The Italian Job Pt II

In which our plucky heroes return home to defend their honour and find some sort of cohesive shape at BT Murrayfield, only to find that all the big names have reappeared and nicked their spots.

Greig Laidlaw is back to captain the side and may perhaps have some way to go to impress more than Henry Pyrgos has done in recent weeks.

The back row is a bit of a shootout even at this stage so Barclay and Wilson especially will be looking for a chance to lay down markers while the absence of Richie Gray may give Jonny a chance to pair up with Grant Gilchrist and perhaps Rob Harley to feature there off the bench.

With the release of several players back to their clubs, most of the team is starting to come into focus, but the back three and the centres are still too dependent on both injury, form, and the whims of the selectors to call.

I’m sure Vern Cotter isn’t the only one hoping that Saturday’s match throws up a bit more clarity in that regard.

Scotland squad (Sponsor BT) to play Italy at BT Murrayfield this Saturday (29 August, kick-off 3.15pm) – live on BT Sport.

FORWARDS: John Barclay (Scarlets), Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan (London Irish), David Denton, Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, Grant Gilchrist (all Edinburgh Rugby), Jonny Gray, Robert Harley (both Glasgow Warriors), Stuart McInally, Willem Nel (both Edinburgh Rugby), Ryan Wilson, Gordon Reid (both Glasgow Warriors), Jon Welsh (Newcastle Falcons).

BACKS: Mark Bennett, Stuart Hogg, Peter Horne (all Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw CAPTAIN (Gloucester), Sean Lamont, Finn Russell, Henry Pyrgos, Tommy Seymour (all Glasgow Warriors), Greig Tonks (Edinburgh Rugby), Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby), Tim Visser (Harlequins).

The final team will be posted here when it is announced on Thursday, but for now here’s a possible (perhaps not probable) XV:

Hogg, Seymour, Bennett, Scott, Visser, Russell, Laidlaw; Dickinson, Ford, Nel, Gilchrist, Gray, Wilson, Barclay, Denton

Bench might look something like: Reid, Brown, Welsh, Harley, Cowan, Pyrgos, Lamont, etc

If it were a serious team restricted to that squad I’d start Pyrgos and Cowan but given Wilson and Laidlaw both need game time, understandable.

UPDATE: Here’s the final team selection, we were not a million miles away apart from Jackson who wasn’t in the original squad. Definitely has more of a feel of the final team getting a first run out, with some refinement to come in Paris. It instantly makes the bench look a lot stronger too:

Scotland XV: Stuart Hogg, Sean Lamont, Mark Bennett, Peter Horne, Tim Visser, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw; Al Dickinson, Ross Ford, WP Nel, Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Ryan Wilson, John Barclay, David Denton.

Replacements: Stuart McInally, Gordon Reid, Jon Welsh, Rob Harley, Blair Cowan, Henry Pyrgos, Ruaridh Jackson, Matt Scott

88 comments on “The Italian Job Pt II

  1. Matto on

    That’s the same starting 15 that I posted on another site. Would like to see how the Scott-Bennett partnership goes, and also how Laidlaw performs behind what should be a fairly handy and physical pack. Most of all I hope we put in a considerably more accomplished performance than we did the last time the Azzurri came to town. Going to the match and am now transitioning from complete pessimism (post-6N) to blind optimism (the rarely warranted perennial pre-tournament state).

  2. Pete on

    Barring injury I think this squad selection means Jackson & Blake won’t make the final cut as the former hasnt played at fly half and as others have said I believe it is now between Barclay & Wilson.

  3. aligator on

    Looks a good selection. But need to make a real strong show on Saturday and WIN well.
    Still hard to guess VC hand in some positions – center & back row.
    Worried about Maitland (only 1 game left after this to show-up).
    Disappointed about Jacko as I prefer his attacking flair to Tonks.
    Barclay gets a real chance at last to make his mark and Wilson gets his one and only chance.

  4. Other Neil on

    With regards to fitness and match readiness of players such as Dunbar and Maitland, I wonder if the thinking is that they can gain match fitness against Japan and or USA, before the “harder” games. In other words it is not a race to be match fit for the start of the tournament but for a point in the tournament?

  5. Jimmy Bond on

    Regarding Maitland and Dunbar, I read a quote from Cotter that neither will play any part in the warm-up games, and he wants them to get a game in for Glasgow before they confirm selection. Apparently Maitland is almost there, but Dunbar is still a complete 50/50 as to whether he will be ready. I will try find the article I read. My biggest worry is an injury to Russell this weekend. With out him I feel we are doooomed!

  6. Merlot on

    It’s a BIG risk if Cotter decides to include injured players in his 31. I think it’s both trite and disrespectful if the thinking is along the lines of “a 70% Player X is better than a 100% Player Y”.
    For X read Dunbar, Maitland, Grant.
    For Y read Vernon, Visser, Cusack.
    Of course we still have 4 weeks to go before the first match, and BVC may be just protecting them, but it’s just wrong to waste a place on an injured player

  7. Ian on

    Guys I posted my concerns about Maitland, Bennett and Dunbar yesterday. You know I can’t remember when Maitland last had a competative game, he certainly was out of the picture with the Warriors towards the end of the season. So Bennett HAS to come through this game with fitness and some form on show. Dunbar I accept is 50-50. We need two out of the three fit and showing form going into at least the U.S game so that we have no cause for concern in the back line. Having said that Horne, Vernon, Scott and Bennett is a far stronger and versatile group of inside backs than we have had going into any previous WC’s. For me I would be happy with Jackson covering Hogg at FB and Visser, Lamont and Seymour can do the job on the wings.

    • FF on

      Scotsman article included this update on injury situation –

      “Cotter revealed that injured centre Alex Dunbar was seeing a specialist in London yesterday and, as with all players, his medical report will be fully assessed on Monday before the final 31-man squad is picked, then announced the following day.

      The coach said that Tommy Seymour, who tweaked his back before the Ireland game, and Sean Maitland, who is coming back from a long-term shoulder injury, were both close to featuring this weekend, but the medical staff felt they needed another week.”

      So looks like Maitland might be fit for France game (assuming he is included in squad of 31) and Seymour is not injured seriously. Dunbar looks like it might be touch and go still, but I think that has always been the case so maybe that means he has progressed as well as could be expected.

  8. Robbie on

    Still think Wilson could be the dark horse of the final squad. Barclay needs to be molten in this game to have a sniff.

    It’s really not looking good for #weareallrichievernon :( which sucks given he didn’t stand a chance on Saturday in that combo.

    Dickenson, Nel, Russell and Hogg should be kitted out in suits of armour. If any of them go down in the next two games, we’re scuppered.

    Surprised Jackson isn’t ahead of Tonks for this one at least. Guess that means, barring a shambolic display off the bench, Tonks is the choice.

    Laidlaw just needs to show he can control the game, and make a couple of decent snipes to make Cotter happy.

  9. Ian on

    Still think Jackson is ahead of Tonks and Wilson needs an outstanding game to even get in the mix as Hardie is a cert ( part of the deal to get him over subject to a sound first performance – no problem with that) and Blake is in as well as the real dark horse and Cotter believes in him. Barclay is a no as far as I am concerned as he is the past and I cannot see what he brings that is different or better to the others and Watson being cut with Barclay left in makes no sense and is Cotters first bad decision. Hopefully his last.

  10. PJ on

    People seem awfully worried about Jackson, but I think he’s pretty safe. Tonks could be in this squad as a last chance, perhaps having needed more time to prove himself in Cotter’s eyes. Back row is still wide open, only Denton, Cowan and Strauss are nailed on. Wilson’s versatility could see him through. He gave a strong performance at 7 for Glasgow in the pro 12 final, despite playing 8 for the rest of his Glasgow career and 6 for his entire Scotland career. Barclay needs a stormer. So does Welsh, just to settle my nerves over the scrum.

  11. David flak on

    I’m more annoyed by he return of laidlaw. Pyrgos has played his heart out in the last 2 fixtures and has deserved the faith. With Russell and hogg back you can’t even argue laidlaws boot is keeping him in. I know he’s the skipper, but this would be a great chance to put Pyrgos in with the first choice around him and see what happens. It’s still a warm up after all.

    • Cameron on

      This is a warm up game. Selection of Laidlaw, who I’m going to point out is actually excellent behind a winning pack, at this point doesn’t mean that Pyrgos has been dropped to obscurity.

      I’d imagine that Laidlaw will be our starter at least in the Samoa and South Africa games.

      Laidlaw gets a lot of flak and much of it is deserved. However, in his bad games, he tends to be playing behind a pack that has completely lost control of the match. This means slow ball which means set defences which means, and I refuse to believe he isn’t instructed to do this when playing against an organised defence, those box kicks that everybody loses their mind about.

      Lets remember that until the relatively recent emergence of Dunbar, Scott, Russell and Bennett, it’s not like he has much option in his midfield for craft and guile to unlock a set defence.

      • FF on

        I agree Cameron. I’m not a huge fan of Laidlaw and would prefer Prygos to go to the RWC as our starting SH. But the amount of criticism Laidlaw gets is totally out of proportion to his performances. Slow service is largely down to how well the pack is performing at the breakdown. In the 6N against England and in the AIs against Argentina, Laidlaw showed that when he gets quick ball well presented he takes decisions quickly and is excellent at sniping round the corner and passing short to a forward or wing on his shoulder. This is how half of our tries over the past 12 months have been scored – playing directly off the 9. However, his pass isn’t great and with slow ball Scotland lack the huge ball carriers that can get over the gainline consistently close to the ruck (hopefully Strauss and Denton will change this in the RWC).

        In regards to his kicking, this is an exit strategy almost every test side uses. Scotland are possibly the worst side I’ve ever seen at contesting box kicks as our players are both bad in the air and lazy at chasing (Ireland are the best) but Laidlaw doesn’t help as his quality of kick is pretty poor. I was very impressed with SHC kicking against Italy, both in his choice of kick and execution.

        My point is that the responsibility for failing to move the ball quickly from rucks and recover boxkicks is not just Laidlaw’s and it is ridiculous that he is given the sole blame (same applies to Ford and line outs). I do think that Prygos now brings just as much good decision-making as Laidlaw, added to which he has a better pass and is on great form. SHC has all the skills but he needs to learn a bit more game management and for now should be an impact player off the bench.

      • Cameron on

        Couldn’t agree more FF.

        It takes two to kick successfully: One to kick and another to catch. Neither of which we are at all accomplished at.

      • neil on

        The problem with Laidlaw is largely twofold. He performs boxkicks and garryowens way too often and, secondly, their execution is rubbish. I watched NZ play Oz recently and I did not see the AB do one single box kick or garrowen in the entire game. Even when they were under pressure they retained possession and went though the phases- exactly how the game should be played. I really fear the worst he Laidlaw is picked. His kicking will cost us games, particularly against top 8 teams. What you can get away with against Japan and USA is very different when faced with SA, NZ and 6 nation teams. I mainly blame him for our poor showing in the last 6 nations. Sure the entire team was poor but we could have probably scraped through in at least 2 of the games had it not been for his incompetence.
        Pyrgos is not really world class but he’s a class above Laidlaw- PICK HIM BVC

      • Cameron on

        AS I’ve mentioned explicitly, not two inches above your response, his kicking is a product of poor forward play and team instructions regarding relieving pressure when attack has stagnated. That they do not work is a fault of both him and our seeming inability to chase kicks down like the Welsh, Irish and to a lesser extent English.

        I’d be interested to know which Australia and NZ game you watched that didn’t involve any tactical kicking from the breakdown. Particularly Australia as they love to utilise the big up and under due to the League/AFL background that their team is comfortable with. Also, the need for tactical kicking is often negated by having a team that is eating up the yards on the ground without the lottery of a kick. If you’ve got the players then that’s a great tactic. Something we haven’t had until very recently and still don’t have in any sort of similar quality to our Antipodean cousins.

        Pyrgos is very solid, verging on very good. Laidlaw is normally good, sometimes insipid but when working with a dominant pack and quick minded attackers, truly excellent.

        I’m kicking myself for responding because your witch hunt for certain players and ignorance of the nuances of rugby tactics is as boring as it is sadly now expected.

      • Angus on

        Total bollocks as per usual neil. I can’t think of a single game where Aaron smith hasn’t box kicked 3 times per half for his winger to chase

        I know how u feel Cameron but all it takes for ignorance to triumph is for good men not to point it out

      • Neil on

        Have you guys even watched NZ play? When they kick it is generally about 10 yards from their own touchline when the team is under real pressure. Mostly they kick to touch. What I’m talking about is garryowens and box kicks- NZ hardly ever do that. They get quick ball and then play it to the backs to run at the opposition. You should really watch NZ games before criticizing me. After all, they are the best team in the world for a reason. Reasons- hardly any box kicks or garryowens, strong forward pack, inventive backs and a will to win.

  12. Michael on

    No point being annoyed by Laidlaw’s return. It was inevitable, Cotter has shown he is rotating the squad and giving everyone a shot. Ludlow wasn’t exactly going to go from Capt and Gloucester talisman to not even participating in the warm up games. He may well be playing well, but if he doesn’t then his starting slot will be in jeopardy just like anyone else

    • Rory Baldwin on

      Reading between the lines of Greig’s interviews the other day and previous selections, I got the feeling big Vern was going for a “whoever is 9 is captain” type policy with Henry and Greig perhaps alternating. Saying that we’ve not really had a look at too much pressure goal kicking other than Weir, who we know can do it.

  13. neil on

    It will be interesting to see how Laidlaw gets on but, unless he plays a stormer he should be dropped. Pyrgos is far superior and I would say SHC would make a better replacement is Pyrgos is unavailable.

    • bulldog on

      It reads like Rob Harley must be the second row replacement on Saturday. Another interesting experiment , I have to admit I was sceptical of so many warm up games and over their worth, however just reading the blogs we can see so many options being tested by VC.

      As long as we come through without injury this will have been a roaring success and another sign that we should have confidence in VC. If he picks Laidlaw , I will back him.

      I am also seeing some players raising their game at just the right time. Only a few with dips in form. I hope he picks the players on form , regardless of past glories.

      Love them as I do , Dunbar and Bennett need to be physically and mentally fit for the challenge and if they have any doubts, I would prefer to see the on form team on the pitch, and with regret, it is better for all concerned , including them, if they stay at home.

      This is so positive , we are debating who should play when in truth , there is not much between them, they are all good, experienced, tried and tested players. Historically,the Scotland Squad would have picked itself due to limited choice.

  14. DJB on

    Agree with comment about Laidlaw’s tactic of box kicks after scrum or ruck. It rarely achieves a positive outcome; usually possession is lost and stronger opposition will punish such behaviour. Perhaps the tactic represents an attempt to rescue a desperate situation but why do this so often? I have noticed that ABs rarely use this approach. Still not sure about Pyrgos but based on recent form (Glasgow and last 2 warm ups), he surely deserves first choice at SH. I expect a strong performance this weekend but we’ll see whether Laidlaw’s changed his old ways…

  15. Andrew on

    The thing that irritates me about Laidlaw is that he is clearly a capable player. We have seen as much, in glimpses, throughout his career.

    That he isn’t able to sustain it is partly due to the performance of the team, particularly the forwards, which has a huge bearing on a scrum-half’s ability to influence a game.

    It is, however, also down to him personally to maintain a consistently high level of performance regardless of circumstance.

    Often we’ve seen him “on his game” only in response to his position being threatened. Such as the Autumn internationals when their was a new coach to impress, or the Euro final head-to-head with the SHC pretender.

    It shouldn’t need the stimulus of being dropped to make you up your game. The same could be said of Ford and a few others over recent years.

    I think the comfort zone is being reduced thanks to greater strength in depth, but ultimately its down to the players and to an extent the coaches by not persisting with favourites.

  16. Bulldog on

    Rightly or wrongly, Laidlaw will be there. He is the captain or a side in the premiership however , I do think he has a credibility gap in this team.

  17. Ian on

    Whatever we all think about Laidlaw he gets his chance along with the others on Saturday. Both Pyrgos and SHC to a lesser extent have put their hand up and have shown they are capable of playing test rugby. We are fortunate as a country to have three quality players in this position. What is important is that we beat the Italians and beat them well with whatever match day squad is selected. Defeat is unthinkable and a turgid display with another narrow win would be disappointing and provide no go forward for the squad of players, management or supporters. We need real momentum now and some more full on displays from key players – and a solid scrum and line out is vital. Looking forward to this match very much.

    • FF on

      Yep, we need a win and a good performance against France to go into the RWC with confidence. Looking at the squad, I think we should be able to pick a team to do that even if Italy pull out their big guns.

      I’m looking for an improved performance at the breakdown, a better effort at opposing the inevitable Italian line out drives, and at least a passable showing in the scrum. Saturday’s game and the following friendly against France will give us a good indication of how well prepared we are to face up to the Samoan and South African packs.

  18. Verns Shiny Dome on

    We have allowed Italy to drag us into a slug-fest the last two times we’ve played them and it’s suited them perfectly. Hopefully this weekend we dictate how the game is played and put plenty of points on them.

  19. FF on

    Gotta say, I like this Scotland line up. This is a must win game with such a strong team involved.

    I hope Tommy Seymour isn’t out for any duration. ‘Back pain’ is vague enough for me to worry!

  20. Mako on

    I like the whole team bar Visser and Laidlaw.

    Laidlaw with his inconsistency and box kicks put the fear into me. Other 9’s can deal with underperforming packs so I am not sold on that as a reason for some of his performances. Also…when we do have possession at (say) the base of a ruck, he does not have to flap around. Getting people into the position he wants them takes time that other teams also use to get people into position. It would be different if he picks and choses when he does this but it seems, to me, that he does it more often than not.

    Vissers defensive and positioning frailties cause other players to compensate. I hope his inclusion does not affect Hoggs performance. Having said that, with Seymour out there were no other choices. Believe he also needs to realize that when he is running in support of a team mate it does not help to be in the same tackle radius of the opposition man marking the player he is supporting.

    • Mako on

      Righty…Having said all of that I really hope visser shows us something in way of improvement and hunger. Wish I could say the same for Laidlaw but I just have no faith that he will follow up one good performance with another.

      • Merlot on

        It is now getting annoying that everyone is dissing Laidlaw. He hasn’t played since March and everyone is using him as the scapegoat for the whitewash in the 6N.
        1. Box kicks are a valid defensive tactic but are reliant on a good chase. As good as Seymour is his kick chasing needs to be better – as does Visser’s.
        2. When was the last time Laidlaw had an “armchair ride” thanks to the forwards getting the upper hand over their oppo? I think his defence is superior to either of the other options and just as well, given the shellacking our forwards have taken.
        3. His sniping runs and attacking play are as good as any scrumhalf, given the chance. Just remember how he outperformed SHC in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
        Maybe he’ll have an awful game on Saturday and I’ll eat my words, but if he dictates the game well and makes the right decisions then I’d still have him over Henry or SHC for the big matches.

      • Callum on

        I have to agree with Mako here,

        My biggest problem with Laidlaw is he always seems reluctant to pass (last option for him). He loves to snipe and he loves to box kick, anything that means he is effecting the game, but with such a good back line outside him I would prefer someone that can just pass with speed and gets the backs into the game (Pyrgos/SHC).

        I also think that with BVC he might actually help Visser on his defence, which, if he improves, well make him a great asset to the squad.

        Lastly I have to say that I am very excited to see Horne and Bennett at international level together as I think with Dunbar still out this is our most promising centre partnership. (to be honest just happy to see Bennett again full stop)

    • Mako on

      Merlot, I said nothing of 6N.
      1 – Not disputing this but he does it way to often.
      2 – He needs to be able to play rugby behind any pack, not just performing ones. I disagree with defensive. Think Pyrgos beats him here.
      3 – Having a good game is not good enough for me anymore. We know how good he can be. The problem is his consistency. If he has a good game on Sat I will still not want him in my team as I have absolutely no faith in him anymore.

      • Merlot on

        Sorry Mako, but if you weren’t talking about the 6N then what were you referring to about his inconsistency? His Autumn Internationals? Or referring to his performances for Gloucester after the 6N, where he got 2 MoMs and outplayed SHC in the Challenge Cup?
        I think you’ll find none of our players are terribly consistent when it comes to performance, even the best ones (Hogg, Russell, Gray, Maitland). I’ve seen Pyrgos behind a struggling pack and I just think he tries too hard and then makes mistakes in his decision making.
        Having said all that if Laidlaw has a shocker and conitnually boxkicks to the Italian Back 3 I shall have to agree with you!

      • Mako on

        Maybe that’s the answer then…Maybe GL is better suited to club than national.

        If he plays a shocker on Saturday I will be disappointed. If he plays a blinder I will not be getting my hopes up.

        Yes, other players do have issues with consistency and have poor games now and then but GL seems to be far more prominent in this field.

        GL has now become one of those players that I pray wont f3ck up and not one who I cant wait to see play.

        I used to call HP Predictable Pyrgos (not the case now). He has grown massively and has way more good games than bad. Some of that growth has been evident in his last two international games where he was playing behind a pack that was not exactly getting the best of their opponents (this is touted as the reason GL does badly). When he came on it was like watching a different team. He wont always get it right but I don’t feel the need to hide behind the sofa when he takes to the field.

        I would like to se how GL gets on without captain responsibilities. Maybe that’s the key…

    • Cameron on

      Scotland haven’t won consistent quick ball for years. When we do, we give teams a kicking (I’m thinking the game against Argentina last year and Italy 2 years before that, surprisingly when I think they were both missing their best back row players)

      Not many 9s that play well have underperforming packs or at the very least packs that are incapable of securing breakdown ball. Perhaps this is why you’re so assertive that a 9 can somehow dictate a match from the base of a fractured platform. Will Genia and Aaron Smith do not have to deal with that for 80 minutes of a match.

      As for organising players, if he didn’t do it then nobody would. He’s been captain, stand off, pack leader, kicker and 9 for most of his caps. We’ve had shockingly poor leadership of our forwards (Hamilton was included because he’s the only one capable of calling line outs which is frankly pathetic) and backline over the last few years. Now we have a man that will lead the backs (Russell) and the forwards might have some structure (which is more about training)so that they are looking for the ball in the right places meaning that Laidlaw doesn’t need to organise stuff and can just get on with playing 9.

      You are right about Visser but in a team with a paucity of wing options, a guy that’s not great on defence but ruthless on attack will do me. Seymour is our best along with Maitland but I think it’s likely that we would have been using Visser against Japan and the US anyway because he can finish against mediocre opposition from the 22 out of nothing. Something we have been garbage at in the last couple of WC’s is putting away the lesser lights and getting our better players off the pitch with half an hour to go.

      • Mako on

        The organizing of players bit…. Not sure I agree here. Its perpetual with GL. I don’t notice it to the same extent with our other 9’s and they get the same service as GL.

      • Merlot on

        I think if your perception of Laidlaw is he faffs at the base a bit too much then you look for it more. Self-fulfilling. I have no doubt that Mako’s comments will make me keep a closer eye on Laidlaw than I maybe have in the past.
        In a similar way because of Ross Ford’s previous calamities in throwing in we are all sensitive to a bad lineout, even if it’s not his fault!!
        Personally I cannot wait until Saturday to see which of the guys put their hand up for selection. I hope Visser, Wilson and Barclay all have stormers to give BVC a headache. Also Lamont, Horne and Denton to prove they can perform consistently. Should be brilliant – certainly better than the usual scared stuff of Italy-Scotland games.

      • FF on

        Jack Mysyk did an excellent analysis of Scotland’s poor work at the breakdown against Italy in this year’s 6N for ScottishRugbyBlog(8 March if anyone wants to delve into the vaults). Following that game lots of fans were criticising Laidlaw for dawdling at the ruck and I think Jack’s blog did an excellent job at showing why Scotland lost all momentum in attack following line breaks – it wasn’t Laidlaw, it was our total inaccuracy at clearing out at the ruck.

      • Mako on

        You have a point there, Merlot. Will look for it more with our other 9’s and try look for the good in GL and see if it changes my perspective. I hope it does but am not confident on account that I can now comfortably sit on my sofa when Ford is on.

        Pyrgos is getting better and SHC needs just a little more time. GL’s spot is not as secure as it once was so lets hope it brings out the best in him. Fingers crossed for the weekend.

      • pragmatic optomist on

        Case proven then! It’s clear that nothing could ever be GL’s fault.
        It’s because the forwards don’t clear out properly, or it’s because no one chases his kicks. Poor lamb.
        I’m all for collective responsibility guys, but some times you have to assess the players based on their individual abilities and contribution.
        Some of his kicks in the 6N were so bad there was no point in chasing them.
        This isn’t merely a ‘perception’ that they were bad kicks.
        They were bad kicks!
        I hope he has a stormer on Saturday nonetheless.

      • FF on

        Pragmatic optimist – yesterday I posted that I thought Pyrgos should be first first choice SH, and that Laidlaw’s passing and kicking were quite poor, so well done on completely missing the point. We could have Aaron Smith at SH and we’d be no closer to winning a 6N game if we don’t sort out the breakdown and learn how to contest the ball in the air. It is convenient for Laidlaw to be our scapegoat, but the truth is that for the last few years we have absolutely stunk at the breakdown which is probably the key area of the modern game. Laidlaw is quite a good player at test level and his performances have been mixed. Pyrgos is a better but wouldn’t be in any other 6N starting line up bar Italy. SHC should be very good but is nowhere near ready for being first choice at test level yet. All the discussion about Laidlaw totally misses the things we should be looking out for if we want to see Scotland improve: breakdown, scrum, winning the ball in the air. Sort them out and we have the players to be damn good.

      • Angus on

        Regardless I the speed of recycling or quality of ball you rarely see him arrive and distribute in the one action.
        I refuse to believe that whether to box kick or not throughout a game is down to the 9 which begs the question of why is it done game after game with never more that a 20% of regaining the pill

  21. Pete on

    Just seen the England squad and they have gone for 3 wingers. If our squad has the same split (i.e. 3 wingers) it is surely a risk selecting both Maitland & Seymour who havent played a warm-up game between them due to injuries. I wouldnt dispute they are our most talented wingers but it is a big call even if they are passed fit as they will need game time to get some form. I suppose it will come down to whether they have shown enough in training.

  22. Standoffalot on

    Pretty good team IMO. Good to see Barclay get an opportunity to prove himself, likewise Wilson. Denton needs to carry on from where he left off against Ireland, and prove it wasn’t a one off. Front five is strong, with four of the five almost certain starters, with the exception of Gilchrist who IMO, needs a big game to oust Ritchie Gray. Laidlaw gets his crack at 9, a chance to prove the doubters wrong, of whom there are many. Not wanting to go into this again, but for me its the quality of the box kick which is frequently poor. A particular example being the England game at Twickenham, where what little possession we achieved Laidlaw gave away by box kicking far too long. That said our chase needs to be better, with Visser in particular committing to the high ball like a big girl’s blouse. Also it’ll be interesting to see our potential first choice centre pairing if Dunbar doesn’t make it. Also can’t wait to see Bennett back in a Scotland jersey. He provides a cutting edge which has been sorely missed.

    • Mike on

      Me too on the Bennett front, but he might be a bit rusty being our for so long so lets not put to much on his shoulders/ and see how he gets on.

    • Mako on

      This has the potential to be an edge-of-the-seat game. I can’t believe its only Thursday.

      Willson had a very aggressive edge to him when he returned for Glasgows last few games. I really hope to see this on Saturday. That along with Dentons bosch and an on-form Barclay should make great viewing.

      • FF on

        Italy have put out their strongest team as well, although it looks like Parisse is still out injured/unwell. Looks like it might be a proper test match!

  23. Ian on

    Strong team, strong bench and hopefully some answers to a lot of questions we have been asking. Re: box kicks – we are comfortably the worst team at winning ball from these kicks and have been for some time so there is no point – none, in using this as any kind of tactic. We have a less than 50-50 chance of winning ball in the air it’s as simple as that where frequently the bounce of the ball goes against us as well!! So keep the ball in hand, drive, play off the phases – which we are getting better and better at – then release our talented backs. Forget the up and unders it’s not our bag.

    • FF on

      You’re right, the execution of the kick and chase by Scotland is too often poor. But playing possession rugby with slow ball in our own half just gives the opposition lots of kickable penalties, which is why no team in world rugby does it. Under Cotter Scotland have been pretty good at running ball in our own half when we get good possession and it is on, like a few times against Wales in the 6N, but this is not an exit strategy and it would be madness to play like that against a well set defence. The other option is to kick for the line but outside your own 22 this cedes possession, which is why most teams do the box kick which at least in theory gives you the chance to win it back. Poorly executing line kicks is just as bad as it gives the back three opportunities to counterattack. I can’t imagine we’ll see an end to Scotland’s box kicking, so let’s hope our execution of the kick and chase is a whole lot better.

      • Merlot on

        The defensive box kick is a staple part of modern rugby and we just need to execute it better. Having just reminded myself of the England game in the 6N Laidlaw did indeed have 3 badly executed boxkicks (2 which were too long and one which barely made 5 yards). However another 3 were not chased fully, if at all and 2 worked well and we recovered possession. Not a great return on investment but 5 from 8 is not bad kicking, just not good.
        Hopefully the backs have been practising this, whilst the forwards have been focussing on defending the rolling maul. If these two areas are improved on we’ve got a hell of a team which will compete with any side (and put a lot of points on teams outside the top 10).

  24. john on

    I do feel that Visser is unfairly maligned, is this the guy who scored 2 tries v NZ & can anyone tell me who else has a 1 try every 2 games for Edinburgh/Scotland. Get the ball into the right areas, give the ball to Visser & he’s brilliant @ scoring tries

  25. John Mc on

    Can’t add much more to this. Except to say that it does look like something approaching a first choice Test side, and so we will see more clearly how we are shaping up on Saturday. Also, although I, like others, have been a persistent critic of Laidlaw, he’s got to get on a pitch sometime to show what he can do. So why not now? I’m hoping for something more enterprising and dominating from Scotland this week compared with Rome last weekend.

  26. 1.8T on

    Anyone know where you can watch the match? I’m guessing it’ll have to be some streaming site in the dark alleyways of the Internet?

  27. AMW on

    Yep!

    By the way, Hardie was a revelation on Saturday. Bone crunching tackles at the gain line. Whilst our defensive line was solid all night we simply can’t let others miss tackles – Ashe (who I am a fan of), Hamilton etc.

    Looking forward to an attack minded game. The key to this is game management and laidlaw needs to be strong on this front. No loose box kicks.

  28. Mako on

    Hughes showed that he is one for chasing kicks. Not ready for the RWC but hope to see him in the 6N. No doubt Cotter & Co sent him back to the warriors with a development plan and the RWC will ensure that he has a Pro12 platform to showcase it. An opportunity he really needs to grab by the [email protected]

  29. Ian on

    1.8T it’s on BT Sport kick off 3.15. Problem is Ireland v Wales is on SkySports at roughly the same time so if you are looking for a pub make sure they have both. If you are in Scotland no problem watching it but if like me you’re not then you need to get on the good side of the landlord/manager so that BT Sport is on or they split the screens at least. Not sure about streaming.

    • Merlot on

      Pay the BT Sport subscription. get mates to chip in if necessary but you’ll save money by not going to the pub. We need to support BT Sport otherwise nobody will show these games!

  30. Ian on

    FF we have the players now to drive and go through a few phases out of our 22 then give to Hogg or Russell to boot a long way downfield. Immediate pressure on the opposing teams’ line out. Box kicks between our 22 and half way line are a complete waste of time and will 7 times out of 10 hand the ball back in dangerous attacking positions.

    • Merlot on

      If we don’t have a box-kick exit plan then other teams will know and put pressure on any other exit. We just need to get better at it! I agree there are other options available (long kick, run it out etc) but ruling out the box kick is like ruling out a throw to the back of the lineout or ruling out a switch move in the backs.

    • FF on

      Ian – you’ve made the assumption that we can always boot it downfield and force an opposition line out. In actual games, the back three will be covering the backfield and a large number of kicks will just give the ball to the opposition to counterattack. I’m not sure we want to invite Alesana Tuilangi to charge at us with a 20m run up. Also, some kicks will not achieve the distance you want so we’ll give the opposition a lineout in our own half. Ball off the back of the lineout is some of the best possession you can get because the opposition backs start 10m behind the gainline. It is probably the best set piece possession you can attack off. So, it comes down to risk and execution whichever exit strategy we choose.

      I think our kicking strategy has lacked accuracy in the past but also variety. But to think we would solve anything by never boxkicking is incorrect in my view.

  31. Merlot on

    With only 24 hours to go before the game, I’d like to thank you all for some wise, knowledgeable and intelligent debate.
    I like to think we are now all of the same mind, in that
    1. Laidlaw needs to kick and faff less but if he puts in a performance will still be #1
    2. Visser’s attacking is an asset but needs to prove his defence and kick-chase is up to test level
    3. The forwards need to be able to defend against a rolling maul, otherwise even Japan will have a weapon against us
    4. Even if Dunbar doesn’t make it we have as good a set of centres as we’ve had for a decade
    5. Even if this entire backrow is sent home, we’d still be happy with 6 7 and 8 first choices
    6. We’re all pretty excited!!!!

    • FF on

      At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the single most important area we need to improve on is our accuracy at the breakdown. We’ve already proven that with quick ruck ball we will hurt quality teams, but if we don’t clear out the ruck effectively and we get bogged down into an arm wrestle we will lose to sides much worse than ourselves, like Italy.

      I am quite hopeful that tomorrow’s backrow will give our backs lots of quick, clean ball to use, although it is by no means only their responsibility. In fact, to my eyes our pack looks quite tasty and I will be devastated if we lose.

      • Cameron on

        If you sound like a broken record, it’s because that’s the record that’s been stuck in every player of every successful team of the last 20 years. Without great breakdown play, you don’t win. It’s both the best defence and best source of attack. Stifle the ball and your defence is set. Get it back quick and their isn’t. Steal it and all hell breaks loose if you have the backs to capitalise on it.

  32. Jimmy Bond on

    Found this on Dunbar and Maitland…

    Dunbar: Cotter revealed that injured centre Alex Dunbar was seeing a specialist in London yesterday and, as with all players, his medical report will be fully assessed on Monday before the final 31-man squad is picked, then announced the following day.

    Maitland/Seymour: The coach said that Tommy Seymour, who tweaked a back injury before the Ireland game, and Sean Maitland, who is coming back from a long-term shoulder injury, were both close to featuring this weekend, but the medical staff felt they needed another week.

    I take both statements as verging on positive for their return!

      • bulldog on

        Do you think their strategy is to canter the group with the fit players and get the injured back on time for the knockout stage? I see that as an opportunity for us, particulalry if Samoa get in first and put a few in the infirmary. Good Spot FF.

  33. Mako on

    If the Scotland Squad are as fired up for this as we are then this should be an absolute blinder. The Mrs has her instructions and the living room tomorrow shall be known as the Man Cave.

    Hoggy, Hoggy, Hoggy.
    Try, Try, Try!!!

  34. Ian on

    Let’s hope so Jimmy Bond but I have real concerns for Maitland and Dunbar. FF you’re not a broken record but absolutely right about our breakdown technique, we sometimes lack strength and get body angles completely wrong. I believe a back row of Hardie 7 , Denton 6 and Strauss 8 could solve some of these issues and give us serious go forward, aggression and muscle but the clearing out process applies to everyone. Sometimes we look good usually when we have three or four players at the breakdown with proper technique and strength, other times hapless.
    To pick up on my comments about execution from inside or just outside our 22. The point I was making is that Hogg’s boot upfield is less risky than a crazy Laidlaw box kick. Both Russell and Hogg are extremely accurate. However to think that Laidlaw will never execute another box kick is dumb, so I just hope he gets it right. No I am praying he gets it right because we need to win and win well. This has to be a convincing victory otherwise chaps I believe we will seriously struggle to even get out the group. I think we will do it and strongly believe we have a huge game up our sleeves. Watch out Italy!!!!

    • Matto on

      Agree with this. Denton 6 and Strauss 8 with one of the number of quality opensides currently on the books, to me will give us aggression, momentum (and leadership) the lack thereof that has been a key weakness and the primary factor to explain and remedy the games that we have recently lost, but should have won. The missing link. As with all else, we will need depth and I look forward to what Wilson will bring, and hope that he has a really good game tomorrow/today. Maul defence is also an issue that we will hopefully have improved on. In terms of box kicks and exit strategies, I thought that SHC executed a couple/few excellent moves in the first half of last week’s match.

  35. Neil on

    I often wonder- why cant our forwards take on other teams in an arm wrestle. Are they not big and/or strong enough? It seems that other SH and 6 nation teams are able to steamroller our pack and that worries me. I guess if we can get quick ball from rucks, lineouts etc and as long as we have Pyrgos and Hogg in the team then we will hurt other sides. It’s just frustrating that our forwards include big players but they rarely seem to be able to get on top of other packs.

    • Mako on

      I am guessing that it’s technique and/or mental. We do get pinged a lot even when we are the dominant scrum and that could play a part in our initial engagement which in turn puts us on the back foot in a contest which relies on very fine margins. I could be talking rubish though.

  36. Ian on

    I have a lot of time for Wilson and hope he has a stormer, I like his aggression and he is quick. We should know by the end of today what the back row is shaping up to be. Also this is our first choice front three guys so deep intake of breath on the first scrum! We simply have to boss this area. I know the Italaians are no mugs but this is Italy not SA and we are at home – no excuses. Looking forward to watching Hogg, Bennett and Visser.

    • Mako on

      Same here re Willson. Seems that he had a few attitude problems that needed sorting but the SRU (and courts) seem to have taken care of this, a la Hogg. Just a pitty it got to where it did. Anyway, this is his oportunity to move on and i hope it comes good.

  37. Neil on

    Fantastico. This is Italy at their ‘true level’ and Scotland playing to form. Italy total reliant on underperforming forward pack and Scotland with quick balls to hand. This is how we should have played in the 6 nations. Italy are just the same team but we are now much better.

    Italian supporters were you watching- THIS IS YOUR TEAM AT THEIR TRUE LEVEL

      • neil on

        True but Italy were rubbish. They normally are rubbish but, for some reason, we have allowed ourselves to be brought down to their level. The good news is that we played our own game on Saturday. We should really be beating Italy by 25 point margins or more in every single game. Hence the comment I made about Italy showing their ‘true’ level in this game.

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