Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Our Scotland XV: The Second-Row

Richie Gray - photo © Alastair Ross
Richie Gray - photo © Alastair Ross

Picking Scotland’s starting second-rows for the November test-matches is something of an unenviable task.  Fortunately, that’s a good thing.  Though there are many areas where a nation such as ours can be short on quality and depth, jersey numbers four and five do not fall into that category, and indeed Scotland have oft enjoyed a fine array of locks from which to select.

The Contenders:

The form man is without question Glasgow Warriors’ Tim Swinson.  He has been a stand-out in the opening exchanges of the club’s RaboDirect Pro12 and Heineken Cup campaigns, and impressed on his first few Scotland outings this summer.

However, Swinson doesn’t possess the aerial abilities or all-round athleticism of several of his rivals, which could count seriously against him given the strength of the competition.  Though excellent in open play, he may come unstuck in the lineout facing such peerless opponents.

Scott Johnson tends to pick on form rather than status, though, and Swinson’s consistently high level of performance must be giving the coach that most irritable of sporting clichés, the “selection headache”.

In my book, at least, the ex-Newcastle Falcons man is worthy of starting against Japan on November 9th as reward for his club showings, though he will do well to claim a spot against the bigger sides.  And so, with one berth filled, one realises just how fierce the competition for place number two becomes.

Firstly, there is Scotland’s most recognisable face – or at least, haircut – in a rugby capacity, the hulking blonde bombshell, Richie Gray.  At his best, Gray is a formidable dynamic influence around the pitch, and an important lineout option.  But the behemoth suffered through loss of form and injury last season, making the British and Irish Lions squad more on reputation than the strength of his performances.  That said, Gray is playing well in a physical league at Castres, and Scotland can ill afford to ignore any world-class individual.

Jim Hamilton enjoyed his best run of games in a Scotland jersey last term, and proved that there is more to his play than the bruising donkey-work so valued by team-mates but so frequently unheeded by supporters.  The impact his sizeable bulk has on the Scottish scrum must not be overlooked either – an area where parity with South Africa and supremacy over Australia is essential.  It will certainly be difficult to omit him from the engine room when the Springboks arrive in Edinburgh armed with the biggest pack in world rugby.

Warriors captain Al Kellock is a fine player in his own right, but has slipped down the pecking order since skippering Scotland under Andy Robinson, and is approaching the twilight of his career at 32.  Arguably, he is more valuable for his leadership than his ability, and will struggle to win himself a place in the 23 alongside the precocious pair of Grant Gilchrist and Jonny Gray, and the unknown London Irish recruit Kieran Low set to snap at the heels of their more established compatriots.

The Verdict:

As with most selections, the old adage “horses for courses” rings true.  While some call for the fielding of a side with a more “developmental” air to it against Japan, they would do well to remember Scotland’s first opponents are no pushovers.  In fact, they overcame a “developmental” Welsh side barely a few months ago.  It is more likely that Scott Johnson will plump for by and large his strongest XV, with perhaps a more youthful set of replacements.

Against South Africa, every ounce of power and strength will be needed to shackle a ferocious eight, and that should see Jim Hamilton restored to the lineup.  I do feel Swinson warrants a start, though, and I’d like to see him named against Japan alongside Gray Snr.  How those three fare in the opening salvos will determine who gets the nod when the Wallabies come calling.  Kellock, Gray Jnr and Gilchrist are an accomplished set of reserves, and with Cowan and Low also in the mix, the number of worthy combinations one could justifiably plump for is plenty cause for optimism.

Our team so far: 10. Heathcote, 9. Laidlaw,  8. Beattie, 7. Fusaro, 6. Strokosch, 5. R Gray, 4. Swinson, 3. Cross, 2. MacArthur, 1. Grant

Bench: Dickinson, Ford, Welsh, Hamilton, Brown, Cusiter, Weir

8 Responses

  1. I don’t really think Gilchrist is in the running currently, his form needs to get better and he needs to up the aggression. Kellock should now be a squad player and only in the 23 when others are injured.

    I think we should be looking at Swinson and Gray Snr, with Gray Jnr on the bench for Japan and maybe Australia, but Hamilton and Gray Snr, with Swinson on the bench for SA.

    Both Swinson and Hamilton did well against the Boks in the summer (yellow card apart) but Gray Snr needs a chance to prove his class as you are right, he is one of the few potentially world class players Scotland have (to my mind the others are Rennie, Hogg, Scott).

    1. To reply to myself: Gray Jnr and Bennett may also be in that bracket in the future but they still have a lot to prove, but plenty of time to do so.

  2. Still not convinced that Gilchrist is a safe option. From watching recent Edinburgh games he seems to get pinged more often that not resulting in kickable penalties. At least with Big Jim its usually one offence that results in yellow! Although during the summer against SA that seemed a little harsh.

    As I’ve just said in the half backs comments now is the time to muck about with the engine room and see if there’s a combination that clicks in both the set pieces and open play. You never know what will work well until you try it. (I recently discovered the pleasure that is banana in a lamb curry). So going for Jonny over Richie may be seen sooner rather than later.

    But got to be careful of going for the open play options whilst ignoring securing set piece ball.

    1. Long-term, do you think Jonny and Richie could work? I hope so as they’re both fantastic players and Hamilton and Kellock don’t have too many more miles on the clock.

      Also, Ryder seems to have dropped off the map but I think he’s had a couple of impressive seasons at Glasgow.

    2. Before Swinson broke through and admittedly played well for Scotland, I always thought that Ryder was the better of the two at Glasgow.

  3. I would question whether Swinson is in fact ‘the’ form 2nd row. Gray jnr has arguably been getting greater plaudits at Scotstoun this season. Not to take anything away from Tim who has been playing consistently well for a good while now and is central to Glasgow’s success.
    Assuming Gray snr is a dead cert, I would have him and Hamilton for the big games, possibly experiment with Japan (though I think it is essential we get off to a strong start, so nothing too risky please). The difference that Hamilton makes to the scrum power is substantial and he also runs the lineout and fills the enforcer role well (albeit attracting the odd yellow). It’s definitely between Gray, Gray, Hamilton and Swinson though. As FF says Kellock and Gilchrist are lower down the pecking order. I think we may see a Gray Gray partnership one day, though one of them will have to take on the lineout management roll, which I reckon is more likely to be Jonny.

  4. 1. Grant
    2. Mcarthur
    3. Welsh
    4. Gray, R
    5. Hamilton
    6. Brown
    7. Barclay
    8. Beattie
    9. Laidlaw
    10. Jackson
    11. Lamont
    12. Scott
    13. Taylor/Dunbar if injury rules out Taylor
    14. Seymour
    15. Maitland

    16. Low
    17. Ford
    18. Murray
    19. Swinson
    20. Denton
    21. Cusiter
    22. Heathcote
    23. Evans

  5. Tend to agree with most of what’s already been said, and would start with Gray snr in the 5 shirt for Japan, accompanied by Swinson in the 4 shirt as a reward for his excellent form. Hamilton can replace Swinson on the bench if bulk is a pre-requisite. And if the coaching staff are serious about Gray jnr as an option for RWC 2015 (and I’m including Cotter here), then he must get a bench spot and some game time at some point this autumn. Kellock now primarily a strong leader of me at club level, and Gilchrist hasn’t progressed as he should have this season

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion