It’s been a bit of a mixed bag for Scottish Rugby recently. The announcement that Glasgow’s 1872 cup leg was to be played at the home of Edinburgh Rugby, certainly hit a wrong note. Whether it was the correct decision or not, the way the announcement was made, did little to endear Scottish Rugby fans. On the other hand, what an excellent achievement to pack over 23,000 supporters into Murrayfield the week prior to that, a record Scottish club attendance.
I have to profess, I’m no expert on the front-row. However, following the World Cup and their from for Edinburgh, its hard to see past the front row of Dickinson, Ford and Nel. Both Dickinson and Ford bring a huge amount of experience to the front row, invaluable when playing against sides such as those in the Six Nations, all of whom have formidable scrummages. Additionally, in recent games I’ve been impressed by Zander Fagerson. Fagerson is young, but has started to get more regular selection by Gregor Townsend and it seems inevitable that he will soon add to his age grade international honours. It’s a shame to have seen Stuart McInally injured at RWC because he bought something new to the fold at hooker and could make a good future replacement for Ford.
In the second row, Jonny Gray has to be one of the first players on Vern Cotter’s team sheet. At the World Cup he put in 67 tackles, giving him one of the best tackling stats at England 2015. He continued this in his MOTM performance against Edinburgh in the second-leg of the 1872 cup. Brother, Richie, wasn’t far behind, putting in a staggering 55 tackles. This high work rate, combined with strong line outs, puts these two in the second row (we’ll forget about the last line out against Australia, where we threw to the back during torrential downpours). Grant Gilchrist could easily have been here if it wasn’t for his persistent injuries and Tim Swinson isn’t all that far off either.
John Hardie. Say what you will, but this man is a rock at 7, some seriously good scouting from Cotter and his team. He’s an out and out 7, always going for the turnover, with a good lineout, and a killer instinct with crunching tackles that will put the chills up any number 10’s spine. Factor in his impressive offloading stats, coming in within the top 20 at Rugby World Cup 2015 and it’s hard to look past him. I’ve always been a fan of Kelly Brown and Chris Fusaro has looked good for Glasgow, but it’s hard to see Hardie shifting aside anytime soon. It also seems fitting to mention the retirement of Roddy Grant. A shame to never see him with a thistle on his chest, but a great servant of Edinburgh Rugby none the less.
At 8, following a tremendous World Cup, David Denton has seen himself become one of the highest paid professional Scottish rugby players. At present he seems to be holding the shirt for both Scotland and Bath. However, with a back row which as of next season will include Taulupe Faletau, Japan 8 Amanaki Mafi alongside the likes of Francois Louw and Leroy Houston, he will have a challenge. Denton is a reactive player and hopefully this will only strengthen his game further. However, he’s not guaranteed a spot at Scotland if Josh Strauss can find form once more.
To fill the Six shirt I would have Ryan Wilson. An astute tackler, with great strength who does all of the nitty gritty work expected of a six. On the bench I would probably still keep Blair Cowan, although he hasn’t made the same impact with London Irish this season as in years gone by. Another impressive season means Edinburgh’s Cornell Du Preez could be considered, but do we need another foreign import?
Another position, that for me, is a no brainer. I am of course referring to Greig Laidlaw, nominee for World Player of the year 2015. His move to Gloucester seems to have reignited his love for the game and added more to his playbook. We’ve seen more innovation, such as those sniping runs he made which helped to penetrate the Argentinian defence in the autumn internationals last year. His kicking has been as sound as ever and in key moments against the likes of Japan, he made the right decisions to keep us in the game and ultimately, to win it.
Second choice for me is Pyrgos. Hidalgo-Clyne looks to be promising for the future and certainly deserves some game time. However, at times he doesn’t quite show the cool head nor consistency needed for top flight rugby. Rest assured though, I see him as a key part of the Scotland team in the near future. Pyrgos brings experience and consistency to the shirt, which is pivotal as this Scotland team works around having a sturdy 9.
This part is refreshing. In my eyes, we now have class options in this position. Finn Russell has been the clear shirt holder for the last year or so, but I have recently been reminded of a certain Ruaridh Jackson. Having recovered from an ACL injury, Jackson was very unlucky not to make Scotland’s RWC squad. However, he appeared comfortable in the 15 shirt against Ireland in the warm ups and was key to the unstitching of an eye-wateringly brilliant Toulon line up. At present, he’s being kept out of a starting berth at Wasp’s by Jimmy Gopperth. The story is the same at Glasgow for Russell, who is currently seeing a lot less game time as a result of Duncan Weir’s development. Although not quite the live spark of Russell or Jackson, he has started to show a new side, with darting runs and dummies, both for Glasgow and most notably, for Scotland against South Africa, where he set up an excellent length of the pitch try. I personally would try the old combination of Jackson with Weir on the bench for the England test. Russell would respond to exclusion, potentially helping Scotland massively in the following games.
Matt Scott has long looked to have this position nailed down, until Alex Dunbar came along. Unfortunately Dunbar’s year has been defined by his on-going spell on the sidelines as he suffers injury after injury. In this time, Scott has re discovered his form from a few years back and looks solid on the ball, bringing both physicality and an illusive step, enough to deserve the starting 12 berth at present.
Another easy choice with World Rugby break through player of the year nominee Mark Bennett. His elusive running and excellent lines have earned him a number of fans, as well as THAT intercept against Australia in the Semi-Finals. His form has continued as he pierced the finest defence in the PRO12 at present (Edinburgh) 2 times in as many weeks. That said, Duncan Taylor has been in form for Saracens, so don’t be surprised to see him pushing for a spot in the team.
A controversial selection as a result of his defence, Tim Visser. Unfortunately it looks like he will miss the start of the Six Nations, but with 5 tries in as many games for Harlequins he’s looking back to his devastating best, showing a rounded skill set.
The other berth goes to Sean Lamont. Aged 34, he is still the fastest player in the Glasgow squad and possess a mammoth amount of power. He has linked well with the young Scottish team in his recent tests. With Tommy Seymour looking off-colour, he takes the shirt for me. You may be thinking of Maitland, but now that he is playing regularly at fullback with Irish, I see him as best starting on the bench.
Stuart Hogg. Was there ever any doubt? Since his rise to the fore in 2013, Hogg was never quite been so explosive. He has however, added an awful lot to his game. He now has a cooler head for big games and has been linking tremendously with Taquele Naiyarovoro at Glasgow, particularly in setting up one of the wingers 3 tries against Scarlets at Scotstoun. If he can carry this into the Six Nations and work well with Visser and Lamont, it could prove to be a very exciting back 3. There is also the option of Maitland or Jackson as previously mentioned to come on as cover.
- Alasdair Dickinson
- Ross Ford
- WP Nel
- Jonny Gray
- Richie Gray
- Ryan Wilson
- John Hardie
- David Denton
- Greig Laidlaw
- Ruaridh Jackson
- Tim Visser
- Matt Scott
- Mark Bennett
- Sean Lamont
- Stuart Hogg
So there you have it, my form XV for Scotland. This is my first ever attempt at an article and I’m looking to write more and more as I find the time. Any comments, positive or constructive are very much appreciated.
The Scribbler, 8th January, 2016
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