Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

There has been an interesting development for tomorrow’s senior badminton inter-county against Orkney which will see singles matches played for the first time.

Kevin Smith and Roy Wood will represent Shetland in the men’s event while Chloe Hitchen and Amy Sineath will contest the women’s singles.

The overall competition has also been increased in size with a total of 26 matches instead of the previous 12. Every player will have to play four rounds now, either two level doubles and two mixed doubles or one singles, one level doubles and two mixed doubles.

This year’s squad covers an astonishing age range with 43 years separating the oldest player from the youngest.

Overall there is one teenager, five in their early 20s, two in their 40s and four in their 50s. Which makes you wonder: whatever happened to the players in the 25-40 bracket?

Competition between Shetland and Orkney was very even between 1948, the first year of the event, and 1977, but after that the blues enjoyed an incredible period of dominance. Apart from one Orkney victory in 1985 Shetland won every match from 1978 up to 2012.

The Orcadians finally got hold of the Inkster Cup again in 2013, and they also won it last year, so there are signs that the sides are now becoming much more even.

Another feature of this year’s contest is the fact that the B inter-county match, normally played on a separate date, will be run simultaneously with the A tournament. The Shetland B team is again an intriguing mix of youth and experience with The Shetland Times newsroom all-rounder Andrew McQuarrie making his debut.

Good luck to perennial veterans Gordon and Graham Keith, Colin Grant, Kevin Smith, Audrey Leask, Anne Wood and Zoe Anderson, who must have racked up nearly 200 inter-county appearances between them.

Best wishes also to the youthful Chloe Hitchen, Liam Flaws, Rory Irvine and Lewis Fraser. A tough battle faces them all tomorrow.

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It was another disappointing showing by the Scottish rugby team on Saturday, losing 28-8 to an Irish side who have now won the Six Nations championship with a game to spare.

But at least the Scots showed this time they could hold their own, a contrast from the first game in the tournament when they were surprisingly outclassed by Wales.

The most annoying thing about the weekend’s result was that the points tally did not reflect a true picture. Scotland gifted the Irish their first try and then coughed up at least two opportunities themselves, one of which looked a certain seven points.

A 21-15 score would have been a much fairer outcome. While there is no doubt the Irish deserved to win the margin should have been much closer.

This Irish team now looks to have almost become the new England. They are powerful in all departments and the constant pressure applied eventually seems to wear the opposition down, a far cry from the men in green who struggled so much in the first years of the professional era.

I don’t think there is any doubt that Scotland are currently the most attractive team in the Six Nations, performing in very much the same style which head coach Gregor Townsend was famous for in his own playing days.

To mount a serious challenge to the English and Irish sides, however, they need to become more patient. While it would be a shame to see some of the flamboyance sacrificed, a gung-ho approach will never secure titles.

The Scots will now need a bonus-point win over Italy to give them a chance of third place in the tournament. That may well prove extremely difficult as the Italians usually target Scotland as the team they can beat, and last weekend they were the better side against Wales for over half the game before caving in late on.

Townsend has surprisingly made five changes for tomorrow’s match. Bringing back Tommy Seymour for Blair Kinghorn, the try scorer against Ireland, may seem harsh on the youngster but that was probably expected.

More eye-catching is the decision to replace Peter Horne with Nick Grigg at centre. Horne may have been culpable for the first Irish try at the weekend but his overall performance, after the way he played in the wins over France and England, was by no means a failure.

Townsend has also restored prop W P Nel and hooker Fraser Brown to the starting line-up. The former is presumably to give the side more experience in the set piece while the latter’s inclusion is likely due to Stuart McInally’s inaccurate throwing against Ireland.

McInally has come on leaps and bounds this season in the scrums and the loose, but he must begin to find his line-out jumpers more consistently if he wants to cement his place in the side.

I would just about fancy Scotland to get the required result in Rome but it certainly won’t be easy.

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Heard the one about the three former football referees on the council and the one still blowing his whistle?

That won’t be the case for much longer, as I’m reliably informed that Stephen Leask has told the referees committee chief that he will be retiring.

Stephen would like it to be noted how much he enjoyed his time officiating in local football, and made so many friends during that time including players, managers and association members.

He says he intends to go back to golf which he describes as “a bit more pedestrian”. Presumably he’s speaking just for himself, as I’ve seen a few referees in recent years who would struggle to get round 18 holes.

While he’s dished out many a card during his time in the middle, perhaps Stephen will now get a few retirement ones. Perhaps not from ex-players though.

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New Scottish football manager Alex McLeish has rung the changes with his first squad announced on Monday for the forthcoming friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary.

A new captain will now have to be found since Scott Brown has once again called time on his international career. McLeish hinted that Celtic’s Kieran Tierney, who led the side in the last friendly against Holland, could continue in the role and few would argue with that choice.

With Manchester United’s Scott McTominay now committed to playing for the country of his parents the strength in midfield is such that there is no place for another former skipper, Darren Fletcher. While McLeish said the door remained open to all but Brown, at the age of 34 Fletcher may be unable to find a way back.

It was also good to see Aberdeen defender Scott McKenna and Fulham midfielder Tom Cairney called up, although by way of contrast the new manager has brought back centre halves Russell Martin and Grant Hanley, neither of whom have ever given much cause for confidence.

The most worrying area is up front in the absence of the injured Leigh Griffiths. Oliver McBurnie may be enthusiastic but is very raw, while I doubt the Costa Rican and Hungarian defences will lose any sleep over the prospect of facing Jason Cummings or Matt Phillips.

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It would take some kind of weird analyst to understand the behaviour of former Liverpool and England footballer Jamie Carragher, caught on camera spitting at a girl in a car at the weekend.

Carragher, who now works as a pundit for Sky Sports, was on his way home from the Manchester United v Liverpool match.

As he slowed down at a junction a fellow driver apparently got his attention, whereby Carragher wound his window down.

The man appears to have filmed himself goading Carragher by continually shouting the words “Two-one Jamie, two-one!” And the pundit responded by unleashing a torrent of saliva through the open window, allegedly hitting the man’s daughter who was in the passenger seat.

Carragher was immediately suspended by Sky until the end of the season, and there is no indication if and when he will get his job back. The station has already shown zero-tolerance towards presenters who misbehave, illustrated by the swift exit of Andy Gray and Richard Keys a few years ago.

This will obviously never happen, but personally I reckon Carragher should be given a slap on the wrist and reinstated, on the condition he gives half his inflated salary to charity for the next couple of years and with the warning that he does not step out of line again.

As for the idiot in the car, who was using his mobile while driving and showing complete disregard for the rules, he should have his licence removed for a while.


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