Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Our Team: Openside

Chris Fusaro - Courtesy of Glasgow Warriors

The openside flanker is very much the in vogue position in modern rugby as grown men display romantic feelings for Richie McCaw and what he can do with his hands. A number 7 knows the rules of the game inside out and then spends 80 minutes trying to get away with disregarding those same rules as much as possible.

The best can floor a man much larger, faster or heavier, then get to their feet and make off with the ball before anyone’s noticed. Ross Rennie was the pick of last season’s opensides despite that 2 on 1 overlap, but he is out injured. Who then can we depend on to snaffle and tackle?

Chris Fusaro

Despite keeping John Barclay out of the Glasgow side for long periods, Andy Robinson resisted calls to bring the youngster into squad for the autumn tests. Resisted may be putting it mildly. Refused might be a more fitting word with some wondering what the Warrior’s number 7 had done to personally offend Robinson as one Rabo Man of the Match award followed another. A ferocious player and real nuisance at the breakdown, a lack of bulk and height (5ft 11 and 14 stone) may be the only thing standing between him and international rugby. That and his current groin injury which he may not recover from in time to claim the spot that will surely be his before long.

Roddy Grant

A former 7s player, Grant has been unfortunate to find himself without a cap due to injuries and the form of others and deserves an opportunity to play at a higher level. He’s been consistent in attack and defence for Edinburgh this season and was one of their better players during the 1872 Cup. He has the ability to drive opponents backwards, a rare understanding of the dark arts and a deceptive turn of speed. Plus he is a 7. Injuries to Fusaro, Rennie and Barclay mean he should be considered, but will the Scotland selectors fit a round peg in to a square hole again?

Richie Vernon

Vernon was unlucky to find himself left out of the autumn test squad after the successful summer tour. Quick with ball in hand and a decent forager he’s been playing at number 8 for Sale but can also play at 7. Despite all the problems at the club, Vernon’s form, like Richie Gray’s has been the exception rather than the rule.

Kelly Brown

It’s hard to look at Brown’s individual performance without also considering his performance as captain. Most players, Brown included, have said failure on the pitch was more their fault than Robinson’s and so some of the responsibility must lie with the captain. A member of the famous “Killer B’s” back row but like Barclay his recent performances have been middling rather than exhilarating. One thing that would surely count in his favour would be that in playing for Saracens, he is a Scot accustomed to winning.

Also considered: Ross Rennie (injured) & John Barclay (injured)

Were it not for injury Ross Rennie could be straight in at 7 and there may still be time for him to recover. The same cannot be said of Barclay who was sub-par in the autumn and even though he is injured he might even be third choice at Glasgow now. As it is, Roddy Grant gets the nod with fitness the deciding factor over Fusaro.

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

19 Responses

  1. Agree, do wonder what fusaro has done to be the form man and not even get a sniff, Would be nice to see grant pick up a cap.

  2. Barclay, much like Ford, has had little competition in recent years. Rennie, as you say, would be straight in but injuries will always disrupt constant selection. I really hope Johnson goes with Grant or Fusaro. Kelly Brown is not a genuine openside. We always hear about Scotland’s lack of strength and depth but here is a position where we actually have two genuine contenders for the number 7 shirt. Realistically, Brown will go in as a tried and tested international but this experiment did not really pay dividends against Tonga.

    We need a real openside. Rennie will likely be out for a while yet and has had no game time since New Zealand. If we are viewing this as a fresh start for Scotland lets go with Grant (Fusaro if fit). Barclay should not be rewarded for average performances. There needs to be consequences for poor performance. Players can not rely on a small player pool for constant selection.

    My team so far:

    Grant, MacArthur, Murray, Gray, Hamilton, Grant.

  3. I find it really difficult to think about the openside selection in isolation without giving thought to (i) the entire backrow and (ii) the captaincy.

    I might be a bit old-fashioned in preferring a blended backrow of fetcher, chopper and carrier, but given injuries to Rennie and Barclay that see them both likely out of contention, I’d be tempted to put my usual dogma to one side on this occasion. As much as I admire what Chris Fusaro brings to the party and what he shows he can do for Glasgow, I still harbour concerns about his size in an international setting. I also don’t believe that Roddy Grant is quite there just yet – he made a huge impact in his first pro season, tailed off a little after that but has stabilised since, without pushing forward as much as I would have hoped. I’d certainly include both these natural opensides in the wider squad for training at the very least.

    But in terms of team selection, I’m tempted by one of the non-natural opensides. To your list, I’d add Rob Harley – he’s been doing a job and a half there for Glasgow recently, altho he could well be shown up as a fish out of water at the level of 6Ns matches. Again, he’s included in my wider training group. However, I think Kelly Brown could do a good no.7 job, he’s done it before, he’s a smart player, and it leaves me two slots at 6 and 8 which I can now fill with JB and DD (initials only to avoid derailing this discussion until blindside and no.8 discussions are posted). I’d also relieve him of the captaincy, I think it’s enough of a challenge to have him playing out of position and would like him to concentrate on that job alone.

    1. The 6 and 8 choices are going up on Sunday but we did consider them together. When you look at most players up for consideration they can all play accross the backrow but personally I think that’s been part of the problem. If you look at most top International teams they all have specialist 7s. It’s a very particular job and if you don’t treat it as such you’re going to have problems. You can select two 6s and set up to play a defensive game but you loose those snaffling skills and an opportunity to get turnoverball at the breakdown.

      The 6 and 8’s are maybe a bit more interchangable but we’ll leave that debate till Sunday.

  4. The best 7 for me is Fussaro. I would like to see what he can do at international level and believe his form has earned him the right to a cap. The chap is smaller than most 7’s but his skill level is up there with the best of them. He is fast, fearless in the takle and good at disrupting play for the opposition and gaining turnovers. With the likes of Denton and Beattie behind him I have no doubt he will be a real asset to he international squad.

    A little more muscle could balance out this issue.

    1. If he’s match fit then I think Fusaro should get a start at some point in the tournament. Maybe against Wales. Injuries aside I though Grant’s bulk was probably a better fit against England.

    2. Probably right there. Using Fussaro as an impact sub against England may be a good idea. A fresh Fuzbomb taking to the pitch for the last 20 should be good. He will be all over the place and likely give a boost and something to follow for the others on the pitch.

      Having said that…If we are looking for bulk…would Fussaro get the bench slot or would you think that Harley would get it?

  5. If Fusaro is fit then he should definitely get the nod. The game has been littered with sevens small in stature. Love him or hate him, Neil Back was an outstanding seven and was smaller than Fusaro. Rennie isn’t that much bigger, neither is Michael Hooper who the Aussies tried in Pocock’s absence and weren’t disappointed. Phil Waugh was hardly a behemoth and neither was Brussow when he troubled the Lions in 2009. If you meet Fusaro in person, I would also guess that he now weighs significantly more than the 14 stone stated (probably taken when he began life as a pro).

  6. I agree with Rugger14 above with regards to the size issue. There have been countless 7s who are small in height and if anything that makes them even better at the job they are they to do and that is cause problems at the breakdown. Those that blogged last year will note that I had called for Grant to be selected for the squad as he had been playing ahead of Rennie in the lead up to the 6 nations. Rennie came in and was Scotland’s best player so he is certainly a loss this year but I would certainly go with the current Edinburgh 7 this year as he is the only fit openside and has been one of the only Edinburgh players who came out of the 1872 cup with any credit to his name. Fusaro was outstanding last year but through injury and Townsend playing Barclay he hasnt played a great deal in the last 2 months so I would be reluctant to through him in without any game time. Kelly Brown has been a superb back row for Scotland however he is not a natural 7 and to talk of Harley playing openside is ridiculous. He is a bulky 6 and certainly not a 7. I am going to pre-empt Sunday’s 6/8 discussion and say Beattie and Denton with Grant.

    1. This is obviously going to edge in to the wider discussion of the back row. I agree with Pidgeon but I think Brown will stay on at 6 given he is a leader and is used to winning. Brown, Beattie Grant (Fusaro if fit) with Denton impact off of the bench.

      I cant help but feel Denton has been a wee bit found out this season as being a tad one dimensional.

    2. Would definitely agree with you that Denton has been found wanting a bit this season but against England you need big ball carriers in the 6 and 8 position to get over the gain line and he certainly raised it against NZ. I dont think he has the skillset to be an 8 and Beattie has been superb for Montpellier this season. They have moved Gorgodze around their pack with Beattie being a mainstay at 8.

  7. It would appear the Fussaro’s groin injury is still on-going. He has not been named in the HC game this weekend and is still listed as injured.

    Maybe he will make an appearance toward te end of the campaign.

    One thing I will take away from this discussion is that I have now noticed that we actually have decent choice and back up in all three back row positions.

    Beattie is an 8 and is well on form this year with multiple MOM’s in France and their first choice 8 ahead of a chap who I hear is a monster and a bloody good 8.

    Vernon is a Flanker but has been playing 8 for Sale. Although they are facing relegation this year if things do not improve for them, Vernon has been on form and Sales’ league position is no reflection on him.

    Other flankers are listed and are have all proven that they can be international class. We just need to wait and see if the new Scotland leadership can switch the up a gear and have them gel as a unit.

  8. Trying hard not to discuss 6 & 8 and concentrating on 7, I assume that Fusaro, Rennie & Barclay all will not be match-fit in time the English game.
    I would have Grant on the bench and start with Brown. I agree that Grant deserves his chance – and this is the time with so many our backrow players playing below par or injured.

    For later games I hope that Fusaro and Rennie will get their chance – as we need a real 7 playing 7 and not a temporary convert.

  9. Fusaro would be my pick as a genuine 7
    So for the sake of this blog I’m going with Fusaro….
    BUT IF it looks like he’s out for the England game I’m picking Kelly Brown at 7.

    Grant Ford Murray Gray Hamilton Fusaro (Brown)

  10. My pick here has to be Roddy Grant as the one fit/match fit open side.

    I fear though that Brown will be shoehorned into this role.

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

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion