Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


5 Key Players With A Last Chance

The Brave Blossoms might sound like a collective name for a herd of My Little Ponies but they arrive in Scotland with sights set firmly on earning a place in the top 8 of the IRB World Rankings. When Eddie Jones took over as coach he said the way to do this was to develop a style of play that would allow them to win games against the likes of Wales and Scotland. This summer Japan beat Wales – albeit a Wales team decimated by absent Lions.

One down though, just one to go.

The Japanese Government is pouring money into the development of Union and the country will be the first second tier nation to host the World Cup when it comes to their shores in 2019. They even forked out the cash required to have a crack at the All Blacks (jumping the cash-poor Pacific Islands along the way) and although they were well beaten they still caused some problems, especially in the scrum.

In this piece we would usually look at five things Scotland need to do to overcome the opposition.

However as has been widely reported, Scott Johnson has issued a final warning to a number of incumbent players in the squad. Time is running out and Vern Cotter will not have the luxury of being able to experiment with new blood when he takes over coaching responsibilities. The squad for the Six Nations will, injuries aside, largely be the squad targeting World Cup glory. Josh Strauss, Tyrone Holmes or WP Nel may feature by then, but there will not be time for wholesale changes after this autumn.

Although Johnson hasn’t named names we can take a guess as some of the names in his sights with question marks next to them. So which five players are not so much drinking in the last chance saloon as desperately trying to get served before the landlord calls time and they fall off the stool?

1. Nick De Luca

Nick De Luca isn’t so much made of Teflon as some hitherto unknown alien substance which repels everything and anything thrown at it. The problem with De Luca is that he excites at club level and looks every inch a test-class centre. His partnership with Scott is strong, he runs powerfully and offloads well to the men outside him. This makes him hard for selectors to ignore but there are only so many times disciplinary lapses can be forgiven, especially when they lead to defeat. In the past, as with some of the other names on this list, it was a case of ‘if not De Luca then who else?’ Right now we have a few injuries in the centre but in general that is no longer the case, and De Luca will need to keep his head and reproduce his club form and partner exceptionally well with Scott if he wants to stand any chance of making the World Cup.

2. David Denton

David Denton may be young but time to make good on any potential before the World Cup is running out. There is plenty of competition from the likes of Harley and Wilson, not to mention Johnson’s first choice of Brown, Beattie and Strokosch. The imposing hairy figure of Josh Strauss looms particularly large as time ticks down to his qualification for Scotland, representing the ball-carrying cannon David needs to be. Denton needs a big performance or he may find himself so far down the pecking order, only an outbreak of the plague would see him restored to the squad.

3. Al Kellock

Al Kellock. Old reliable. The captain who went to a World Cup and watched from the bench. Kellock is a sure pair of hands in the lineout but there are plenty of young upstarts pushing for a place, not to mention the fact that Hamilton and Gray Snr. remain first choice among most fans. In terms of locks, Swinson and Gray Jnr may also now have overtaken him but the one reason he remains is Scotland do not have a leader as inspirational as Al. Kellock will be a sprightly 34 come autumn 2015 but he may not be first pick for the Warriors by that time, let alone Scotland. If he can command the line out and continue to inspire those around him there may be something to be said for putting faith in the old dog.

4. Ross Ford

As Brodie pointed out it seems rather strange to see Ross Ford’s name mentioned in the same breath as the Lions. That speaks volumes for how far Ford’s stock has fallen in the past five years. His ability to throw seems to have completely deserted him, although he is still an effective battering ram in the loose and brick wall in defence. In the past he was first choice because, well, if not Ross Ford then who else? Now there is Pat McArthur, Dougie Hall and Steve Lawrie. None stand-out but neither are they far behind Ford these days. The emerging Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally, whose choice to shift forward in the pack will also put more pressure on Ford and might push him out of the squad altogether unless he can unleash the Lion inside himself.

5. Euan Murray

Aside from being unavailable on the Sabbath, Murray is now largely a one-trick pony. That trick is being a marginally better scrummager than Geoff Cross. It’s a lousy trick. When Murray switches it on he is a great rugby player but generally his work in the loose is a shadow of what Girth can produce. Scotland are in crisis at tighthead and Jon Welsh might not be the answer. If Murray can’t produce a good all round performance AND cause damage in the scrum Scott Johnson must go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. Scotland will not progress from the group stages of a World Cup without a strong tighthead. The only option left to Scotland would be Scottish born Scott Wilson currently at Newcastle Falcons. But Johnson will have to fast track him into the squad soon. Wilson is already a Junior World Championship winner with England and will be called up to the Saxons sooner rather than later. There are a few names ahead of him in the England set up but being fast tracked into the Scottish front row and the chance to play in the 2015 World Cup might be too hard to resist.

10 Responses

  1. 1. NDL will battle it out with Peter Horne as the final centre pick behind Scott, Dunbar, and Bennett who can all interchange at 12 and 13 to varying degrees. Who knows who’ll win – Horne was superb for Glasgow but had a disasterous tour.
    2. Denton will sneak in if he keeps his form up as we’ll need legions of backrowers to run hard at SA and Samoa. Wilson’s serious injury came at just the wrong time, Harley is a little one-dimensional and Strokosch will do well to last two more years at the top.
    3. Al Kellock is as good as dead.
    4. Ford has too much experience to be replaced in the squad by two rookies and Hall.
    5. Euan Murray should be gone now. We should put a bit more faith in Cross and try to nick Wilson.

    Max Evans must also just be in the squad by the skin of his teeth.

    1. It would be unfair to say that Horne had a disastrous summer tour. Sure, he got bumped by Tuilagi, but it has happened to much better players. I’d say the only disaster was the injury he sustained

    2. I like Harley and think he will maintain a place in the squad. He may not be the most dynamic, but his work rate is immense, tackling absolutely everything for Glasgow and adding a lot to their largely impenetrable defence.

    3. FF “Ford has too much experience to be replaced in the squad by two rookies and Hall”. Dougie does not lack experience given he already has 42 Scotland caps, albeit most of these from the bench. However, he’ll be 35 by the time of the World Cup, and it perhaps this more than anything else which counts against him and a reason why he is not even in the 41 man squad for the AIs. So I’m not sure why you mention him as competition to Ford rather than Scott Lawson who is in the squad and with 38 caps brings a fair amount of experience too. Ok, he’s only one year younger than Hall, but Jono is keeping him around the squad for a reason.

      On Saturday against Japan we lost 4 scrums – two of these at least were because the ball was not hooked as Scotland tried to drive over the ball. Was this a tactical choice made by the management or is it because Ford cannot hook? I don’t know but it was a pretty shocking state of affairs. I’d start the game against SA with MacArthur in the number 2 shirt and put Ford on the bench.

    4. I was referring to the article “In the past he was first choice because, well, if not Ross Ford then who else? Now there is Pat McArthur, Dougie Hall and Steve Lawrie”

      2 rookies are Pat MacArthur and Steve Lawrie, both extremely inexperienced at test level + Hall. I’m well aware that Hall and Lawson are both experienced but neither has really been convincing at test level which is why Ford has been unassailable for so long. I agree that MacArthur should get a shot to start but there is almost zero chance that Ford is going to miss out on a squad place at the next world cup.

  2. I have a lot of faith in Denton. He’s got the ability to be a great player, he just needs to show it. Kellock would always be my first choice captain, it’s just a shame he’s not as highly rated anymore. I’d guess the other three will fade away soon, unless De Luca can produce the best international performance of his career I’d say there’s too much competition for him to be kept in the team. It’s a strange looking through a scotland squad and seeing as much young potential in the backs as in the forwards.

    On a completely unrelated topic, any chance we could breathe life into the alternative Scotland chant again? It kind of disappeared after the first game of the six nations, if I remember correctly it was Loch Lomond in place of ‘Scotland, scotland, scotland’, getting it going in the autumn might mean we’re ready to combat Sweet Chariot in February.

  3. I don’t no why NDL keeps getting chances for Scotland, I am a big fan of his at edinburgh but he had never been able to step up for some reason. There must be a limit to the changes your get.

  4. Ross Ford…a brick wall in defence? Is this the same Ross Ford that was handed off by Ronan O’Gara?!

  5. Nick de Luca has been one of Scotlands worst performing players over the last 10 years, his input in International matches has been so negative at has even cost us games on countless occasions. His selection seems completely ridiculous how many chances does a player get at this level?

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion