So, Chris Paterson just played over 50 minutes at stand-off for Gloucester. As I type this, he came off the pictch seemingly to be replaced by a streaker. Mossy missed two conversions (that with hindsight would have sealed victory), fluffed a couple of restarts – the commentators review said his performance was “mixed”. Not the ideal preparation for the man who we hope will fire our attacking ambitions against Ireland next weekend – he was given his chance, and didn’t shower himself in glory. What, Chris Paterson missed kicks? But then so did Phil Godman in Edinburgh’s narrow loss to Munster, and he wasn’t known for his kicking in the first place – though it seems vastly improved. Do we dare take the same risks at international level?
Mossy will probably get the nod, and it’s probably about time he was given a shot, even if it’s not clear that he is ready for all that the role of international 10 will demand of him. Godman may also not be ready. But can they really offer us less in attack than Parks? Southwell still offers a good tactical kicking option, with Paterson or Godman able to cover the fullback’s space when that’s going on. So at least one of them should be brought in, if you ask me. Meanwhile on the same Cherry and Whites team as CP, you have Alisdair Strokosch and Rory Lawson, Scotsmen in the form of their lives, who will probably not even get slots in the starting 22.
“Stroker” has the problem of playing in Jason White’s position. But White has looked off-colour thus far, and if the Scotland team were truly picked on form it would be hard to argue against giving the ex-Edinburgh man his chance at the 6 shirt. He offers power going forward, enthusiasm for the workload and crunching, crowd-pleasing tackles – sound familiar? Of the other possible occupants (if you were to bench the current captain), neither is a natural 6 – indeed Hogg seems to be coming on to a bit of form at 8, his preferred position, so I would argue he should stay there, and make it a coin-toss between Brown and Strokosch at 6.
Rory Lawson finds himself in another of Scotland’s few areas of genuine depth, scrum half. Al (and my dad) may disagree with me, but Mike Blair has done little wrong thus far in the tournament. Mind you, he hasn’t done anything truly brilliant either – on a par with his team mates. For me Blair still offers a better attacking threat than Cusiter with ball in hand, and the number of try saving tackles he has made for club and country proves him sure in defence too. Still if you wanted a cross between Cusiter and Blair – nuggety defence, a good break, barking at the forwards and swift distribution to boot, for me Lawson might be the go-to guy. (Might it may be time to retire the scrum-half as terrier metaphor? Bill McLaren, we salute you.)
So basically it seems to come down to the old question regarding selection – change for changes sake? Bring in the young guns all at once, or drip feed them into the team to build their experience but keep some steady heads? Which approach will keep the media, the bosses or the supporters yearning for a sense of direction at bay the longest? Does it mean we will have to wait for Nick De Luca to settle in (or be dropped) before Rennie, or Cairns, or Beattie or Evans get their turn in a Scotland shirt? Lievremont picked almost a whole team of tyros for France, and said “go out and play”. The guys I just mentioned, as well as Lawson or Strokosch, would certainly fit into an old Frank Hadden team, the ones that just went out and played, freeing the shackles of the overly prescriptive Williams era. You could argue that what you do is blood them all early on in an easy game, then drip feed the seasoned pros back into the team as the tournament goes on. It seems to be working for France, to get the results that every coach needs to ensure he has the time to oversee his own masterplan to fruition in time for the next World Cup or Six Nations, the building blocks of coaching careers. But for Scotland there are no longer any easy games in the Six Nations. And that’s the final question:
Does Frank Hadden have his own masterplan?
UPDATE: check out Gloucester Rugby for a report on the game.