Our Team: Hookers

Let’s be honest shall we? Hands up who’s bored to tears by Ross Ford? I thought so.  He seems like a nice guy and is certainly a big, powerful unit, but at the moment he just isn’t the dynamic, in-form international hooker Scotland needs. His underwhelming form in  the World Cup, the last (few) 6 Nations  and more recently the Autumn Tests has shown little consistency or improvement on the player who was once such a good prospect. Andy Robinson tried making him captain and even ‘resting’ him for the debacle against Tonga but to no avail. In actual fact, the recent deterioration in accuracy of Scotland’s line-out may suggest he’s going backwards in terms of progress and development.

Half of the battle seems to be the lack of any real pressure for his place in the national side.  So who are the contenders for Scotland at hooker?

Ross Ford

Close your eyes and try to remember all the times Ford has gotten the ball for Scotland in open play. It’s not hard, it happens quite often; but now try to visualise him passing the ball or off-loading.  Difficult isn’t it? That’s because it rarely happens. What usually happens is he trucks it up, gets nailed and makes about a metre of gain. This is fine for statistics but for overall team strategy it’s a killer. The one-time British & Irish Lion needs to find some creativity and dynamism from somewhere because currently he looks like a prop playing at hooker. However, he will inevitably still start all Scotland’s 6N matches.

Dougie Hall

A solid player and a good pro but simply not a world-class hooker. He does his dirty work, gets about the park and his line-out is the most trustworthy we have but he fails to excite, inspire or create when in the number two shirt. True world-class hookers are like a fourth back-row whilst being destructive in the scrum. Hall offers neither of those aspects.  Will still probably make the bench though.

Scott Lawson

Although he has recently remedied his alarming habit of making critical errors when brought on as a sub for Scotland his sheer lack of bulk at International level will always catch him out against the scrummaging powerhouses of the likes of France, Italy or South Africa. He has been playing consistently well in the Premiership for Gloucester and London Irish respectively for a number of seasons now but just can’t seem to transfer this onto the field for Scotland. Can’t see him unseating Ford but may oust Hall on the bench.

Steve Lawrie

Made his latest comeback last week for Edinburgh and is a well-regarded player but simply hasn’t got enough back-to-back Edinburgh games under his belt to make a decent assessment of whether he’d do any good for his country. Currently in big danger of becoming the next Andy Kelly and failing to kick his career forward in favour of the comforts of bench warming for Edinburgh. Contract extensions and continued faith hint at something better though. Time will tell which way he goes but for now he’s not at the races.

Pat MacArthur

Much has been prophesised about young Pat and his fledgling performances for the Warriors have certainly shown promise. May make the squad if an injury occurs to the incumbent trio but more likely to go with the A team for the big game against the Saxons. Gave Ford a tough time in the first of the 1872 games but not quite ready to take his Scotland shirt, not just yet anyway.

The Next Crop

Alun Walker, Finlay Gillies, Fergus Scott and George Turner are all in development with the Scottish pro-teams. It’s great to have so many young Scottish hookers all coming through and Gillies in particular looks the part. However, it will take a number of seasons to decide whether or not we have a ‘golden generation’ of lynchpins to look forward to.

The Wildcard

Okay I’m going to put this out there now. I think Scotland and Edinburgh missed a big trick when they let Sean Crombie go. When I look now at Andy Titterall playing for Edinburgh I don’t see anything he does as being better than what could have been achieved by a better developed and fully nurtured Sean Crombie. For inventiveness around the field, powerful breaks and sheer try scoring nous he should have never been allowed to leave.

In the meantime, the best we can hope for is that the re-introduction of Stevie Scott to the position of line-out coach can help Ross Ford regain his consistency in the set-piece, which then maybe leads to some confidence and hunger in the rest of his performances. Maybe one day, chucking him the ball in the midfield won’t be akin to throwing it into an empty phone box. Here’s hoping for all our sakes. For now my reluctant choice at hooker for Scotland is Ross Ford.

Team so far: Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Rob Harley

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Journalist and rugby player for @LangholmRugby and the @PigbariansRFC, please follow @brodiesmithers

31 comments on “Our Team: Hookers

  1. Eoin on

    Brodie, pretty much agree with everything you’ve got there – would love to find the rocket that would lead Ford to play to his potential. Am hoping that Stevie Scott, as you say, is that rocket. Would also have Pat MacArthur involved in the squad to add some additional pressure – he looks the business. Hall or Lawson, much of a muchness for me these days

  2. MJW on

    I’m fairly surprised that you’ve placed MacArthur so low in that list. For my money, he’s the best Scottish hooker out there at the moment. He’s accurate in the lineout and does all the dirty work you’d of expect a top class hooker. Hall is a solid pro, as you say, and is near the end of his career. Scott Lawson is deeply mediocre, always has been. Ford needs a rocket up his backside, and picking MacArthur to play against England with Ford on the bench is just the sort of remedy that is needed. MacArthur does the simple things well, and deserves his shot.

    • David Dailly on

      Agreed. MacArthur being given the starting slot my inspire him well beyond what we have seen. As it stands the only negative about him, compared to Ford, is that he is smaller. MacArthur makes breaks and is quite nippy so makes the yards as well. He also seems to be fairly alert.

      Ford as an impact sub would be good in my opinion. Bringing someone of his size and strength onto the park in the last 20 could be a massive boost. Just need to make sure he keeps his line out straight.

      If Johnson is going to do what we think he is going to do, play the long term game and look beyone life in this 6N, then MacArthur should be his 1st or 2nd choice hooker.

  3. Phoenix on

    I have to agree with the above, Ford is too comfortable and out of form and Dougie Hall and Scott Lawson have had enough opportunities to prove to be anything other than average and have failed. They are both frankly quite anonymous when on the pitch, match losing penalties aside.

    MacArthur deserves an opportunity if only to at least try something new. Ford could provide cover on the bench as impact or if it all goes wrong. This will have the knock in effect of giving him something to prove when he does appear. If we are building toward the world cup or at least a win in the 6 nations, I think MacArthur should be selected. His line out appears to be relatively consistent and as others have alluded too, he offers himself in the loose. Not in a position to comment on his scrummage as I have not seen enough.

    MJW – do you happen to operate under the alias of ‘Chekovian’ on other forums? Small world.

  4. MJW on

    “MJW – do you happen to operate under the alias of ‘Chekovian’ on other forums? Small world.”

    I do indeed, Phoenix. What gave me away? I operate under that guise for the now abandoned Guardian blogs and the spoof Haskell blogs at http://www.artofdomination.wordpress.com (the latter is a great site, lots of fun, and needs more Scots rugby fans to give their input). I’m Captain_Sensible on the Forum of Scottish Rugby Supporters and 606v2.

    • Phoenix on

      Indeed, yes I recognised you from the guardian forums of which I used to be an avid reader but I see it is a bit of a baron wasteland these days. Why the fall out with the Guardian?

    • MJW on

      The Guardian introduced a terrible new comments system which made it impossible to have proper conversations. In protest, most of the regulars have moved across to the spoof Haskell blogs I linked to above. You’re more than welcome to give the site a visit, the more the merrier. The current blog under discussion is one I wrote on the Scotland team.

    • Macquiff on

      Alrighty Chek. Happy New Year an aw tha…

      Totally agree re your hooker summation, MacArthur has to start although I fear the mouldy turnip will continue to get the nod.

      That England squad scares me!

    • MJW on

      Yeah Quiff, they have ridiculous depth in a lot of places. Haven’t seen you around on the Haskell blogs recently, where have you been?

  5. Dave on

    Brodie, I think your summary of Ford’s performances over the last couple of years is harsh. I thought he played well during the last RWC and he had a pretty decent 6Ns last year until the Italy debacle. Did Scotland not have the best lineout stats in the 6Ns before the Italy game? He had in particular a huge game against France. He was also instrumental in Edinburgh’s HC run and he also had a pretty solid summer tour, captaining the side to 3 wins. On his day, with his confidence up he can be a really good player.

    Admittedly, he is not in good form this season and his throwing at the lineout is erratic. However, I think it is wide of the mark to say he has been consistently poor over that period. Part of the problem is that he is in a group of maligned players that includes Blair, de Luca, etc who seem to attract more criticism than their teammates when things do not go well.

    Also, as you point out we have a serious lack of alternatives at hooker. They really need to address this problem position, whether it is through developing some of the younger players you mention or through ‘project players’. Some people have been pushing for MacArthur but I am still yet to be convinced. I quite like Lawson but as you say he lacks size and Hall is a solid club player but is not test class. I also have concerns about his lineout throwing. I am hoping Lawrie will be an option at some stage but he’s only just back from long term injury. The player that I have been hoping will come through at hooker is Fraser Brown. However, Heriot’s are playing him in the back row. I’m not sure whether a switch back to hooker is in the offing our not.
    Saying all that, based on his current form I think that Ford should be made to fight for his place and should maybe start the 6Ns on the bench, with the hope that it galvanises him. However, I read in the SoS that Stevie Scott had been hired predominantly to work on the lineout and Ford’s throwing, so it sounds like they are pulling out the stops to try and get Ford ready for Twickenham.

    • Phoenix on

      Fraser Brown has been training as hooker for Glasgow a few times this season when called up so not completely off the table yet. George Turner is also certainly one to watch in the future. It would be good to see him get a chance at Edinburgh althogth sadly he is injured at the moment.

  6. Rampant on

    As a former Hooker myself, this is the one (ok, the main) position in the team that worries me. Ford simply doesnt have the competition to push him to kick on and hasnt improved.

    The problem with having 4 Scotland Hookers in 2 teams is that they wont get enough game time to improve. They all know they will get rotated and play at least 30mins every game. Where is the competition in that?

    Time for the SRU to ship 2 of them out to English or French clubs to improve and allow the “Next Crop” to deputise.

  7. David Dailly on

    Been looking for Fergus Thomson but cant find any info on what he is doing. Anyone know if he is still playing?

  8. Brodie Smithers on

    Thanks for all the comments. Couple of quick points. The list is not in any kind of order so Pat McArthur being below Stevie Lawrie is not a ranking. As Rory rightly pointed out Fergus Thompson is retired through injury. The other person I couldn’t find hide nor hair of is Andy Kelly. Rumours persist that he moved to London Scottish but I can’t find him. He was never really a contender anyway but I am curious whether he’s still playing or not.
    Pat McArthur is a great prospect who is in good form just now but to put him straight in against England at Twickenham would be suicide, particularly for ‘new’ coach. Imagine if the line-out went to pieces in the first half and the inevitable scrum onslaught gets on top of the Scottish front row then that could really damage MacArthur’s confidence and career (Not to mention Scott Johnston’s!).
    Right now MacArthur is one for the future and we remain with no real alternative to Ross Ford. Let’s hope he shows what he is (occasionally) capable of during this Six Nations. We’re going to need him on form.

  9. MJW on

    Thanks for the response, Brodie, but I still disagree. I thin k we’re too reluctant in Scotland to try new players. I’m not suggesting that we throw in Mark Bennett or Dougie Fyfe against Manu Tuilagi. But MacArthur has proved his worth in the scrum, the loose and lineout time and again for Glasgow over the last two seasons, which is more than can be said for Ford at Edinburgh.

    The only way we can push up standards in the Scottish game is to encourage competition between players and reward form. MacArthur is the in-form hooker in Scotland, so he should play at Twickenham. What message does it send to MacArthur or any other younger players if an older guy is playing poorly but still picked ahead of them? Look at what Stuart Lancaster has done with England – he trusted younger players with pressure and responsibility and they repaid him in full. As have Stuart Hogg, David Denton, Matt Scott and Richie Gray when they were picked at a young age. Let’s see if MacArthur can add himself to that list. He’s earned his chance.

  10. Phoenix on

    I concur with MJW on this one. Players need to stop being rewarded on past glorious. Competition is how we improve. England will know what there are up against if we pick the same old bodies. I am not saying there is a need for wholesale changes but form should be rewarded.

  11. Phoenix on

    I note that MacArthur is not starting for Glasgow this weekend. Does not bode well for his chances of selection. Then again, Stuart Hogg also occupies the bench.

  12. eternalhope on

    The lack of depth and experience in hookers is worse than most positions. My pick would be Pat MacArthur, he’s the form player and clearly works well in the scrum with Grant (and Low).

    I think Ross Ford needs to move from the comfortable position of a senior player at Edinburgh to a new club to give him a kick and different experience, and to let youngsters come through. (really a third pro team is needed, can the SRU not get some Aberdeen oil industry sponsorship on board and get a team going there…)

    Tom Youngs switched from center to hooker – can Edinburgh or Glasgow try a switch of a back row forward (where there is some strength in numbers)? Fusaro maybe? a 4th player with back row skills would not go a miss on the field…

    From what I’ve read Neil Cochrane has made a switch from flanker to hooker for Bedford in the English championship. Should Scotland be considering Championship players? Neil Cochrane is a real wild card option for hooker.

    • Dodge on

      I share the same thoughts as eternalhope in that could it be worthwhile converting a player like Fusaro into a hooker?

      Lets be honest, hookers no longer need to ‘hook’ the ball come the scrum and I’m sure he can be taught to throw, but imagine what such a player could offer in the loose. A second ‘Fetcher’ could be a real asset within the current state of the game.

  13. Callum H on

    The situation with Ross Ford for me highlights one of the main problems with Scottish rugby in general. Our players that are considered our best can get very comfortable indeed where they are while they play for the two Scottish clubs. Does anybody on this blog really honestly believe that Ross Ford has lost sleep over the fact that someone may be about to pinch his position in the Edinburgh or indeed Scotland squad? We need to find a way of exposing our best players to high level, intense rugby week in week out at training and in matches, and whether we like it or not, the way to achieve that is to advise our best players to play outwith their homeland, much like Argentina do with their players, and use our two teams to bring young Scots into the game. This would keep top players like Ross Ford on their toes!! Also, on a side note, we need to ask whether or not we can realistically sustain pro rugby in Scotland?

  14. David Dailly on

    Interesting question about sustaining Pro rugby in Scotland. The lack of major sponsor for Glasgow is not a good sign at all. Having said that, if they keep up the good form in the Rabo this year they may well get something decent next year in the way of a sponsor.

    I thought most of our money problems stemmed from the debt the SRU have. I believe it is in the region of £13M. I think Murrayfield does not help matters as I believe that it has limited use outside of rugby. Locals don’t like it being used for concerts etc. I think the ticket sales for this stadium generate, for 6N and AI’s, upwards of £2.5M per game. Based that on 67500 bums on seats at an average, conservative, cost of £35 per bum.

    A third pro team will not happen while the debt exists. Other ways to reduce it are Stadium sponsorship and ground share. I really hope something like this materialises over the next year or two. Stadium sponsorship will be a lot easier to achieve if there is a pro football team sharing the ground.

  15. David Dailly on

    BT’s aggressive strategy in covering sports and taking business from Sky has led me to think if it would be worth approaching BT for sponsorship of the Warriors. I don’t believe they see the Scottish Market place as something that sets the mouth-watering but it would be give them coverage of games that would appeal to the Irish as well as the Welsh. Both of those rugby playing countries are constantly in the top spots at European level.

    Anyway, some have speculated that if BT get what they want in the way of Euro rights it may very well result in Sky taking an interest in the Rabo.

  16. Sheumais on

    Why would you pick someone who will literally throw away his team’s possession? Ford has no more belief he’ll hit his target than I do and until he either does start hitting it much more regularly, he cannot be included in the Scotland squad. Set-piece possession is an extremely important part of the game and if your own throw isn’t an advantage, your opponents can just keep kicking the ball out and winning it back. In this position with the current choices we have, we need someone who won’t shoot the team in the foot and Ford cannot be considered for that reason. If the worst you can say about Hall or MacArthur is they are solid and dependable, they are both well clear of ford for selection. Start with Hall’s experience and bring on MacArthur later.

  17. ScotlandFan on

    Fordy should be nowhere near the Scotland set up!
    His line out throws are so bad, he’s throwing away possession at every line out. Simply not good enough!

  18. Hawkesy on

    My pick would have to remain Ross Ford even though he is massively out of form – form is temporary class is permanent and Ford is our one class hooker.

    Hall and McArthur in squad. Lawson please never ever again…..

  19. Paul De Challans on

    I would have to go for MacArthur he is the best Scottish hooker, he is better than ford in every way. I don’t remember the last time I seen ford play well

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