyone can see?

The Olympic Flame is, of course, lit by the rays of the sun (except when the old torches used to go out and had to be reignited by means of the match god, Swan Vestas). That is probably the most famous flame story, although torch failure in years gone by did result in several nasty incidents for carriers.

So if you are one of the 8,000, maybe check your insurance policies just in case …

But this is the London Olympiad, and there wouldn’t be an announcement without a decent follow-up tale. And around the Olympic Flame, that means Olympic torchbearers having to pay if they want the ultimate souvenir from their relay appearance, namely their own torch.

From this week until 1 May, it will cost bearers £199 to buy a torch from Games organisers LOCOG, and during the relay the cost rises to £215. But LOCOG defended the cost, saying each torch costs £495 to make.

£199 is a lot of money; £495 suggests there is a bit of marking-up going on. Of course the true value won’t really be known until the first one appears on eBay …

Tuesday
Eyes and ears were in a state or readiness for the revelations that Channel 4 correspondent Alex Thomson had promised about the saga that has become Rangers.

He had publicised his pending works on his blog, something that others had referred to through social media outlets – although I got the feeling that, of his new followers, a great many had a slightly green hue to their view of things.

So I – like others who probably see Channel 4 News by chance or accident – tuned in to see Thomson’s “special report”.

The introduction certainly set the scene: “…but under its previous owner, this programme can reveal allegations of secret payments going back over many years. A former director of the club has told Channel 4 News that such payments were ‘standard practice.’”

From that one sentence, I deduced the only revelation would be that someone at Channel 4 News could read three-week-old papers.

There was nothing new. It was a rehash of what the Daily Mail had weeks prior to this “must see” special report. Channel 4 did have former Rangers director Hugh Adam on camera, who said all the things Thomson wanted him to say thanks to some prompting and some slightly leading questions.

But was there a smoking gun, or documentary evidence from Mr Adam – who resigned as a director a decade ago – to back up his claims? No.

Indeed, Mr Adam did not look a well man, and one suspects that someone else asking different questions – be it a journalist or defence counsel – would have got some very different answers.

Perhaps the real barometer when it came to gauging just how “revealing” the special report had been came in the levels of silence from those who had, in the days leading up to Thomson’s report, promised fireworks.

Hard to tweet about damp squibs …

Wednesday
And boxer Scott Harrison’s planned comeback fight next weekend has been cancelled following his arrest for alleged shoplifting from a Glasgow supermarket.

The former WBO world featherweight champion was due to fight for the first time in seven years in Blackpool. But Harrison’s career appears to have been put on hold again after his manager Frank Maloney says he has decided to drop the boxer from his stable.

Harrison’s plight is a sad one. And you can’t help but think that unless either he, or someone else, gets to grips with his demons, there will be an inevitable and upsetting outcome.

Thursday
So the non-Old Firm teams want a bigger slice of the action when it comes to the SPL’s TV money – which, we are now told, is dependent upon Rangers being part of the top league. Well, we guessed that weeks ago, Alex Thomson, just in case you think you had an exclusive all to yourself.

Celtic’s Peter Lawwell came out all guns blazing. But it was the grenade he rolled under the door that might have the most effect on the “rebel” clubs, or the Gang of Ten.

Lawwell’s suggestion of backing a 14-team top tier has one or two suddenly weighing up fighting for an increase on TV revenues against self-preservation as a club in a bigger SPL.

Tactical brilliance by Lawwell, I don’t mind admitting. Let’s see how long the Gang of Ten stays that big …

Friday
There are pictures, column inches and airwaves crammed full with Team GB’s all-new signing, dancing, running, jumping, swimming, huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ Olympic kit, designed by Stella McCartney.

Many don’t like it, saying there isn’t enough red and thinking that it’s just too blue. I have to agree.

Others see it as unique, exclusive and pure genius. And I have to disagree. Only because I’ve seen it before.

As you can see from the photo accompanying this article, fans of 1860 Munich have long worn or waved a similar design.

So for all of those who see the Team GB kit as unique, exclusive and pure genius, there will be some who see it as repeated, copied or even plagiarised.

I, of course, see it as being entirely coincidental (if only because Stella’s da’ has more money than me …).

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Ross Rennie in Six Nations action <em>Picture: SRU</em>

Ross Rennie in Six Nations action Picture: SRU

Sampling the blogosphere is like taking a straw poll in a pub towards closing time. You don’t get a representative sample but it gives you some idea of where the hard edges of public opinion are.

In that regard, it does seem as if mainstream rugby opinion in Scotland has now turned against Scotland coach Andy Robinson.

To be fair, it has taken a long time and Robinson has been given a lot of leeway by the fans – first because they all knew, deep down, that he was trying a mould a group of less-than-world-class players into more than the sum of their parts, and also because there was respect for him as a coach.

The players liked him and so, as a result, did the fans: that is, until now.

Scotland’s whitewash wooden spoon which was confirmed with the 13–6 loss away to Italy on Saturday has hurt. Not only that, but it followed Scotland’s first-ever failure to progress from the group stages of the Rugby World Cup.

Most fans recognise that it was the players who didn’t deliver – but, as is the case now in sport, it is the coach who takes the blame.

The most basic criticism that has been levelled at Robinson over the years is that he is a good coach but a poor selector. It was a cheap snap to throw his way and it would have been dismissed and forgotten about had Robinson’s teams actually improved under his inspired leadership – but they haven’t, and this has caused this particular epithet to persist.

No one doubts Robinson’s ability as a coach. You just have to listen to the way the players talk about his methods, his attention to detail, the subtle changes he instils in them which make them better.

But his selections have been poor. There is no way of avoiding it.

Robinson’s biggest weakness has been his determination (foolishness would be a better word for it) in announcing his intention to stick by certain key players regardless of form.

Chris Cusiter is one of Robinson’s picks. Cusiter was his first-choice scrum-half, Robinson declared, depressing his rivals and putting Cusiter in a terrible position when he had to be dropped after a series of sub-standard performances – this year’s aberration in Cardiff being a case in point.

Likewise, Ruaridh Jackson was to be Robinson’s favoured number ten – but that didn’t work either first because Jackson was injured then because his form was poor on his return.

This didn’t just happen in the Six Nations. Al Kellock was picked as Scotland captain for the World Cup by Robinson – and then dropped for a crucial game.

The result has been uncertainty, confusion and little short of chaos. Robinson appeared so scarred by the Kellock debacle that he decided it would never happen again. The only solution, he reasoned, was to pick one player as captain who was certain of his place in the team, and that was hooker Ross Ford.

The only problem was that Ford never morphed into captain material. Not only that, but his leadership record of played five lost five has shot his confidence to pieces too.

Anyone who doubts that should just look at the way his line-out throwing has imploded towards the end of this most disastrous of seasons.

After the first three games, Ford was being talked about as the Lions hooker for 2013, the best hooker of the championship and the leading hooker in the northern hemisphere.

By the end of the Italy game, Ford’s stock had sunk so low he would be lucky to get into a list of the three best hookers in the championship.

That was a direct result of the pressure Ford has come under as captain of a failing Scotland team.

Kellock is still a better captain. Just look at the way he galvanises the team when he comes on – and Ford’s decision-making on the field is poor, too.

The only remedy is to deprive Ford of the captaincy and give it someone who can lead, Kellock maybe, Kelly Brown possibly (actually Robinson’s first choice as captain).

Then there were the selections themselves. Much has been written about the Dan Parks episode and it was appalling. Robinson didn’t appear to know who he wanted to control the play in that first game against England (when Jackson was out injured), so went for a stop-gap that went horribly wrong and set the scene for everything that followed.

On the positive side, Robinson’s packs have been fine and this championship’s scrum was no exception. The scrum creaked alarmingly against Ireland and Euan Murray is clearly not the player he once was. Allan Jacobsen could also now find his place under threat from the impressive Jon Welsh, but the scrum was not the source of Scotland’s problems.

The real issue was the backs and, specifically, the lack of a cutting edge.

This has been discussed at length before and there is no need to dwell on it, but Duncan Weir has been treated poorly. Clearly the best proper all-round fly-half in Scotland at the moment, Weir can’t even get a place on the bench under Robinson who persists in playing a converted scrum-half (Greig Laidlaw) in this key position, someone who is good at club level but is not up to the job (in defence or attack) at test level.

Scotland have the youngsters to make a difference, if they are given the chance to gel as a team.

Robinson (or, if he leaves, his successor) should make wholesale changes to the back line, bring in the youngsters and give them two seasons to come together as a team, not chop and change them if they lose.

I offer this as an example. The most remarkable Scottish result of the season came at Netherdale on the eve of the Calcutta Cup when Scotland A defeated their English counterparts by 35–0.

Those Scottish youngsters were confident, skilled, fast and committed. They blew their English opponents off the field. Scotland could have done worse than to pick that entire side as the main Scotland side for the rest of the proper Six Nations championship. Indeed, it might not be a bad idea to select that whole side for the summer tour of Australia with a few of the youngsters who have broken into the senior side and made an impression – David Denton, Ross Rennie, Richie Gray to name but three.

The other side of that is that maybe it is time to leave some of the older players behind: the Lamonts, Graeme Morrison, Jacobsen, Murray.

One more thing. The Scottish coach on that extraordinary night at Netherdale was none other than Michael Bradley, the Irishman who has taken Edinburgh to the first home quarter-final for a Scottish side in the Heineken Cup – something Robinson never managed as Edinburgh coach.

If the SRU come to the same conclusion as the bloggers that Robinson’s time is up, then the blazers have someone waiting in the wings who would be a more than adequate replacement.

Oh, and Bradley was supported that night by Craig Chalmers, the former Scotland stand-off who has done a great job at Melrose: they proved then that they are not a bad double-act.

For the record, the Scotland A team that night was: Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Ed Kalman, Rob Harley, Tom Ryder, Stuart McInally, Chris Fusaro, Richie Vernon, Rory Lawson, Duncan Weir, Simon Danielli, Matt Scott, Alex Grove, Tom Brown, Stuart Hogg. Subs: Ryan Grant, Ryan Wilson, Roddy Grant, Pat McArthur, Henry Pyrgos, Phil Godman and Peter Murchie.

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<em>Picture: ajimixx</em>

Picture: ajimixx

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Another Six Nations weekend. So that’ll mean another loss for Scotland, this time in Dublin against Ireland.

However, despite the reversal, there were still nodding, knowing heads from those on high, suggesting things weren’t all bad.

But for how long can you keep taking positives from losses, and how long can you “buy in”, “see the bigger picture”, or “believe” or “be supportive of ideas” or praise “new thinking” and “build to the future” before someone within SRU’s hierarchy (possibly from the catering department or car parking duties) puts up their hand and says “Actually, we are not very good”?

Watching Scotland and hearing coach Andy Robinson is like viewing an oval-balled version of the “King’s New Clothes”.

Or are we waiting to see if the Italian game makes everything better?

Sunday
Another week, and another example of why football is in the dark ages compared to cricket, the NFL, rugby and tennis.

In England, the Football Association says they will press ahead with the adoption of goal-line technology after every newspaper and phone-in debates another embarrassing “goal-that-never-was” after Clint Hill “scored” for QPR against Bolton.

Weirdly, when highlighting such incidents, many news and sports editors somehow manage to show Frank Lampard’s effort against Germany from the last World Cup. I can only think it’s constantly on standby, a bit like the apology notice telling you that there is a break in programming and normal service will resume as soon as possible.

But while Lampard’s “goal” is always to hand, for whatever reason, no one is ever quite willing to show the “goal” that put England 3–2 up against West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final.

And just a thought before bedtime. What are the chances of goal-line technology being introduced before Andy Robinson leaves his post?

Monday
“Eh?” That was the reaction from a former Scotland international when I confirmed to him that Gregor Townsend was indeed to replace Sean Lineen as coach of Glasgow Warriors.

The story had emerged in some Sunday papers. The cynic in me would have called it a blatant leak to take the heat off a head coach who had lost again.

The journalist in me, however, would see it a blatant leak to take the heat off a head coach who had lost again.

With Warriors fourth in the Pro12 League, Lineen hadn’t done too bad a job – although the way some had written the story, you would have thought they were fifth in a six-team league. No, on second thoughts, maybe not the best analogy.

Townsend, however, was presented as a man who as a player obviously did no wrong, and was the next bright young thing on the coaching front. Except that he actually is the “attack” coach of an international nation who have won twice in their last 15 Test matches, failed to reach the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup and – sorry for raking it up again – who haven’t won this season in the Six Nations.

Andy Robinson alluded to the fact that Townsend needed to be coaching at club level. But surely that means cutting your teeth at a less senior grade and proving yourself there?

Sorry, but until Monday I thought it was only Her Majesty The Queen who was able to bestow such honours and titles on people. Or are we back to the “King’s New Clothes”?

Tuesday
And Sir David Murray, the former owner of Rangers, breaks cover to give an interview to the media (print, pen-carrying only).

You had to laugh at the moralists amongst the press ranks, trying to justify not being there on their mistrust of Murray when the reality was they were not invited in the first instance.

For Murray to admit he was “sorry” at what had happened, and to apologise to all Rangers fans, would have been enough. But with an audience, he was quick to condemn the man whose pound he is probably having tested for authenticity, Craig Whyte.

“If the information had been available to me at the time, I wouldn’t have done it. I did it in good faith,” Sir David said.

“Any time you sell, there are always murmurings. There was no factual information. And in fact shareholders, press, SFA – I mean, I’m first in the line, but everybody was duped.”

Powerful words. But I did wish he had taken the palms of his hands and squeezed his cheeks and mouth together to deliver his next line (as in “I’m chubby, my mom’s chubby, my dad’s chubby, even my dawg’s chubby…”) when he said: “I was primarily duped. My advisers were duped, the bank was duped, the shareholders were duped. We’ve all been duped. Is duped the right word? I think duped is the right word.”

It wouldn’t have made the entire debacle any less of a farce …

Wednesday
I have always marvelled at people’s ingenuity and sheer-bloody mindedness when it comes to gaining funds for them to compete in their chosen sport. Indeed, I know some who gained government disapproval over their fundraising efforts and went to prison accordingly.

That aside, one can only have admiration for athlete Logan Campbell and his tale of chasing his Olympic dream emerged out of New Zealand.

So determined was the 25-year-old taekwondo exponent to be on the flight to London this summer that three years ago he opened what he described as “a high-class escort agency” in Auckland.

And in that time, he raised the £160,000 he needed to compete internationally to qualify for the London Games. He’s also been disqualified 17 times for screaming “Not the face, don’t hit the face…”.

But in a few months, Campbell will be here, all his efforts worthwhile. I suppose it goes without saying that people get their kicks in many ways …

Thursday
I will be contacting parliamentarians, people in high office and major media houses to have this day renamed Sir Dave Richards Day, the day when a senior football administrator becomes a guest on Tiswas, when Sepp Blatter meets Norman Wisdom. Judge for yourself.

I’ve heard the FA have since returned his VIP tickets for the Olympic aquatic events this summer, just in case …

Friday
Sky Sports have the rights in 2012 to exclusive live coverage of F1 in the UK. I mention that in case you haven’t happened to see a TV for the last three months.

Sky have a cast of dozens Down Under for the season’s curtain-raiser in Melbourne, with more presenters, experts, panellists, talking heads and analysts than you could throw at the sacking of an England football manager. That’s how serious they are about getting this one right.

Where they might be in a few years when they realise that just about every race follows a not-dissimilar storyline, who knows? But just now, everything in the world is bright, colourful and live. As was first practice in the wee sma’ hours of Friday morning.

Of course, Sky’s capture of the rights from the BBC has not pleased everyone. There are countless millions, or tens of thousands really, who say they are passionate about F1, or love the sport, or live for the chequered flag, and who are disgusted that they won’t be able to see their beloved racers in action.

To be honest, they are no different from the passionate and dedicated lovers of football, cricket, boxing and several other sports who, for many years, have paid over and above for the right to see their sport, live and exclusive.

So race fans, join the club – because we won’t hear your protests over the sound of the engines once the lights turn green …

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Scotland's Jim Hamilton against Ireland <em>Picture: SRU</em>

Scotland's Jim Hamilton against Ireland Picture: SRU

Two steps forward and three steps back. All the progress that Scotland seemed to have made against France was thrown away on Saturday as the Scots went down 32–14 in Dublin.

More importantly, Scotland lost the try count four–one (having matched France two each). Not only that, but the areas of supposedly strength for the Scots – the scrum and line-out – faltered so badly it was almost back to the bad old days of a few years ago.

Let’s start with the positives because it won’t take long: Richie Gray.

Gray was immense in the loose and scored a try that will have Ireland full-back Rob Kearney being ribbed about for years.

For anyone to be sold an outrageous dummy by a galloping lock forward is bad enough, but to have it happen to a Lions full-back is pretty unforgiveable. But all credit to Gray. He took his try very well indeed and is really developing into a top-class young lock.

But while Gray was excellent in the loose, he didn’t show up as well in the line-out, which misfired for the first time this championship. For that he must take some of the blame, as must captain and hooker Ross Ford (who had his quietest game of the tournament), Jim Hamilton and the back row.

Graeme Morrison also had a strong game in defence – his holding up of Tommy Bowe over the line and preventing a try was a great example of knowing the rules and executing the letter of the law to perfection, but was his usual rather laboured self in attack.

So what about the negatives? Scotland were poor in defence, individually and collectively.

Rory Best’s try could have been stopped in an ideal world – but, as it came from a set move, it would only have been prevented had Scotland had a prop stationed on the line, so was probably unavoidable.

The second try, though, when Eoin Reddan nipped under Sean Lamont’s stupid lunge, was entirely self-inflicted. Lamont came racing out of the defensive line, threw himself at Reddan in an illegal charge (he wasn’t using his arms) and Reddan ducked underneath, the gap was there from Lamont’s absence and Reddan scored.

The third was also avoidable. Lee Jones took a mark on the left-hand touchline with just two minutes remaining until half-time. Yet, instead of kicking deep and long to touch, the young winger flung the ball back, Scotland were all over the place and eventually an panicked Greig Laidlaw booted the ball into touch, giving Ireland an attacking line-out on Scotland’s 22. Two phases of precision rugby later (of the sort Scotland can’t match) Ireland scored through Andrew Trimble and it was game over.

The Scotland bench was supposed to carry the experience Scotland needed to win the game if they were still in it as the match entered the final quarter. The Scots were still in it at that point – or they were that is until the subs came on.

Euan Murray was supposed to come on to dominate the set piece – but, after Geoff Cross went off, Scotland were shunted backwards.

It is hard to say of it of a once mighty prop, but maybe Murray’s time is up. He is not the force he was. Cross has improved massively and, with Jon Welsh and Ed Kalman snapping at their heels, maybe it is time for a shake up of the Scotland front row and put Murray out to grass permanently.

Yes, Ireland played the game very close to the edge of the laws all the time. There were at least two clear high tackles on Ruaridh Jackson and he was only on the field for the last 20 minutes. The Trimble tackle that put paid to Jones’ afternoon looked suspiciously lacking in any arms as the laws dictate and Ireland’s choke tackle worked occasionally in slowing down Scottish ball.

But none of this should have been a shock to Scotland. What Scotland needed to be was as ruthless and efficient as Ireland and, on the one occasion when Scotland were in the ascendant, they did the opposite.

It was approaching half-time and Scotland had consecutive throws right on the Irish line. They drove the maul twice. Twice Ireland brought it down and, on the second occasion the New Zealand referee Chris Pollock warned the Irish they were in danger of losing a player to the bin.

Scotland had a third penalty in an identical position and should have gone for the drive for the third time. They should have been confident of getting a penalty in kickable range at the very least and probably have Ireland reduced to 14 men and even maybe a penalty.

That’s what Ireland would have done. But Scotland? They kicked for the posts, secured a measly three points and let Ireland off the hook.

That was the moment that the game was effectively lost. Had Scotland gone for the third maul and scored and had Ireland reduced to 14 men, they would have had the psychological advantage, Ireland would have been terrified of the maul afterwards and Scotland could – and should – have gone on to dominate.

That failure to capitalise on Ireland’s one weakness raises question-marks over Ford’s captaincy. Indeed, it was instructive how Al Kellock took over the lead role in motivating and cajoling the forwards after he came on as a substitute late on.

Kellock cannot command a first-team place, it seems, but he is the most impressive leader in this team. Maybe that should guarantee him a place in the team after all, particularly if Ford only has the job because he is the one cast-iron selection that Andy Robinson has got. If that’s all he has, maybe he shouldn’t be captain?

So it’s off to Italy for yet another wooden spoon decider: how depressingly familiar.

What should Robinson do?

Play the form players in their best positions. It is really that simple. Laidlaw has been great for Edinburgh but he is not an international class fly-half. He makes the wrong decisions, he passes too deep, he can’t kick far enough from hand and his defence isn’t good enough.

He kicks beautifully from the tee and can dovetail really well with Mike Blair but he does not vary the game up enough to challenge the best defences in Europe. How many times did we see a chip over the top to keep the Irish defence honest, or the French, or the Welsh? None.

Scotland ran the ball at every opportunity almost without regard for whether it was the right thing to do and that comes down to the fly-half and the game plan. It was Robinson’s game plan and Laidlaw’s execution and they both have to change.

Robinson has to play Duncan Weir or Ruaridh Jackson at ten against Italy: preferably Weir because it will be another nail-biter and Weir is much more reliable off the tee than Jackson and any missed kicks could cost Scotland the game.

Chris Cusiter is strangely off form, which means Laidlaw could play at nine (that way he could take the kicks at goal if Jackson gets the nod at ten) but Blair is still the best threat from nine so should keep his place.

For all his defensive brilliance, Morrison isn’t up to it in midfield and that is where our problems seem to come from. Matt Scott should get a run at 12 with Nick De Luca back at 13.

With Lee Jones probably out for the Italy game and Rory Lamont out for the season, Robinson has to bring Max Evans back on the wing. That would leave Sean Lamont in the side but with a warning not to be so impetuous next time.

The team for the Italy game should be: Jon Welsh, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Richie Gray, Al Kellock (c), David Denton, Ross Rennie, Richie Vernon, Mike Blair, Duncan Weir, Sean Lamont, Matt Scott, Nick De Luca, Max Evans, Stuart Hogg. Subs: Ed Kalman, Scott Lawson, Jim Hamilton, John Barclay, Greig Laidlaw, Graeme Morrison, Jo Ansbro (if fit, otherwise Jim Thompson).

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A Chinese cat <em>Picture: mattk1979</em>

A Chinese cat Picture: mattk1979

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
It was England against Wales in the Six Nations championship, while in Serie A it was first against second when Juventus met AC Milan.

Two sporting occasions, in distance hundreds of miles apart. But when it came to crucial calls and decisions that ultimately decided the outcome in these matches, there was a world between them.

At Twickenham, the video referee Iain Ramage earned his corn in the closing moments as the hosts pressed for a match-saving try, the Scots official eventually ruling that David Strettle had not grounded the ball.

End of nervous wait, end of deliberation, end of match.

Meanwhile in Italy, Milan and Juventus drew 1–1, although the outcome should have been different.

Football – thanks almost entirely to Sepp Blatter’s befuddled thinking – hasn’t followed the route of rugby, cricket, tennis, NFL and the likes by adopting video technology to assist the officials (but not to take over from them) in making key decisions.

Blatter and co think that throwing more officials – like goal-line assistants who, as far as I can see, see nothing other than new towns and cities across Europe – is the way to solve a problem. And the main and most contentious problem is whether a ball has or hasn’t crossed the line.

That archaic thinking is flawed, when technology would help. It’s not infallible, but it would be better than just guessing. As the linesman most certainly did when Gigi Buffon saved from Sulley Muntari.

Here, judge for yourself. And feel free to tell me exactly how involving a video ref wouldn’t benefit football, even on this one key area …

Sunday
While Wales were celebrating winning the Triple Crown, Murrayfield was hosting Scotland’s Six Nations encounter with France.

France, don’t forget, reached the World Cup final a matter of months ago. So they can play, and showed as much in the second half to beat the plucky Scots.

Plucky, game, unlucky. Heard it all too often.

Under coach Andy Robinson, the Scots have now won just two out of last 13 matches in the Six Nations.

I cannot help but think that if Robinson was in charge of our national football team, questions about his suitability would have been asked long before now, if he hadn’t already been mentioned in a dispatch which included the line “mutual consent”.

And, I can’t think those interrogating would have been fobbed off either by his “but I still believe” reply …

Monday
Andy Murray is in Dubai for the Dubai Duty Free Tournament. I remember I used to go there for the snooker tournament of that name. How things change.

This was Murray’s first outing since his Australian Open semi-final appearance (and loss) – and, for one radio reporter, that was enough to relegate him from world no.4 to just plain old ordinary British no.1. Fine.

Such generalisations usually mean people don’t know what they are talking about, but know it’s probably a safe bet to call Murray the nation’s no.1.

I would put the said radio correspondent in that category. By the same token, anyone referring to Murray as the Scottish no.1 probably belongs in a category all of their own …

Tuesday
Football is a passionate sport, and on occasions emotions can spill over. I suppose that will be the excuse Bournemouth chairman Eddie Mitchell will use when he explains to the FA comments made after his club’s 1-0 loss to Milton Keynes Dons.

Most of us involved in football have heard (or even used) rather fruity language when things don’t go to plan.

Few of us, unlike Mitchell, have decided to use BBC Radio 5 Live’s 606 as the platform.

Mitchell swore three times live on-air (“bollocks” and “f*cked” being his best efforts) before presenter Mark Chapman gave him a red card.

Mitchell accepted the FA’s charges of using “improper language”.and requested a private hearing, which will be held before 13 March. Obviously in private, so as not to offend any audience.

Hear Mitchell in full flow here. And it’s OK, the Beeb bleep machine has been edited in …

Wednesday
Scotland have a pre-World Cup qualifying campaign friendly against Slovenia. I find that the match is not being shown on any of the channels I subscribe to (either by law or choice).

So I decide to spend the £5 I have saved by not watching this meaningless contest (rendered such because the national coach won’t pick the best players available to him) and purchase five Lotto lucky dips.

Imagine my shock when I won, which is more than Scotland did.

So I am now a fiver better off than when I started, whereas I was guaranteed to be a fiver down if I’d invested in Premier Sports.

I recall getting all hot under the collar when a Scotland qualifier was shown on Channel 5 at a time when people in the shadow of Hampden couldn’t watch it because they couldn’t get a signal.

Now, I get the feeling no one is really too bothered where Scotland matches appear – or more accurately, disappear.

When you see signs up outside pubs stating “We are NOT showing the Scotland game”, you have to wonder if broadcasters or armchair fans are interested in these friendly games, or Scotland.

Anyway, that win on Wednesday has seen me qualify for EuroMillions on Friday. Wish me luck.

Thursday
Mark Allen is already a few hundred quid down this season after giving some frank views at a post-match press conference.

And, from his more recent spat with authority, that the Northern Ireland cueist either hasn’t learned or won’t be dissuaded from speaking his mind.

In China for the Haikou World Open (headings like “world” always help when you are selling an under-valued product for above the going rate) Allen didn’t hold back on Twitter.

“Journey a nightmare. People are ignorant. Place stinks. Arena’s rubbish, tables poor, food is horrendous. Other than that I love China.”

He continued: “Dead cat found this morning. Any wonder this place stinks. Must be dead cats all round the town.”

And he added: “This place is horrendous. It just baffles me how world snooker continuously go out of their way to put tournaments on in the middle of nowhere.”

However, he showed some remorse later. “As usual people jump on the hate-Allen bandwagon. Might’ve been a bit harsh a few hours ago in my tweet. Not all Chinese people are ignorant. I stand by everything else though.”

The sport’s governing body, World Snooker, later described his remarks as “extremely disappointing”.

And to think these guys thought they got it bad in Prestatyn …

Friday
I thought I’d finish this week with a quiz.

Is Craig Whyte
a) Rangers owner?
b) still welcome at Ibrox?
c) “thoroughly unfit”?
d) “wholly unreliable”?
e) a billionaire?

Answers when the administrators can find them …

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Stuart Hogg scores against France <em>Picture: SRU</em>

Stuart Hogg scores against France Picture: SRU

A packed house at Murrayfield, Scotland scoring tries through swift hands and pace in the backs, a cracking game of rugby – fast, fluid and unpredictable; and yet, and yet…

Yesterday’s match against France was better, so much better, than either of Scotland’s two previous Six Nations games this year – but, almost inevitably, it resulted in another loss.

That’s three losses from three games in this year’s championship, five losses on the bounce and Scotland have two daunting away matches to come.

Can this side win those remaining fixtures in Dublin and Rome? Yes, but only if Andy Robinson takes the radical and controversial step of actually picking players in their natural positions.

In many ways, the team that finished yesterday’s 17–23 loss to France was more balanced and creative than the one that started it. The reason was that Robinson had been forced by injury to shuffle the team around – and, horror of horrors, had actually put layers in their proper positions.

Scotland finished with a winger on the wing, not in the centre, a stand-off at stand-off, not a scrum-half filling in at ten, and also with a recognised number eight in the number eight slot.

Everyone is aware of how well Stuart Hogg did in Scotland A’s remarkable 35–0 thumping of England Saxons at Netherdale earlier this month. His wonder try has been seen by millions now. But there were three other performances of real note that cold night in Galashiels too: Richie Vernon at number eight, Duncan Weir at ten and Matt Scott at 12.

It is no surprise to anyone who was there that night that the full Scotland team looked so much better yesterday when Weir and Vernon came on. The only shame is that it took two defeats and injuries in the third game for Robinson’s hand to be forced to make these changes.

Regular readers of The Caledonian Mercury will remember a piece from last year’s under-20 world cup when Scotland played England. Weir was at ten for Scotland and Owen Farrell was at ten for England.

Farrell is now the toast of Twickenham, having made the progression into the full England team, while Weir is being held back in his bid to do the same at Murrayfield – apparently because he is too young and too inexperienced to handle the pressures of full test rugby. But I believe he showed enough yesterday to prove he has what it takes to lead Scotland’s attack for the foreseeable future.

Weir is a natural stand-off half. He takes the ball much closer to the gain-line than does Greig Laidlaw and his passing is better, allowing his centres to run on to the ball. His kicking from hand is good and his kicking from the tee superb.

One of Scotland’s main problems in both the last two games has been that Laidlaw often stands deep and then passes deep to centres lying well back behind the gain-line. With aggressive rush defences (which Wales and France possess), this has pushed Scotland back and back again.

Time and again Scotland attacked through Laidlaw sitting deep – and, although they held on to the ball, they found themselves further and further from the opposition try line with every phase. When Laidlaw did attack up close to the gain-line, he produced quick ball to Lee Jones and then to Hogg which resulted in the first try.

Laidlaw is good. He is a very talented footballer and it serves Scotland well to have both him and Mike Blair in the team, interchanging as they do. But Scotland looked better with a natural fly-half at ten and Weir is that man. Laidlaw may hate it, but Scotland may be better served with him on the bench, covering both nine and ten.

Weir is young, he will make mistakes – but, like Farrell, he needs the time to grow into the role.

Robinson has made it clear that Ruaridh Jackson is his number one choice of fly-half. That was a mistake and one that Robinson should distance himself from. Jackson is not in form, and, even when he is, he is not the best fly-half in Scotland – Weir is.

Robinson has also made it clear that Chris Cusiter is his favoured choice at scrum-half. This is another mistake. Blair offers a threat round the fringes that Cusiter does not – and although Cusiter is tenacious round the fringes, Scotland need a nine who can offer more and that is what Blair does.

Robinson has tied his own hands by backing players who are not the best options for their positions. He now needs to be big enough to admit he may have been wrong.

There are four other big areas of concern for Scotland, though: the set scrum, the ruck, support play and the midfield. For the third match in a row, the Scotland pack coped to start with and then fell away, conceding penalties almost at will towards the end of the game which effectively handed the match to the French.

As for the ruck, Blair struggled time and again to secure the quick ball his backs were crying out for. The French were adept at slowing the ball down, the referee was doing nothing to stop them so Scotland have to find a way of sorting this out for themselves.

Playing two open-sides was a revelation in ball stripping and creating turnovers, but maybe Scotland need a proper blindside flanker there to do the enforcement at the rucks to ensure quick ball.

Also, Scotland are still not good enough at anticipating breaks. Twice in the first half yesterday, when Ross Ford broke clear and then when Blair ran a quick tap penalty, Scotland carved France open but were unable to take advantage because the players making the break did not have support on their shoulders.

Finally there is the midfield. Graeme Morrison and Sean Lamont were powerful going forward and solid in defence, as everyone knew they would be, but neither possesses the pass to open up defences like a centre should. Nick de Luca showed how it should be done when he came on, helping set up Lee Jones for Scotland’s second try

Going back to that under-20 world cup again, the best player in that young Scottish team was a centre, Mark Bennett, now honing his rugby in France with Clermont Auvergne.

If Robinson thinks Matt Scott isn’t ready to step up yet, then he could do worse than bring Bennett in, at least to the Scotland squad.

This Scotland side has the makings of becoming a very good one because there are some exceptional young talents there. But they will only succeed if they are picked together, picked now and, crucially, picked in their natural positions. They could really gel – not this year, certainly, but maybe next year or the year afterwards.

So the team for the Ireland game should be: 1 Alan Jacobsen, 2 Ross Ford, 3 Euan Murray, 4 Richie Gray, 5 Jim Hamilton, 6 David Denton, 7 Ross Rennie, 8 Richie Vernon, 9 Mike Blair, 10 Duncan Weir, 11 Sean Lamont, 12 Matt Scott, 13 Nick de Luca, 14 Max Evans, 15 Stuart Hogg. Subs: Geoff Cross, Scott Lawson, Al Kellock, John Barclay, Greig Laidlaw, Graeme Morrison, Lee Jones.

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