5 Players Who Should Have Been Given A Chance

“As I said during the tour we need and want to expand our playing pool and within that we have to be clear on which of our long-experienced players will make the journey to the World Cup. We have to make sure, too, that our young players, who have the ability to play international footy, get the mileage on the clock ahead of the World Cup.”

That is what Scott Johnson said when the Scotland squad was announced for the Autumn Tests. It is a quote lifted from the article on the SRU website announcing the 41 man squad at the end of October. As a result we ran a series of articles looking at which players might be drinking in the last chance saloon.

Johnson’s rhetoric seemed to promise so much. A chance, finally, for the likes of Fusaro and MacArthur to put pressure on incumbents. A chance to see if young bucks like Johnny Gray and Mark Bennett had the potential to step up. A final chance for Nick De Luca to transfer his club form onto the international stage.

But it turns out Johnson and his coaching staff had pre-picked the majority of their starting line ups for every game (barring injuries). Form was an irrelevance. What does this say to those picked? Put in a mediocre performance and you’ll do? What does it say to those who’ve not even been picked?

It smacks of poor management. It nullifies the threat Johnson gave to incumbent members of the squad and beats down the aspirations of youngsters pushing for a place. No one, it seems, is drinking in the last chance saloon. That rather defeats the purpose of the articles we’ve been running and there was risk this writer might snap and just write Ross Ford’s name in all five slots.

We are where we are. So let’s turn this on its head and look at five players who should have been given a chance.

1. Geoff Cross

Geoff Cross played 8 minutes of international rugby this Autumn. It’s hard to know what Scott Johnson learned about Girth in those 8 minutes. Perhaps Girth has nothing to prove. Perhaps Johnson knows what Girth can do. But the same could be said about Moray Low. Low is hardly a new addition to the Scotland team having amassed 22 caps to date, most of them as a substitute. Low put in a good shift in the scrum against South Africa but it was hard to see what contribution he made elsewhere. He made seven tackles in the whole match. Girth regularly hits double figures. But then arguably we don’t know how Girth might cope with the new scrum engagement laws at international level. We know Girth loves a scrum though and thrives on demolishing the opposition. The look of childish delight on his face after demolishing the Irish scrum in the Six Nations will live long in the memory.

Scotland are very short on options at tighthead. I am not suggesting that Girth is the answer in the absence of Euan Murray but Low is not the answer either and selecting him for a second game in a row tells us nothing we don’t already know.

2. Jon Welsh

Welsh made his Scotland debut against Italy at loosehead as a very very last minute replacement for Chunk. Scotland lost that game but Welsh gave Castrogiovanni a torrid time in the scrum. Welsh has since shifted to tighthead and despite being called into the Scotland squad during the summer and the squad for the Autumn Tests has yet to add to his tally of one cap. As with Girth I am not suggesting that Welsh is the future for Scotland but there’s no way of knowing unless he gets some game time.

3. Grant Shiells

Newcastle Falcon’s loosehead Shiells didn’t make the Autumn Test squad however he was called up last autumn due to injuries. Shiells has turned out for Scotland ‘A’ and is a regular fixture in a Newcastle team grinding out difficult wins in the Premiership. Dickinson has shown he is capable of filling in for Ryan Grant without setting the world on fire but a run of injuries could find Scotland without a specialist loosehead. This, Johnson said, was an opportunity to get young players some mileage on the clock ahead of the World Cup. The omission of Shiells feels like another in a long line of missed opportunities.

4. Chris Fusaro

Johnson has been quoted in the press as saying Fusaro has more to do before getting his opportunity. According to Johnson, Fusaro is not winning 50-50 competitions against “the big boys” and has to be “far better than anyone else” before being selected. Here he is shrugging off a tackle from Mike Ross and smashing past Rob Kearney to dot down for Glasgow http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGT9IGYuh5U. He also once had a crack at Scott MacLeod but sadly the video is no longer available.

It’s a rather baffling assessment of a player yet to play top-level international rugby. Players raise their game at international level and what’s to say Fusaro won’t? Johnson’s assessment may be right but surely an appearance off the bench would have given Fusaro an opportunity to show what he can do as well as putting some of that “mileage” on the clock. Johnson accepts Scotland lack depth at openside but omitting a player of Fusaro’s potential is hardly going to rectify that.

But look down the squad list for the match against Australia and Fusaro’s omission becomes clear. Kieran Lowe. A versatile player for sure but he only adds depth in areas where Scotland are hardly lacking in options. Lowe will come off the bench and be tied to Scotland forevermore but at a cost to the team as a whole for that game.

5. Pat MacArthur aka the Scottish Rugby Blog’s weekly Ross Ford Rant™

I suggested on Twitter that Ford was starting because Johnson reads this blog and just wanted to annoy me given I’ve had Ford in the last chance saloon for two weeks on the trot. I asked if anyone could offer a more plausible explanation. The only plausible (repeatable) suggestion was that Ford looks good on the posters.

Pat MacArthur should be starting against Australia, not warming the bench. Johnson says Ford only made one error at the line out (a squint throw) and did a lot of good work in the loose. Some commenters on here and elsewhere have backed this saying some of the blame for failed line outs shout lie with Hamilton and the jumpers and that Ford tackles and carries well. There is some truth in that, but a hooker has two main jobs no-one else does. Throw ins at line-outs and hooking. Some blame for line out failure may lie with Hamilton and the jumpers but is that a trust issue? Ford has been misfiring for a number of years. Some have suggested that Ford has been instructed not to hook and Scotland are relying on being able to drive over the ball. But when the ball is sitting dormant in the channel and the shove isn’t working you’d think he might at least give it a go. If Ford is still in the last chance saloon he’s long since passed out in the toilets covered in his own vomit.

In his brief time in a Scotland shirt MacArthur has shown he has the ability to compete at this level even demonstrating an openside’s scavenging instinct in the ruck. If Johnson is trying to test the strength and depth of his squad Ford’s continued selection makes no sense. Scott Lawson showed he might still have something to contribute from the bench but MacArthur has the potential and ability to become first choice and make a real difference in games. His selection on the bench is baffling.

And finally…

An honourable mention must also go to Tom Heathcote and Greig Tonks. Heathcote must be ruing his decision to stay in England rather than making the move north but in terms of getting mileage you would have thought Johnson might have given him a run at some point even if it was from the bench. Tonks is also unfortunate not to get a run out while Maitland. We know what Maitland can do and he does it effectively, although once Hogg returns he’ll probably be posted back to the wing. It seems a shame then not to give Tonks a run to get mileage on the clock and chance to add more competition in the back three.

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Born a Souter but brought up just south of the Border in Berwick where he played for Berwick RFC as a kid any any position where cover was needed.
Follow Cammy on twitter @CammyBlack

13 comments on “5 Players Who Should Have Been Given A Chance

  1. FF on

    I broadly agree but mainly about particular individuals – Fusaro, MacArthur, Bennett, the front row alternatives.

    However, others are fair enough. Heathcote has been bench-warming all season and really is out of the running until he’s playing rugby. Not sure there would be much point in chucking him on to sink in the last 10 minutes of a game. He’s lucky to still be with the squad and needs to move club fast. Young guys have to play to improve and he wasn’t up to test speed in his few appearances so far.

    Tonks in my opinion is not a test player and he is clearly seen as being on the very fringe of the squad. When Hogg and Murchie return he’ll be out again. He’s there to hold the tackle bags basically.

    What really annoys me though, is even if you think Fusaro isn’t up to it (and I hadn’t read those comments from SJ before which is deeply disappointing) – why have Brown at openside? He isn’t an openside and shouldn’t be considered there. Play Barclay and let him reacclimatise to international rugby. Or play Fusaro and challenge him to justify his place. But don’t play Brown and shuffle everyone around to accommodate others. Bonkers!

  2. Coully on

    I can understand an element of preselection, but as injuries have shown,…that can be blown apart fairly quickly. We can only hope that this is not the case for the 6n BUT I WOULDN’T HOLD MY BREATH!

  3. John Ellis on

    MacArthur should be starting no argument,Shiels? maybe on the bench for the Japan match but no way for the SA or Aussies. Welsh is a loosehead at international level no matter what Glasgow does with him and with Grant easily the best loosehead we have then he has got little chance of consistent game time and that brings us to Cross v Low. Cross is always up for it but you can’t exactly say that Low shirks his duties either, Cross gets around the paddock marginally better than Low but we’ve got enough back rowers as it is. Cross makes tackles but so does Low but I would venture that Low gets more turnovers , but when we get to the job that tightheads are primarily employed for, scrummaging, then Moray Low is easily the better man for the job. Yes we know what we get with Low but same can be said about Cross who has had his chances, until we get an up and coming prop who offers more than the present incumbent then tighthead is not a position to be “giving people a chance” in.

  4. Scots/Welsh on

    I don’t know if its true or not, but a rumour is circulating down here that having watched last weeks game against South Africa and seeing this weeks team, the Australian management team have told all their players that they can go out on the p-ss on Friday night.

    Said when Johnson was appointed to Scotland team that it was a major mistake. He did nothing with a very good Ospreys team and here he has, at best, a bunch of very average players.

  5. Standoffalot on

    Jeez, here we go all over again with ridiculous selections. What has Fusaro got to do?!!!! Why can we never play a balanced back row? I’d have liked to see the killer B’s personally. Denton is not a ball carrying 8, if he plays it has to be at 6. The sooner Strauss is qualified the better. How many lives does Ford have?!!! A hooker who can’t hook or throw!!! And Laidlaw as well, he’s our 3rd best scrum half but our best goalkicker, but with Weir playing, give Cus a chance. Second row is a joke, Gilchrist isn’t good enough and as for Big Jim the enforcer, don’t get me started. This is breaking my heart. So many questions. . . .

  6. David Paterson on

    Alas, think Johnson feels the three Glasgow players mentioned here had their chance on a particularly traumatic afternoon in Toulon and will have to prove themselves in the remaining H-Cup group games to warrant inclusion in the 6 Nations. Plenty other Scotland Internationals in that game but they had been capped beforehand (apart from J Gray). Wonder how Scotland would do away to Toulon?

  7. Phoenix on

    Look, I know we have all had a laugh about Girth but seriously, has one player ever been treated so badly?! The man management is horrendous. He has been on the bench twice and only came off it once. He then gets returned to Edinburgh to sit on the bench tonight! He has delivered every time he plays, granted short on game time this year but he has proved to be a fairly solid prop on the loose and usually makes yards with ball in hand. Not to mentioned all the times he has stepped up on a Sunday when the Rev decides he is not up for it, puts in a shift only to be swiftly dropped the next week. No wonder his form has been patchy this season as there is only so much abuse you can take.

    Let us all remember that Girth had the best Scotland debut in the history of the sport! Came on for a kick off, chased said kick off, tackled player illegally in the air, yellow carded whilst on a strecher off the park. Beautiful committed stuff. We still love you Girth!

  8. Michael on

    Heathcote will never get a chance until he is the starting 10 for Bath. Unfortunately George Ford is the starting 10 and with head coach being his Dad, Mike Ford, Heathcote has not had a look in this season. Should have moved to Edinburgh with big Jack

  9. Kevin on

    I think that unfortunately, with Ford being the starting 10 seemingly only because his Father is the coach, Heathcote will never get a chance to see minutes at 10. Pretty disappointing because I think he really could have worked well with the other high cap players on the team. Who knows, maybe Jackson or another one of the Warriors players could be a good fit behind Ford and Heathcote could move to inside center or wing.

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