Andy Robinson has gone with a blend of youth and experience for his first team of the 2012 RBS Six Nations, but perhaps not in the quantities or areas we had imagined.The pack features the front five that everyone expected to see along with a back row with a nice blend of aggression, athleticism and dynamism, while out wide Lee Jones gets a chance to jump ahead of Tim Visser in the queue to be the next big thing on the wing – even if he is actually not very big.
The selection that will as usual garner the most criticism is the selection of Dan Parks at 10 – but Greig Laidlaw is waiting in the wings as the cover for that position.
Scotland team to face England: Rory Lamont, Lee Jones, Nick De Luca, Sean Lamont, Max Evans, Dan Parks, Chris Cusiter, Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton, Alisdair Strokosch, Ross Rennie, David Denton
Replacements: Scott Lawson, Geoff Cross, Al Kellock, John Barclay, Mike Blair, Greig Laidlaw, Graeme Morrison
Alan Dymock was there to note what was said at the announcement:
Faced with rows of writers Andy Robinson sat, cheeks reddened from camera exposure, and welcomed questions on his Scotland selection. The general messages that he countered with? Scotland need front foot ball, England will play in a specific manner, there were close calls with every decision and that Laidlaw would come on at 10 at some point during the game.
“I’m very happy with the balance that we have in the squad,” he asserted. “We’re going into this fully aware that it’s going to be a frantic, tough, physical test match. We’re starting at nil-nil and we’ve got to build ourselves into the game. We’ve a lot of respect for the coaches there with England.
“You’ve just got to watch Saracens and the way they play, and tactically that is something we need to be fully aware of.
“Lee Jones has been playing well for Edinburgh, he’s been scoring tries. I watched him down in Cardiff in the first Heineken Cup game. I liked his work off the ball. The tries and his work rate against London Irish away from home, I think, were very good and that’s what you’re looking for in players: their work rate and their ability to get on the ball. He’s played well in the last few months.”
On his other youngster he talked of his powerful rise to a starting berth. “David Denton was really unlucky not to be involved in the World Cup. He’d shone through a lot of the work we had done in the training camp and was just unfortunate to miss out, but he’s come back to Edinburgh and I think he has been really outstanding in the way he’s played. He has forced his way into the team.
“He’s a big man, he has big hands and he will be under pressure at the base of scrums. We know that. If your scrum is going forward it is a lot easier. He has got pace off the base of the scrum and he has got good hands.”
When asked on his stand-off options he was at pains to state that Greig Laidlaw has been in impressive form and that he would give him a chance to learn at 10, even in the heated environment of a Calcutta Cup game, but that the much maligned Dan Parks was in good enough form to merit selection.
He reminded everyone that Warren Gatland once wrote off Parks’ attacking ability a few years ago, and he proved everyone wrong. He felt that Scotland’s balance would not be affected by changing his 10s. Of course by having Blair and Laidlaw on the bench it is likely that the pair will come on together around the hour mark.
He also stated that it was close with Rennie and Barclay, but that the Edinburgh 7 deserved his shot.
“He’s played well for Edinburgh – obviously not starting every game – but in the games that he has played in he has really performed as an international rugby player. Because of that, and the selection of Denton, this is Ross Rennie’s time.
“He is slightly different to John [Barclay], in terms of the speed of the game we want to play, and that is the reason for selecting him ahead of John. John has started to find some real form, but he has been finding that form as an 8 or a 6. I’ve been pleased with the way that he has come back into the game and the way that he played in Bath so John is starting to find that confidence back in his game. We’ve got a good selection there.”
No doubt this will be a massive test for those players and Robinson has clearly backed his personnel in the year’s most keenly anticipated game. For the young men thrown into a Calcutta Cup fraught with pressure and close on paper it is a case of just letting the game play, though. They can’t overthink it.
“From my first start for Edinburgh, coming to know it all does seem surreal,” Denton admitted. “We’ve got to put our hands up and get us on the front foot. I feel my ball carrying has been going really well and hopefully I can bring that onto the pitch on Saturday.
“A year ago this would have seemed very far away.”
As for Jones, an excited debutant, he is just focussing on his spot on the wing. When the team sheet was put up “the squad was just kind of there. I couldn’t really concentrate on anything else, to be honest. I don’t know who else is playing!” he joked.
Let’s hope he is as focussed when he faces down the English. The coach and the players are certainly talking confidently.