Warriors form adds to air of optimism

A certain politician invoked the fury of her electorate and the ridicule of her opposition recently in suggesting that we Scots are not blessed with the hereditary guile to govern our country with aptitude.

She might just as easily have been referring to the national rugby team, such is their historical penchant for mental fragility when the chips are down, imprecision and indecision often proving rife.

Yet in Glasgow Warriors, Scotland boasts one of Europe’s form sides, a squad that consistently seizes the opportunities – or perhaps that should read ‘oppurchancities’ – its play merits and creates when it really matters. It is a most un-Scottish trait in the professional era.

Saturday’s 37-10 battering of Bath – themselves in a rich vein of form and widely touted as Aviva Premiership contenders – was arguably as complete a performance Gregor Townsend’s charges have delivered since he took over at Scotstoun two years ago.

On top from the outset, and a step ahead in almost every conceivable aspect of play, they scored five tries – several of them real hum-dingers – while their opponents’ side of the scoreboard remained stubbornly locked on ten points since Jonathan Joseph’s freakish 11th minute touchdown.

Following on from a fairly credible if unremarkable marathon summer Test tour, the Warriors’ form makes Scotland’s autumn prospects, and Vern Cotter’s squad announcement on Monday all the more intriguing.

Two positions should sit atop his list of priorities ahead of next year’s World Cup.

Firstly, as I wrote back in June, the hard-nosed Kiwi must pinpoint the solution to the perennial fly-half problem that has vexed the nation for much of the past decade.

Tom Heathcote has made a sound start to his Edinburgh career; so too Duncan Weir has performed admirably for Glasgow without setting the heather alight. Finn Russell may be the long-term answer, but will enter the series against Argentina, New Zealand and Tonga short on game-time and match fitness.

Item number two, the openside flank. Contenders for the number seven jersey abound.

The jury remains out on the energetic Blair Cowan, though most supporters of London Irish would argue vociferously for his inclusion. John Barclay was omitted throughout last season, and enjoyed such an excellent – if disrupted – campaign with the Scarlets that it left many wondering why.

Chris Fusaro has exerted himself in typically tigerish fashion, and Hamish Watson remains Edinburgh’s stand-out after seven games – an admittedly unexceptional feat in itself, but the diminutive tyro will have caught Cotter’s eye.

Ross Rennie is the most talented of the lot, but faces an uphill struggle to force his way into the reckoning from the Championship. Cowan looks the early favourite, but whomever Cotter should plump for, one hopes fervently that the days of Kelly Brown loping around on the openside are over.

Elsewhere, the omens are good. Injuries to key players are few and far between – Matt Scott and Dave Denton are among the most noteworthy absentees – and the vibe is, justifiably, one of cautious optimism.

In midfield, while a quadriceps problem curtailed Alex Dunbar’s excellent start to the season, and Scott misses the November action, in Peter Horne and Duncan Taylor, Scotland have a pair of competent and contrasting inside centres; at 13, Mark Bennett’s brace lit up Scotstoun on Saturday.

Tommy Seymour – unfortunate injury notwithstanding – is the form back at Cotter’s disposal out wide. Stuart Hogg is back to something like his best, Sean Maitland and Tim Visser are fit and scoring again, and the promising Dougie Fife has recovered from a long-standing ankle problem.

The pack remains strong, with both Gray brothers and Euan Murray racking up the minutes and Gordon Reid’s scrummaging growing more in-line with his boisterous work in the loose.

The optimism is just after Glasgow’s triumph and Edinburgh’s hard-fought win over Bordeaux-Bègles on Friday. The pragmatist urges restraint – this is Scotland, after all. The squad tends to possess a useful pack and a more-than-decent set of outside backs, but for the first time in a while, the Scots appear to have a cohesive, incisive midfield capable of getting the ball to them.

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3 comments on “Warriors form adds to air of optimism

  1. FF on

    We’ve been here before, telling ourselves we’ve got reasons for cautious optimism and good times are just around the corner. However, for the past couple of seasons the issue has been less the players than the coaching and Glasgow’s success maybe demonstrates this.

    The last two 6N Scotland have lost the breakdown in almost every game, our set piece has disintegrated and our kicking game has been naive at best. If Cotter addresses these successfully Scotland will be competitive. If he does not, Glasgow’s form and deeper player depth won’t make any difference because we won’t have any platform to play from. Let’s see if Cotter can live up to his formidable reputation.

    • Standoffalot on

      Going by today’s naming of Gilchrist as captain I’m not necessarily convinced. I wouldn’t put him ahead of the Gray brothers, Swinson, Hamilton or Kellock, let alone make him captain. Once again Kelly Brown treated poorly and John Barclay overlooked. I just feel Scott Johnson’s influence still looms large here.

  2. pragmatic optimist on

    Another season, and a few more reasons to be cheerful this time around.
    Glasgows form is the main reason for cheer, but it’ll be tested away against Montpellier and Toulouse, and if they’re ‘mentally resting’ prior to the internationals, they’ll get ‘gubbed’.
    As FF says, Scotland have been struggling at the breakdown for a couple of years now.
    Don’t really know why, and don’t understand it. Why should they become lesser players than they are at club level? Freezing on the big stage, who knows? I agree with the exclusion of K Brown and Big Jim.
    Kelly’s absence is strategic, and Jim was becoming a bit of a handicap with constant yellow cards and winding up of refs. My main beef (along with many other people) is the continued inclusion of Ross Ford at hooker. Tried, failed. Tried failed again. Tried failed. When will they ever learn and how many chances is he to be given? He is a serious loss to any momentum Scotland ever manage to build up.
    Eighty odd caps, and he can’t hook, throw straight, run quickly or break a tackle. I simply don’t understand his continued international career.

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