Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Our Team: 6 and 8

Ryan Wilson, James Eddie, Nick Campbell - Photo © Alastair Ross
Ryan Wilson, James Eddie, Nick Campbell - Photo © Alastair Ross

There may be a dearth of talent in other positions but the Scottish back-row seems to have been going through a purple patch over the past few years. That in itself comes with its own problems when trying to choose the best side and poor selection was consistently flagged as one of Andy Robinson’s major faults.

Despite this wealth of talent, consistency has been a major issue. There was a degree of parity against the All Blacks and South Africa in the autumn but Tonga destroyed Scotland at the breakdown. Some of that destruction may stem from the referees’ liberal interpretation of the laws of the game but strict adherence to the rules does not make for a good back row.

Just ask Richie McCaw. Anyway, having got the opensides out of the way, what about the other back row berths?

Blindside flanker (Number 6): Primarily a defensive role in charge of watching the opposition 8 and 9 at the scrum and smashing runners backwards in defence. Contributions in attack are generally limited to making small yards by punching holes in the defence.

Alasdair Strokosch

The Big Stroker has a hard head on a big set of shoulders (just ask Joe Ansbro). A true blindsider. Consistent in defence but in the traditions of the position his attack play tends to be limited to smash and ruck. Despite his former life as a cage fighter he was part of the back three that allowed themselves to be bullied by Tonga.

David Denton

Alongside Stuart Hogg, Denton was one of the only positives to come out of Scotland’s last 6 Nations campaign. He plays most of his club rugby at 6 and although he was largely anonymous during the 1872 cup matches he tends to raise his game in a Scotland shirt. Had a quieter autumn test compared to his electrifying performances in the spring so the surprise factor may have gone. Steady in defence but not as hard headed as Strokosch he does make good yardage with ball in hand although he often finds himself isolated.

Stuart McInally

Very much Edinburgh’s Fusaro. Gunner’s fans were baffled by his omission during the autumn tests especially as he’d been keeping Denton out of the Edinburgh number 8 shirt. He was off the pace in the first 1872 cup match and outsiders often question what Edinburgh fans and Michael Bradley see that they can’t. He can play in any position across the back row so may offer some versatility from the bench, although it may be a case of jack of all trades, master of none.

Also considered: Ross Rennie (Injured), James Eddie

Number 8

The art of hooking may be dead and the same might be said of specialist 8’s. Most back row players are fairly versatile and coaches will often switch 6’s and 7’s to 8 in order to suit the type of defensive or attacking game plan they want to play. However the benefits of good awareness and footballing skills at the base of the scrum when an opposition scrum half is snipping at your ankles should not be underestimated.

Johnnie Beattie

There are no arguments here. Johnnie Beattie must be Scotland’s first choice 8. His reputation suffered a little in this country when he was brought back into the side too early after injury and was frozen out of the Glasgow squad by Sean Lineen. His move to France has paid dividends. He’s recovered his form and then some forcing Georgia’s legendary number 8 Mamuka Gorgodze into second row at Montpellier.

David Denton

Alongside the other positives highlighted above, Denton’s puppyish enthusiasm is commendable. However his footballing skills let him down and he seems to find himself isolated whenever he breaks from the scrum making him a questionable choice at 8.

Ryan Wilson

Ryan Wilson may be in rare form for Glasgow but it takes something special to hold down a place in a talented Top 14 side which is the only reason why he misses out to Beattie. Many questioned the benefit of project signings but the arrival of Strauss and competition for places has benefited Wilson with the big South African being pushed from 6 to 8 at Glasgow to accommodate the young Scot. Has had a fantastic season and would be unlucky not to beat Denton to a place on the bench.

Also considered: Ally Hogg, Stuart McInally, Kelly Brown

Not considered due to Tom putting him in 2nd row : Rob Harley

Our picks: (6) Alasdair Strokosch (8) Johnnie Beattie. Strokosch comes in because of his defensive abilities and Johnnie Beattie on his current form. Ryan Wilson should feel rightly aggrieved if Denton or McInally were to make the bench ahead of him.

Team so far: Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Rob Harley, Al Strokosch, Roddy Grant, Johnnie Beattie

28 Responses

  1. Cant say I disagree with the comments above although I would be tempted to go with Denton at 6 as he is a fantastic ball carrier and as noted seems to raise his game for the internationals. Would be a pretty strong back row. Beattie adds a bit of flair to the hard working and graft of Grant at the breakdown with Denton able to get over the gain line. Cant say I would disapprove of Strokosch though.

    Cant say I agree with the McInally comment though, his consistency for Edinburgh doesnt justify selection. He comes in and out of games and as you say was anonymous for the first 1872 game and dropped for the 2nd game.

    1. Stroker got the nod more for his defensive abilities than anything else. Also I think Wilson has played 6 for Scotland A in the past and switching from 8 to 6 is not really an issue in terms of technical ability (compared with switching 6s to 8s).
      I do like Denton and you can’t question his commitment. I think he’ll make the training squad but on current form there are others ahead of him.

  2. If Harley joins the Locks then I would not have any complaints because he is also a passible flanker which is ome onfield insurance. Also, having a lock with his workrate and tenacity would be very good for us.

    Regarding 6, withoug Harley in the mix, the choice for me would be Denton. I would like to say that is is a toss up between the two but just feel that Strokers wont be able to shif up in gear as much as Denton.

  3. For me it’s Kelly Brown at 6. He suffers slightly when played out of position at 7, and I don’t think he has the bulk for 8. Denton is a one trick pony, and the trick isn’t that impressive. Brown at 6, Beattie at 8 and Denton watching from the sofa like the rest of us.

    1. I would be happy with Brown on the pitch so long as it is at 6. A fight for possition between him and Denton should raise the level of thier game. Interested to see how this turns out.

      Beattie, Wilson and Vernon should duke it out over 8. Beattie seems the Obvious choice at the moment but all 3 are playing very well in that possition for their respective clubs.

  4. Interesting that Vernon has not been considered by the blog as a number 8 (his actual position). Not sure he will get in though but as has been said he does appear to be scoring quite a few tries for a sub par Sale side.

    I think Beattie would be everyone’s choice at 8 as he showed in 2010, when in form he can compete with the best there is. Since we are spoiled in the back row, I dont think we need to play players out of position to get a blend. Better to go with an actual 6,7 and 8.

    Denton can make an impact off of the bench as he did against New Zealand (I think he came on for Rennie?). Hard running when the oppostion are all ready tired.

    Brown is out of position at 7 so lets go for an actual fetcher. Grant or Fusaro if fit. Strokosch has the rep of being a hard man workhorse and i am sure he does a lot of work that goes unnoticed but I do not think he can justify starting at present. He probably will do against England for fear of changing things to much but I would like to see Brown at 6, Beattie at 8 and Fusaro/Grant at 7.

    Straight swap of Grant Fusaro for Barclay. Almost a Killer Bs part 2.

    1. I only had Beattie at 8 with no discussion on other options at all because for me there’s no question over him being selected (barring injury). Rory twisted my arm a bit to include some chat about the other options. That’s the only reason Vernon isn’t in there.

  5. OK, bearing in mind that I went for Kelly B at 7 (an against the grain selection for me, not having a natural openside, but given the choices available, it made the most sense), I’m going to opt for Dave Denton at blindside accommodating the return of Johnnie Beattie to the navy no.8 shirt.

    I agree completely with the comments above re Denton raising his game for Scotland, and I think the ‘one trick pony’ comments are quite harsh – when on form, and I think he is coming back into some, he gives his team a massive amount of go-forward, constantly getting over the gain line. He might not be the most natural chopper, but with KB at 7, we’re not going to be short of willing tacklers.

    Beattie has seen a revival of his career at Montpellier and seems to be back close to his 2009/10 form again – another big ball carrier and a superbly intelligent player that will get right on the shoulder of Dozer and Richie Gray when they make their big breaks.

    In summary, not being able to pick my preferred chopper-fetcher-carrier combination because of injury, I’m going for Denton-Brown-Beattie with young Rob Harley on the bench (don’t care that Tom mistakenly included him as a second row!! ;) )

  6. Difficult to do 7 separate from 6 and 8 as you need to look at the back row as a unit.

    For me, Kelly Brown has to be included somewhere – his workrate and intelligence are unrivalled. He’s first choice in Saracens

    I would have Beattie in at 8, and then it’s a toss up as to whether you need Denton’s physicality in the starting line-up or as an impact sub – if Denton starts at 6, then Brown starts at 7. If you have Denton on the bench, then you start with Kelly at 6 and either Fusaro or Grant at 7 (nothing to choose between them).

    Have also been impressed with Vernon’s performances at Sale – he’s not far away

  7. As is well said above, we have plenty of talent players for THESE positions, but few current outstanding performances (except for Beattie) to help select the best combination.

    No 8.
    Great to hear that John Beattie has found his mojo, as he has the skills and flair to make a real impact at the Intl level (as he has done before) and it will be exciting to see him in action again for Scotland.
    I would rate both McInally and Wilson as sound Scotland potentials and expect to see both of them get a chance this year. Not McInally’s fault that Bradley plays him out of his natural No 8 position. His more skillful (than Denton) ball play is seen at its best when combined with Denton’s “charge of wild rhinos’ style (ref: 2010 under-20 team). I disagree strongly with the “jack of all trades” comment above.

    No 6
    Its Denton for me (or maybe Harley). Strokosch is a very committed player and usually (what happened against Tonga?) does not let us down, but he is one-paced and not able to raise his game to make a big difference at key moments.

    Sorry to see great players like Kelly Brown and Ritchie Vernon not making it, but this is what competition for places is all about. We must pick on talent, experience and form. If Beattie can really lift his game so can everyone else!

  8. From another thread, thought you all would be interested in this…

    Scottish selections from a dead Russian
    Posted on January 9, 2013 by Chekhovian

    Back in the good old days, before I was cut down in my literary prime by consumption, I once said ‘Man is what he believes’. By that, I of course meant that a human being’s personal beliefs give you a vital insight into their soul. A man who believes in a hateful god is likely to be a hateful man, for instance. A person who believes in astrology is probably a few samovars short of a picnic. That sort of thing.

    So, what to make of the Scottish fan who, year after year, still believes that his team is capable of performing well in the upcoming Six Nations? Despite all evidence to the contrary, this belief persists among many Jocks. Alas, we can only describe this sort of person using a 21st century colloquialism that I am very fond of. He is, most definitely, like, totally batshit insane.

    Nevertheless, I have taken it upon myself to examine the chances of the Scottish team via an in-depth look at their likely players. I have reached these conclusions with the help of a Scottish friend of mine, a rubbish spy now exiled in London, and they are likely to be as poignant and melancholic as one of my short stories.

    Prop – LH

    Nailed on: Ryan Grant – This man may as well have the loosehead jersey tattooed onto his sizeable frame. Or, a number ‘1’ shaved onto his ample Viking beard. A great ball carrier, a superb fringe defender and a beast in the Glasgow and Scotland scrum. He’s been the find of 2012 for Scotland, watch out for him on the Lions tour.

    Others: Um, let’s see, who else. Chunk has retired. Jon Welsh is brilliant but injured. Ally Dickinson is terrible. Cross and Low are primarily TH’s. Grant Shiells at the Toon and big Gordy Reid at Glasgow are uncapped. Basically, don’t get injured Ryan.

    Prop – TH

    Nailed on: Euan Murray – Big Euge. The Rev. Mr Angry Face. Seems to have found his mojo at Worcester, and nailed on at TH if he’s fit and it’s not a Sunday. Why couldn’t Hugo Southwell have been the one to catch the Jesus bug?

    Others: Moray Low, the man with the squarest face this side of Brad Barritt, has been unlucky with injuries but is doing well of late. Solid scrummager, decent in the loose. Geoff Cross is decent in the loose but poo in the scrum. Hurry up and qualify, Mike Cusack.


    Nailed on: No one. Ford is injured and has had a gash season. MacArthur has been very good but is uncapped, and Hall has been ok.

    Others: You stay where you are at shit London Irish, Scott Lawson. Stay, dammit.


    Nailed on: The Small-Faced Chaos Machine, rising high above the ocean of mediocrity that is Sale Sharks. Also a blog contributor (sort of). Nuff said.

    Others: Jim Hamilton adds ballast, Ali Kellock adds leadership. Gilchrist is rising high above the ocean of mediocrity that is Edinburgh rugby at the moment, but is uncapped. Ryder and Swinson at Glasgow are very outside bets. Look out for Jonny Gray for Scotland ‘A’!


    Nailed on: Brown will stay at captain and stay at 6, and Beattie and Denton will share the 8 spot, with the loser making the bench. Openside is a concern, with Barclay, Fusaro and Rennie struggling for fitness. Brown may move across from 6, with Denton going to 6 and Beattie staying at 8. That would be a sizeable backrow.

    Others: Harley has been playing well at Glasgow, and has been covering 7 of late. McInally’s done himself no favours at Edinburgh, and Stroker will probably stay in France.


    Nailed on: Laidlaw will play in some capacity, probably at 9 given the injury to Cusiter and Blair’s retirement. Jackson has been superb lately, so he’ll probably start as well.

    Others: Pyrgos has been his usual solid self at 9. Weir is improving with his time off the bench, and Heathcote seems to be doing well at Bath.


    Nailed on: Matt Scott. He’s been one of Edinburgh’s better performers, though Bradley insists on playing him at 13. He’ll play at 12 for Scotland.

    Others: Horne, Dunbar and Morrison are all outside bets for 12 is Scott gets injured. 13 is a tough one. Alex Grove is a great defender and can attack intelligently. Sean Lamont can’t do anything intelligently, and thus offends my very soul, but he can smashy smashy. NDL is injured, as is Ansbro. Dunbar could play at 13, but is just back from a niggly injury.


    Nailed on: Visser and Maitland. Goodbye try drought! Hopefully!

    Others: Lee Jones’ form has fallen off a cliff, S Lamont could do a job for us off the bench, and Seymour has been ripping it up for Glasgow. M Evans can stay in France, he’s terrible.


    Nailed on: Hogg. Poor start to the season but picking up nicely now.

    Others – Tonks has been one of the best Edinburgh players this season, and Peter Murchie has been solid enough.


    So, where does this leave us? Despite being a perceptive student of all human emotions and interactions, I have nary the slightest f**cking clue what kind of a team Scott Johnson will pick. So, with the help of the rubbish spy, here’s my favoured line-up for a Saturday game with the Rev available and Barclay and Rennie not fit. Shameless bench-sitting for some bench selections

    1. Grant

    2. MacArthur

    3. Murray

    4. Gray

    5. Hamilton

    6. Denton

    7. Brown (c)

    8. Beattie

    9. Laidlaw

    10. Jackson

    11. Visser

    12. Scott

    13. Grove

    14. Maitland

    15. Hogg

    Subs – Shiells, Ford, Low, Kellock, Fusaro/Harley, Pyrgos, Weir/Heathcote, S Lamont, Seymour.

    And with that, I bid you a cheery do svidaniya! Remember Scots fans, hope springs eternal, then kicks you in the balls 80 minutes later, so don’t forget to line up a nice bottle of vodka (or whisky, or whatever you savages drink) to cheer yourself up afterwords. Za zdorovje!

    As told to Chekhovian over a crackly phone line from some cemetery in Mother Russia

    1. Saw this myself on the spoof Haskell blog, very entertaining!

      On the back row debate, I agree with Phoenix a few posts above. The key here is that we DO have numerous options and relatively good strength in depth- therefore I think we simply HAVE to pick on form and go with a recognised 6,7 and 8, and not pick on reputation.

      For that reason, Brown at 6, Fusaro at 7 and Beattie at 8. I would also settle for Denton at 6.
      Johnnie Beattie’s resurgence in France is one that really pleases me. I always believed he was our most naturally athletic and intelligent ball player in the back row and when on his game reminded me of guys like Pierre Spies of SA.

      Rennie being injured is depressing, far and away our best 7.

      It’s the only area of the team I’m optimistic about ahead of the 6 Nations. In contrast to our usual unfounded pre tournament optimism, I’m actually not confident at all going into this one. Maybe that means we might actually do something.

      Now, over to the nancy boys out wide…..

  9. Sorry lads, I am now checking out. off on holiday for a week. i look forward to reading about the rest of the team on my return when the actual squad will have been announced. Bon Chance!

  10. On the back of another MOM last night Beattie has to be one of the first names on the team sheet. One of the form players around Europe and not just Scotland. On current form he will be certainly being watched by Warren Gatland.

  11. Watching Kelly Brown for Saracens against Racing. He needs to start as the Scotland Blindside. Sensational today.

  12. Good chat. Yep – 6 Brown, 8 Beattie, 7 Grant, Denton on the bench for impact – it’s a guid back row.

  13. Assuming Fusaro is fit and gets the nod at 7 , Brown goes into 6. Pretty tough on Stroker as he is playing some tough stuff over in France.
    If Fusaro is out and my selection has Brown across to 7…Stroker gets the nod.
    No 8 would appear to be the peoples champion in Beattie , however, he still seems to drift in and out of these matches a bit, and this suits him.However he’s young and the form player which suits SJ.
    V England

    1 Grant
    2 Ford
    3 Murray
    4 Gray
    5 Hamilton
    6 Brown (Strokosch)
    7 Fusaro (Brown)
    8 Beattie
    16 MacArthur
    17 Reid
    18 Low
    19 Kellock
    20 Denton

  14. Given his continued good form I think number 8 has to go to Beattie.

    BSF is a tougher call for me its very close between 4 players – Brown, Strokcosh, Harley and Denton.

    All have their pros and cons. Strokcosh fantastic tackling and discipline but poor with ball in hand. Brown playing well in a good side and experienced but for me I have just never rated him highly. Harley lives on the edge and seems to have a hard edge. Denton great with ball in hand questions over his defence seem to remain though.

    I anticipate a young backline so think Brown wins vote for first game on experience basis regardless of my personal thoughts. Just don’t make him captain…

    My team so far Grant, Ford, Murray, Gray, Kellock, Grant, Beattie, Brown

  15. I understand people putting Denton at 8 in a way, but he gets isolated nearly every time he gets the ball, if he can stay up and smash his way through that’s fine but he doesn’t he goes to ground and concedes penalties, number 8 first choice should be Beattie with Wilson off the bench, and number 7 should without a doubt be Fusaro he is truly world class I hope he recovers from injury in time, as I don’t like the thought of brown or Denton at 7

    1. So you think Fusaro who has played barely any rugby in the last couple of months due to injury and Barclay playing ahead of him should walk in at 7? He should have gone on the summer tour no doubt but he should not be picked on that basis. I am fearing hugely that Rob Harley is going to get picked there. Would be disasterous.

    2. World class? Calm down. Questionable as to whether he’s the best 7 in Glasgow, let alone Scotland. He’s done very little so far except show good promise in the Rabo.

    3. Not convinced that the words “world class” can be applied to more than one or two Scots at the moment

  16. Fusaro is clearly the best 7 we have by a mile, I understand he has been injured and barely played any rugby but he is still better than all our other options at 7

  17. I agree with Fussaro at 7. If his injury is not a problem then the training camp will decide if he gets the 7 spot. Beattie at 8 and Denton/Brown for 6.

    Beattie is an out and out 8
    Denton is an out and out 6 that is shifted around.
    Brown is an out an out 6 that is shifter around.
    Fussaro is an out and out 7 and abloody good un.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion