Traditionally, Scotland have always had towering brutes in the engine room of the second row, whether it’s legendary Lion Gordon Brown, Grand Slam joker Damian Cronin, tartan-trew loving Doddie Weir or more recently Lion, Top 14 and Heineken Cup winner Nathan Hines.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, Scotland have not had a consistently world class lock forward since Mont De Marsan coach Scott Murray ruled the skies around the time of the 1999 Five Nations Triumph.
New Zealand lead the way in terms of the ideal skillset amongst the front five, and worryingly for those with a ticket to Twickers in a few weeks, England are beginning to blood a new generation of locks who possess not only power, but the pace and athleticism that is needed in the modern game.
Who should Scotland look to to underpin the front row this year?
Richie Gray is nailed on to be one of Scotland’s locks for many years to come. After a barnstorming first season, he has been quieter in 2012 but still managed to stand out as one of the team’s star performers. Great athleticism along with huge physical presence should make him one of the first names on the team sheet.
Kellock is no doubt an inspiring man to play alongside. The Warriors captain has served Scotland well since his debut in 2004 and his commitment never comes into question. He is undoubtedly international class as a leader of men, however, when it comes to consistency at international level Kellock has always been a bit off the pace and shown up by more mobile second rows. At 32 years old I feel, with the departure of Andy Robinson, Kellock should perhaps be one of the old guard to step aside in order to usher in a new era for Scottish Rugby.
Another stalwart who has answered some of his critics in the last couple of seasons, Hamilton will not be an opponent many relish lining up against. He has been labelled a passenger – at times fairly – but when on top of his game he is an asset to the pack. Again he is not blessed with fantastic ball skills, but should be kept around the squad as an impact man for at least a while longer. His attitude is top notch and he provides the niggle in the absence of Kellock or Hines. Euan Murray scrummages better when Jim is in the pack too.
Harley announced himself to the wider Scottish rugby public on the summer tour with a try off the bench against Samoa. Warriors fans however will know that Harley has had a fantastic first couple of seasons in the Pro12. So much so that he captained the side in Al Kellock’s absence during last year’s Rugby World Cup at the age of only 21. With a crowded back row he could be an outside choice in the second.
The Warriors forward spent his youth representing England before moving north in 2010 and joining the Scotland A set-up. Ryder made his full debut on this years summer tour, bagging two caps against Fiji and Samoa. The 18 stone lock had a brilliant 2011/12 season, being included in the Pro12 Dream Team, and is one I would like to see really kick on and make an impact for Scotland in 2013.
Also available: Fraser McKenzie, Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Tim Swinson, Scott Macleod
My choices? I’d be bold, have a bit of a clear out for the 6 Nations and pick Richie Gray and I’d go for Rob Harley off the back of his good work in the 1872 matches, despite him playing on the flank.
What about you?