5 Questions The Autumn Tests Will Answer – Post Pumas

The manner in which Scotland won against Argentina last week was about as expected as a probe landing on a comet or Vanessa Mae being found guilty of match fixing. However Big Vern Cotter’s decision to give his players permission to cause organised chaos paid off and aside from a slightly disappointing end to the match this should go down as one of the great Scottish performances at Murrayfield.

The All Blacks arrive on Saturday and offer a bigger test for a revitalised Scotland. Steve Hansen has named a weakened starting XV (if the ABs can ever truly field a “weakened” team) and so this may be an opportunity for Scotland to record a historic victory.

In advance of that we’re going to return to the five questions we posed at the start of the Autumn Tests to see what, if anything, we learned from the game against the Pumas.

1. Russell? Heathcote? Weir?

Russell put in an assured performance against the Pumas and his decision making was near perfect. The only slight gripe is that he missed two tackles out of Scotland’s total of five missed tackles. However it was inevitable that the Argentineans would try and target such an international nube and Russell will have learned much and taken a lot of confidence from his 65 minute Murrayfield debut.

Weir replaced Russell and will probably want to forget his 15 minute cameo. Scotland’s organised chaos game plan had seen players take genuine chances and make intelligent decisions, something most fans know the players are capable of but have rarely seen at international level. Weir’s decisions harked back to Scotland of old and the decision to take a tap penalty inside Scotland’s 22 with 30 seconds on the clock was not so much organised chaos as batcrap crazy. Still Weir has shown he is capable at this level but on Saturday’s evidence he’s likely to play second fiddle to Russell for some time.

Ruaridh Jackson can’t be discounted and Tom Heathcote will hopefully be given a chance against Tonga.

2. Are Blair Cowan and Kieran Low good enough?

Blair Cowan’s performance won over a lot of critics on Saturday, however opinion at Scottish Rugby Blog Towers is split. The prevailing opinion is that he suits Vern Cotter’s game plan, however he is by no means the best fetcher eligible to play for Scotland let alone in the squad. The stats show that he never missed a tackle but didn’t win any turnovers (although this writer thought he’d nicked at least one). He also seemed to get knocked backwards on occasion with ball in hand.

The consensus here is that Cowan is good enough although he is still at risk of Dan Parks levels of derision from fans and has much to do to win hearts and minds.

Although Kieran Low didn’t play, the performance on Saturday and the form of others in the squad make it difficult to see where he fits in. He is younger than Cowan so he may yet prove himself. He may make an appearance against Tonga should Cotter want to give the wider squad a chance to put pressure on the current starting XV.

3. Why is there only one openside in the squad?

Blair Cowan is not Scotland’s best openside. That is unarguable. He may not even be Scotland’s best back row forward. However his work at the base of an effective maul and positioning at the line out was faultless. Then again he made the fewest tackles of any forward on Saturday but Big Vern appears to have a different view on how he wants his backrow forwards to play and we saw the Gray brothers pop up again and again in midfield to choke the Argentinean attack.

The view here at Scottish Rugby Blog Towers is that Scotland need and out and out openside. Richie McCaw starts for the All Blacks on Saturday and it will be interesting to see how, and if, Scotland can compete at the breakdown against a man who regards the rule book as an occupational hazard.

4. What does Scotland’s best front row look like and is it good enough?

Ross Ford had one of his best games in a Scotland shirt for years earning the right to be called by his full title, Former British and Irish Lion Ross Ford. Ford was a nuisance at the breakdown, reminding many that he started out life as back row with the Border Reivers. His line out throwing was good and he made good yards with ball in hand. He has started to hook although it was hard to see any evidence of this against Argentina. The Pumas weren’t competing in the tunnel preferring to try and shove Scotland off the ball so it’ll be interesting to see how Ford manages should the All Blacks attempt to strike the ball against the head.

Overall the scrum was a mixed bag on Saturday although Ali Dickinson certainly put down a marker with his work in the loose. Both sides were given several warnings by an increasingly frustrated Wayne Barnes although no one was given their marching orders for infringements in the front row. Euan Murray is still good enough but Scotland’s scrum is by no means stable or reliable and the replacements fared no better and gave away a penalty try. Aside from Ross Ford’s resurgence it’s hard to see that we’re any closer to answering the question.

5. Can Scotland win the Grand Slam and World Cup in the same year?

With Samoa in revolt and South Africa being taken apart by Ireland Scotland can start to dream of making progress from the group stages in next year’s World Cup. After that Scotland would play either Wales, Australia or England and progress beyond the semi-finals becomes more unrealistic. However a lot of water will have passed under the bridge by then and in a World Cup anything can happen. This weekend will give a real flavour of Scotland’s potential, however they are up against a weakened All Blacks so even a historic victory won’t really give us an answer.

If Scotland can replicate Saturday’s performance consistently during next year’s 6 Nations then Scotland are likely to push opposition teams all the way. The Grand Slam is a big ask but if Big Vern is the real deal Scotland might improve on 2013’s finish. If that happens and results elsewhere go Scotland’s way then the Championship might be a possibility.

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12 comments on “5 Questions The Autumn Tests Will Answer – Post Pumas

  1. FF on

    Overly harsh on Cowan I feel. Realistically, Rennie is probably never going to play top class rugby again sadly and that is entirely due to being injury plagued throughout his career. He was injured when this squad was selected and is playing championship rugby. I think if he was confident of pressing for a test recall he wouldn’t still be playing for Bristol but he should enjoy his rugby for whatever remains of his career.

    Fusaro has 4 caps without ever looking like he can thrive at test level. Barclay is still a fine player but seems to have become twice the player he ever was in a Scotland shirt in the minds of some fans since being exiled from the squad. I’d select him but I’m not sure he is really in a different class to Cowan.

    Does Scotland have anyone else ready for test rugby at openside?

    • Dave flak on

      I’ve kept quiet on the Barclay topic and I’m glad you’ve raised this point FF. I was a HUGE fan of Barclay and Beattie, but selecting them is a step backward. They aren’t the only option and Rennie is over the hill. Cowan played very well and playing the land of his birth may be the making of him.

  2. pragmatic optimist on

    No open sides that I’ve heard of. Hamish Watson looks like a good prospect based on Pro12 appearances. Strangely, he reminds me of a young John Barclay who had lots of pace before he ‘bulked up’. Will Bordill who’s with Glasgow and has been farmed out to Ayr looks a decent player, as does Tommy Spinks, the ex London Scottish boy.
    Not sure who else is pushing through from the club or U20 ranks. They’d probably have to make their name away from Glasgow and Edinburgh.

    • FF on

      Whilst grant is a good player he is hardly an obviously better player than Cowan. I think he probably should have been given a chance to show what he could do at some point but i don’t think he’d be anywhere near the squad of any other 6N side. The only conclusion is that 7 is a problem position for us. Cowan played reasonably well against a strong Argentinian back row. Unless he is destroyed on Saturday he deserves to keep the shirt.

  3. Don on

    Weakened AB side? Their top kicker back, and arguably their best fullback? feck, you haven’t watched much rugby lately, have you? Ok, the front row probably isn’t going to scare anyone, but since when did any AB front row need to?

    Still the English side showed what works; passion and 110% commitment. Oh, and no mistakes. not one. thats where they came undone.

  4. Andy on

    Think the criticism of Weir is harsh – he was about to boot the ball to touch when Laidlaw stopped him and made the call to pop to the forwards – if anyone should get stick it’s Lawson for dropping the ball.

    I Thnk Russell looks great as an attacking threat in his own right – but his distribution is still poor – he’s always looking for a gap – which is good to an extent, but when he then decides to shift it on, centres have got no time or space. It’s been his achilles heel with Glasgow as well – when Russell plays at 10, the centres tend to be anonymous. As evidence, if you look at all of the try bonus points glasgow have secured in the past 18 months, Russell wasn’t the starting 10 in any of them – go figure!?!

  5. Angus on

    When assessing players’ suitability for positions you need to factor in that the way rugby is played by Scotland is undergoing a monumental change due to the new coach

    Styles of play and stats that were appropriate and relevant to the past are out the window. What matters now is the appropriateness of players to Cotter’s style of play

    For so long Scotland have looked to individuals to win games and that I believe is a thing of the past

    For many it will take a few games for these factors to become apparent so I recommend a step back and a look more at the performance of Scotland as a whole rather than so much emphasis on individual players

    This is especially true because players perform in different ways and closer or further from their potential under different coaches as they are more comfortable with different styles of play and coaches

    For example who would have thought Ross Ford would have had such a change in his whole game with all that is changed is a new coach, style and mentality

  6. Wee crater on

    Accepted that Dickinson performed well in the loose and held his own at scrum time but we need Ryan Grant’s experience back to bolster front row.Dickinson seems to have improved in the tight and perhaps a nod of gratitude to Nel and SA scrum technique is given some recognition amidst some debunking talk of their benefit to Edinburgh. Grant may not be as good in open play which Cotter clearly values but he also talks of combinations which he is one of a proven unit with Murray at Glasgow, and a Lion to boot.

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