Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Brown Back To Face France

Kelly Brown - pic © Al Ross
Kelly Brown - pic © Al Ross

Scotland have made three changes to their pack for Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations Championship match against France at Murrayfield.

Geoff Cross is promoted from the bench after his solid efforts bolstering the scrum, and will line up as part of a nuggety front row with Scott Lawson and Ryan Grant. Richie Gray and Jim Hamilton continue in the second row and will be hoping for a strong performance in the lineout to match last week’s.

With Ryan Wilson laid low by tonsilitis – yet still on the bench – Kelly Brown comes back in at 7 at the expense of the unfortunate Chris Fusaro, while Johnnie Beattie will line up at 6 and David Denton at 8 (although the other way round might work well if not better). No sign of the in-form Ross Rennie or John Barclay (watch this try), although a return for them at this stage was pretty unlikely.

The back division is unchanged from that which started the game in Rome despite Chris Cusiter’s excellent performance in Glasgow’s narrow loss to RaboDirect Pro12 champions Leinster, and continued question marks over the quality of Laidlaw’s service during the tournament. Laidlaw today announced he is to join Gloucester who are seeking a potential replacement for Freddie Burns.

On the bench, Euan Murray, the 58-times capped prop, returns to the squad after missing the first three games of the Championship due to that freak hand injury and a leg injury that has also recovered. Despite his efforts two weekends ago, Cross hasn’t always gone well in the scrums depending on referee interpretation, so there is a capable replacement waiting in the wings.

Scotland head coach Scott Johnson cited the reasoning that “France play above the ground a bit and there will be a lot of mauling” would suit skipper Brown.

“I think the pitch suits Kelly too and I’ve picked a side that can win the game and that’s most important.”

“The other back-row change is slightly enforced as Ryan Wilson has not been well at the start of this week with a tonsillitis bug and it was important we were not hampered in our training so Dents (David Denton) comes straight in.

“Geoff did really well when he came on against Italy and it’s right that he should start this week.”

France will be without a number of key men including Picamoles and Fofana and the in form Nyanga, and no sooner was Morgan Parra called up than he was banned for a headbutt. The pitch may not suit France’s traditional cavalier style but their play has been distinctly stodgy of late under Phillipe Saint Andre so Murrayfield’s ropey turf might suit them just fine as they aim to maintain a position as championship contenders.

Scotland, on the other hand, just need more of the same.

Scotland team (sponsor RBS) to play France in the RBS 6 Nations Championship at Murrayfield on Saturday 8 March, kick-off 5pm

15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors) 18 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
14 Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors) 7 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
13 Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors) 6 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
12 Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby) 19 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
11 Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors) 85 caps, 12 tries, 60 points
10 Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors) 11 caps, 1 try, 3 conversions, 1 drop-goal, 14 points
9 Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby) vice-cpt 27 caps, 3 tries, 23 conversions, 58 penalties, 235 points

1 Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors) 16 caps
2 Scott Lawson (Newcastle Falcons) 41 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
3 Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby) 26 caps, 1 try, 5 points
4 Richie Gray (Castres) 35 caps, 1 try, 5 points
5 Jim Hamilton (Montpellier) 53 caps, 1 try, 5 points
6 Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier) 29 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
7 Kelly Brown (Saracens) captain 61 caps, 4 tries, 20 points
8 David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby) 20 caps


16 Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby) 73 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
17 Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby) 33 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
18 Euan Murray (Worcester Warriors) 58 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
19 Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors) 5 caps
20 Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors) 7 caps
21 Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors) 67 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
22 Duncan Taylor (Saracens) 9 caps
23 Max Evans (Castres) 40 caps, 3 tries, 15 points.

Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland) and JP Doyle (England)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales).

26 Responses

  1. Fair to say we will have a few more options in terms of forwards running with both Denton and Beattie included. Still don’t understand why Brown is not moved to 6 and Fusaro to 7. Denton is a lot stronger as an “impact sub”. It will be interesting to see what game plan Scotland go in with on Saturday as although the expansive game worked well in Italy, the pitch certainly is not going to help with that…

  2. Good to see Cross given a chance to start he was solid in the scrum and made a good few yards around the pitch. Great that Kelly Brown is back but strange to see him in the wrong position! The coach’s explanations for another u-turn on Brown, mauling game, pitch will suit him – unbelievable! Our best number 8 moved to 6 after a very good game against Italy played mostly at 8, also unbelievable. Back to another back row with two of them playing out of position, it should have been Brown, Fusaro, Beattie. I would also have played Cusiter from the start. The back row positions apart, this doesn’t look to be a bad team and we’re starting to get some consistency in selection at last. We need to play like we did in the second half against Italy right from the start on Saturday. Give the kicking to Duncan Weir, it will help build his confidence at this level, he is starting to look the part as an international 10.

    1. Back row selection throughout 6N has been mystifying and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see 6 & 7 playing left and right so maybe our captain will play in his best position for perhaps half the game! Who SJ thinks he will take off to put Wilson on will be interesting to witness. Cusiter will hopefully be on as early as possible to speed up the game. Murrayfield needs to see a good fast game of rugby and on the difficult surface the back row need to play out of their skins. Two out of three killer Bs. Do watch Barclays try and wonder why he is not playing for Scotland!

  3. Actually looking forward to going on Saturday.lets hope the confidence gained from the Italy win will be on show.the back row selection is the one area that puzzles,agree with borderer about players out of position – unbelievable indeed.for me Strokosch,Rennie and Beattie would be the back row. Rennie look back to his best for Bristol at the weekend and I do not know what Strokosch has done wrong,Beattie is the best 8 we have by some distance. Looking to the future I hope we can keep everyone fit as we have a very dangerous looking back line with Maitland and a hopefully in form Visser on the wings.

  4. My brain hurts

    My pride is not in a happy place and it is all cos I have absolutely no idea what is going on and I see us in no better place as far as how we play the game than 12 months ago

    Yes we have discovered some new talent but other than that I just have no idea what they are meant to be doing for the 80 minutes

    Close to giving up to save my soul and few remaining brain cells

  5. I watched Barclays try and immediately thought “offside?”
    He wasn’t but then of course nor was he wearing a Glasgow/Scottish jersey which confused the ref long enough to let it go.
    It was an impressive piece of anticipation, game reading, skill and pace….none of which are part of the job description for the national 7 position, apparently.

  6. From what I understand SJ is a huge admirer of Rennie but Rennie has needed time to overcome a family bereavement, get match fitness after almost a year out and find his place in a new coaching regime at Edinburgh (or most likely elsewhere). I’m pretty confident that once he proves his fitness, form and mental preparedness he’ll be back in the Scotland team. He probably shouldn’t have been included in the Scotland 6N squad but that at least shows that the current coaching squad will reintegrate him to the team when they are able to.

    I am a big fan of Strokosch but don’t think his exclusion from the test team is that puzzling. SJ wants a 6 who can carry the ball and jump in the lineout and Strokosch does neither. He is a tough bastard but I think SJ is probably right that we can’t rely on Gray and whoever our number 8 is to carry ball for the whole pack. If you look at a side like Ireland they have Healy, O’Connell, O’Brien and Heaslip to share the burden. We need Grant to step up in this respect, Gray to be complemented by his younger brother and have a 6 who carries well (my preference would be Denton and in the future Strauss). If we want space for a groundhog 7 it is even more important for the 6 to carry well – Brown does this well enough but not amazingly and that is clearly why he isn’t being considered at 6.

    Absolutely no idea why Barclay is out in the cold. I’d have him, Fusaro and Grant in the squad at the moment and keep Brown at 6/bench.

  7. Lots of talk over back row options and rightly so, but this is at least an area where Scotland have some strength in depth. Where we are lacking is in a controlling influence on the pitch and, despite the drop goal, Weir still has a long way to go to be a world class 10. This is going to be important on Saturday as, despite what SJ says, it is going to be hard to play a lot of rugby above ground given the state of the Murrayfield turf. players are going to lose footing and go to ground at impact more often than not.
    Loathed as I am to say it, but kicking for territory and building a platform from 20m for the back row and centres is going to be important as the pitch will compromise players like Hogg being able to run from depth. Beattie willbe a key player in getting us over the gain line here. Again, the line-out is going to be an important part of Scotland’s game- at least Lawson has some confidence in his throwing arm after the Italy game.
    There’s no doubt though that having Brown back in the starting 15 will make a lot of players feel that Scotland are getting back to where they want to be. (Unless you are Fusaro.)

  8. The Scottish management and selectors clearly have a lot of critics! It is received wisdom that there is a massive step up from professional club rugby to test level. The intensity of the latter is much greater and the time on the ball much shorter. I’m sure part of Johnson’s remit is to create as much strength in depth in the Scottish squad as possible with the focus on the World Cup. People like Weir and Wilson need time to acclimatise to test demands and the former in particular is demonstrating both mental strength and skill, which will be honed by further test experience. In terms of World Cup preparation a degree of selectorial experiment is understandable. For Glasgow Warriors the experiment of using Richie Vernon at centre seems to be reaping rewards and may have implications at international level.
    Keep up the good work, Scott Johnson!

  9. Laidlaw very lucky to keep his place after a pretty poor 6N so far. He will be hooked sooner than he was in Rome if he doesn’t shape up from kick off.

    I’ve been watching (repeatedly) the second half v Italy, and Denton was absolutely immense in those closing minutes. Capped by the dive to retrieve possession from a fragmenting scrum (for which we should have had a penalty but no way was Walsh going to give that with 90 seconds to go) and keep things moving towards the drop goal. He deserves a starting berth – just wish he could learn to offload like Billy V and Ben Morgan do for England. Hopefully that will develop as he matures.

    Overall not a bad team selection against a France team who could be everything or nothing on the day.

    It really would be nice to see us building on that excellent second 40 v Italy the other week. It was fantastic to have been there to see it live.

  10. Alexander C, are you related to SJ? Either that or you have a wonderful sense of humour. The back row mix is all wrong, I agree re carriers but Beattie must be played at 8 and we should be playing Barclay. if ball carriers are needed, Denton @6. But the glaring error is Laidlaw. He has constantly slowed our play down or kicked ineffectually into the box! The catalyst to the win in Rome was Cusiter…laidlaw would not have been involved in the second try, he may even have kicked from 9, and he certainly couldn’t have given the speedy clear pass to Weir for the DG! Cusiter not starting is criminal!

    1. Totally agree Neville, I’ve been banging on about Cus starting since February! The team clearly improves in shape, attitude and style of play when he comes on…

  11. Neville R, I acually advocated Denton and Beattie both being in the back row in a comment about a week ago — and envisaged Denton at no.6, just as you suggest. Cusiter will certainly come on at some point but Johnson may be planning some flexibility in the game-plan for which Laidlaw as starter at 9 suits purpose. I find it very difficult to condemn selections out-of-hand when I have little knowledge of a coach’s overall strategy and no awareness of the patterns being developed in training. In today’s world of substitutions Cusiter’s presence on the field may well be linked with the effect on the game of other substitutions elsewhere in the team. There are so many factors involved in a team’s balance.
    It wouldn’t surprise me if Barclay came into the picture for the Welsh game — after all, he will have insider knowledge of their players…….but that also applies vice-versa!

  12. Is no one else looking at these selections with an outside box view. Tis just specualtion but, we have a new coach coming in and a World Cup on the horizon. This 6N is looking like a bit of a throw away. We knew we would struggle to be in the medals with a very strong Welsh team, good looking French and rising England and Irish sides.
    We tried combinations in South Africa, were missing some big names, but we learned a lot against big opposition. Now we have competitive opponents again and a full squad of players. As supporters we don’t know what is being said behind the doors. This could all be an exploritory task to see just how deep our numbers can go. If we are to be competetive in 2015 we need plenty of options. So why not try out a few different back row combinations, find out who your impact subs may or may not be, give players who have had weaker performances game time to improve.
    How can players get better at Test Level without the chance to play there. I can’t think of a single fan who truly believed we were going to win the 6N this year, so why not use it as a learning experience. We can take a tonne of positives and an equal measure of things to learn and improve on. We have already seen what the guys can do when they do learn from errors as we saw against Italy.
    We have a big scalp begging to be taken now, many big names aren’t available to France this weekend and we have an attacking looking side brought it in to meet the demand. We have three of our best ball carriers in the pack, with only the exception of Maitland out injured, our backs are solid, our front row will be tested but with Cross and Murray on the bench we have the tools.
    I’m very quietly confident about this game.

    1. DAvid this is what we were told 12 months ago – the last 12 months heave meant to have been about experimentation – we should now be moulding a team

      Either that or SJ is just killing time. hmmmm

  13. David Flak,have you read my comments four posts above you? You will see I’ve made similar points to yours.

    1. Alexander, fair point, and I am glad that I am not the only person looking at the campaign in that way. Frankly I think, if it is accurate ( and christ I hope so), that using this 6N as a jumping off point for the RWC, then its bold and a little bit canny.

    2. I agree that there needs to be some squad development but seriously, if we are to be competitive at RWC then we need to have players who are used to winning, scoring and have some confidence. Not sure that we are achieving any of that right now. The 6 nations is the highlight of the rugby year for most fans and none of them want to pay £50 to see an experiment at Murrayfield, particularly when it ends in a 20-0 drubbing from England.
      A realistic view is that, despite the delusions of the SRU, Scotland will not win RWC and if we are to perform to our potential at that tournament then we need a squad who can do the basics on the pitch and who have some confidence in their ability. On paper we could put out a pretty strong team at RWC if some of our injury problems are resolved – Maitland and Visser back will be a massive boost. Back row options are full of talent- however we need to find the right mix and get these players to undestand thier particular roles and strengths in the national team- I dont think many would say that we have achieved that during this 6N. Fly half is still a problem and we are miles away from a world class player in this crucial berth. We have good options at 4 and 5 now, and perhaps one area where SJ has had some success with his experiments in in the front row. Real competition here.
      I’m not saying that this is the answer, but if SJ wanted to write off a 6N season to experiemnts then he should’ve started Hogg at 10 at some point. This may not ultimately work but we need a boost in this position and it seems reasonable to take our best ball player and test him in a position where he might make a real difference. This shouldve been tried long go in an autumn international.
      The team needs confidence and consistency and I think we are in danger of coming out of the 6N with a defecit in each account.

    3. Outside In, Hogg at 10 for me is a brilliant idea. I’ve been harping on about it for months after her performed against the Brumbies on Lions duty. We still have Wales to come don’t forget and with SJ’s selections to date we probably won’t be seeing the same starting XV as this week. We will have another 6N between now and the RWC to perfect things. If what myself and Alexander say is accurate, and I hope it is, as it somewhat bails out the squad for the woeful beginning to the campaign, then it could be a master stroke.
      At the end of the day as we all have agreed on here, the SRU isn’t developing players quickly enough at domestic level, when they do get into the Pro teams, homegrown players rarely get a showing, Edinburghs squad is pushing 50 now!
      When else can the coaches try things with a long term goal in mind? And lets be honest if we were to nick second or even win the 6N next year, this past nations will be a long forgotten memory.

  14. Evening. First time poster.
    Surely the test for Hogg at 10 should come at club level first? I’d like to see this happen, as I think Cus, Hogg, 9/10 would be frightening to play against from a speed perspective. Especially with an all fit back line selection to choose from. Weir is a useful tool however who may just need more time to develop.

  15. I agree with you, Baz, that if Hogg is to be tried at 10 it should initially be with Glasgow Warriors. At the same time I feel Weir’s detractors are being rather harsh. His is one of the most exposed, difficult positions on the field and I do think he is rising to the challenge of test-level rugby, improving with each game. Cuthbert has had some storming games for Edinburgh at full-back and I certainly wouldn’t leave him out of the equation. If Hogg were to be moved forward to 10, perhaps interchangeable with Weir, Cuthbert would supply a more-than-adequate replacement at 15. He is very good under the high ball and strong enough to stay on his feet until the cavalry arrive. His entries into the line have also set alarm bells ringing in opposition defences. With “stars” (e.g. Visser)yet to return from injury, Scotland has the makings of a very potent backline

    1. Yes, Hogg would obviously benefit from some club time at 10 but he has plenty experience at stand off, including two outings for the Lions, one of which saw him land man of the match.

    2. Outside In – isn’t that his only professional experience at FH?

      One game against a weakened SR team and the other a less than distinguished performance. There is no way he should start a test match at FH without playing their at Rabo level first.

    3. Absolutely, in normal circumstances then we would want to see Hogg perform at 10 at club level before moving up to the national team. My point was really that the suggestion that SJ has written off a whole 6N tournament in order to experiment with the team isn’t really plausible, nor is it fair on Scotland fans who consistently sell out the stadium to watch the team take a whipping.
      The point is that if Hogg goes through an entire international career without us seeing what he might be able to do at 10, then we will have missed a massive opportunity. The problem is that the pro teams are not set up to develop players for the national team, just to perform well in the Rabo and (whatever) European competitions, so SJ cannot force their hand. This is a perfect example of where the SRU have lost control over player development, at the crucial point between club and elite level.
      Yes, lets see Hogg at 10 for Glasgow, but if we dont, then I’d still be willing to see him play there for Scotland at some point. Maybe the last 20 minutes against Wales and in the Autumn?

    4. Didn’t Hogg say before the Lions that he hadn’t played 10 since school? In that case, a couple of outings for the Lions, one against a semi-pro team and another where he got completely exposed against the Brumbies, doesn’t strike me as ‘plenty of experience’.

      Weir deserves a run of games at 10 – with injury etc, he’s only started 6 games, so for me he should be given the rest of the 6 nations and the summer tour to build some confidence and understanding.

      If Heathcote was playing every week I’d be all for giving him a go, but he’s not, and Weir has to be put ahead of Jackson now.

  16. Perhaps a more likely scenario is that SJ will make Hogg captain,

    and then drop him.

    Or play him at openside

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion