Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland team to face Ireland

Vern Cotter has made two changes to the starting line up for Saturday’s match against Ireland at Murrayfield. Both changes come in the pack with Adam Ashe taking Rob Harley’s place at blind-side and Ryan Grant taking over from Alasdair Dickinson who drops to the bench. This will be Grant’s first starting appearance of the championship.

Jim Hamilton and Jonny Gray resume their partnership in the locks and David Denton maintains his place at 8 with Blair Cowan carrying on at 7. On paper, it appears safe to say that Vern Cotter is expecting a physical match in and around the break down, and has made his selection accordingly.

In the back line, it’s a case of as you were from the England match. Laidlaw and Russell carry on at 9 and 10 and Matt Scott has shaken off his dead leg to line up next to Mark Bennett in midfield. Dougie Fife, Tommy Seymour and the ever-present Stuart Hogg make up the remainder of starting XV.

On the substitute’s bench, there’s no place for Johnnie Beattie as Cotter has reverted back to a more traditional 5 forwards, 3 backs set up. With this in mind, Tim Visser comes back in to the fold for Dougie Fife.

Vern Cotter, coming up against his old coaching assistant Joe Schmidt for the first time, took time to discuss the players and said “There is a strong culture in this group. Players want to do well and set the standards high”.

He went on to add “Make no mistake, they are coming to Edinburgh believing they can win the title, while we will be going out there desperate to throw everything at our last Championship match to win the game and repay the support of our fans.”

Scotland Team to face Ireland at BT Murrayfield (21 March, kick-off 2.30pm)
15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors); 31 caps, 9 tries, 1 pen, 48 points
14 Dougie Fife (Edinburgh Rugby); 5 caps, 1 try, 5 points
13 Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors); 6 tries, 2 tries, 10 points
12 Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby); 24 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
11 Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors); 16 caps, 6 tries, 30 points

10 Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors); 8 caps, 1 con, 2 points
9 Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester); 38 caps, 3 tries, 40 cons, 80 pens, 335 points

1 Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors); 21 caps
2 Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby); 84 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
3 Euan Murray (Glasgow Warriors); 65 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
4 Jim Hamilton (Saracens); 60 caps, 1 try, 5 points
5 Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors); 12 caps, 1 try, 5 points
6 Adam Ashe (Glasgow Warriors); 4 caps
7 Blair Cowan (London Irish); 10 caps, 1 try, 5 points
8 David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby); 24 caps

16 Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors); 7 caps
17 Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby); 43 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
18 Geoff Cross (London Irish); 39 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
19 Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors); 11 caps
20 Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors); 14 caps, 1 try, 5 points
21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh Rugby); 4 caps
22 Greig Tonks (Edinburgh Rugby); 3 caps
23 Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby); 17 caps, 7 tries, 35 points

52 Responses

  1. With those picks I’d have preferred Ashe at 8 and Denton at 6

    I’m not clear what Dickinson or Harley did to lose their places, but by and large the team I would have expected.

    Personally I would like a change at 9, but it has been clear for some time that this is unlikely.

    If the game becomes stretched in the final quarter (and we are still in it), Visser, SHC and Swinson could add some go-forward and dynamism that might change the game in our favour.

  2. No major surprises there I don’t think. I’m at a loss this year, in years gone by moaning about Scotland was easy, “so and so can’t pass / tackle / scrum etc so drop him”. This year its just more collective inability to win, there is no individual (maybe a couple questionables) that are performing badly. The team is less than the sum of its parts. Glasgow are regularly beating or at least matching the Irish and Welsh sides in the league and hammer the Italian ones, and Edinburgh have recently been getting up there too so why against very similar opponents Scotland don’t turn up is just beyond me.

    We can blame injuries all we like but its pointless, all teams suffer from injuries you just have to work round them.

    Anyway, team
    I can’t think of a better front row, Ford still infuriates me (like R Gray) that such a big powerful man can be such a powder puff ball carrying. Dickensons handier in the loose but I feel Grants a better scrummager.

    Second row, I like big Jim, I like his attitude and he appears to be crucial in mauls, it simply hasn’t functioned when he isn’t there. He hasn’t been too bad on the penalties either this season, touch wood. J Gray is class hopefully he will continue to improve. Swinson is useless, don’t know much about Toolis, hopefully Gilchrist will be back soon along with R Gray.

    Back row, I thought Harley and Cowan were two of our standout players in the Autumn, but neither of them have been particularly strong in the 6N. I like Cowan, he tries and always seems to be in the middle of everything (a colourful scrum cap does help with this illusion though) runs good support lines too. Said enough about Brown and Barclay, whats happend to Rennie?. I have always liked Beattie but he’s been poor, Denton who I have never liked played well last week and deserves a shot.

    Scrum half, doesn’t look like this will change. What is it with our scrum halves, as soon as they become settled in squad and get the captains armband they become pedestrian and predictable, Blair, Cusiter and now Laidlaw, all the same. Annoying because all of them could be great. Give some of the young team a go maybe a dropping is what Laidlaw needs. Definitely take the captains band away from him, doesn’t seem to be able to play the ref like other teams do and I think the captain needs to be a forward. It’s no coincidence that most other big teams captains are forwards.

    Flyhalf, Russell is raw and makes errors, but there is something about him. Unlike our previous 10s I am not cringing waiting for him to make a comical error, I am waiting for something good to happen, he stands nice and flat too. Stick with him, get Horne in there too give him some game time at 12.

    Centres, fine, shame about Dunbar who has to be our finest centre in 10 years.

    Back line, also fine, I like Maitland, Hogg and Seymour as a backline with Visser on the bench, his tacklings too much of a liability but his speed and poachers instinct later on in a game could unlock things. Hogg needs to stop trying so hard, he is forcing things at the moment and that leads to mistakes, I understand his frustrations and appreciate his ethic but just chill.

    Roll on Saturday, hopefully we can give the Irish a bloody nose like in 2010! Although that would mean England win wouldn’t it? Oh god, dilemma!! ;)

  3. I’m Ok with the starting line up and bench. I hope Ashe’s Test match fitness is up to scratch. Denton definitely deserved another start after last week, and actually this might just be the best starting pack selected yet this 6N. I also hope Bennett and Scott have been working really hard on first up tackle alignment because that was weak in the first 20 mins at Twickenham.
    This will be really tough, but it could go our way because there really hasn’t been any stand out team good or bad this 6N and I don’t think there’s an awful lot to choose between all six sides really.
    I fervently hope we don’t get the wooden spoon, because we don’t actually deserve one and that ‘trophy’ would mask some quite good things that have emerged from this 6N (apart from a win so far!).

  4. Actually, I think Cowan has been very good – stats generally bear this out. Harley is dropped as like Beattie he has underperformed. At the moment, if you take the captain’s armband from Laidlaw who are you going to give it to?

    Overall, in the circumstances, not a bad team sheet.

    1. Agreed, Cowan has been one of our best players and the stats show it – 2nd in the competition for turnovers, and has a chance to take first with Eddy Ben Arous injured. In the autumn his attack was really lacking but he’s sorted that out and has developed into a very strong all round player.

      As for captiancy, my opinion is that there are no obvious candidates in the squad aside from laidlaw. Jonny Gray isn’t ready. Neither is Cowan. Euan Murray brings experience and example but also hot-headedness and is prone to being subbed off. Jim Hamilton captained Glouchester but same problems apply. The arrival of Josh Strauss will be interesting, and if Stuart McInally can climb the ranks he has potential too. But for me, the only real out and out leader in Scottish rugby right now is still Al Kellock, but he’s way past his best playing days.

      1. I agree, Al Kellock was a great captain but he didn’t deserve to start as a player. Frankly just now I would take that over Laidlaw who isn’t a captain AND doesn’t deserve to start at 9!

      2. I think they should bring Al Kellock into the training squad in a role to coach on captaincy. Laidlaw could benefit from it, but also the young players who are potential captains of future years such as Jonny Gray.

  5. Some underperformers have been dropped, but not all that should have been. Laidlaw and Ford don’t cut the mustard for me.
    After a good Autumn, normal (slow) service has been resumed.

    How about giving the armband to Big Jim for this game?
    Like Shaun above, I think the captain should be a forward.
    I’m not sure that Paul O Connell will be intimidated by Laidlaw in any way.

  6. Pleased to see Grant back and the prospect of the seasoned Glasgow front row starting as a unit would be my preference.Fraser Brown anyway also offers much more than Ford at the breakdown,shone v Bath,and in open play with the former a weakness in our last 4 matches.Such attributes are sorely needed especially against the streetwise Irish.

    Same case can be made for Hidalgo-Clyne who offers a zip at the scrum base compared to sluggish Laidlaw. He has been given a paltry 10 minutes at the end of the Wales match when he ran superbly for the ‘disallowed’ Bennett try and even less v England. Hope BVC gives him the game time he deserves under his belt in readiness for RWC and his chance to create some space for our exciting threes once of course Laidlaw gets stuck in his Strathspey step mode,likely.

    Visser a surprise really for bench though know limited options. Just a bit scary him sauntering on and coping with Sexton’s bombs which inevitably will be raining down on us,to put it mildly not one of his strengths.He has looked off the pace and disorientated this season so would have thought Lee Jones who is a more rounded player with good footwork would have been a safer choice.

  7. Where is Maitland?

    He’s not listed as injured on the SRU website and hasnt been for a while.

  8. Interesting interview with Tom English on Down the Blind Side and I think his perspective is more or less spot on:

    “This team is playing more rugby than any Scotland team I’ve seen since I moved here in 2005. But they’re also making the kind of mistakes that make winning a test match almost impossible.”

    “The neglect of Scottish rugby over the previous 15 years has been so profound that it could be 3-4 years before they are in any kind of shape in the 6N.”

    “This is a kind of one sport nation…it’s football, football, football and somewhere down the pecking order is rugby…it reminds me of Ireland back in about 1998, when we were losing loads of matches and we couldn’t see where the next win was coming from. There is going to be a long, long road but I think there are better times ahead.”

    English also suggests that some of Scotland’s assistant coaches are not to Cotter’s liking and he may seek to change them. The question that goes begging is perhaps whether Cotter is committed to seeing this through or not. English says Cotter took the Scotland job fully aware of the scale of his task and the length of time it would take to make an impression, but it is also well understood that Cotter’s main ambition is the AB job. As far as I know, Cotter’s contract stretches just beyond the world cup or maybe to the next 6N. Is Cotter around for the long haul or is the SRU going to move Townshend into place sooner rather than later? On the other hand, winning the 6N with Scotland would probably make Cotter a shoo-in for the role he most covets.

    1. FF, I listened to that earlier and it provides some very good insights. I like Tom English a lot – he’s also doing a TV program with John Beattie on Sunday although not sure of the time, but picked it up on on twitter.

      I was a bit surprised when he mentioned that about the coaching staff, don’t know who he means but it took me by surprise a bit. Also, Cotter’s only on a 2 year deal and from I can work out, that kicked in officially in June 2014 so we have him for the WC and the next 6N. Whether he commits to a longer period, I really don’t know. In his press conference the other day he made it clear that he knew what he was letting himself in for and that he knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Our performance at the WC may shape his thinking.

      Regarding the AB job, both him and Schmidt have spoken in the past that they want it at some point. If Ireland do win the 6N and make head way in the WC, surely he’d be front runner. Now they’re both in separate international roles, I can’t strictly see them teaming up again, however some rumours suggest that’s the long term plan. They seem to have maintained a healthy relationship so god only knows.

      Please don’t go Vern.

      1. Thanks Andy – I gave it a listen because of your recommendation on Twitter and I thought it deserved a mention here to put our conversations over the past 4 months in some perspective. Before the 6N I said beating anyone other than Italy would be considered an upset, before subsequently letting hope get the better of me before the opening match. It is a shame that it looks like even this low level of expectation will be frustrated and yet we really are not that far off beating some very good teams like Wales.

        I also desperately want Cotter to stay as we need some consistency with the group of young players. Regarding the AB job I don’t think winning one French title will leave him in the top tier of candidates no matter how much we respect him in the NH. Schmidt will be in the top tier already with a couple of HC trophies and a 6N title to his name. However, apparently he considers himself more settled in Ireland and his son is still at high school so it isn’t at all clear that Schmidt would make himself available in the very near future. Gatland too would have a peerless level of experience and success at test level. So, hopefully Cotter feels he needs to make a success of his time with Scotland before moving on. I’d like to see him stay for at least two 6N beyond the world cup.

        As English makes clear, we have a very talented nucleus of a team that can be more successful – but they are callow and need time to learn to win test matches. Changing the coaching set up is not the way to realise that potential.

        I would assume that the assistant coach Cotter is not satisfied with is Humphries. It would also be interesting to see if he brings in an attack coach as in the past at Clermont he had Schmidt and Alex King. Is Johnson blocking that spot at present? Does Scotland have any attack coaches kicking their heels? It was a good way for Townshend to get experience under Robinson but I expect Cotter would have higher standards rather than settling for a new coach.

    2. Always reassuring to know somebody is following my ramblings on there!

      I think you’re right about hope getting the better of us. However, this time last year there was such a degree of discontent between the fans and the team after such an abject tournament and whilst everybody is bummed out at our results this year, it’s not the same. I genuinely feel we’ve made progress since he’s taken over and has restored a bit of hope.

      English was also spot on when talking about the players and also the brand of rugby this team is playing. I honestly can’t remember being as entertained or as enthused by the style of play in a long time. He’s got it bang to rights when he highlights the penalty count being suicidal. But, for me, it’s something to work on and shape. Interesting parallels with Ireland 15,16 years ago also.

      Agreed about Cotter staying. It’s became more and more apparent the respect the players have for him and I do feel he’s building something with them. If he were to leave in the next 12/18 months then I think it would be a huge knock to the players and the fans, where do you go from there? Until Glasgow really, really kick on in Europe I can’t see Townsend moving. Finally on that, Steve Hansen’s contract isn’t out until 2017 so if that is Cotter’s long term goal then tie him down until then!

      Regarding the coaches though, he must have been allowed to have brought in some of his own guys surely? Unless it was a case of working with them for this 6N before sorting it out pre-WC. Either way, I’d let him do what he wants to be frank. Your assertion about Humphries makes more sense than my initial thought of “Duncan Hodge ain’t that bad…”

      Also, Shaun Edwards’ contract is up with Wales soon…

      1. Although it is not a terribly fashionable opinion I think Robinson coached Scotland very well. Our pack won lots of ball and towards the end we made lots of line breaks. However, we just didn’t have the calibre of player to compete – that is changing now (although our pack needs some reinforcements) and this is why I think the SRU deserves some credit in the recent past. It is not by accident that we are now producing players like Hogg, Dunbar, Bennett, Russell, SHC etc. We are getting better at identifying talent and exposing them to a higher standard of competition. We have a long way to go but it is light years ahead of the quality available to us since the 6N began and the 90’s generation started to retire.

      2. I made that exact observation to a mate the other day about Robinson and was scoffed at. The rugby was bloody turgid at times, how long was the record of not scoring a try at Murrayfield? but the caliber of player, especially in the backs, is an improvement on what we had.

        But you’re right, there’s a huge way to go as has been covered here and elsewhere and as maligned as the SRU are at times, they are attempting to do something. The next few years are going to be very, very interesting.

    3. FF. Andy Nicol on the BBC last year actually expressed amazement that Cotter when taking over would be inheriting the same coaching team as Johnson.

      He made the point that normal practice is for coaches to bring their own team as part of any contract negotiation. So mention of assistants not being to his liking may have some credence.
      If so you have to just wonder why Cotter agreed to Humphries et al remaining in the first place.Mm.

  9. Just read the article which was illuminating. They clearly take their rugby seriously on the Irish Times.
    The only threat they see appears to be Hogg, with no one else getting a mention.
    It looks like they’ll try and maul the life out of Scotland, but also expect much more success at the breakdown, as we have no one of the destructive calibre of Warburton.
    Let’s hope Scotland manage to stop the Irish making the extra yards after the tackle, to ease pressure on Cowan.
    I did notice that the Irish forwards were very static when they were receiving the ball against Wales. I can’t see them doing this again. Hopefully we can knock them basckwards a bit.

  10. Standoffalot. An interesting article. A little smug for my liking but suppose they have earned that right up to now. To be honest, apart from the England game, I’ve not really rated the Ireland team this championship. Unlike Scotland, they do have a great deal of experience in the team and an annoying habit of knowing how to win. I think the forward battle really is one we can win. If we stop giving away stupid penalties, stop kicking possesion away and “manage” the referee a little better, there is no reason why we cannot win tomorrow.

  11. I just felt that the article was unnecessarily disparaging, but then I suppose you have to earn respect. I still feel that this Scotland side isn’t that far away and if we could ever get our first 15 on the park we have a good side. I still think we have a surprise in us this championship and I’m approaching this game with my usual myopic optimism…….

    1. The Irish don’t rate Scottish rugby for good reason it has to be said. However, it is pretty irritating how little credit the Irish press even gives Glasgow for the recent improvement. Winning the Pro-12 would be a start but success in Europe is their benchmark. Smashing Ireland today would be satisfying, but of it happens don’t expect Scotland to be given much credit.

      1. The Irish have short memories. I can still recall when they couldn’t win a match to save themselves. Come 99/2000 and the emergence of O’Driscoll, O’Gara etc they started to win and the confidence trickled down to their pro sides. Now they manage to conveniently forget the 80’s and 90’s when they were rubbish beyond belief! Same applies to Wales who were dire during the 80’s and early 90’s.

        What this shows though is that scotland have been crap for a while but rugby is cyclical and our time is coming! Starting today I hope…..

      2. Ireland don’t rate us because we’re mince…and you know what?…they’re right.

  12. I’ve just, in a fit of annoyance, turned off BBC coverage of the Italy v Wales game. I’ll switch on again for the Scotland match.
    All I’ll say is that I wonder if it’s time to employ neutral commentators?

    1. That was bloody embarrassing from Scotland. If anyone comes on here and defends Laidlaw after that pitiful effort from him and the rest of the shower they must be drunk. Disgraceful display.

  13. Dire,dire,dire,on our own not for one minute buy the “improvement” mantra at all…innumerable knock-ons,turned over for fun,laboured phases with players taking ball standing still…..players might respect Cotter,but our opponents don’t respect us as a team….20 years ago we were in contention for a Grand Slam two seasons running….hope England get title,because Welsh and Irish hubris has reached English proportions,none of this Celtic Brotherhood stuff!

    1. They have regressed in every single game which is a damning indictment of the players, selection and coaching. Four more defeats before the world cup beckon.

      I can’t stress enough how much I loathe Laidlaw who is comfortably the weakest Captain I can recall for Scotland. Ford must be dropped if he isn’t going to contribute, Fife simply doesn’t know how to tackle, Hogg needs to stop playing for himself and trying silly little kicks he isn’t skilful enough to execute properly. Cross cannot scrummage well enough, Hamilton hasn’t any self discipline when the chips are down, Denton doesn’t have the first clue how to protect the ball in the tackle. Dickinson, Swinson, Matt Scott (half the player he was a year ago)…. I could go on but it’s too depressing.

  14. One win in twelve,sorry time the six nations became the four nations and scotland and italy formed a second tier with the likes of russia ,romania etc.
    Maybe then the fantastic murryfield crowd could have a great day out and possibly (not definately) see an occasional scotland victory.
    ps one good thing,the smug look wiped off a certain welshmans face

  15. Pathetic Scotland!! Withdraw from the 6 Nations Championship until you can learn to play international rugby!!

  16. Wow!..simply woeful. What’s wrong with us? Best psyche ourselves up for the world cup. SA & Samoa to go through at this rate. Even wins against USA and Japan wont be a given.

  17. The full repetoire out there today. Missed tackles, garbage restarts, feeble breakdown, inability to hold onto the ball. Losers.

  18. What is so wrong with Scotland and what is with the consistent bad luck (referee decisions, ball off the posts etc) over the last decade? It’s like there is some curse sitting on them….when will it lift?

    Cotter might want to think about just taking the Glasgow Warriors into RWC at least they know what winning is…

    1. Two games in a row where an opposition player should have been carded. It’s either crap refereeing or crap captaincy from you know who not asking why no card? I suggest it’s both.

      1. Yes, he really needs a long long time away…but even with him gone ‘the team’s winning belief’ has to be completely rebuilt ahead of RWC. That is going to be nearly impossible with the same faces who have lost so dreadfully together so much – too much pychological baggage to be rid of. Potter must be wondering if he’s just killed his career by taking on Scotland.

  19. Speaking about referees,France had better watch out,it looks to me as if the refs have been told to favour the 3 teams going for the title,Wales and Ireland both got every decision going.Is it only if you are Scottish you can be yellow carded for taking a player in the air,Ireland done it twice once in open play and once in the lineout,result one penalty.Irish players were constantly slowing the ball illegaly and coming in from the side,result no penalties.
    this is just an observation and in no way an excuse for our woeful performance.Laidlaw was crying at the start,we were all crying at the end

    1. Don’t even get me started on the scrum put in. Under the hookers hips and with foot up. Laidlaw didn’t say anything to Garces (who is notorious for leaning towards the match favourites) until halfway through the second half!!!!

      1. Laidlaw was constantly pointing out the squint Irish feed at the scrum…just that the ref ignored him.

    2. There is no smoke without fire…there is a fire raging on the imbalance and inconsistent application of law by the referees and follow on citation committee. We can all see the smoke! So why is this imbalanced not being taken to task by SRU?

      1. It’s all run from Ireland and it’s all done behind closed doors so we the paying public will never know what is going on. The SRU are far too quiet on this front. Possibly a throwback to the amateur days of SRU Blazers keeping quiet even in the face of blatantly crap officiating.

      2. Who was the citing commissioner for the match ? He’s been conspicuously silent. Payne should be cited, or the Scottish management should mke a clear complaint to the same citing commissioner. A retrospective red card would be the fair and equitable way of dealing with this considering all the other cards and tackles in the tournament. It was a dangerous tackle (not reckless) and should have been dealt with immediiately by the referee.
        I’d love to hear his opinion on why he didn’t.

  20. Poor performance indeed from Scotland. Ireland controlled the breakdown and did everything with pace and urgency: Scotland couldn’t manage either. The way ahead probably includes big changes in personnel, especially among the forwards, as some of the present lot contribute more to Scotland’s failures this 6N, than to its meagre successes. Also include sprint training; whatever Jonny Gray brings to the game, it certainly isn’t speed.

    1. Bit harsh on Gray as he has been head and shoulders above all the other forwards. I doubt you see many locks sprinting around the paddock and he is certainly quicker than most.

      Scottish forwards are rubbish at clearing out rucks. That’s what needs sorting!

      1. They need to have that animal level ferocity in engagements which puts aside how tired and bruised you feel and gives everything to the engagement…but this doesn’t come when the team belief in every player and the whole is lacking.

      2. I agree. There seems to be a fundamental problem with rucking in Scotland. Players just don’t have the necessary aggression.

      3. Which is the strange thing as Glasgow Warrior players have it…but it goes when playing for the national team. Why?

      4. Trust! Glasgow players trust each other. If I was playing there I wouldn’t trust Ford et al to come smashing in to the tackle to assist me and certainly wouldnt trust them to win a turnover for me.

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