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?