Let me set the scene for you: Scotland play 2 EMC Tests with 6 back-three options. They play one game against Ireland with S. Lamont, Paterson and Walker. Then they play against Italy with R. Lamont, Evans and Danielli. Then they take out Walker and send the rest off to New Zealand.
My question for you is: What should Scotland’s back-three be?
Uh-huh. Mmmm. Ok. Right. I see.
Well forget all that, I’m now going to ask a few ex-internationals instead because –no offence!- I’m pretty sure we would all love to hear what Scotland and Lions greats Ken Scotland and Andy Irvine have to say instead!
“Selection is tough,” Andy Irvine tells me. “All 5 have a chance and our 5 are better than Romania, Georgia and Argentina’s options. England will be a challenge, but there is no huge difference in class and ability. Ashton is great, and other options are good but these guys don’t seem hugely better.
“They [the coaches] will have a shadow test side in their heads, but there is no way of knowing. They will know what they want against Argentina and England but that could change depending on performances. Any reasonable idea can change on tour- a shadow test side will not be the same.”
Scotland, the full-back who arguably paved the way for players like Irvine with his movement and kicking-style, tends to agree.
“Going onto the plane I would see Paterson at fullback with Evans and S. Lamont on the wings,” he assures me. Smiling, though, he returns with, “They should all get an opportunity in the early games. Selection should be on form shown in New Zealand to play in what will hopefully be the crunch games against Argentina and England.”
It seems two of our nation’s best ever full-backs are in agreement. We all know who are likely to be the starting back-three players but we would all like to think that, during the biggest tournament of their lives, players will be picked on form rather than reputation.
It must be said, as well, that selection can easily come down to what game Robinson and Townsend want to play. Physical or stealthy? Blunt force or deft linking?
”If Rory Lamont was to have a really outstanding game and Dan Parks was also playing well and kicking his goals there could be an argument for Rory Lamont to start ahead of Paterson,” Scotland suggests before Irvine insists “Evans has looked sharp. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t start. Sean Lamont has had a good season and Mossy [Paterson] is reliable and a great kicker. On the other hand: Rory Lamont has power.
“It is a difficult selection and it depends on whether they want power and size or elusiveness. We have a contrast. There are 2 jinkier guys and 3 with size.”
My feeling, for what it is worth, is that we may see a variation on the assumed Argentina/England back three in the first game. Romania will be a tester.
Against Georgia we will most likely have our set back-three out so they have time to gel and work as a unit, so players will have the game against Romania as their final opportunity. After that there is probably no changing Robinson’s mind.
Irvine suggested to me that the force of some of our back-three could compliment our forwards. I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that. I have previously said that we would have to be pretty desperate to start both Lamonts in an international game. I stand by this. Both are immensely explosive players but they isolate themselves and for all their magnificent bashing and bullocking from the halfway they both struggle to pass at the right time.
As well as this Evans has a lot to prove. His chipped try against England in the 6N brought delight to most, but it also brought a sigh of relief from many. He had flattered to deceive in the two previous 6Ns and if he hadn’t finally started converting his potential most would have been fed up of his feint and attempted outside break with no pass at the end.
Gladly we will no longer see him at 13 as he is set to be a winger and if he chases manfully and comes off of the shoulder of whoever is at 13 from a broken field he may finally start racking up tries. His unquestionable talent could be put to proper use.
Then we come to Paterson.
The underdog that epitomises Scottish Rugby and delights neutrals with his wee-man-come-good style is heading to his 4th World Cup. A heroic feat. He has also played his way to a likely starting berth in the big games in New Zealand. I will admit I had written him off in the 6N and although he was brushed aside at points his positioning and cover/side on tackling was much better than R. Lamonts.
Would I start him Down Under?
Yes I would. At full-back. However, when we come to play England I may want him to be put on the wing so that he can do the thinking for the full-back and cover that position when we send Lamont (either of them) up the middle. Just to start. That or replace him early in the second half, but we do desperately need his talk and experience.
As for Danielli… well he has a fight on his hands, doesn’t he? He is possibly there by a spot of bad luck on Nikki Walker’s part and he will enjoy being on tour regardless of how much game time he gets. I cannot see him starting a game but in a game against Romania or Georgia he could come on, and probably dot down knowing him, in the last quarter of play.
Either way we have more options that Argentina, more quality than our Eastern rivals and enough experience to challenge England. I would say we are fairly set. I am confident. By the sounds of things so are Ken and Andy.
What’s that, Ken?
“We have more problems in your department than the back three, I think,” he says.
Ah. Yeah. The front 5. Don’t worry about that, Ken. We’ll get to that. Let’s just enjoy the fact that Evens, S. Lamont and Paterson are happy and comfortable while R. Lamont and Danielli are hungry and optimistic. I’ll get on to those forwards boys later.
“Fingers crossed for a successful trip, then” Mr Scotland intones.
I’m with you there.