Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


The Italian Job Part I

Matt Scott - pic © Al Ross
Matt Scott - pic © Al Ross

And you thought the last one was experimental? An interesting team this, with a bunch of changes.

In all there are 11 new faces taking the field in Turin, with an almost entirely new pack, four new backs, and three starting debuts for John Hardie, Rory Hughes and Stuart McInally who completes his switch to hooker in some style.

The team is a curious mix of the defensive (Weir, Tonks, Strokosch) and the swashbuckling (McInally, Sam H-C, Ashe) but it looks as if a more conservative style of play may be opted for to try and conserve momentum better. An interesting partnership in the midfield too with Matt Scott teaming up with Richie Vernon for the first time and looking to unseat any number of Vernon’s Glasgow teammates who are challenging for a centre berth.

Scotland’s last game against the Italians was the last-minute loss in February at BT Murrayfield, where a converted penalty try sealed the win for the visitors despite Scotland dominating almost the entire rest of the match. Revenge, hopefully, is on the cards.

Scotland Team (to play Italy at the Stadio Olimpico, Turin, this Saturday 22 August, kick-off 7pm BST – live on BT Sport):
Greig Tonks, Sean Lamont, Richie Vernon, Matt Scott, Rory Hughes, Duncan Weir, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Gordon Reid, Stuart McInally, Mike Cusack, Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist (c), Al Strokosch, John Hardie, Adam Ashe

Replacements: Ross Ford, Al Dickinson, WP Nel, Jim Hamilton, Hamish Watson, Henry Pyrgos, Pete Horne, Damien Hoyland

38 Responses

  1. Team is out…

    15. Tonks
    14. Lamont
    13. #weareallRichieVernon
    12. Scott
    11. Rozza
    10. Meatball
    9. SHC
    8. Ashe
    7. Hardie
    6. Big Stroker
    5. Gilchrist
    4. Gray
    3. Coo
    2. Rambo
    1. Scotstoun Express

  2. only had half an interest in last weeks game initially, and it turned out rather well,…. extremely curious about this week. Strokosch playing for his spot surely. Though brown did okay last week, see what McInally can do. Although you do feel the eyes of the nation will be on Hardie, good or bad

  3. Really excited to see how McInally and Hardie get on. They could both potentially bring quite a lot to the Scotland side. Disappointed Watson won’t get longer on the pitch, I thought they might lump him in at 6. We have an abundance of 7s all of a sudden and lots of options at 6 (Wilson, Denton, Harley, Ashe, Strauss have all played there). I really can’t see that it is worth giving Strokosch a start.

    In the backs, good to see SHC start – this will be a bit of an acid test for him. Weir also needs a big game. Hughes is surely there just in case there are RWC injury call ups. Fife has obviously lost the confidence of the coaching team. Anyone know if Hughes is any good? Glasgow fans don’t seem to rate him highly.

  4. Agree FF, I’m also surprised that we’re not seeing Watson from the start. Having seen Hardie play, his brutal physicality would seem to be a good foil for Watson. Much as i like him, I’m not sure what VC hopes to learn about Al Stoker that he doesn’t know already.

    If McInally plays as we know he can, he can shore up a spot in the final squad – as can Weir.

    Re. Hughes – afraid i can’t really help as we’ve not actually seen too much of him in a Glasgow jersey – to be honest I think he’d benefit from getting a good run in the Pro12 during the world cup. From what i have seen, he’s a good strong runner, but doesn’t really seem to have blistering pace. Strong in the tackle and seems to enjoy the physical contest.

  5. Going to miss this one, but really interested to find out how it all goes down. Agree with FF’s comments, but also hoping for a big game from Matt Scott. Scott, Bennett, Horne and Vernon all being fit and on form going into the WC would take a bit of the sting out of Dunbar not making it. I presume Watson will come on for Strokosch around 50 or 60 mins and hope he has a cracker.
    A good performance by this lot on the back of last weekend and we might almost be looking at a bit of depth.

    1. Scott has a lot to prove. If Dunbar is back then Scott not only has to show he is playing as well as the other three with the squad at the moment but has to break up at least one of two established, well balanced partnerships. I think Scott is only going to make the RWC if Dunbar doesn’t recover in time as Dunbar-Bennett Horne-Vernon offer the same blend of play-making ability and breakdown muscle. Scott might be in a head-to-head with Horne who also covers FH. A Horne-Scott partnership looks like too much of one thing and not enough of the other.

  6. Aye, I’d agree with that. I’ve not heard much to make me optimistic that Dunbar will be back and ready in time though. Obviously I hope that he does. Scott is indeed the one with something to prove and I hope he does just that. Horne – Scott, doesn’t work, but the other permutations are either proven or look decent on paper (will be interested to see how Scott & Vernon go as a partnership). Certainly more inspiring than most of the options we had going into the last one… The rate that we go through centres we will likely need them all at some stage by the time we get to Samoa, regardless of who makes the 31.

  7. Apologise slightly off topic but are teams allowed to replace an injured player after announcing the 31 man squad? Just thinking if it turns out to be between Dunbar / Scott and a chance is taken with Dunbar and he is injured in the first game could Scott come in. At least with these warm-up games he will be match fit.

    1. Interestingly Aus have named just 2 9s and 2 hookers but are carrying a spare of each in the party. This was to allow for an extra winger and an open side.

  8. Bit of a jumble sale to be honest – not exactly sure what the tactics are here. In a weird way it seems like Vern is trying to force the forwards to front up by taking away the fluidity & dynamism out wide.

    Don’t really understand Strokosh or Watson’s inclusion – I think it’s pretty set that they’re not going to be at the world cup. Just a gesture then?

    Again, Horne should be at 15. There’s no reason to leave Scott at home when we have double fullback cover in Maitland & Horne and even, in a bind, Seymour. Stand-off we’ve got Russell, Weir, Horne, Hogg & SHC.

    Food for thought – if we lose this game by 15 points we’re down into lucky number 13 in the world, our lowest ever ranking – *gulp*. God we need a win…

    1. Equally, if we win we’re back up to 10th. Stop being such a pessimist!!
      I’ve a feeling this is last chance for a lot of these guys:
      Tonks to prove he can cover both 10 and 15
      Lamont to prove last week wasn’t a one-off return to form
      Strokes has to have a blinder to take the place of anyone
      The whole front row have to perform
      Scott has to make the centre partnership work as the experienced one
      Personally, I can see us having a starting XV and then a lot of “utility” players who can cover multiple positions, thus good news for Welsh, Harley, Barclay, Denton, Lamont, Horne, Jackson, Tonks.
      Must be a nightmare for BVC!!

      1. Not really that concerned about the ranking, I’m just joking ;) but I do think with that back-line the match is going to be a real arm wrestle – in contrast to last week – though I hope I’m proved wrong.

        Get the feeling this is some test level forward practise from Vern.

    2. These warm up games, experimental by nature, shouldn’t be included in the rankings – ridiculous!

      1. Of course they should be included in the rankings – they are full Tests. You saying the France match won’t be full on? Where do you draw the line? If a top 4 side puts out a second string in the WC against a minnow, that is still a Test Match. The players are still capped so why shouldn’t it affect the rankings?
        However as World Cup matches count double, the affect on the rankings of these matches will be eclipsed.

      2. I think only WC finals count as two, not 100% on that though,

        Do agree that obviously they should be full test matches, its just that the coaching staff what to try things out.

  9. A stronger looking Scotland team than the one chosen last weekend.
    Like most, I’m looking forward to seeing to seeing Hardie and McInally play.
    The big battle will be in the front 5, and I don’t think we could get much more ballast in the team than we have. Whether they’re dynamic or quick enough to get around the pitch we’ll see on Saturday.
    We know Italy can scrum and maul, the question is,”can we match them” in those areas?

  10. Yeah, this is another strange selection, but I quite like it. I think everyone is keen to see what McInally and Hardie can bring. I’ve been very impressed by McInally for Edinburgh this season, hopefully he can put the squeeze on Ford who’s had no serious rival for years. Watson should really be ahead of Strokosch, although I don’t think he’ll make the final cut. His time will come though. Big Ritchie needs a big game, this is almost like a trial between him and Gilchrist to partner little brother Johnny. Also as stated, Matt Scott needs to remind us why he was once so highly rated. The only worry for me is that I would have liked to see Barclay start at 7 in at least one warm up game to see what he can bring, and if all the clamour for his re inclusion is justified. I sincerely hope he starts the next game. Rory Hughes I don’t particularly understand, not played much for us and I’m a bit surprised he starts. Fife’s goose is evidently cooked, which while he isn’t quite good enough for international level, is still a little harsh. Max Evans anyone?

    1. I reckon Cotter is just getting Hughes a little experience as our wing stocks ares so shallow a couple of injuries and we are really struggling badly.Good shout on Max Evans as an emergency sub though – I thought he was one of those players who took a lot of flak because he always had to carry his deeply mediocre team mates. He wasn’t world class by any means but a tidy player who could make things happen when he was on form.

      1. I always liked Max Evans, particularly at 13. I don’t ever remember him letting anyone down and I find it strange that he’s so far out of the picture.

      2. I think Max Evans is a bit too late on now (think he is 32), after not being in the initial squad he wouldn’t have time to learn the calls and defensive strategies,

        Did love him as a player and he was unlucky as if he was born 5-10 years later he would be right in the picture.

        I think we have enough depth in centre now with the Horn-Vernon combo working pretty well.

        Still think we are lacking in the front row though…

  11. Are we likely to see a potential test team in these friendlies, or will BVC keep his powder dry until the world cup?
    He’s a difficult man to double guess.

    1. My guess is the next side against Italy at Murrayfield will be substantially stronger and it’ll be more or less a full test side against France.

      Or he might put out his full side against Italy at home in order to secure at least one win and maybe protect a handful of key players against France.

      Either way he’ll want everyone who is going to make the 31 to have played at least one full test to shake out the rust and tested the key combinations.

    2. I imagine we’ll see a close to full strength side against France, since the final 31 will have been announced by then. We should see some key players like Hogg, Russell and Jonny Gray return for the Italy game, alongside those who have yet to be tested like Toolis.

  12. Any word on the Italy team? Thought they had to name their side 72hrs in advance. As always with Italy your chances are always increased for a win if Parrise isn’t playing. Class player.

      1. It does, probably the strongest back line they can put out apart from half backs. Even without Parisse the back row will be competitive but the front 5 is less intimidating than usual with Ghiraldini and Castro on the bench and Furno not included.

  13. Ah so its BT sport this weeked – Now is there a clever way to get that on line – We quit BT SPort last year..Any answers ? will be appreciated.

    1. ‘cricfree’ should get you sorted Bulldog!

      By which I mean, of course, re-installing bt sport and paying the subscription…

  14. good to win but both teams were guff. Why did we decide to play such a guff team in the first place and why did we play so guff.

  15. This is an excellent win for us … And crushing for Italy at home.
    I thought we looked threatening when we get the ball to the backs. Very flat and fast ball is giving us such an attcking edge – all we need to do is build phases and keep hold of the ball.
    Pyrgos, Horne, Vernon, Scott all nailed on now.
    Weir should have kicked the 3 PTS. Can’t aford to leave any points on the park.

    1. Totally agree about final 3 points. Don’t understand why Weir did that. Easy kick for 12-19. If he was worried about the ball staying alive, he only needed to kick the penalty hard !

      1. kicker does what captain tells him. Boys were done in, game was won – extra three points makes no difference.

  16. Feel for SHC. He had a bit of a ‘mare for the first 20 mins of the second half and I suspect his place in the pecking order for no. 9 might suffer. Personally, I’d have him first with HP second.

    Pyrgos, Horne and Watson all had a big impact off the bench though I think Italians were tiring which exaggerated the impact.

    Don’t see what all the fuss is about Hardie. He was okay but I’d have Barclay and Watson selected ahead of him as backup to the first choice back row which I think will be Denton, Cowan and Strauss. Can’t see Ashe in the 31 on the evidence of tonight’s display.

    Great to get the win and nicely executed try ( albeit against a badly tiring team ! )

    1. I only saw the second half but what I saw of Hardie before he went off was excellent. He put in a cracking tackle on that beast of a player, Vunisa, who was charging off the back of the scrum full tilt for the try line. Vunisa had hardly got going before Hardie crashed into him. Play stopped moments after and Scotland got the penalty. SO, in fact, Hardie’s tackle was critical I think. But did he go off injured – he looked a bit wobbly though not surprised given what he’d just hit.

      Incidentally, what was JP Doyle looking for in those moments before awarding Scotland the penalty. The commentators said something about a dangerous judo tackle – was that about Hardie?

      I also don’t get your point about the win only being against a ‘badly tiring team’. They were tired because the Scots had made them work hard, too hard. The Scots were the fitter team and used their bench more effectively.

      Credit where it’s due, Kevin.

    2. They brought about 4 or 5 forwards on with 20 minutes to go and then we scored – tiring team is not a valid comment.

      I also only Agree re Hardie – I only saw the 2nd half though and through a crap inteweb connection

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion