Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Johnson Aims for Stability

Richie Gray - photo © Alastair Ross
Richie Gray - photo © Alastair Ross

Scotland head coach Scott Johnson has made three changes for this weekend’s RBS Six Nations wooden spoon decider with Italy in Rome, but there is still no place for Kelly Brown in the match-day squad.

Chris Fusaro retains the openside jersey after his debut in the Calcutta Cup drubbing by England a fortnight ago, but there are three changes elsewhere in the pack.

Scott Lawson replaces Ross Ford at hooker, Johnnie Beattie comes in for the unlucky David Denton at number eight and Richie Gray is recalled in place of Tim Swinson.

Ford, Swinson and Denton are, though, on the replacements bench.

Behind the pack, with injury robbing Johnson of strike runners Sean Maitland and Tim Visser, it’s the same again as the Scots look to overturn a pair of dismal performances in the opening two games.

Alex Dunbar and Matt Scott, a pairing described by Johnson as “potentially world class” will have the chance to show their worth on the expanses of the Stadio Olympico if the Scottish pack can secure clean ball.

Lawson’s introduction at hooker and the recall of Gray should shore up the line-out that has misfired so badly in the first two rounds, while Johnnie Beattie offers increased international experience at the base of the scrum.

Despite calls in some circles for Stuart Hogg to move into the number 10 jersey, Duncan Weir is again charged with orchestrating a Scottish attack that has failed to score a try in four matches.

That means Hogg remains at full-back and will look to ignite the visitors on the counter-attack in Rome with ball in hand, rather than the kick-chase style that was deployed to no avail against the Auld Enemy.

Defeat to Italy on Saturday would all-but condemn Johnson’s troops to the wooden spoon with clashes against France and Wales still to come.



28 Responses

  1. At last a semblance of common sense. Lawson needs to shine and show what a hooker can do. Thank goodness we have a proper no 8 instead of a one trick pony who just goes to ground and everything stops. Personally would have put Hogg up to 10 and stuck Cuthbert in at 15 for this game only. We need a win and since I am off to Rome it has to happen

  2. It really isn’t far off our best team available. I’d only replace Hamilton for Gray jnr, Wilson for Denton or Brown and in different circumstances probably swap in Cus for Laidlaw who has gone off the boil. The present circumstances, trying to resist a total freefall in performance and results, work against replacing your second captain in the 6N. Fusaro deserves another chance. None of this will make a difference as the coaching team remains the same.

    It will be interesting to see how Allan goes. I haven’t been overly impressed by his form, he certainly isn’t a test standard placekicker, but some ‘fans’ seem to have anointed him as the NHs next big thing simply by virtue of rejecting Scotland and getting a couple of HC games for a French side that doesn’t take the HC seriously.

    Prediction: narrow loss as usual.

  3. Hamilton is a walking penalty. He’s been far too inconsistent this season to be in a starting international 15. I can’t understand the logic of dropping Denton, he has been our only impact player so far. Hogg to 10 is a good shout, but i think anyone who contributes to this page has mentioned how good an idea it is. May see it by the end of the game.
    My 15 would be

    15 Cuthbert
    14 Seymour
    13 Dunbar
    12 Scott
    11 Lamont
    10 Hogg
    9 Laidlaw
    8 Denton
    7 Wilson
    6 Brown
    5 Gray
    4 Gray
    3 Low
    2 McArthur ( needs game time, long term replacement for Ford)
    1 Grant

    1. No problem with the backs apart from Laidlaw…he needed dropped. The pack is a worry, why not Welsh who played well against Italy when last in Rome. Hamilton is a complete mystery, is he related to SJ? and Brown is our best 6, he should be playing there!

    2. If the pack could secure the ball for Laidlaw then we will see the Laidlaw of last years 6N. He played great last year and I belive that is why he is being retained at 9. He gets to breakdown and is having to make a quick decision based on the state of it. Being 9 he is under the scope more than any other player, I think this weekend we’ll see him back to his best, but only if the forwards can front up and secure that ball.

  4. Bare minimum of changes. Hamilton and Wilson need to repay SJ’s faith in them. I think Wilson has been a bit lost at 6. Another player playing out of his best position. I’d have given Denton a go at 6 to reward his efforts to date. One dimensional agreed, but at least gives it his all which can’t be said for the rest of the pack to date.

    Don’t think Hogg is a No. 10. He needs room to run and beat people. I imagine its going to be a ugly messy game with one score in it at the end, hopefully in our favour.

    Brown has been badly treated (something he said?).

  5. Agrre with your comment on KB mike. I mentioned in a differnet post, why say to a guy yeah you are team captain, but you aren’t guarenteed a start. Why name him captain in the first place if you have no faith in him.
    Hoggy has had a run at 10 for the warriors a couple of times and did it for the Lions vs Brumbies. he has a great rugby brain and makes good decisions, he can handle it.

  6. Scotland’s best performance of the last 12 months came in the hour of great rugby they played against SA with Ally Strockosch at 6.

    He doesn’t have the skill set of many of the other back rowers, but he brings an energy and a dynamism that we have sadly lacked.

    What did he do wrong?

  7. Good to see Gray and Beattie in and Ford dropped. Can’t understand selecting Lawson ahead of MacArthur, who is surely our hooker for the future. This would have been an ideal opportunity to continue his development at international level. If Ford is dropped because of poor form, why include him on the bench? Strange to think that Gray was able to solve his problems in one or two games at Castres and is now miraculously ready again for international rugby! I’m glad he’s back but odd explanation again from Johnson. Leaving Brown out again is just daft but at least we’ve got two out of three back rowers playing in their club positions! A result! I worry about discipline as Lamont, Lawson and Hamilton are all prone to giving away penalties regularly. I hope that won’t cost us. I’m glad Weir has been retained at 10, as I believe he has real potential, but give him the chance to play it as he sees it and boss the game. Hogg is a greater threat from 15.
    Come on Scotland!

  8. I’d call the selection half a step in right direction. Really don’t understand why Wilson was ever selected at 6 or how he is retaining the position??? Nothing against him as a third or 4th choice 8 Brown, strockosch, denton, Harley, low and Hogg are all better options in my opinion.

    The quotes from Sj seem a bit more restrained which is positive but there’s something up in the background when you consider the Gray, Brown, Denton and strockosch treatment.

  9. Totally the wrong place I know, but was hugely impressed by Finn Russell last week for Glasgow.

    Cusiter was unlucky to pick up a slight injury as I think he could have otherwise got the nod.

    Like many above, I have no idea why Big Jim is starting or why Richie over Johnny given their form.

    1. I’m a bit disappointed that SJ didn’t start Jonny and Richie. It is not like they have much to lose and it would have given us an athletic back row full of carrying.

    2. Agreed re. Finn Russell, nice to see a young calm scottish 10 who looked like a decent prospect. I’m worried that he won’t get enough game time to develop being behind jackson and weir and others at glasgow. Encouraging nonetheless.

    3. Hamilton retains his place by virtue of being the lineout ‘caller’. Last chance saloon for Big Jim. Finn Russell was excellent when he came on. You would have thought he was the seasoned pro and not the liability that is Jackson!

  10. Good comment re: Russell Mike.
    Townsend quoted as saying “if he plays like that he’ll get more opportunities”


    How about “We’ll make sure he gets more opportunities to see if he can keep playing like that”

    The message being play well and you keep the jersey, play badly and you don’t whereas Townsend’s quote and philosophy thus far has been give everyone a turn.

    Form should drive selection. Where’s the incentive to produce consistent excellence if you know in advance which games you are slated in for?

    1. Agree. I also think Glasgow should let Jackson or Weir go somewhere else to play regularly.

      The SRU really should employ an agent to place academy players in English Championship sides if they aren’t going to get game time. Edinburgh and Glasgow should also loan out younger/fringe players as a matter of course and give them a chance to build up experience and prove that they deserve a shot.

      The current system of lending players to the Scottish Prem is well-meaning but doesn’t really work.

  11. I am no expert I have to confess, but SJ’s selection to date, leaves me mystified. I can’t help but wonder if there has been a falling out between some players and coaching staff. For what it is worth, this would have been my starting line up for Rome.


  12. From what I hear Johnson does not have great man management skills and this has in fact contributed to some fall outs between players and the coach. Barclay & Welsh have not seen eye to eye with him, and I can only assume something similar has happened with Brown.
    To be honest quite happy to see Lawson, Gray, and Beattie in. Beattie is one of our most talented rugby players and streets ahead of Denton in all round ability. Saying that I would rather see one of Brown/Strokosch/Denton/Barclay/Grant ahead of Wilson who I feel offers very little. By playing Barclay or Grant with Fusaro we could compete for more ball/slow it down at the breakdown.
    Would love to see J Gray or Gilchrist partner J Gray in the row instead of Hamilton. Would make for a very dynamic back 5 with good lineout options.
    After that all I’d want is a bit more depth at prop and a 10!

  13. Great comments Borderer..just about summed it up except for Weir. I worry he will ever be up to it but not sure what the alternative is.

    Word is Jackson is away at te end of the season. He certainly played like a man who’s time is up in the first half against Cardiff.

    Finn Russel look very assured although he benefited from coming on at a time when Glasgow were in the ascendency and the game had broken up (not to take anything away from him).

    I fear the worst for Saturday. If the competition continues in this vein for Scotland serious questions have to be asked about SJ’s involvement in the National set up going forward. Bring back Telf and Geech

    p.s. still cant comprehend Wilson’s selection. He seems to have protected status in the team (was SJ the mystery 5th man in BBQ King that night?)

    1. Weir was brilliant for Glasgow when he burst on to the scene. Then as usual, they managed to coach every ounce of spontaneity out of him. Weir is still an infinitely better option than Jackson. I think he may surprise a few folk on Saturday. Hogg needs time at 10 at club level first.

    2. Weir is still a good player. He did very well last year and is struggling to reach the same heights. Happens all the time with young players and I’m sure he’ll come good.

      OK he has been a bit poor for Scotland but frankly, who hasn’t? Not the easiest period to be introduced to international rugby in, again I think he has a decent range of skills and just needs to get his head adjusted to the test arena. Some quick ball from the forwards would help.

  14. SJ is not going to admit that he got the team selection wrong so tinkering is all he was ever going to do, so we are about half way there. Perhaps the supporters will get the team we all know should be on the pitch. Hamilton and Wilson should not be in the team certainly not for the future and the latter not even for the present. It is bizarre Brown is not playing 6 but Barclay or Grant could equally be involved. We need to win the ball!

    1. Usual story as I mentioned at the start of the tournament: by the end, the team that the fans and media believe to be the best one runs out for Scotland. By then it’s another wasted Six Nations.

  15. I feel a bit sorry for Wilson, I think he’s been a good player for Glasgow but mostly as an eight.

    Trouble is that there are better players than him at 6 and 8 for Scotland, he’s a possible bench option if there were a couple of injuries.

    Wilson is a victim of Johnson’s bizarre selection policy as well, playing people in the wrong positions across the back row. Johnson’s gradually getting there game by game. Vs Ireland they we’re all out of position, an 8 at 6, a 6 at 7 and a 6 at 8. Vs England he put a 7 at 7 and vs Italy he’s got a 7 at 7 and an 8 at 8. Hopefully by the next game he’ll have a 6 at 6 too, we live in hope.

    This is of course only one of many problems with Johnson’s reign.

  16. As others have said, selection of this team and bench while not making complete sense makes more sense than what’s gone before in this SixN for Scotland. This has to be last chance saloon for Laidlaw at 9 – until/unless he can consistently get the ball away quickly and accurately and stop the aimless and predictable box kicking. Feel a bit sorry for Denton who has done what he is capable of to his utmost so far. Weir probably still worth persisting with – he’s not really had any chance to launch anything outside with the slow and rubbish ball he’s been on the end of. Big Jim is a penalty risk but we will need a bruiser in there alongside Richie. I’m off to Rome too and would really like to see a first win there since 2006. It’s shaping up as if Ireland and England are looking to be the best of the Six N this year, so maybe on a form line we’re due a win. But I remember saying things like that in the run up to Rome 8, Rome 10 and Rome 12…..

  17. I agree that 10 is a real problem for Scotland. Weir and Jackson are decent players but really just not up to the same standard as most internationsl 10s. Can we really afford this in such an influential position? Hogg is an obvious answer but I totally agree that we really benefit from him when he has space. The flip side to this is that he has limited ball time and influence. I think moving him to 10 would be to the great benefit of the team but we have to consider how we would replace his ball carrying threat at 15. Would a fit Maitland be a good move at 15? Visser and Seymour with Evans as cover would still give us strength out wide.

    1. Obviously I’m not thinking about the weekend, but looking forward to WC when hopefully Visser and Maitland are fit.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion