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Our Scotland XV: The Half Backs

Greig Laidlaw
Greig Laidlaw - pic © Al Ross

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.

Fly Half

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

10 Responses

  1. Jackson has been the outstanding Scottish 10 of the season so far. If Laidlaw plays at 9 and kicks the goals, Jackson is for me the obvious choice at FH because he gets the outside backs moving far better than his rivals.

  2. Laidlaw is nailed on and it mystifies me that some Scottish fans seem to underrate him so much. Personally, I think Cus is no more than a safe pair of hands now. Pyrgos seems to come on and get the ball out quickly which is great for the last 20mins of a game.

    Not sure how wise it is to start Heathcote when he can barely get a start for his club – he needs to leave Bath as soon as possible to prevent his career stalling as he’ll never get in ahead of Daddy’s boy Ford. Jackson has the experience and seems to be developing some of the control needed at test level. I think Weir’s kicking will see him usurp him eventually but Weir needs more game time before being thrown in against SA and Australia.

    Still no idea how highly Allan is rated. Presumably Italy will force the issue this Autumn to tie him to them (like we did with Heathcote) – I hope he comes back to the fold as we are still just living off potential.

  3. Laidlaw and Jackson for me. I think neither Weir nor Heathcote have had enough game time this season to be starting. Probably Cusiter and Weir on the bench, so Laidlaw and Weir cover the kicking duties.
    I also think that we should start our first choice 15 against Japan to get them settled and to ensure the best chance of a strong start. Keep the experimental stuff for the bench.

  4. Can’t say I agree with Heathcote at all, to claim that he is the incumbent 10 when he has played 3 tests, (and was subbed off 50 minutes into the test against Italy) is very odd. Jackson started most of the 6 Nations this year, and the game against South Africa.

    As well, Jackson should be ahead simply on form, Heathcote has yet to impress at international level at all, and doesn’t even have club form (given his lack of time behind Ford) to rely on now. Jackson and Weir for the 10 spots, with Jackson starting.

    1. I do not think I said Heathcote was the incumbent but I give both him and Weir to AIs to prove themselves as this is the last set of November Tests to try things before the RWC in 2015. Next year’s AIs should be used to finalised partnerships and blends.

      As for Jackson, he can (like some 10s before him) blow hot and cold. I personally think that Glasgow lost some impotenus when he came on for Weir during the recent Munster match. Some of the that may have been Niko’s tap and go philosphy.

      Now is the perfect time to experiment and not go with tried and tested. Tried and tested is good but if its suddenly not available without a proven replacement its out of the frying pan into the fire. Exactly like last November when Heathcote was dropped into an unenviable position at Pittodrie as Jackson could not get the job done against Tonga.

  5. I have never been a Jackson fan but think he is the best of an average bunch at the moment. The second half v Toulon he made a couple of nice breaks (admittedly the game had opened up by then). I don’t believe Cusiter is the player he was and has lost a bit of sharpness. Laidlaw will certainly start at 9 as Pyrgos is nothing more than an ok club player

  6. Seeing lots of calls on the Back Row choices that Brown will be the skipper. Personally think Laidlaw has proved himself more than able to cope with that pressure added to being the scrum half as well as kicking duties. Certainly led by a fantastic example in the Heineken Cups games this season.

    As for Cusiter, remember young and quick is not always better than age and experience. Anyone who hasn’t yet read about or seen Andy Goode’s masterclass against the Tigers in quite poor conditions should try to catch up with it.

  7. Barry P, ‘impotenus’ is my new favourite word – thanks!

    Presumably RWC 2015 will come too soon for the likes of Sean Kennedy, Ali Price and Finn Russell to come through, and presumably Tomasso Allan fits into that category too, even if he does jump ship again?

    Laidlaw to start, Cus to come on and steady the ship, Jackson to continue his decent Glasgow form, poss no need for a flyhalf on the bench with Laidlaw moving there to close things out?

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