As a gnarled member of the forwards its obviously time for me to talk about the keys players in the recently announced training squad for the Autumn Internationals. That’s right the scourge of the forwards: the half backs! With the bulk of the tactical decisions made between them, the blend is as important as the individuals selected for each position. And as has been seen in recent Pro Club games certain selections can dictate your options coming of off the bench.
For me opening salvos of the Heineken Cup have narrowed down one position to a clear front runner. Greig Laidlaw’s performances in the two rounds at scrum half have surely cemented his place to start? With the effervescent Niko Matawalu seemingly the go to 9 for Glasgow it seems that Cusiter and Pyrgos are battling for the spot on the bench. And with Laidlaw and Pyrgos both packing a set of kicking boots it may leave Cusiter bottom of the pecking order; which in my eyes would be an absolute travesty.
So that was easy.
Now the really tricky part, the apparent long term problem position for Scotland: the fly half. Many have come but few have managed to cement themselves in to that position (or a place in the fans’ hearts) whether through injury, form or being too versatile. Whoever is selected hopefully Scott Johnson will build a game plan around the half backs picked and not try to force them to play a system that does not suit their style.
If Laidlaw is the starting scrum-half as seems most likely that leaves a choice between Weir, Jackson and Heathcote to fill the 10 jersey. With Weir returning from injury will Heathcote continue as the starting fly half for the first test against Japan or will he be usurped by Jackson? Personally I’d like to see Heathcote continue to start against what most would consider weaker opposition; however everyone should remember not to underestimate Japan as seen here.
Whilst listening to the Glasgow vs Exeter game at the weekend Peter Wright made an interesting comment about Jackson. Mr Wright is of the opinion that Jackson’s tactical nous is better suited at 12 rather than 10, a decidedly common-place swap south of the border. I can see what Peter Wright is saying but that may be an experiment that Glasgow run first because if Jackson is at 12 for Scotland where does Scott go? That would cause problems for whoever is writing up the centres (me – Ed).
Back to the training squad and those unfortunate to miss out on selection.
The fact that I honestly cannot think of another scrum half is both a good and bad thing. Good because there’s no chance of me bemoaning the exclusion of the likes of Roddy Grant which I would if covering the back row, but bad if there’s an injury crisis next week or indeed in the lead up to 2015. There are a few candidates that need to be mentioned for the stand-off berth however I feel that Leonard and Wight possibly need at least another season of Pro club exposure. Leonard probably has a better chance of developing to the level needed especially playing outside Laidlaw. Another omission is a certain fly half at a French side who is named in someone’s Italian training squad but that’s a whole other can of worms.
In summary Laidlaw at 9 with Heathcote at 10 for at least the first test with Cusiter and Weir on the bench.
Our team so far: 10. Heathcote, 9. Laidlaw; 3. Cross, 2. MacArthur, 1. Grant
Bench: Dickinson, Ford, Welsh, Cusiter, Weir