A cold frost settles over the land. A black smoke rises from Scottish Rugby Blog towers. Yes, we’re all watching the new Game of Thrones trailer.
Soon after though, we emerged blinking into the sunlight, having picked a Scotland team while we were at it.
Scottish Rugby Blog XV: 15. Hogg, 14. Maitland, 13. Dunbar, 12. Scott, 11. Lamont, 10. Weir, 9. Laidlaw; 1. Grant, 2. Ford, 3. Welsh, 4. Swinson, 5. Hamilton, 6. Strokosch, 7. Barclay, 8. Denton.
Rory Baldwin (RB): So there’s the team selected by popular vote, ie us. Are we really all picking Ross Ford, after everything said in the Autumn?
Brodie Smithers (BS): I’m afraid so. No other viable option really. Yet.
Jamie Lyall (JL): MacArthur hasn’t been given much game time at Test level; something most of us (Cameron in particular) were crying out for in November. Wasn’t rotation and squad expansion Johnson’s main focus for the autumn tests anyway?
Cameron Black (CB): I really don’t see what MacArthur has done wrong. Couple of duff throws – but if we’re judging our hookers on their throwing we’d have no bugger left. Lawson is a step backwards and so is Hall. Create proper competition between MacArthur and Ford and make them push each other. That sort of competition has worked well for England with Youngs and Hartley. Currently Ford is under no pressure and no consistency in selections of others to push him.
JL: Pre RWC 11, Robinson actually had Dickinson training at hooker to try and put something of a rocket up [Ford’s] arse. I actually think Dickinson would be pretty well suited to hooker, to be honest.
Barry John (BJ): There’s a fine line between blooding up & comers and playing known quantities until they retire and if the coaches aren’t careful then it blows up in your face, a la the England Cricket team.
Alan Dymock (AD): How’s the McInally experiment going?
Gav Harper (GH): Well apparently, according to those at the game he was very good for Accies vs London Scottish on Saturday.
RB: And now he’s off to Bristol.
JL: In fairness to Ford, he’s played reasonably well for Edinburgh recently, though still far from his best form.
RB: Matt Scott is barely fit, Dunbar not long back. Yet we’ve all gone for the pair of them in the centre. Is that a sign of confidence or desperation?
BJ: I picked Hoggy at 13 actually.
JL: Bit of both. We know what Scott’s capable of, and we know how short we are of quality in depth in the midfield – especially at 12.
RB: Scott failed a late fitness test last weekend and isn’t listed this weekend so he’s going to be pretty short of game time going into the squad. If he’s not fit do we stick with Taylor or look to Dunbar at 12 and someone else at 13?
BJ: Is Taylor getting game time? Not that I’m watching lots of Sarries games. I’ll blame Ashton & Farrell for that.
CB: To a certain extent form can be irrelevant. For good or bad players tend to turn it on in internationals. Also with us only a handful of games away from World Cup we need to stick with a core squad that understands each other.
BS: Wildcard – Richie Vernon.
RB: Scott is undoubtedly class on his day. Let’s hope he’s fresh rather than undercooked.
BS: I was joking.
RB: We’ve gone for Lamont and Maitland on the wing. Will Evans, Seymour (currently injured) or Fife get a look in?
RB: Dougie Fife scored for Edinburgh vs Perpignan and he’s been notching them up of late. But Maitland and Lamont got on the score sheet too.
BJ: Is Cuthbert fit? His form lately at 15 must put him in with a shout of match day squad.
RB: I think he warrants a spot on the bench on current form.
BS: Lamont proved during the Autumn tests that he has the heart for Scotland but not the pace for an international winger. Switch him to 13 and let a winger play wing.
RB: The half backs – Jackson was on form against Exeter, but he hasn’t picked up a vote from us (Tonks got 2). The choices at 9 have their critics. Would you let Hoggy kick the goals to allow us to shake up things at 9 and 10?
JL: The devil in me says Tonks, but I’d like to see him get a few more Edinburgh games under his belt. Laidlaw still gets my vote at 9, very smart rugby player, and Weir at 10. Pyrgos and Jackson have been largely disappointing of late, and I’m not convinced Hogg is a Test goal-kicker.
RB: Greig is a very smart rugby player when he’s having a good game. But he’s sleepwalked through a few others this season and for me Cusiter’s service is sharper. It’s the spring, that’s when you freshen things up.
Christie Lester (CL): In theory yes, but if it were me in charge I would shake things up during the autumn so that we can see what works ahead of the 6 Nations. Hoggy’s kicking is too wayward to place complete faith in it in these games. I fancy I will get some stick for saying this, but with Paterson’s retirement Scotland has lost a consumate place kicker which needs to be addressed in the face of the Owen Farrells, Leigh Halfpennys and Jonathan Sextons of this world.
BJ: I’d say Tonks at 10 for the A game against the Saxons then see where you go from there. I think you need to give Hoggy a go at place kicking so we’ve as many options as possible going forward.
RB: He did it for the lions. With mixed results.
BJ: If you play Jackson at 10 you need someone else to take the place kick. To be honest there’s some scary distance kickers in the other nations coming through and Laidlaw, Jackson aren’t good or long enough compared to the likes of Daly and Patchell amongst others.
BS: Laidlaw and Weir for me. Reluctantly, but Jackson’s performance against South Africa put years on me. Cusiter has never been my kind of nine. Pyrgos should be on the bench. Tonks? Not yet.
RB: Laidlaw is a handy replacement in the kicking stakes, but too many off games and he’s in danger of becoming a Mossy-a-like in for his place kicking.
JL: No arguments re Cusiter’s service – it’s a good deal slicker than Laidlaw’s. But I do feel Laidlaw’s game management and general intelligence is important in big games, especially if we’re going for a 10 like Weir who is still cutting his Test match teeth. Don’t think he’s in the Mossy category by a long stretch, and agree with Barry that he’s not the ever-reliable, booming kicker some make him out to be. Sub-40m, you back him, but anything over that distance and you’re pushing it. If Weir could find some form off the tee, he’d be the pick of the place-kickers for me.
RB: I bet Tonks can kick.
CB: Think the speed Laidlaw delivered ball from rucks in Autumn owed more to tactics than anything else. The game plan seems to have reverted to keeping ball at all costs which is a shame given what we learned against Italy and Ireland last year. Of course it might be that Laidlaw lacks an ounce of confidence in fly halves and who can blame him. Scotland haven’t had a settled first choice 10 in almost a decade. Look at England and Farrell. He’s been inconsistent but Lancaster has kept faith and given him chance to develop. For me we should have stuck with Jackson for last few years and given him time to develop. Weir works well as impact sub though. Heathcote is still an option but he should have moved north in the summer.
RB: I hear he doesn’t fancy it.
CB: Scotland fans should be careful what they wish for though. Phil Godman is doing a job of sorts at Newcastle. Johnson’s just mad enough to make that happen.
RB: Who’s the captain of this motely lot?
BJ: Laidlaw, as Cusiter didn’t make the cut.
GH: Johnson said in the press conference announcement that Brown is his 7 so he will captain the side…
RB: Brown didn’t make our team!
GH: Then Laidlaw is the man.
RB: Agreed, for this team. Good rugby brain on him. Johnson can’t see past Brown at the moment, despite there perhaps being better choices at 7. Many of whom didn’t make the squad or won’t make the team.
Alan Kerr (AK): Why is it I see the Scotland squad and square pegs and round holes spring to mind!
RB: We haven’t even had time to talk about why we picked Welsh and Barclay and Scott Johnson won’t!
AK: I am sure our faithful readers will have an opinion…
CB: By the way, if Dean Ryan is reading this, I write my critiques from the front room in my own house. Never written from my Mum’s bedroom as can’t get wi-fi signal.
Just to round things off, who do we think will actually be in the Scotland team to play Ireland on the 2nd?
Probable Scotland XV: 15. Hogg, 14. Maitland, 13. Dunbar, 12. Scott, 11. Lamont, 10. Jackson, 9. Laidlaw; 1. Grant, 2. Ford, 3. Low, 4. Swinson, 5. Gray, 6. Strokosch, 7. Brown, 8. Denton.