Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland team to face England.

David Denton - pic © Al Ross
David Denton - pic © Al Ross

Scotland make 5 changes for Calcutta Cup match on Saturday with Dougie Fife, Matt Scott, David Denton all making their first starts of this year’s competition and Finn Russell coming straight back in after his suspension. This will also be Denton’s first appearance in the dark blue since 2014 after he injured a calf back in January whilst playing for Edinburgh and takes Johnnie Beattie’s place at 8.

Alex Dunbar unfortunately pulled up with a knee injury sustained in training on Thursday morning and no further information has been released as yet, but the more than able Scott steps into the void left by him after scoring twice in Edinburgh’s victory over Treviso. Greig Tonks fills Scott’s place on the bench as well as providing fly-half cover.

Jim Hamilton comes back in to the 2nd row alongside the ever impressing Jonny Gray. Vern Cotter said on Hamilton;  “Jim comes in and will bring his physicality and understanding of English rugby to our forward pack..”

Cotter also added: “This is a very important game.

It will be played away from home at a very intense level and will allow us to assess further our ability to operate away from home in a hostile environment.

“Our focus, however, has been on ourselves and how we can perform better, by identifying the areas that we can control – like improving our skill-sets and reinforcing our cohesion – to withstand the difficult times and also apply some pressure.”

Special praise should also be given to Euan Murray who will equal the record cap total (65) for a Scottish prop, held previously by Allan Jacobsen.

Finally, in among the substitutes there’s been an increase in the number of forwards listed. Vern Cotter has opted for 6 forwards and 2 backs with both Johnnie Beattie and Adam Ashe providing back row cover. Does this perhaps signal where the coaching team think the key battle grounds will be?

Scotland team to play England at Twickenham Stadium this Saturday in the RBS 6 Nations (14 March, kick-off 5pm)

15 Stuart Hogg; 30 caps, 9 tries, 1 pen, 48 points

14 Dougie Fife; 4 caps, 1 try, 5 points
13 Mark Bennett; 5 caps, 1 try, 5 points
12 Matt Scott; 23 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
11 Tommy Seymour; 15 caps, 6 tries, 30 points

10 Finn Russell; 7 caps, 1 con, 2 points
9 Greig Laidlaw CAPTAIN; 37 caps, 3 tries, 39 cons, 78 pens, 327 points

1 Alasdair Dickinson; 42 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
2 Ross Ford; 83 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
3 Euan Murray; 64 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
4 Jim Hamilton; 59 caps, 1 try, 5 points
5 Jonny Gray; 11 caps, 1 try, 5 points
6 Robert Harley; 13 caps, 1 try, 5 points
7 Blair Cowan; 9 caps, 1 try, 5 points
8 David Denton; 23 caps

16 Fraser Brown; 6 caps
17 Ryan Grant; 20 caps
18 Geoff Cross; 38 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
19 Tim Swinson; 10 caps
20 Johnnie Beattie; 37 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
21 Adam Ashe; 3 caps
22 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; 3 caps
23 Greig Tonks; 2 caps

29 Responses

  1. Not convinced at all by this selection of the following players; fife, laidlaw and denton. I’ll give fife and denton the benefit of the doubt but watching Laidlaw against Italy brought me a lot of anguish, he must be in last chance saloon? In his defence though there weren’t enough willing carriers putting their hands up. We need to get more savvy about protecting and recycling the ball.

  2. Alex Dunbar out for 6-9 months. Disaster, probably our best all round player out of the World Cup. It’s going to be a bumby few months for Matt Scott…

    As for the game at hand, I’m reasonably confident in this team. A 6/2 split is the way to go with the England forwards in the form they are. As stated in the previous article, Euan Murray will be out for blood which will be fun to watch. Denton at 8 is the right decison, as is Hamilton at 5. Beattie however needs to be out of the 23, and Ryan Grant made his case for the 1 jersey when he came on against Italy.

    Realistically though, we can only hope for another spirited loss.

      1. Ooft. That is terrible news for him, as well as Glasgow and Scotland. He’ll be crushed to be missing the World Cup. He’ll just need to come back stronger and cement his Lions place……

      2. Yeah really gutted for the lad, can only glean that it’s been some sort of freak accident or he’s landed awkwardly. Hopefully he’ll bounce back though.

        My biggest concern is more from a Glasgow point of view now. They’ve got one hell of a run in coming up and it’s going to need all hands to the pump. Not that Scotland are generally awash with centers of course…

        And as for the world cup, we were scratching around for a 4th choice center, let alone a 3rd, so not sure where we go from here in terms of cover. Lamont? Horne? Tonks? Taylor? Pretty slim pickings.

      3. For me it would be Horne followed by Taylor. I’m pretty disappointed Horne didn’t make the bench for Twickenham although I completely understand it. Back on the horse and all that. I know Horne missed touch against Italy but I didn’t think he did much wrong, and wasn’t helped by Laidlaw’s horrendously slow service. The only way he can improve at this level is through experience. I’ve seen him have some great games for Glasgow and I’m convinced he’ll come good at international level. For me Lamont is never a centre and neither is Tonks, and Taylor hasn’t been brilliant at this level.

        Completely agree regarding Glasgow. We’re a totally different team with Dunbar at 12. Although Fraser Lyle has looked decent (maybe him for 4th choice centre for WC!) The run in worries me. Leinster, Connacht and Ospreys will be tough, I’m not confident about those, although I fancy us against Cardiff and Ulster at home. Hopefully Edinburgh can do us a few favours, but I’m not counting on it.

      4. Total disaster but Dunbar hasn’t actually been ruled out of the RWC yet, it’ll be a race against time for sure.

  3. I actually think it’s more a case of who we’re missing than who we’ve selected. Richie Gray, Maitland and Dunbar are all certain starters when fit and big losses to the team. The selection of Denton and Hamilton were pretty much nailed on. Beattie has been woeful and Hamilton’s bulk is required to beef up the pack. If Ashe was fully fit perhaps he might start but having pulled out of Glasgow’s last match due to injury. Scott is a decent replacement for Dunbar. Fife is nowhere near internatinal class but Visser has hardly been setting the heather alight. Laidlaw can thank his lucky stars to be starting. Not the best player in his position, and playing nowhere near where he was in the Autumn. I think if this wasn’t such a callow squad, and the subsequent banishment of the experienced Brown and Barclay, he would never be starting. The rest are evidently getting the chance to atone for the shambles that was the Italy match.

  4. The team looks stretched. Few thoughts-

    Hamilton probably the best call for this weekend. I never thought I’d say it, but I feel we’ve missed his grunt. England, being the smart operators that they are, will target him. If they rile him, Scotland will leak points. Keep the heid, Big Jim.

    Denton may bring something to the team that has been missing. If the team use him wisely, he can be used to punch it up the middle, running off 9 or 10. That’s all though – don’t rely on him to make the smart pass for a tryscoring opportunity. And please Denton, hold on to the fecking ball.

    Laidlaw can count himself lucky. I suspect many will be bemused by his continued selection, but at least we haven’t dropped the captain again. Robshaw is a very canny leader now – and Laidlaw is up against it this weekend. A real test to see how he can influence the ref.

    As a Glasgow fan, I think it’s nothing short of a disaster to have lost Dunbar for so long. He’s the sort of player that you build a team around – smart in attack and solid in defence. He’ll be missed. Still, Scott is a strong replacement – I just hope he’ll be back to his best (He looked very sharp against Treviso).

    Fife is an interesting call – a potential weak link? Quite telling, most of us pre-tournament would have fancied Visser as higher in the pecking order. Cotter evidently doesn’t see much in the Dutchman. As far as I know he isn’t holding any injury – I think Cotter has found Visser out.

    Subs-wise, I like the 6-2 split. Obviously expecting an attritional sort of game. Dunbar picked up his injury this morning I believe – so I presume he was starting at 12 and Scott was on the bench again. Therefore, I wonder which one of Ashe + Beattie missed out initially? Beattie is a lucky man to be in the 23, but I have reservations about Ashe’s fitness…

    Any injuries in the backs and things could get messy. SHC and Tonks are still unproven at international level, and running them potentially out of position at Twickenham might not be the best introduction.

    England will win by virtue of being at home, being a more settled team and having leaders across the park. If Scotland play with some pride and determination, and keep things within ~12 points, I’ll take it.

    Plus, when Laidlaw goes off (and SHC sparks the Scottish play), I want Gray, Ford, Murray, Harley, Hogg etc to put their hand up and say “I am a leader”, and convince the fans.

  5. I’ve been defending Laid law for ages and even I’ve given up now. The 6n is over let’s be honest so why not blood hidalgo Clyne. What have we got to lose anymore. Fife I’m unsure would rather see him 11 and tommy 14. As for big Jim his time at Sarries has helped I feel. He was suited to France with his attitude but a bit of time in England seems to have soothed the temper. Denton has been brought in for brawn and I don’t disagree. I honestly hold Johnny up as one the true great 8s but sometimes you just need that bull head that’ll batter the hard yards. I’m with the beard of cross in Visser being found out. It had a smell of Lancaster and Aston about it. Shame big Sean is out I love watching that man in Calcutta cup games.

      1. One of the best percentage kickers in the competion, 10 from 11 I think. Other than that very little, he certainly doesn’t lead the team very well

      2. Not hard to have a high percentage when you’re only capable of reaching the posts from a range of 20 metres. He’s a very poor kicker, doesn’t have anywhere near good enough distance.

  6. My main concern in the England side is Vunipola at no 8.He’s a strong runner and needs to be stopped before he can build up a head of steam.
    I’m sure Big Jim will be warned about his behavious before he goes on the pitch. As ‘THE BEARD’ says, the English will try to wind him up, but I’m sure we’ll do the same with Hartley.
    What do we need here?
    1- Close to parity at scrumtime. As long as we’re not continually shunted backwards and can the get the ball out of our own scrums quickly, then we’ll be fine in this area.
    2- Rolling mauls – Stop at source. Worst area ofour play so far in 6N.
    3- Competition at breakdown and move ball as quickly as poss from base of rucks(are you listening Laidlaw?)
    Haskill, Vunipola and Robson are all good at breakdown, so we’ll see if our mskeshift back row cope.

    Easy as that. If the pack can do these 3 things it should be a tight game. I agree with THE BEARD largely, but I do think we can score a few points if the players back themselves and run at the English. (A few arithmetic lessons to make sure they don’t ignore overlaps might also be useful.)
    If the pack get pushed around again, then I won’t be reading the papers on Sunday.

    1. I wouldn’t go so far as to say our back row is makeshift. Cowan has silenced the critics, Rob harley has been consistent, I do prefer Stroks but that’s more to do with his uncanny likeness to Agent 47 from the hitman games. Dents is a good 8. Old school yes but will stand up to Vunipola. I’m suprised Kelly Brown wasn’t brought in. He’s played excellently in the Aviva this year and plays with and against half the England squad week in week out

  7. I’m not sure if Scott and Bennett have ever played together (other than in training).
    We lose the knowledge that the Dunbar/Bennett combo had, but they might just make a decent pairing, who knows.
    The difference for me, is that Dunbar is a natural inside centre (big crash ball possible) while neither Scott or Bennett are big enough for this style of play.
    They could play right and left I suppose, but depends what’s been happening in training.
    Burrell of Northants might be a bit of a handful for whoever is on the inside. Not sure about Fife, but we’ll find out soon enough.

    1. Before Bennett graduated to senior rugby, we were all salivating over the Scott-Dunbar partnership and Scott was seen exclusively as the inside centre with Dunbar shifted to 13 to accommodate him. I don’t think Scott is necessarily worse than Dunbar but he certainly doesn’t bring the same defensive and physical qualities. As you say, he also doesn’t bring the established partnership with Russell and Bennett that Dunbar did. Nevertheless I don’t think this is going to make or break us – that’ll be the second and third rows for my money. I’m really hoping successful surgery and a quick recovery means Dunbar can take part in the RWC as my tickets to the Samoa game are staTing to look a little like a curse instead of a blessing.

  8. Fair point about Scott and Dunbar. I was never quite sure why Scott played at inside centre. It’s certainly not the orthodox arrangement where the big guy is on the inside.
    I think Hamilton/Gray stack up fairly well against Atwood/Laws, except maybe in fitness. Both the English locks are also good jumpers and will pinch some ball unless we’re clever with our line out calls.
    Laws is seriously agressive, so we’ll need to compete hard with him.
    Again, he’s a hothead, and I can see Big Jim trying tomwind him up.
    The back row is the clincher for me.

  9. So disappointed not to see Maitland in the 23.. I think Cotter should have named him at least among the substitutes.
    He has now missed nine consecutive 6 nations games..
    Fife is nowhere near the international standard..visser would have been a better option as he is more hefty and brings some much needed physicality
    Too Many forwards on the bench might prove a costy mistake

  10. Seriously grim news concerning Dunbar, the only positives being a) others know they will have to seriously step up to their game to compensate and b) he’ll doubtless come back stronger and better.

    I appreciate the timing but when I saw Dunbar missing and only two backs on the bench, I immediately though Richie Vernon would have been the ideal bridge to cover at Centre/Back row.
    It further occurs to me that this may be the way forward for a few Scottish flankers considered too diminutive for test Rugger; Fusaro, H Watson, Roddy Grant and the like. I wonder how effective their impact might be in midfield in the final quarter of a match if even as a tactical carousel to effect a radical tactical change to alter the outcome of a game.
    I think , in many respects, Richie Vernon’s conversion has been a success and that more could follow given the emphasis on centres begin more effective at the breakdown. Would be interesting to see at any rate?

    1. As much as I like Richie Vernon, I have to say he will never play international rugby at centre. He is far too slow. Imagine him against England trying to contain Burrell and Joseph. We have better options at 8 now too, Ashe is on the rise, Denton can improve and Barclay is sitting in a dark room somewhere scheming his competions’ demise. Vernon may succeed as a centre at Glasow, but never for Scotland unfortunately.

  11. I am exploring the tactical deviation of fielding a Flanker-cum-centre at subs time in the game due to the options it could possibly throw out and in terms of sheer invention/disruption if it were required.
    It’s just an idea. I think someone like Richie Vernon, while he may not start at centre might make a worthwhile splash last 30/20 minutes of a game in that position especially for a team like Scotland who may wish to run a fat pack around the park to exploit width.
    Just a thought… ;)

  12. Bl**dy ACL injuries! That’s Horne, Jackson, Bennett and now Dunbar all suffering the same injuries within the last few years. I’m absolutely gutted for him. He and Jonny Gray have been our best players. Hope he can get over the injury and come back stronger.

  13. Echo the comments about Dunbar. I hope he makes a full recovery, not only for his own sake of course, but also because his club and country need him. He has future Lion written all over him.

    Good to see Denton and Hamilton in the line up. The former because he deserves a chance and his bulk will be required; the latter because he’s the kind of bruiser needed to mix it with the England pack – just hope he retains his sanity while on the pitch.

    I was at Twick for the CC in 2013 and it was awful then to see our plan of not competing at the breakdown fall apart. So I agree, a big battle of the back rows expected as I can’t believe this coaching team will make the same mistake. And good that Gray’s mobility can help to counter Lawes’s.

    Re Laidlaw, I think he got lucky because of the number of other changes that have had to be made. But if he doesn’t shape up tomorrow, few tears will be shed if he’s hooked early.

    I’m just hoping for a gutsy and more intelligent performance tomorrow. I’d love to think we could shock England and pull it off, but the way this 6N has gone for us so far I wouldn’t be surprised if we played really well and still went down by a narrow margin.

    Anyway, come on Scotland tomorrow!

  14. Not too many giving Fife much of a chance here. Dougie is a brave player and really competes in the kick chase, which I suspect is why he’s in ahead of Visser. He’s been playing well for Edinburgh and I am ‘hopeful’ that Fife and Seymour may help with the chase aspect and pin down the play deeper in the opposition’s half, something we’ve been sh1te at so far (though the Weej and Edinburgh are both decent at it). I am anticipating a drubbing, though this is probably a form of self-deluding protection to avoid yet another painful disappointment.

  15. About turn! Last night my better half had a dream about Greig Laidlaw with a pack of dogs (our forwards) and a falcon (Hogg?…). It’s a sign, must be. Historic win, here we come!

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion