Where Are the Back Row Riches?

What has happened to the back row in Scottish rugby?
Once, not so long ago, whatever other inadequacies there were in Scottish rugby, we could always be guaranteed a clutch of back row players that were the envy of most sides and often the key to many a Lions team. John Jeffrey, Derek White and Finlay Calder. John Beattie (snr) and Iain Paxton. Jim Calder, David Leslie and Rob Wainwright. Latterly, Jason White and Simon Taylor.
And so the list goes on.Now it is beginning to look as though we doubt the best we produce are adequate for international rugby.

It is true that Johnnie Beattie, Kelly Brown, Al Strokosch, John Barclay and (on and off) Ross Rennie have had decent international careers, but none of them has been a Lion, nor were any save perhaps Brown mentioned as candidates on the last two tours, despite the likes of Barclay and Rennie being touted for such honours when they burst on the scene.
Meanwhile their contemporaries – Ally Hogg, Scott Newlands, James Eddie, Calum Forrester – flirted with international rugby or even just pro rugby, then were discarded. Simon Taylor went into self-imposed exile.
The current batch of back row successors seem to be “transformed” into other positions – Lewis Calder is now a hooker at London Scottish, Stuart McInally a hooker at Edinburgh, and the latest move is that pacey Number 8 Richie Vernon is being tried at 13 with Stirling County. Chris Fusaro has seemingly hit an international glass ceiling under Scott Johnson and Roddy Grant rarely makes the squad despite a string of man of the match performances.
And all the time the home grown back rowers who have come through the age-grades are being dispensed with, we’re filling up our national and pro squads with players brought up elsewhere, or ‘project’-ed as future Scotland players – Kieran Low, Dave Denton, Josh Strauss, Tyrone Holmes, Cornell Du Preez, Mike Conan. Some of them look like they will be useful additions to the depth of the team but should they be needed?
Has the physique required of a modern day back row changed so much that genetically we cannot produce them in Scotland any more?
Or is it just a fashion where home grown Scottish rugby virtues are no longer appreciated by coaches raised in other parts of the world?

16 comments on “Where Are the Back Row Riches?

  1. Gordon on

    This is harsh on Rennie I think, the only thing keeping him out of the Lions this year was the fact that he was injured in the run up to it. If he’d been playing, I think he could have played himself into the XV given how fantastic he was in the 6N and over the summer tour (outplaying Pocock).

    I also think Brown was unlucky not to get selected, Lydiate did not deserve a place at all, either of Strokosch or Brown deserved a place more and might have gone had it been not been a coach that was probably biased towards the Welsh in close calls.

    So I don’t really think Scotland are struggling for backrow players, except in the 8 jersey things are good. Rennie, Barclay, Fusaro and Grant are all fine 7s, and Brown and Strokosch are well up to international standard at 6. Behind Beattie jnr. there aren’t really any 8s to inspire much confidence, but it’s not a crisis I don’t think.

  2. Dave on

    On paper I think there are a number of good back rowers. Definitely compared to our two main problem positions hooker and fly half. As well as the names mentioned I rate Ryan Wilson. Harley is pretty decent for a third or fourth choice 6 as well. I also think Ally Hogg has something to offer although the coaches don’t seem to agree and I think James Eddie deserves at least Scotland squad recognition.

    Saying that we have not been able to win a steady stream of quick ball for some time. Having Rennie at 7 I reckon would give us the best chance of doing so, so I really hope that his absence from the Edinburgh teamsheet over the last 2-3 games is not because he is crocked yet again.

    Beyond the players mentioned, in terms of good young back rowers coming through the ranks I agree with you that there do not seem to be many coming through. Ashe seems to be about the only one knocking on the door at pro level. The other EDPs seem to be some way away from breaking into the pro sides.

  3. AndyK on

    We have a number of decent back row individuals avaiable, but seem either uninterested (which may be the case for the modern game) or unwilling to select a back row unit.

    Denton is a prime example of a guy who, 9 out of 10 times will take the “Hollywood” extra yards and let the ball die rather than think and keep it alive.

    All the great back rowers mentioned in the origonal post, formed part of a unit.

    Is this a dead duck? Is the unit no longer of value?

    PS…interesting that this article has a photo of a guy who must be at best 10th choice for Scotland. More Edinburgh voices trying to get heard?? It was those same Edinburgh voices who had us playing Greg Laidlaw at 10 for a season and we all know how that worked out!!!

    • Peter Wolf on

      I hope that you managed to watch Edinburgh yesterday. The two best players on the pitch were the two that you belittle above…Grant and Denton. You clearly hadnt seen much of Edinburgh before posting your comment above as they have been standouts for several weeks now. No doubt where your allegiance was lying between Xmas and New Year.

    • AndyK on

      I watched all of the game at the weekend and I have watched alot of Edinburgh this season. Mostly after they started improving admittedly.

      Denton played exactly in the manner described above. He hit hard and took the Holywood yards. I dont recall any significant link play from him, which is my main gripe with his style.

      3 Questions for you Peter:

      1. Are you denying that Roddy Grant would appear to be about 10th choice?

      2. Do you think we should switch Greg Laidlaw back to 10 and sacrifice a blind side to stand beside him every game?

      3. Was there a massive clamour from Edinburgh fans to have Laidlaw picked at 10 for Scotland when he should just have stuck to 9??

    • Peter Wolf on

      Every team has to get over the gain line and Denton does that very well. Do I think he is a skillful rugby player? No I don’t but I think he should play 6 for Scotland where he doesn’t need to worry about offloading. This season that part of his game has certainly improved.
      1. In Scott Johnson’s eyes he has appeared to be that in the past. This article was identifying that he has been in great form and if you were actually picking an open side would be in with a shout at starting, hence why his photo is on the article. Rennie has been fit since the autumn tests and has been kept out the Edinburgh team behind Grant.
      2. Where have I mentioned Laidlaw? I don’t rate him as a great 9 let alone 10. Custer for me every day of the week.
      3. You’ll probably find it was from the SRU as a whole that he played 10, not just Edinburgh. Scotland had several 9s ahead of him so they tried him at 10, a move that will have been instigated from Andy Robinson. Something they have since changed.

  4. Tim S on

    I believe there is cause for optimism in the long run with a healthy set of young back rowers at both Glasgow and Edinburgh currently, show great potential and will eventually step up. I would like to especially mention Will Bordill who seems to be the real deal!Whilst Magnus Bradbury looks a fantastic prospect at Edinburgh whilst playing for boroughmuir! Hamish Watson also looks like he could eventually cement an Edinburgh place at some point!

    • FF on

      I just hope they get the chance. I have no problem with 3-4 non-Scottish qualified players in the starting lineup of Edinburgh or Glasgow, but when there are lots of distinctly average squad players it is hard to see where chances for young players will come.

      We shouldn’t forget that players like Harley, Fusaro, Wilson, etc. got lots of game time when the world cup deprived the pro-teams of many senior players. If squads are designed to plug these holes with foreign journeymen during the 6N, when do the young guns get a chance to stake their claim?

  5. David Dailly on

    The Options as I see them are as follows.

    Wilson
    Beattie
    Fussaro
    Holmes
    Harley
    Denton
    Brown
    Barclay
    Grant
    Rennie

    My selections to fight for the 6 spot would be Harley, Brown, Denton.

    7’s would be Fussaro, Barclay, Holmes, Grant, Rennie.

    8’s would be Beattie, Wilson.

    Happy with shifts between 6 and 8. Happy for two 7’s to be on the field. Not happy with playing 6 or 8 at 7. We need players that can turn the ball over. Fussaro had a big impact when he came off the bench against Edinburgh.

    • FF on

      By RWC2015 Strauss will be Scottish qualified. Strokosch could also fill in as an experienced squad member.

    • DD on

      @FF
      Absolutely. The list I have above was put up based on current availability for the 6N. When looking at the RWC the pool expands and also becomes a more exciting. Strauss will be a welcome addition. Also, the London Irish duo now know that they have realistic International opportunities and may well adjust their goals and efforts accordingly. There are also a few EDP’s ready to step up.

      Interesting thing I noticed the other day. We currently have several of our Scotland U20 squad at academies or full time rugby with top teams in England and France. Can only be a good thing. Well…unless they have dual Nationality al la Tommy Allan. SRU missed a trick on that one.

  6. Coully on

    been unimpressed wi barclay for a time now, and can’t understand the glass ceiling that fusaro has hit, let alone alowwing roddy grant a run out. Agree with earlier reply that denton is a bit of a basher and thats it. Seems such a shame that Ally Hogg is pretty much done, another lost to the wilderness.

    • DD on

      Agreed. I feel that Fussaro has overtaken him. Fuzzy would be my 1st choice with Grant close behind (based on his current form). Not seen much of Rennie recently.

  7. Ruairidh McBride on

    Scottish open-sides need to be given a chance. I was gutted to see Fusaro didn’t get a game against Australia. Are we really going to follow in South Africa’s footsteps(they persistently omit Brussow on the basis of weight and height)! Surely, with a pretty average team we need to start letting the stars of the Pro 12 have a shot!In saying that, I don’t think the players help themselves. If you look at Sean O’Brien, he has worked hard to develop his physique. His skill levels are no better than most but he is a solid man to dislodge from the breakdown and his ball carrying is world class. For a professional sportsman like Fusaro/Grant, putting on 6KG in muscle is nothing. It might stop them being shamed by huge NZ/SA packs and allow the backs to show some skills. I think it boils down to limited career ambition and a lack of desire, they are doing well at club level but have no drive to take it to the next level. Look how much Beattie and Brown came along playing in a better league, why are more Scots not looking at the big money moves to France/England!

    • AndyK on

      ….only to hear the head coach tell Kelly Brown he has the captaincy if he proves he’s the best 7 apparently.

      P!ss poor man managemnet making that public.

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