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5 Key Points For Beating England

There was a change of rhetoric coming out of the Scotland camp in the wake of the defeat to Ireland. Players were not compared to a fine wine, rugby was not compared to making love with a beautiful woman and there was no mention of statistics and swimwear. Instead we got it straight. Scotland were “dreadful”. 

There was also some honesty about the development of young players coming through the system with Johnny Gray being highlighted as an exception rather than the rule. David Ferguson expanded on this in his excellent article in this week’s Scotsman (essential reading if you haven’t already picked it up.) A late night tweet between senior players also seemed to hint at discipline problems within the squad appearing to suggest that some were more interested in their phones than listening to instructions.

The coaches promised changes and whilst many will welcome the decision to give Chris Fusaro his debut questions still remain about the continued selection of Ross Ford. McArthur drops out of the team altogether and is replaced by the “experienced” Scott Lawson who can hardly be described as widening Scotland’s playing pool ahead of the World Cup. It’s difficult to see what McArthur is doing wrong on the pitch. We can only assume he’s having a shocking time in training.  

Looking beyond Johnson’s selection decisions it’s time to turn our attention to the Calcutta Cup and how Scotland can bring the trophy back a Murrayfield stadium that has seen just one English try since 2004.

1. Can we kick it?

Nowell and Goode conceded 8 turnovers against France with Nowell culpable for France’s first try. Nowell in particular seems vulnerable under pressure and Scotland would do well to target him in defence and fire the ball straight down his throat especially in wet conditions. Johnson says he has picked Tommy Seymour for his aerial skills so we can expect Scotland to put the English back line under pressure. 

Weir, Laidlaw and even Dunbar showed some decent awareness of gaps opening up behind the Irish defence. Those kicks weren’t executed particularly well but a little more composure and accuracy and Scotland could find themselves in some decent field position. However if Scotland are going to kick England into submission they’ll have to make sure the forwards are able to capitalise on field position.

2. “Hook you daft *******! Hook!”

I posted the above tweet during the game on Sunday and judging by the reaction I wasn’t alone in screaming at the television. Laidlaw had fed the ball into the scrum and it sat there in the channel. Ford made no attempt to strike it with Best eventually putting him out of his misery and stealing it against the head. The ball was lost 5 metres from the Irish line. Unforgiveable.

The continued selection of Ross Ford is baffling. He contributes in defence and punches holes in attack but that’s not the two main roles of a hooker. The clue is in the name and Ford has been left behind by his inability to adapt to the rule changes. The line out was no better with Scotland loosing 5. That might not all be down to Ford but Scotland were lucky O’Connell was struck down with man flu last weekend. They won’t be so lucky against Lawes.

It’s hard to see Scott Johnson’s thinking here. The Murrayfield pitch is a mess and if scrums stay up they’re unlikely to move forward. Unless Ford has suddenly developed the ability to hook in 6 days it’s going to be a long long long 80 minutes of rugby.

Scotland have not had the same turnaround time as England and injuries and the weather have hampered training time. It seems unlikely the forwards will have had much of an opportunity to sort out any problems. Scotland’s set piece will be operating on a wing and a prayer.

3. Play dirty

When Scotland went to Dublin without an openside they weren’t so much taking a knife to a gun fight as taking a blunted plastic spoon into war. It told with Chris Henry unlucky not to get man of the match.

Scott Johnson said Chris Fusaro had got the nod ahead of Kelly Brown on form and on account of the fact he’s a “ground feeder.” The state of the pitch and the weather will make for unpleasant conditions and Johnson is hoping Fusaro’s relatively diminutive stature can be put to good use in winning the ball in the ruck. Joe Marler says England haven’t talked much about the condition of the pitch whereas Scotland appear to be building their game plan around it. That could give them an edge. 

Earlier this week Budge Poutney said Scotland need to get nasty and try and irritate the English. In Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley and Danny Care England have three players with a history of disciplinary issues. If Scotland can capitalise on this and keep the referee on side they may gain the upper hand. Scotland’s problem may lie with Jim Hamilton who, in the absence of Kelly Brown, is the elder statesman of the forward pack. As he emerged from under a pile of Irishmen he was greeted by Craig Joubert.

“Jim, a word,” said Joubert, “the fact of the matter is that there’s a lot going on there and you’re involved in every one.”

“I’m only looking after myself,” came the reply.

In the absence of the calming influence of Kelly Brown the Scottish forwards must make sure they don’t go native.

4. Patience

Laidlaw’s speed from the base of the ruck has been criticised by a number of commenters on here and elsewhere.  That criticism is unwarranted. It is wrong to compare Laidlaw’s performance with Cusiter’s. Laidlaw had to strike a balance between getting the ball away quickly but not desperately flinging it and hoping. Cusiter’s role was to crank up the tempo.

On a couple of occasions Laidlaw looked like he was struggling for options. That is the fault of those outside him, both forwards and backs. If Scotland can stick with a regular 9/10 combination an understanding will develop and options will appear more readily. You have to feel sorry for Laidlaw who has been kept wondering which 10 he will be playing alongside every week at national and club level. It’s a testament to his abilities that he’s still able to boss games as well as he does.

Scotland had plenty of attacking options on Sunday but lacked composure. At one point Scotland had a clear overlap with Weir throwing a long looping pass to the wing rather than moving the ball quickly through the hands. By the time the ball reached Maitland the defensive line had shifted and the chance was lost.

There is no denying that Scotland looked dangerous for short periods on Sunday. A little more composure and a little more faith and understanding of each other and the rest will come.

5. Don’t stop believing

England are vulnerable to complacency when they’re winning. That cost them against France. Unfortunately Scotland aren’t able to chase games. That needs to change. Part of that is down to player mentality which we talked about last week but another part is down to the home crowd.

The French crowd played their part in sticking by their team last week and there’s no doubt that transfers to the players. Scotland players need to play for 80 minutes if they are to win but the crowd must believe a win is possible right up until the whistle goes.

The atmosphere at Murrayfield has improved year on year but the crowd still has a tendency to fall silent if things aren’t going Scotland’s way. Players have a part to play in creating that atmosphere but that responsibility is reciprocal. If fans can’t get up and find their voice for this fixture they have no right to expect the players to do likewise.

Highland Cathedral is never going to catch on but there’s still a chance Loch Lomond might. It may even be time to bring back the old classic and tell the English where they can stick their chariots. One way or another Scotland’s 16th player must silence the English both on the pitch and off it if Scotland are going to win.

Scotland team to play England in the RBS 6 Nations Championship at Murrayfield on Saturday 8 February, kick-off 5pm

15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors) 16 caps, 3 tries, 15 points

14 Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors) 5 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
13 Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors) 4 caps, 1 try, 5 points
12 Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby) 17 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
11 Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors) 83 caps, 12 tries, 60 points

10 Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors) 9 caps, 1 try, 2 conversions, 9 points
9 Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby) CAPTAIN 25 caps, 3 tries, 23 conversions, 56 penalties, 229 points

1 Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors) 14 caps
2 Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby (72 caps, 2 tries, 10 points)
3 Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors) 24 caps
4 Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors) 4 caps
5 Jim Hamilton (Montpellier) 51 caps, 1 try, 5 points
6 Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors) 5 caps
7 Chris Fusaro (Glasgow Warriors) uncapped
8 David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby) 18 caps


16 Scott Lawson (Newcastle Falcons) 39 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
17 Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby) 31 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
18 Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby) 24 caps, 1 try, 5 points
19 Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors) 2 caps
20 Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier) 27 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
21 Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors) 65 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
22 Duncan Taylor (Saracens) 7 caps
23 Max Evans (Castres) 38 caps, 3 tries, 15 points

Referee: Jerome Garces (France). Assistant referee: George Clancy (Ireland) and Mike Fraser (New Zealand). TMO: Eric Gauzins (France).

18 Responses

  1. I think Saturday is definitely winnable, but only if we get off to a flier. Ford really needs to be dropped if only to give him a kick up the a@%e. A hooker who can’t hook or hit his jumpers is of no use to anyone. I would like to maybe see Ford switch positions, if Stuart McInally can move forward in the scrum, why not Ford back? Ford is very useful around the park but I think he may benefit from a positional switch in the long term. Just thinking out loud really. Lawson or McArthur would have been a better bet for this game. Big Jim is another who seems bulletproof. Swinson is definitely worth another shot but I would have brought in big Richie in place of Jim. Cusiter for Laidlaw I would have also liked to see, but I think you’ll see a better performance from our now captain, although defensively he needs to shore up. Good backline though, with a really exciting centre pairing. Still, I’m optimistic as ever for Saturday. Is Tony Stanger on the bench?

    1. Surely Lawson is on the bench because he can throw, in case Ford has another mare? MacArthur isn’t a particularly good thrower either so I expect that is why he doesn’t keep his bench spot.

      Not sure why Gray is dropped rather than Jim. The fact Jim calls the lineouts is apparently one reason he keeps getting picked but our lineout is dire and it isn’t only Ford’s fault.

      Someone needs to step up at hooker – how good is Fraser Thomson? Is McInally actually going to play for Bristol? Is there any other bright young buck?

      1. Alun Walker is on loan from Edinburgh with Nottingham in the Championship. Saw him against the Ospreys and thought he showed a lot of promise. Fraser Brown did well against the Saxons by all accounts and McInally hasn’t player or been named on the bench in the two games Bristol have played since he went on loan. Interestingly Ross Rennie has scored 3 tries in 2 matches so far

  2. The announcement of the team was delayed due to injuries. I know Maitland is not selected because of injury but are any others from Sunday’s squad out due to injury? I find it strange I can find no mention of any reason for any of the changes

  3. Looking back at the game against Ireland and again can’t understand why Laidlaw is continued to be picked! Too many missed tackles!
    Relieved to see a genuine 7 starting but Brown not included in the squad at all is a bit of a mystery, I would play him at 6 instead of Wilson. No Richie Gray or MacArthur?
    I could go on and on about the selection of Ross Ford again but its getting rather boring now!

  4. Can anyone explain why Ryan Wilson is getting picked at 6 ahead of our other options?? He is a good 8, although behind both Beattie and Denton even in sj’s bizarre selections. Brown, beattie, Hogg, strochosh, low, Swinson, Harley… all rank higher for me.

    I’m torn on the hooking options, Ross ford does seem to be hitting some form around the field and I’m not sure McArthur has offered more in the scrum or lineout. Sadly I think the problems run deeper, and the lack of confidence is becoming a viscous circle. Let me be clear, I am not a big fan of Mr ford at the moment, but the options are seriously limited. I’m hoping Neil Cochrane comes through at Edinburgh next year, I’m disappointed at how little he has played at wasps this year(guessing injury since Edinburgh have moved for him). Also hope mcinally and Laurie can come through next year.

    Guessing Gray junior is on the bench as he calls lineout whereas Richie doesn’t.

    The backs look good, surprised town’s isn’t on the bench for fullback/ stand off cover.

    I’m trying to be optimistic as usual!!

  5. How difficult is it to ‘call’ lineouts?
    It’s suddenly becoming a defineable skill – I can’t believe after all his caps and top team experience Richie Gray would be left out because he can’t call lineouts but his 19 year old brother can? Surely more to it than that.

    1. Gray carries well but his body position at the ruck leave a lot to be desired. He looked like he was just falling on top of them in order to seal off the ball.

  6. Good to see Fusaro, given a chance and also good to have Seymour and Scott back but I feel for Kelly Brown. He has been our best 6 for a number of years now and always plays well for Scotland, Johnson has got it completely wrong trying him at 7. For what reason? He claims he has better options! Ryan Wilson a better 6 than Kelly Brown – come on! Disappointing to see Ford and Hamilton still in there, I just don’t get it, on top of Ford’s set piece malfunctions, I don’t believe he offers much going forward. MacArthur not even on the bench! Very progressive selection! Richie Gray is surely the future and shouldn’t be judged coming into a team on it’s knees. He was apparently good enough last week to be selected on the bench!

    Despite my misgivings again about the team selection, I really hope we can win. Come on Scotland!

  7. Hello – new to this blog, but thought I’d post on,of all things, the topic of songs catching on!

    I meant to post this a while ago when someone was looking for new songs – this one would be good full belt in the pub…

    It appears to be Wendyball people singing it, but it’s an old Scottish marching tune nevertheless.

    Anyway, Ford to flanker and SOS Big Nathan. There – that’s the extent of my rugby contribution. Better sticking to music!

  8. Sad to say, I think we’re in for a nil result tournament, on the basis of our recent tests and other teams’ performances last week, can’t see who we will beat.
    We can hardly win a lineout.
    We can’t win a scrum without Ford pushing and then he isn’t able to hook.
    We can’t win rucks for more than a few phases.
    Our backs can’t get past the gain line.

    No confidence at all in SJ. When does VC arrive so that SJ can take his place in a plush office upstairs?

  9. I see Mark Bennett is starting this weekend for Glasgow. I wonder if he’ll make a late run for the World Cup team?

    The management seems to have decided he is too green this season but Cotter surely knows his name.

  10. If anyone hears some bad singing coming from East 15 please join in, I’m thinking Loch Lomond/Auld Lang Syne, lets see if we can get it going

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion