Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v Italy Player Rankings

Scotland coaching staff - pic © Al Ross
Scotland coaching staff - pic © Al Ross

It wasn’t the greatest of rugby games – Scotland vs Italy matches rarely are these days – but Scotland emerged with a much needed win. Here are our player ratings from the match in Turin yesterday.

Greig Tonks – Had no problems under the high ball and defence remained strong. Another steady game for the fringe utility back. 6

Sean Lamont – Did what was required of him when the ball came his way, although it was a relatively unexceptional performance for his 95th cap. 6

Richie Vernon – Fairly good in defence, although hardly touched the ball until the second half. His replacement, Pete Horne, seemed to inject more pace into the game than Vernon could offer. 5

Matt Scott – Was involved in the very limited attacking chances available in the first half and provided the final pass for Pyrgos’ try. 6

Rory Hughes – Made his mark on the game with some big hits from kick chases. Limited opportunities available in attack with the ball rarely making it past the centres. 6

Duncan Weir – Kicking from hand was steady and from the tee, Weir kept the Scots within touch. Also made a number of good tackles on some of the larger Italian forwards on show. 6.5

Sam Hidalgo-Clyne – Had a strong first half with some clever kicks helping win the territorial battle. Faded after half time, however, with some dodgy mistakes, including failing to identify an overlap close to the try line. 6

Gordon Reid – Went off soon after half time with concussion symptoms, didn’t quite get the opportunity to prove why he should be a more regular feature in the team. 5

Stuart McInally – Finally made his first appearance in the blue jersey, although remained fairly quiet. Scrum and lineout remained fairly solid during this time, although opportunities with ball in hand were limited. 5

Mike Cusack – Penalised fairly often at scrum time, although appeared to be pretty mobile around the pitch in defence. 5

Richie Gray – Very important in the lineout, making crucial steals and helping to provide stability. Was also a rock in defence. 7

Jim Hamilton – Did very little and was guilty of giving away a couple of penalties. Will have a tough battle to gain a place in the World Cup squad. 4

Alasdair Strokosch – Handed the captain’s armband just hours after the game after Gilchrist fell ill, his game today can be best described as ‘content’. 6

John Hardie – Facing more scrutiny than most, Hardie was key in defence with a number of big hits helping to limit Italian momentum. Could have looked to get more involved with attack, something he tried to do before injury struck. 7

Adam Ashe – Stayed quiet for most of the game due to his side’s limited attacking opportunities. Will be looking for another game next week to cement his World Cup place. 5


Ross Ford, Alasdair Dickinson, W.P. Nel – Scrum had issues on occasions, although did what was required at the right time, winning a penalty against the head in injury time to secure victory. 5

Hamish Watson – Was good in defence and made a nuisance of himself at the breakdown. Also got his hands on the ball fairly often. 6

Henry Pyrgos – With Hidalgo-Clyne starting to struggle, Pyrgos combined well with Weir and Horne to increase the number of attacking opportunities available for Scotland. Good decision making resulted in the only try of the game, which he scored himself. 7

Pete Horne – With Scotland behind, Horne’s 12 minutes on the pitch proved to be crucial with a number of clean breaks being made. Scotland then went on the front foot and it wasn’t long before the try came. 8

Damian Hoyland – Very little to report on his debut with opportunities limited in attack and defence. 4

In case you missed the game (as I did – Ed.) here are some video highlights someone put up the whole game over on Youtube:

Which players stood out for you?


37 Responses

  1. Cotter wanted an arm wrestle and he got it. Weir, Vernon, Scott is a combination that’s going to make 0 breaks, especially with Tonks at fullback. The difference when Horne came on was night and day – Scott was finally able to run his angles – Horne truly is one of our greatest players. Poor SHC didn’t stand a chance on his first start with those guys outside him. Pyrgos, however, came on and showed why he has to be our first choice in tighter contests.

    Nel came on in the nick of time and basically saved us the match. He’s going to be huge for our chances of making progress in the pools – at the moment we don’t have any other competitive tight-heads.

    McInally did exactly what he needed to do by hitting his jumpers – he’s now ahead of Brown for me.

    Hughes did well given that he never actually really got a chance with ball in hand. Chased high balls and stopped their 8 at source a couple of times.

    Thought Watson did phenomenally when he came on – Hardie did what he could with what little he had to work with, but I’m guessing he’ll be gutted with having had no opportunity to show himself – especially since he’s now unemployed. This can’t be his last opportunity though – needs better guys around him.

    Winners – Horne, Nel, Pyrgos, Dickenson, Watson, McInally & Scott (once he had some service).

    Losers – Reid and Cusack, Hamilton and Gray (Did a combined total of 0), Tonks, SHC (really feel for him)

    Overall –

    We’ve got to be way more aggressive at the break down. If guys aren’t rolling away you’ve got to clatter them and man handle them out. Make sure the referee knows they’re there. We’re way too passive up front.

    I understand Cotter wants to give everyone a run out and wanted to force the forwards to front up, but you’re never going to see what guys are capable of if you don’t have the right combinations on the pitch. Important to get the win – Next week is the real match.

  2. I only saw the second hand half and through a very stop start internet connection at least that is what I thought the problem was but I think that might have been the game

    It didn’t look very fluid and not sure how much the coaches will have got out of it.

    Hardie made some great hits round the base of the ruck and Watson had some great runs and offloads

    Can’t for the life of me work out why you kick for goal at 9-9 with 30 minutes to play in their quarter in a warm up game. Total waste and as I didn’t see the ones in the first half I suspect there were a couple there that could have gone to touch

    The idea is to test your set pieces and moves not your kicks

    Hoping that in the next game we will start to see some of the 1st choice combinations getting a run before 75/80% of the first choice team takes on France

    Other than that I can’t really say anything as I didn’t get a clear view

  3. Wasn’t able to watch this game and from what I hear I didn’t miss much, but a win is a win and we got to test out some new talent. Worrying to hear that Cusack and Ried struggled. Dickinson and Nel seem like a strong pair but if one gets injured or tires, our scrum instantly becomes vulnerable. Haven’t heard a word on Strokosch so I can only assume it was the usual “solid but unspectacular” shift from him. Good man for stepping up as captain though, says something about his leadership that we stayed strong under what sounded like a heap of pressure and kept Italy tryless. Two opensides again in the home fixture? Seems to be the new fad diet. Hopefully Watson gets a start, and I’d like to see Bennett back with Horne at 12 again.

  4. Thanks to ESPN I saw the whole game.
    It was a turgid, uninspiring first half where we had such little possession that our defense was given a real work -out (and came through really well). John Hardie really stood out in our team during this time with tackles and loose work way beyond we are used to seeing from a No 7 (he must be a shoe-in for the 31).

    When the much needed reinforcements came on – first to shore-up the front of the scrummage (Nel & Dickinson) and latterly to give impetus to our attack (Horne, Pyrgos & Watson) – things finally began to improve. All 5 of these guys deserve to make the final 31 (although I am not sure that we can find room for the luxury of both Hardie & Watson).

    Horne looks more and more like our best attacking back at the moment (of course we are still to see Bennett et al). Pyrgos makes things happen and Watson is an attacking forward that often finds his moment.

    Maybe (like American football) we need both an attack team and a defend team (we certainly have many that seem to fit the latter – Weir, Tonks etc). Or VC decides which mode we will go in to the RWC and chooses the appropriate combination.

  5. Not long in from work and just watched the game. Rubbish game, if you missed it, you didn’t miss much. Biggest loser in this match for me was SHC who failed to grasp his opportunity. One wild pass followed by a kick straight out the park summed up his evening. A burgeoning talent undoubtedly but maybe too soon for him. Henry came on and steadied the ship as per. Also if Dunbar isn’t fit, Horne for me is first choice 12, a class act. Thought big Ritchie did well too, defensively he was everywhere and a few lineout steals. Hardie was ok if unspectacular but he is a class act and will come good. Also a mention for Weir, composed and kicked majority of his goals. Equally those questioning why he kicked to touch at the end, why not? As long as he makes touch the game is done. Points difference means nothing in a friendly. Other losers tonight were Hamilton who was anonymous, Tonks whom I was just generally disappointed in as I like him as a player, and Ashe who didn’t make the same impact as Denton against Ireland. Also is the inability to pass an Edinburgh thing? Watson did well when he came on, but always looked for contact and should have released the ball on several occasions. That said he’s a smashing player, and definitely one for the future.

  6. Very wound up by JP Doyle refereeing in the scrum.
    There were so many Italian elbows on the ground and props lying flat out after the contact. The Italien scrum half waited for as long as it took for Italy to get on the front foot before feeding the ball.
    What does JP do? Gives Italy a string of unwarranted penalties.
    Hope JP isn’t reffing next week as well.
    I’m not sure why Scotlnd always make such hard work of the Italy match.
    Wales and Ireland cut them to pieces with monotonous regularity.
    Think our tactics play into Italien hands.

  7. Standoffalot- was that the same Watson who put Horne through for his break into the 22, then gave the offload for Tonks to pass to Scott for the try? Pretty much our only clean breaks of the game…

    1. Fair enough Gunner. Just felt that there were quite few occasions when he could have passed the ball but instead looked for the contact. As I stated above though I did feel he made a difference when he came on, and I do think he’s a superb player.

  8. Yes it was limted in terms of quality, however what do we expect , these are composite sides, in a half empty stadium. Italy always test the scrum and I think yesterday Scotland demonstrated they are still vulnerable. However , if we can get the injured players back, It feels like we have made progress and I think it is looking very positive for a good world cup. Richie Gray has answered my concerns on his current form (He is in), Horne and Pyrgos were clinical as impact players and that final pass from Scott to Pyrgos gave me confidence that the former will be match fit for the tournament. Gilchrist does not seem to have a lot of luck. I think you need to see Richie and Jonny Gray combining at least once before the tournament, so he get half a game next week (assuming he is well). Horne , well, it is all coming together at just the right time, I am pleased for him, a decent lad who has been overshadowed , until now !!!!!

  9. The biggest area where the likely squad seems to be changing is the make up of the back row. If we are only taking 5 back row players it could be:

    Denton, Strauss, Hardie, Cowan, Watson.

    Watson is a cracking player and performed well in Turin but he probably faces the greatest competition as Cotter could replace him with Wilson, Ashe, or Barclay as they all offer more flexibility. Although if Cotter goes with Harley as one of his four locks flexibility might not be necessary.

    1. FF- i reckon youre spot on there, denton, strauss and cowan for me are shoe ins. Hardie is going to be given more leeway than the others as he’s shown great commitment and desire to come over and play for us, as well as his level of ability is so high. I feel it was always then between ashe, barclay and wilson for the other spot, but watson may have played his way into the thoughts. Its probably just a question of what cotter wants, another 7, then barclay, a work horse who’s aggressive and a good carrier, wilson. An athletic bal playing 8, ashe. Personally, id take wilson. But again, FF, youre right, harley will almost definitely be in the squad as a lock i reckon, so that could offer more flexibility in cotters back row choices

  10. After Saturday

    Moving up:
    Peter Horne, Matt Scott, Rory Hughes, Henry Pyrgos, John Hardie & Hamish Watson

    Moving down:
    Greg Tonks, Duncan Weir, Sam H-Clyne, Adam Ashe, John Barclay, Al Strokosch, Jim Hamilton,
    Mike Cusack

    1. Good summary only contentious one would be Cusack. Not because you are wrong, however for me , there is no outstanding tighthead to compare him with. In fact the front row is our only area of vulnerability IMO. Our biggest man in is Ross Ford and he a hooker, something not right about that. Mind you , I cannot fault his bravery , I would not want to be depending on any of them keeping my neck attached.

  11. Got to admit I’ve enjoyed the last 2 matches. Exactly what we needed and a WIN at last.
    Really looking forward to next week and what combinations will be on show.
    My starting pack next week would be:
    Dickinson Ford Nel J Gray Gilchrist Cowan Denton Hardie
    and bench
    McInally Reid Welsh R Gray Barclay

    1. Agree completely with this forward pack. Best front row available, workmanlike second row, very balanced back row. And the subs can provide some mobility and momentum from the bench. Also, LOOK AT ALL THE OPENSIDES WE HAVE!!! When did that happen?!!

    2. Agree with this pack totally, aside from 7 where Watson probably earned a start on Saturday. Have Hardie or Cowan on the bench to see what kind of impact they can bring.

      1. Thought he had a great mongrel like game but we either need size or someone with a bit more experience to get us through this RWC…IMO

      2. Agreed, I think given a 50/50 between Watson and Hardie, Cotter would go for Hardie just because he will feel the S15 is more big game experience plus Hardie is a bit bigger. Hard to argue with Kev’s pack, although if Ashe hit some form I’d try him at 8 and Dents at 6 as he’s probably played there a bit more of the two…

      3. Watson may be small but he is the best ball carrier out of all the sevens, is a strong tackler and has a great workrate. I’d take him and Hardie in the 31. Barclay failed to make an impression in his cameo against Ireland and it will be interesting to see whether he gets another chance. As he hasn’t been given very long on the pitch so far it looks like Cotter hasn’t been impressed in the training camps, I doubt he’d consider Barclay as a player who didn’t need to earn his place in the squad.

  12. And meantime in Melrose Roddy Grant scores 3 tries against Romania,
    The national coaches may know what they are doing but several inferior back rows have played for Scotland since RG first put his hand up.

  13. Just watched the first half of the game. Some savage defence from Scotland, Hardie making some massive hits, Hughes aggressive in the chase and tackle, Gray uncompromising as always and even Cusack adding his weight to some big tackles. Scrum is a worry though, as is Weirs attacking intent. The backs didn’t look up to much, even if the intention was there from Scott. Will watch the second half tomorrow.

  14. The last 15mins of the game is the style I assume VC is looking for. What I found most reassuring was how Horne & Scott performed together and if we get quick ball they will unlock defences especially with Russell keeping the inside defenders honest. It would be very interesting to see Watson from the start as clearly his impact was greater against a tiring Italian forward pack but his interplay was impressive. It does show that when there is a decent link person with the backs it brings Scotlands quick game alive.

  15. Watched the whole game, which was a bit of a chore to be honest.
    I think Cotter will use the next game as a last chance saloon for a lot of players. Here’s my predicted starting XV for Italy:
    15.Maitland (is inked in as a winger but need FB cover)
    14.Visser (LAST CHANCE)
    13.Bennett (needs game time)
    12.Scott (to reintroduce pairing with Bennett)
    11.Seymour (needs a game)
    10.Jackson (it’s between him and Tonks for 10/15 cover)

    1.Reid (Dickinson front runner and if Grant recovers??)
    2.Brown (needs another game)
    3.Cusack (LAST CHANCE)
    4.Gilchrist (if fit)
    5.Harley (is lock a position he can cover from start?)
    6.Wilson (LAST CHANCE)
    7.Barclay (LAST CHANCE)
    8.Denton (to prove Ireland game wasn’t a one-off)
    Of course, if all those in the Last Chance Saloon perform, BVC will have a huge headache!!

    1. That still leaves Laidlaw, Hogg, Dunbar, J Gray still to be involved. They probably need game time as well.
      Since you wrote this Cusack has been sent home, so Welsh to replace?
      How about a back row of 6 Denton 8 Wilson 7 Barclay
      Denton and Wilson can both play at 6 or 8, but I don’t think Dentons all round game is good enough for 8 (passing particularly poor)

  16. It’s great that we are having all this talk and discussion about the make up of the pack and who has to be left out and the last two games have left me encouraged but I am concerned we have not seen Bennett, Dunbar or Maitland yet. Yes we have Scott, Vernon and Horne all putting their hand up and we have options on the wing and at full back but I think we need at least two out of those three fully fit before the group matches or we may have some issues in the back line. We need to see Maitland and Bennett at least this weekend either starting or on the bench. I may be wrong but I don’t think any of the other six nation teams have not put out their influential players yet. The point is that the three players I have mentioned have a huge influence on our match day squad – Dunbar it seems is 50-50 but I have read nothing about Bennett or Maitland at all which is odd given how important they are.

    1. Neither Ireland nor Wales have put out anything like their starting XVs yet so very few of their leading players have been on the field.

    2. Completely agree, which is why I think both Maitland and Bennett will start this week. Similarly I think Seymour will start, although BVC may opt to give Fife a run out, although that’s probably being too sentimental (giving Dougie a game, even though he ain’t gonna make the 31).

  17. hmm. Watson (amongst others) has now been cut from the squad. Won’t be in the 31then. I’d have thought from this weekends performance he’d at least proved his worth over Blake and Barclay?

    It makes our jobs as armchair selectors easier, but I did think he could be a useful bolter to the squad. Hey ho

    1. And Cusack too – leaves us with 5 props left (Dickinson, Grant, Reid, Nel, Welsh). I guess that’ll be the front rowers then.

    2. The full list of players cut:

      Mike Cusack (prop)
      Rory Hughes (wing)
      Allan Dell (prop)
      Dougie Fife (wing)
      Damien Hoyland (wing)
      Ben Toolis (lock)
      Hamish Watson (back-row)
      Kevin Bryce (Hooker)

  18. For me, the standings in order of Cotter’s preference are probably as below, each position in order of preference. Obviously all can’t go; if a player drops out due to injury etc., the next best placed will move up.

    Hooker: Ford, Brown, McInally, McArthur
    Prop: Dickinson, Nel, Reid, Grant, Welsh, Cusack, Dell
    Lock: R Gray, J Gray, Gilchrist, Harley Hamilton, Toolis
    Back Row: Denton, Strauss, Hardie, Cowan, Barclay, Wilson, Stroker, Watson
    Scrum-Half: Laidlaw, Pyrgos, SHC, Cusiter
    Stand-Off: Russell, Jackson, Weir
    Centre: Horne, Bennett, Scott, Dunbar, Vernon
    Back 3: Hogg, Seymour, Maitland, Lamont, Visser, Tonks, Fife, Hughes, Hoyland

    1. shame for watson,… he looked lively and got a cracking turnover.
      I’d have weir ahead of jackson at FH (purely as more rugby played to date), however jackson gets the nod as utility, 3rd FH/FB

      1. Yes, exactly as you say, I think Jackson has moved up to second choice 10 on the basis of his versatility.

        I think Saturday’s game will see the order of some of those picks change – particularly in the back row.

      2. Thought Watson still had a chance of being in the 31, but BVC knows best.
        OK so 3 hookers (will McArthur get a run out?)
        5 props (Welsh covering both)
        3 locks (4 with Harley)
        5 back row (Barclay, Wilson, Sroker battling for final spot)
        17 forwards.
        2 definite scrum halves
        2 fly halves (3 with Jackson)
        4 centres (Dunbar not being fit)
        5 wings/FB (Visser or Tonks?)
        14 backs.
        Of course he might still take Big Jim (experience, leadership, bulk, enforcer) despite the penalty count.
        Do we need 3 hookers? Do we need 3 scrum-halves? Is Grant back fully fit? With Jackson as utility is Tonks a luxury? Will Lamont continue with his best form for years?
        Too many questions – find out the answers in next weeks thrilling installment!!!

  19. I follow a few players on twitter. Someone asked Dunbar how his recovery was going. He responded well but a bit to go before he’s match fit. I can’t see him being risked. The centres barring anymore injuries will be Horne, Scott, Bennett (who according to Cotter was possible going to play on Sat but they’ve given him another week) and Vernon. At least Dunbar will probablybe playing for Glasgow during the world cup, and with Toolis and Watson being sent back Edinburgh will have a real chance to get some early wins with whats looking like a tasty pack.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion