Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Our Team: Standoff

tom heathcote
tom heathcote

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.

Greig Laidlaw

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.

Duncan Weir

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.

Ruaridh Jackson

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…

Tom Heathcote

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

16 Responses

  1. It certainly looks as though Johnson is going with a Laidlaw-Jackson axis at half-back. I confess to still harbouring some doubts as to Rhubarb’s potential for flakiness, altho nobody could deny that he’s been in decent form recently. His kicking from tee is a worry, but it is likely that he will not be allocated those duties. Long-term I suspect that Weir and Heathcote will battle it out for the 10 shirt, and the young Bath man certainly has all the attributes that you’d want to be pushing Meatball on to greater things.

  2. Jackson has been on outstanding form as of late even if he is not the best kicker, weir has only just come back from injury and might need a few more games to come back to form. I have only seen heathcote play in the Scotland match. But from what I hear he has raw talent, but not enough game time.

  3. IMO Jackson has generally played better for Scotland than Glasgow and has done little to warrant the levels of abuse he receives from fans on forums like the Scotsman. He has rarely let Scotland down but he suffers a lot from not being the Great White Hope some fans expected him to be. I do hope the same doesn’t happen to Mark Bennett.

    Anyway, his goal-kicking isn’t great and he does make mistakes but for the time-being he is the best we have. We really need Weir, Heathcote, Jackson to be starting regularly for their clubs/pro-sides and their understudies like Hunter and Leonard to get decent amounts of game-time. We need to ship Francis out of Edinburgh and replace him with one of Heathcote/Jackson/Weir and make it clear to the younger players that if they can;t break into the team in a couple of seasons they should look for opportunities abroad. There is no point in them kicking their heels on the bench or playing amateur rugby.

  4. Jackson it is – present form and style of play. With Laidlaw as his SH, of course. Lets hope Jackson’s form and confidence last thru the 6N.

    Heathcote is maturing well and getting game time at Bath, inspite of Donald. Heahtcote is the main challenge to Jackson, for me. Weir has the potential, but its been a long time since he delivered on this – not surprised he is not getting a lot of game time. Maybe a move to Edinburgh in the summer.

  5. Heathcote is too much of a risk to throw into the frey at 6 nations level. It’s a massive step up from 15 minutes against Tonga and the Guinness Premiership. Jackson is on form but doesn’t seem to have the all round vision and special awareness to take advantage of midfield gaps. Personally, I’m a big fan of Weir. He seems to be a more intelligent 10, great boot too. It’s all so difficult to tell who’d work best with 9, and who will play at 9 whether its Pyrgos or Laidlaw.

  6. Jackson, Weir and Heathcote all need gametime – Jackson is at the stage he needs to be playing every week in the Rabo and at Heineken Cup level to develop.

    The problem with Jackson and Weir is that through injury and rotation, neither of them have come as far as they should have done by now because they simply don’t have enough game time under their belts.

    I always though Townsend was better for Scotland when he was playing 10 week in week out for his club. When he was shoved to centre at Northampton to accommodate Grayson or at Brive to accommodate Lamaison, he turned up for Scotland and was more likely to have his ‘Toonie’ moments (and I don’t mean the flip…)

    Jackson to start with Heathcote or Weir on the bench – in many ways would rather see Weir playing 80 minutes for Glasgow than sitting around for 20 minutes at the end of a 6N game.

  7. The starting half back pair this year needs to be Laidlaw and Jackson in my opion. Pyrgos and Heathcote on the bench as I dont think Weir has enough game time to get back to his fine form of a year ago, when I would have picked up as starter.

    The comment about getting Weir, Jackson or Heathcote to Edinburgh is interesting to me. I have thought for long time that the SRU could make some good use of their involevement in the clubs by evening out playing resources, especially scottish ones (why have so many front row scottish prospects at Glasgow sharing 80 minutes match time when Edinburgh are fielding Yapp, Titteral and Nel (I know the long term plan is to qualify Nel, although I’m not at all convinced Nel is better than the scottish guys at Glasgow). I think one of the great appeals of rugby is that the international game is still bigger than the club game (unlike football) – I support both Edinburgh and Glasgow and would happily watch players move between the two in Scotlands interest…No offense to Troy Nathan, but I think it is a great move from the SRU/ Glasgow to let him go now there is good selection of scottish centres at Glasgow.

    Also to increase the pool of scottish pro players I think that it is important that international established players move on to England, France or other Pro12 clubs. Keeps the SRU wage bill down and will also help develop the players that go abroad (look at J. Beattie. Ross Ford badly needs a move (to discover his form of earlier years) and I wonder whether Denton or Ryan Grant could benefit from a change (I think they’d comfortably establish themselves at most English clubs).

    Has Francis been signed as a “qualification” player, does he have any scottish qualification already? I was surprised by his signing as I’d like to Hunter and Leonard get some game time for Edinburgh to help them improve for the future.

  8. I have been hearing a LOT about Finn Russell of Ayr. The lad is 19 and is apparently a solid Stand-off with a bloody good boot on him. Should this boy not at least have and EDP contract?

  9. Finn Russell is already on an EDP contract at Glasgow. He looked pretty decent at 12 in the U20 footage I saw from last season and he seems to have been playing well for Ayr.

    But that brings us to the perennial problem in Scotland. Is he going to get any gametime with only two pro teams? Leonard was ahead of Russell in the U20 fly half pecking order but he can’t get a game at Edinburgh. The solutions could be Jackson moving to Edinburgh as has been rumoured before or not renewing Scott Wight’s contract, which would be harsh.

    As for Heathcote, he signed a 3 year contract last year so Edinburgh signing him would be problematic if Bath don’t want to let him go. However, if he isn’t getting enough game time at Bath (there are rumours George Ford might be going there as well) then perhaps Edinburgh might be able to set up some sort of loan deal?

    FF, on the subject of contracts it is difficult to just ‘ship out’ Francis. He’s only a few weeks into a 2 year deal. Terminating his contract would be a pretty expensive move for an already cash strapped SRU.

    1. Agreed, Dave, altho it does rather beg the question why on earth was he given a two-year deal? My Kiwi friends were laughing in disbelief when I asked about him

    2. Yeah I’m not suggesting they get rid of him just that it seems odd he was brought in in the first place as an unqualified player just as Leonard and Hunter were starting to get some games under their belts.

  10. disappointed to read only one reference to Scott Wight who I think is Glasgow’s most complete stand off. Weir has been out of it unluckily through injury and Jackson has been a model of inconsistency (defence excepted) for some two years. Granted Jackson has shown great form since relieved of the kicking responsibility and has now even recovered confidence to kick faultlessly vs Treviso. I remember a chat with a Melrose connection who felt Glasgow didn’t realise they had a diamond in Wight and I’ve come to that way of thinking myself. He is a great ball player, creative, athletic and can put a ball in a bucket from 40m (and at least as consistent a goal kicker as Weir). I would have started him at 10 in most games this season which ironically means Jackson wouldn’t have had the form rehab he has enjoyed. I would not like Wight to be lost to the pro game in Scotland but he is too good a resource to be underplayed. I’m not entirely West-centric and believe the national side is the greater cause – I haven’t been impressed with Francis (though he finished a decent try in the 1872). I can’t see the point of Edinburgh signing a player like that when the solution would be to take Jackson or Wight, though I’d be sad to see either leave Glasgow.

    1. Eamon, agree about Wight and apologies for not going into more depth on him. I agree he has looked accomplished when given a chance this season but those chances have been fewer since Weir came back from injury and Jackson hit form. Hopefully he gets a run with the A team.

  11. Scott Wight is one of the most natural players in Scotland. Reads and understands the game and has not had rugby coached out of him. I think he should have been “loaned” to Edinburgh (Kennedy went from Edinburgh to Glasgow) when the Warriors didn’t need him. Would have liked to see him paired with Matt Scott in the Rabo/HC.

  12. I agree will all comments on Wight. He needs to be shifted to a different team, especially when we have Finn Russell coming through also. Basically, as it stands, we have Weir, Wight, Jackson, Heathcote and Russell, who all have the ability to perform at good club level and potentially step up to National standard and win some games. The problem we have is that all but one are aligned to Glasgow. 4 Promising Stand-offs aligned to the same club and the 5th about to become 3rd choice at Bath. That is no way to grow our options in this position. I would like to see Wight moved to Edinburgh. The mention of pairing him with Scott intrigues me. It may also have the knock on effect of cementing Laidlaw as a 9 and giving the other 10’s at Edinburgh a chance to compete and get some game time. With Wight on the pitch the kicking duties need not sit with Laidlaw which will make it easier to sub him to blood and new 9’s.

    Still leaves us with a problem though. 3 potential Scottish 10’s playing for Glasgow. Granted Finn is only 19 but, still would like to ensure he gets more than a few changes a season.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion