Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


EMC Tests Roundtable Discussion

So, the EMC Internationals 2012 are done – is there any light at the end of this particular tunnel for Scottish Rugby?

Alan Kerr: This tunnel has a never ending feel to it. The performance against New Zealand had moments, but the performances against both South Africa and Tonga were rotten. The game vs Tonga had all the signs of a team that had lost faith in the coach.
Rory Baldwin: Robinson himself looked like he didn’t have the answers, which for a man like him would have been extremely irritating having worked so hard.
Tom Macleod: I don’t think we can get much worse in terms of quality, morale and direction. The stats do not lie, bar the odd Southern Hemisphere scalp we have failed to consistently beat the teams near to us in world rankings when it actually matters in RWCs and Championships.
Brodie Smithers: The performances were better this year against New Zealand and South Africa than they have been in previous routs. The main difference seems to be the ability of the Southern Hemisphere teams to relentless force errors and capitalise on them. We’re nowhere near being that kind of pressure team. My biggest fear at the moment is the French, especially their scrum. Did you see what they did to the Aussies? Frightening.
If we were truly a 5th-9th place side we would be regularly beating Argentina, Samoa, Tonga, Italy, even Wales. Scotland are now worse than those teams and deservedly so. On the plus side, I believe we ARE potentially a better team than our 12th place ranking suggests, but change needs to be widespread.
Alan Dymock (AD):
What’s that song by Orange Juice? Rip it up and start again. Robinson made some changes to the SRU, a lot of them very good, but our system is still failing. The rugby wasn’t great and now morale has gone. We need to hire some entertainers to come in and cheer everybody up.
RB: I am sure there are some light entertainers going spare at the BBC.
Cameron Black (CB):
There always seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The problem is we never move towards it. We’ve ended up in a semi-comatose state, occasionally spluttering into life. We scored tries against the best team in the world; we failed to cross the line against a team ranked below us even when they were down to 14 men. We dominated the second best team in the world for large parts of a game, but it was a game we left were chasing due to silly unforced errors. We’re constantly chasing our tails. In terms of players Matt Scott, Stuart Hogg and Ryan Grant were excellent. Tim Visser’s all round game still needs to improve. He’s a real attacking threat but can look a bit skittish in defence. With the exceptions of De Luca and Lamont the back line’s still fairly young which bodes well for 2015 when, barring injuries, they’ll be much more experienced.
TM: A team built around Grant, Gray, Pyrgos, and Hogg should be our aim for 2015. Sadly though I fear we will continue to be the worst home nation by some distance until we implement a stronger pathway programme for our young players. Until that happens, we will not see results on the pitch.

Will Ford and Barclay ever be good again? Who else may have played their way out of the new coaches’ thoughts?

TM: People always use the phrase ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’, but that is usually attributed to players who perform at world class level for the majority of the time, which unfortunately doesn’t apply to Ford and Barclay. Yes, we’ve had flashes of them playing fantastically, but never on a consistent basis. Both have been woefully off form for some time, especially Ford. His throwing at line-out time has been dire, but for so long now he hasn’t had anyone pushing him for that number 2 shirt. And, until the Tonga match, I don’t think a coach had ever dropped him. As for Barclay, I really thought he would step up after Rennie injured himself in the first game. It was his chance to get that 7 shirt back, but he was a shadow of his former self this series. They’ve been good servants, but they both need to get back to their clubs and start performing, and a coach needs to come in and say to them ‘guys, you will not be playing for Scotland any time soon if your form doesn’t improve’. I just feel that hasn’t been said to them, and a number of other players. They both need a rocket up the backside.
AK: It’s not just 2 players though – there’s a whole generation that have under performed. The issue is systemic – a culture of underachievement sits across the Scottish game. The issues facing Scottish rugby and football are the same – we are not short of talent but we short of character. Mr ‘Seterday’ Ford is just an example of a player with the talent but not the mental strength to excel at international level. I’d like to say now is the time to blood new players but not convinced these new players are actually there.
BS: Strokosch, Kellock, De Luca, Evans, Traynor and Scott Lawson were all underwhelming
RB: Strokosch had a great summer. Kellock is a fantastic leader in a team with no leadership but easily the third choice second row.
AD: The saddest fact is that we have to wait for Ford as there are no alternatives. Dougie Hall is not even the best hooker at Glasgow and Scott Lawson is too much of a liability in the heat of a test. However, with Barclay, we can afford to say, “take a wee break, pal. Enjoy married life a bit more. We’ve got this”. Then we kick in the back door, dragging Chris Fusaro over the threshold by one of his swollen lugs. It’s time to take a chance in the back row and Fusaro can link as well as Barclay can.
RB: Could we convert Fusaro to a hooker?
CB: All he needs to do is throw straight. No need to learn actual hooking.

I’m not sure about Max Evans now. We’ve been playing him out of position on the wing and when he was moved to his favoured position against Tonga he didn’t really excel. I’d rather see the likes of Ben Cairns and James King getting a chance at centre and we’ve better options on the wing .

AD: I’d just like to see King and Cairns fit and playing rugby. When you look at the injuries they’ve had you can’t help but think of James Caan in Misery.
RB: Agree on King, Edinburgh have a real pace and zip in the midfield when he’s playing.
Fingers crossed for the 6 Nations then.
RB: Hogg may well end up in the centre as has been oft mooted, but then you need to find a full back who works as hard as him.
CB: Greig Tonks had a stormer against the Ospreys. It might be interesting to have Tonks and Hogg switching back and forward during a game, mixing it up a bit.
RB: There’s Maitland still to come too we hope. Visser, Hogg and Maitland would be some back three, on paper anyway. You could slot Brown or Tonks in too and move Hoggy into the centre and there is still plenty of threat. Maybe not so much defence.

SRBlog: What was the biggest mistake made by a coach or player over November? (Scotland or otherwise)

BS: Robshaw, Robshaw, Robshaw. Although none of the home nations have had a great Autumn. Wales are in pieces, England lack leadership, Ireland are soft and Scotland? Well, don’t get me started on Scotland.
For us, the mistake by the players and coaches to try and out-muscle South Africa for 60 minutes when it was clear after 10 we were not getting through them. We could have won that game by just being a bit more ‘heads up’. Elsewhere, it’s hard to look beyond Leigh Halfpenny’s missed grounding of the ball against Samoa which gave them the match.
AD: For Scotland: Running at Etzebeth and Louw and Alberts. Rucking against Etzebeth and Louw and Alberts. Trying to tackle Etzebeth and Louw and Alberts. Also, against Tonga, chucking in the likes of Heathcote at a painfully tense period of the game, when it could have gone either way. Robinson finally tried to shake things up and renege on his conservatism, but there were actually too many changes against Tonga. Chris Robshaw had a shocker, though, didn’t he?! Sheesh.  Asking to take his decision back from the ref almost made me weep.

Is Pyrgos now the number one scrum half choice? Whither Greig Laidlaw now? Tom Heathcote? Discuss.

BS: Depends who gets the coaching gig. For me Rory Lawson is the pick of a mediocre bunch. We seem to have gone from riches to rags in this area. On the plus side Murray McConnell looks like a great prospect.
TM: Going forward and looking to the future, I think Pyrgos has to be first choice if his form for the Warriors continues – he gives us a bit of zip. I think now should be the time that certain Scotland players follow Andy Robinson and say goodbye to the International stage – Mike Blair being one of them.
AD: Blair no longer looks like he can handle the pace of the international game. Shame, but time and onrushing defenders wait for no man.
TM: Laidlaw for me has never been an international fly half. I don’t like the view that you cannot be a small guy and play at the highest level – but to be one of those players you have to have the magic and jinking that Shane Williams had, or Craig Gilroy has. Laidlaw does not, and offers little threat past the boot. He is a liability in defence and no opposition are going to worry about him taking it up to the line himself.
RB: I disagree that Laidlaw isn’t a threat, but his particular sphere of operations is broken play or sneaking through tiny gaps, which suits him at scrum half but at standoff the opposition have too much time to get ready for him.
AD: Laidlaw intrigues. He is a good nine, and will run round a ruck, even if there is a defender there, if he thinks it is on. Pyrgos needs a bigger gap, but is quicker across the turf. Both could be used, as Blair and Cusiter used to be. However, who do they supply? I would need to see more of Heathcote in the heat of an international against a more organised team. Weir still has not taken the step to the next level yet, and I worry that he may not have the confidence to do so for a wee while. Laidlaw is the brashest of our fly-halves.
One of the problems we seem to have is being fixated on players holding down specific positions. Hopefully the new manager might be a bit more flexible. You’ve got to play the conditions. Greig might be a good choice at 10 in some games but not others. Same at scrum half. Pyrgos was impressive but others might have a different skill set that suits the style of play the manager wants.
RB: Hmm. I’d like to see more players shuffled less. I think we need to find GL a position and stick to it.
AK: The fact that we even have this level of discussion of who should play 9 and 10 etc says to me we are goosed in both positions. I’m sick and tired of fitting square pegs in round holes. To my mind the players suffer from being shuffled all over. Fine at club level where no-one is paid to turn up every week so the same guys won’t always be present, but surely at international level players should be in a primary position. Robinson’s greatest issue was indecisiveness: whoever the new coach is has to pick a player in a positions and keep him there.

Should Scotland stick to playing at Murrayfield, as a narrow pitch like Pittodrie does not seem to do us any favours?

AK: It shouldn’t make a difference but the Scottish team is so fragile I’m afraid the move to the smaller pitch is detrimental. Whilst it’s great to have a full house, that’ll not last if the team choke in the way they did against Tonga. It was a shameful performance.
TM: I like the idea of taking games across the country to expose communities and supporters to rugby more. A re-think is maybe needed on the stadiums we play at though. Pittodrie is not ideally suited. I’d like to see a match at Hampden – granted it’s not far from Edinburgh, but still. And a game in Inverness I’m sure would be welcomed.
RB: We’ve had the odd U20s game.
TM: Scotland need to re-engage with the Borders communities as well, that is our rugby heartland and it’s been ignored really by the national side. Let’s take a few A games, age group level matches etc to places like Melrose. And with a few temporary stands, maybe an international down there in the Borders would be a big success.
BS: We need to be able to adapt to whatever pitch size we play on. As Jim Telfer said “these are excuse that weak players use”.
CB: Agreed. There’s every chance we’ll find ourselves playing at a football stadium during the next World Cup on a similar size pitch and we’ll have to adapt our game plan accordingly.
AD: No point haein’ a wee road show if we can replicate the crowds from the All Blacks and Springbok games. The mission should be to fill out Murrayfield at all times, rather than heading to a much smaller venue. Murrayfield is home and Scotland will always play there. A wee bit more marketing elbow grease required, perhaps.

Mind you, I did used to love watching games in Perth, when Caledonia played there. McDiarmid always felt busy. Rose tinted glasses, maybe?

CB: I think it’s a good idea for the team to get out to the provinces. I’m not sure the Tonga match would have attracted the same numbers to Murrayfield. I agree with Tom about getting age-grade and A internationals played in different areas as well. You just have to look at the crowd that turned up to Netherdale for the match against England last year to see demand is there.
Youth internationals and A games? Dens Park. The home of head tennis.
What can you say after that?

Is there any point even thinking about the Lions?

AK: No.
RB: Before last weekend the pundit’s teams were positively Scot-heavy. It will all depend how the Six Nations goes. Gatland is unlikely to put much stock in how Glasgow go in the league, and both teams are all bout out of Europe.
TM: As you said Rory, any players who want to be on that plane have to step up during the Six Nations. On the plus side, Wales’ potentials too have fallen out of form this Autumn so it’s still all to play for. My only picks to tour at the moment would be Gray, Grant, and Visser.
AD: I am a firm believer that Lions talk should be banned before April. Just look at the pressure poor Richie Gray is under. Wrecking his body for club and country in a slavish endeavour to improve either, and they are both still in the dumps.
BS: I think Gray will go if fit, no matter what. Visser has a shout but for me the dark horse is Kelly Brown. If he can re-capture some of his pre-injury form he may just sneak in.
CB: The Lions squad isn’t going to be decided on the autumn tests but it’s given a couple of players an opportunity to get their names on Gatland’s long list.
RB: Conversely, this autumn has done some serious damage to any number of big names.
CB: It’s going to add another dimension to the Six Nations. If players can’t even use that as a motivational tool then we’re really screwed.

Question 8: Who would you have as the new Scotland coach?

RB: Wayne Smith for me. Talks sense, vaguely Scottish, success at all levels.
TM: Wayne Smith would be brilliant, but I can’t see him leaving a Super 15 winning Chiefs side. Scotland would be a step down for him, and smaller pay packet I imagine.

The easiest thing is promote Lineen but will that bring any serious change? I think we need an outsider to come in and bash a few egos, be his own man and tell the players exactly where they are right now, but set out where he wants them to be as time goes on. Nick Mallett could be that man, but I still have doubts about him. Out of realistic applicants and targets, no-one floats my boat too much.

If it was my dream choice? A triumvirate of Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Jim Telfer! Odds on that?!

BS: Brian Redpath
AD: It’s that Dark Knight thing of getting the coach we deserve, rather than the coach we need.

Scott Johnson was not a cheap appointment, [rumours around £200k a year]. Robinson may have quit, but he will have done so in good faith and he was on a whopper of a five year deal. Murrayfield already has Lineen on the payroll with a nonsensical remit, and Johnson may be too pricey to punt.

Any talk of whingeing, fighting and fall outs is commonplace in a high pressure environment. No one told me Johnson had caused any squad melting barneys. He just gets under people’s skin.

If there is some cost-cutting duo of Lineen and Johnson it could be quirky and they may even be innovative, but it would be doomed to end quickly.

I just can’t see Scotland opening up the cheque book before the coaching system Robinson built is cleaned up first.

CB: The options go from the unobtainable to the unemployable. My worry is we get another Matt Williams who comes in and tells players they’re crap.
RB: They’ll be feeling pretty crap at the moment.
CB: We need someone who can come and instill some passion in the players and build on the fact we now seem capable of scoring tries. Ideally I’d like to see McGeechan back, maybe with a view to bringing the likes of Chalmers, Graham, Redpath and Tait in to boost their experience. Coaching any international side is probably 50% technical and 50% mental. I’m not suggesting a foreign coach would be bad for Scotland just that like any “outside” player they have to have a passion and understanding of what it means to represent your country. The manager’s job is to get that through to the players and get them fired up.
RB: Players seem to like Johnson, he just doesn’t do so well when he’s the top man. I can’t really see him co-existing with Smith or Lineen. Does Lineen really want the job? Maybe he is happy where he is. Arguably he could do more good there in terms of developing player base.
CB: If the players like Johnson, could a good cop/bad cop combo work?
AD: Who would be RobboCop? Lamont, because he’s so fragile they have to put him back together every three days? Strokosch because he has the same level of emotion?
CB: McGeechan is a coach close to retirement, Johnson is a coach living on the edge. Not sure who’d be Joe Pesci mind?
I think you go for whoever is the most Weegie.
For me Wayne Smith would be awesome but unlikely – I thing we should be approaching Todd Blackadder, plenty of experience in Super 15 and some knowledge on Scottish rugby. To me it’s depressing looking at the options because it’s the same old faces linked with the RFU job. If we had ambition we might move for Schmidt at Leinster… at least he has a record to sing about!

The last thing we need is another job for the boys.

10 Responses

  1. Interesting discussion, gents. Thanks for putting it up.

    I largely agree with your points re Scotland. We were too timid, too soft (mentally and physically) and too dunderheaded versus Tonga and South Africa. There are too many players, like Ford, that have been cosseted by their careers in Scotland. No one has had the gumption to drop them, or tell them their current form isn’t good enough by half. Our players need to be exposed to more pressure earlier on in their careers, and they need to realise that every performance for their country could be their last, no matter who they are or how good they were in the past. The Glasgow squad seem to have cultivated a tough, positive attitude towards their play. They are totally committed, and every team knows they are going to get the hell kicked out of them no matter what when they rock up to Scotstoun. More of this at an international level please.

    As for players, I think guys like Scott Lawson, Kyle Traynor, Nick de Luca, Max Evans and Ally Strokosch have run their course. They should be put in a ‘Break Glass in Case of Emergency’ box, only to be used if the entire team comes down with beri beri or something.

    It’s clear that we have a good set of forwards. Ryan Grant has been superb, and our front row could be really scary (in a good way!). MacArthur should put pressure on Ford, and we have good depth at lock and in the backrow But, our halfback hinge and midfield pairing need a lot of work. For me, Laidlaw is a 9. He’s done well covering flyhalf, but cover he will always be. He needs to play at 9 for Edinburgh, with Hunter and/or Leonard trusted with plenty of gametime at 10. Laidlaw is the best scrumhalf we have on offer in Scotland. He’s got a great rugby brain, good quick service and as you say, he offers a threat from the base of the ruck. We should be thinking about pairing him with either Weir or Heathcote, as they can both kick long for territory (unlike Laidlaw) and have a decent passing game. Weir is often called a mini-Dan Parks, but his game for Scotland A vs the Saxons shows what he can do when he’s given an ambitious game plan and creative players around him. I’d like to keep Hogg at 15, with Dunbar moving into the 13 slot.

    So, my squad to face England at Twickers would be (current injuries permitting, and assuming all selected are on top form)

    1. Grant
    2. Ford (only with a massive kick up the arse)
    3. Murray
    4. Gray
    5. Kellock
    6. Brown (c)
    7. Fusaro
    8. Denton
    9. Laidlaw
    10. Weir
    11. Visser
    12. Scott
    13. Dunbar
    14. Maitland
    15. Hogg

    Subs – Welsh, Low, MacArthur, Hamilton, Beattie, Pyrgos, Heathcote, Tonks

  2. Interesting food for thought there guys, particularly the point raised of possibly converting Fusaro to hooker. Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t a certain Schalk Brits make the same switch when he was deemed ‘too small’ to play as a flanker?

    Unfortunately all the talk of a new coach and what they can achieve is rendered meaningless when the pro sides and the amateur game remain a bit of a shambles. But it is chicken and the egg stuff.

    Ideal world for me – third pro team with seasoned Scottish amateur coaches, maybe some southern hemisphere assitance to spread the talent pool/offer more opportunity. A greater degree of honesty from all concerned and Chris Cusiter to be first choice scrum half and not injure himself within 10 minutes :)

  3. I am one of the few people that feel AR coaching was a big factor in our poor performance. People forget that he was a forwards coach and he loved to play like that. Lots of kick chasing, territory, forward grunt work, only running off 9. We got predictable and wasted all the talent we had in the backs. Against SA we saw what scotland could do with quick ball but then against tonga we went right back to hit and hope. Glad he is gone.

    As for players, I really think de luca wont play again for a while, really not sure what AR was thinking (but then he did bring parks out of retirement). I do think laidlaw should be a 9 as he tacticle kicking/awareness is not that of a natural 10.
    I was also very frustrated with Denton. With his explosive running if he just attacked the outside/inside shoulders he would break tackles most of the time. Instead he runs straight into forwards when they have their feet set and he dosnt make much ground.

    Just for paulg; I was really impressed with Lamont for these internationals, he didnt show much guile but he got trhough a lot of work and made a couple of great carries.

  4. Guys good post, very relevant points and interesting discussions.
    I think whoever comes in as the new coach needs to start with a totally blank sheet of paper for a team sheet. Pick on CURRENT form. Time has come to say thanks and good bye to a number of the older players, unless they can find some form back at their clubs. That said the balance needs to be found between experience and new caps. Lets pick guys in their best position rather than move them to get them onto the team sheet.

    We must continue to try and spread the rugby message and playing away from Murrayfield is part of that. With a new Aberdeen stadium on the way its a perfect opportunity for the SRU to get involved and base a third pro team there and have a proper rugby pitch installed.

    Lions, no point can’t see any of the Scotland team getting near the test team. Very hard to pick guys who have lost 10 of the last 13 matches.

    Next coach, difficult one. A clean slate is required so I would have someone outwith the current setup. As small as possible management and support team that creates some fighting spirit in the squad, us against everyone else attitude! Short list – Jake White, Eddie O’Sullivan, Nick Mallet.

  5. Lamont deserves a place in the team just for his passion. You know he’s going to play as well as he can everytime. He doesn’t make excuses and has some obvious confidence. When he slammed the ball down in the Six Nations game vs Wales he was jeered at but at least he actually showed some emotion.
    Al Kellock deserves the captaincy, he gets things going as soon as he comes off the bench which he shouldn’t be on in the first place

  6. You can’t just pick players based on passion though, otherwise we’d all be in for a shout. We need to rebuild (again) with a new coach for 2015 AND the 6N. Skill levels in the backs are woeful compared to other nations BUT if the players are honest with themselves, the fans and the paymasters we could improve dramatically. Agree on the 3rd Pro team as this is now a numbers game.

  7. Great chat boys and some excellent points raised. One of the biggest things to come out of it is noone really has a team that picks itself and there is so much conversation about a lot of key positions which is a concern

    Lions – tickets go on sale here in Oz to the public tomorrow and am torn on whether to even buy any as the whole concept of another Scotless Lions series (last tour only Ford got on in a test and that was as a replacement in the last game) really depresses me

    Can’t see any Scots making the test team this tour either so am now giving serious thought to getting out of OZ and going to South Africa to see the Scotland tour there instead

    Coach – We need to look outside Scotland and outside anyone who has had anything to do with the Scotland side in the past.

    For me there is only one place to look and that is New Zealand and to look there for a PROVEN Super 15 HEAD Coach or failing that a proven ITM Cup head coach. There are even proven Super rugby coaches who are now head coaches of ITM Cup sides

    Toddy’s name has been passed around but while I love the man I don’t think he has actually proven himself yet. There are some coaching exits from the Crusaders in the last 6 months and I think this coming season will be a true measure of his organisational and coaching ability when he has brought in his own selections

    A NZ coach would suit the Scottish mentality and connect with the players as well as giving us the sorely lacking phase play structure we so desperately need

    As for assistants – Euan Mackenzie said it best about when he got the Reds job and had to recruit assistants – his primary criteria were for coaches who had been successful with previously under-performing sides and who had brought them success while only having limited resources – hence his hiring of Jim Mackay and Matt Taylor

    Scotland is no different to how the Reds were 3/4 years ago and look at what has been achieved there

    This is no time to look to old coaches like Geechs or put a holding pattern in place. A bold decision needs to be made now and the 2013 6 Nations used as a building phase for the summer tour which in turn will test how the new regime and systems are performing – All with a view to the us peaking for the 6 Nations of 2014

  8. Excellent discussion and some equally good points made.
    Third pro team is a must but unless we can reduce the debt at a faster rate it is unlikely that we will see this within the next 3 to 5 years. A few things could help speed this up. 1- Sponsorship of Murrayfield stadium. This is sure to bring in several £million (I understand the debt to be around £13M). 2- Rich rugby enthusiasts donating or getting involved. Unfortunately, with the current crop at the SRU, I don’t see this happening anytime soon.
    Scrum half – Laidlaw should be a 9. Pyrgos is, as I have always said, consistently good but seems to lack some of the cheekiness needed for a 9. Hopefully Matawalu will rub off on him. We also need to keep an eye on Sean Kennedy as I think he is only just behind Pyrgos but has all the attributes of a good 9. One to watch, at the very least.
    Standoff – Weir is my first choice but I feel he is not using his instincts and natural talent. The boy is strong and surprisingly fast. He is also a fighter and seems unafraid of a scrap even when the involved players are a foot taller. His problem, as I see it, is that he is now institutionalised. The first few games I seen him play at the Warriors he showed all the natural skill and talent that you would want from a 10. All he needed was guidance. It looks now that he plays according to a script and rarely looks up to read the pitch or the opposition. I have seen him take the ball at pace, seen him take it at pace and into contact and it’s a massive improvement from what he does 90% of the time. Maybe a good pair of centres will help his performance. Tom Heathcote needs to be in the Scotland training camp at least.
    Centres – I agree with the comments about Max Evans and Nick DeLuca. Dunbar, Horne, S Lamont, Matt Scott and James King should be the people for us to focus on. I would also like to see what Mark Bennett could bring to the table but without any game time in the Rabo, I doubt this will happen. Stuart Hogg is an option but I am undecided on where he should be.
    Flankers- I am glad to see Fussaro getting a mention but I think we need to consider Rob Harley as well. It helps that he is also a very capable Lock. I try to look out for Kelly Brown when watching the Aviva highlights but can’t say that I have really noticed him stand out. Would still include him in the training camp though.

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