Standoff, first receiver, fly-half, first five-eighths. Call it whatever fraction you will, in most rugby playing nations it is the key to the whole team. Imagine New Zealand without Carter or Munster without O’ Gara. Scotland though have managed to make it an irrelevance in recent years. We’ve survived almost wilfully without anyone world-class to inhabit that position. Survived, but rarely thrived.
There is at least a new crop of standoffs coming through to choose from, and there’s also the issue of whether to play Greig Laidlaw there purely to keep him on the park. Let’s get stuck in.
Andy Robinson’s reign is over, and while it seemed like a nice idea at the time to allow our most talented playmaker to, well, play, recent selections for Edinburgh suggest that perhaps Greig’s time as a standoff is over now too. He did well for a while but was shown up by big runners in the Six Nations. Keep him at 9 please – oh, but we still need him to kick the goals.
The meatball from Glasgow is favoured by many as the man of the future, but he has been stuck behind Ruaridh Jackson for the key games recently and has come off the bench as the guy to close games out, or kick points to haul back results from games that are slipping away, not run the whole thing. Still, of the current group he is probably the most physical and doesn’t mind tackling. Strange that he never saw more caps under Robinson, and although he is young and talented there’s a chance he might be the “wrong” kind of standoff for an attack-minded chap like Scott Johnson.
It was always going to be a bit of a love in between two players as hot and cold as Gregor Townsend and Ruaridh Jackson, but in recent weeks he has responded to regular selection with some stellar performances including a man of the match away at Treviso and some inspired attacking in the 1872 Cup games. With Peter Horne (not spectacularly well, it has to be said) taking the pressure off his goal-kicking, he looks to be enjoying his game more than I can remember. His lack of goal-kicking is an issue. Which brings us to…
He didn’t have a first cap to remember – most of his post-Tonga match interview revolved around climbing aboard a sinking ship – but Heathcote has been playing a fair bit in recent weeks, if only off the bench. Although he is stuck behind World Cup Winner Stephen Donald in the Bath setup, he’s had plenty of game time and has been amassing a healthy late-game points haul in the process. He’s also in a Bath team building a solid defence. Would he be tempted to leave that for say, Edinburgh? Their signing of Francis put paid to that theory. If for some reason Laidlaw doesn’t get the nod at 9, the need for a goal kicker in the Scotland team will becoming tantamount. On current form, Jackson is too inconsistent. Lessons about spurning kicks will have been learned, and even Tim Visser won’t score enough tries for us to ignore those points on offer.
Also in consideration: Harry Leonard, Gordon Ross.
My pick: Ruaridh Jackson. Originally I was tempted by Tom Heathcote in a “let’s build towards the future” sort of mood, but Jackson has played regularly and if we’re going with form and confidence, he’s the man. Weir or Heathcote on the bench for an alternative game plan or kicker if/when required. Taking into account goal-kicking, it doesn’t make our next selection that hard to guess though…
Team so far: Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Sean Lamont, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Ruaridh Jackson; Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Rob Harley, Al Strokosch, Roddy Grant, Johnnie Beattie