I had a terrifying nightmare last night where I was called up to play in the Scottish front row this weekend. I kept telling people I was well short of match fitness and had never played prop before. No one would listen to me.
Thankfully in the real world I’m pretty sure I don’t stand a chance of being called up to the squad but with Scott Johnson playing fast and loose with his selections in the forwards and the bench I don’t think any of us can really rule it out.
I had started to work on a return to our regular series of “5 Key Points For Beating…” but some of Johnson’s choices and omissions so infuriated me that I was forced to go back to once again looking at which players are being given a last chance.
Of the names on last week’s list De Luca and Denton both seized the chance to show they can deliver at international level. De Luca shone and Denton played with a level of calm assurance he has never displayed before in a Scotland shirt. Euan Murray did enough to show he is still relevant, but Al Kelloch was eclipsed by Tim Swinson and, depending on how Johnny Gray gets on, only a run of injuries would see him return to the squad.
But Scott Johnson has made changes to the team that beat Japan and some of the names on the team sheet are not so much drinking in the last chance saloon as waiting outside at the taxi rank. That’s a huge gamble if not outright suicide given South Africa’s current form.
So who’s stood in the middle of the road frantically trying to catch a taxi home?
1. Ross Ford
Ford made the list last week and is back again. As usual Ford did well enough as a battering ram with ball in hand and showed some decent hands to put Dickinson in under the posts for his try. But that was it. The stats show Scotland only lost one line out but Ford’s tendency to overthrow still caused his jumpers some problems. The scrum was a complete mess and on more than one occasion the ball sat stationary in the channel with Ford making no attempt at a strike. It seems the Scottish plan was to drive the Japanese backwards and negate the need to hook but there was no plan B when this didn’t work. Scotland’s success rate at the scrum was 55.5%. South Africa will demolish us.
Despite this Ford retains his place in the Scottish front row. Pat MacArthur did extremely well when he came on but doesn’t even feature in the match day squad. Injury? Not according to the SRU website. He should feel rightly aggrieved at not being given a chance.
2. Moray Low
Low has been in and around the Scotland squad for a number years without ever really pushing to be first choice tighthead. With Euan Murray being unavailable on a Sunday it’s not like Low hasn’t had his chances. It’s a position where Scotland struggle for numbers and with fan favourite Girth looking on from the bench this could be Low’s last chance to step up. If not then Scott Johnson must do something radical to solve the crisis at tighthead before 2015. The as yet unproven Jon Welsh is waiting in the wings and Edinburgh’s WP Nel will be eligible by then but Scotland need more options. There is no sterner front row test in world rugby than the South Africans and Low must rise to the challenge if he is to have any future in a Scotland jersey.
3. Chris Cusiter
This may seem a slightly controversial choice but with Laidlaw, Pyrgos and even Sean Kennedy all vying for a place in team it may be time to ask whether there is space in the squad for Cusiter. He is well used to such competition having fought with Mike Blair and Rory Lawson for most of his career but while they have gracefully stepped aside to allow the young bucks to step up Cusiter has taken the decision to stay and fight. Whilst that’s admirable both Laidlaw and Pyrgos have added pace to Scotland’s game that wasn’t present during the Cusblairson years and Cusiter’s selection feels like a step backwards. However some say Cus is in the throws of a Sean Lamont style rennaisances so he may still have something to add to the cause.
4. Max Evans
Max Evans is the Transformers movie. An extremely exciting prospect on paper but incredibly disappointing when you actually sit down to watch it. This hasn’t been helped by coaches struggling to understand whether he should play at centre or on the wing. Scotland now have depth in the back division and Evans no longer benefits from being the pick of a mediocre bunch. He was omitted from the Summer Tour and was hardly missed but showed a little of what he can do when he came on against France in the Spring. Barring injury this is likely to be Evans last chance.
5. Scott Lawson