Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


RWC 2015: Pick of the Pack

The Scotland pack march on - pic © Al Ross
The Scotland pack march on - pic © Al Ross

We decided to split up the discussion on Scotland’s players of the tournament into forwards and backs, so without further ado here is our shortlist for Scottish forward of the tournament.

You can vote for your choice below, or indeed let us know who you think has been tragically omitted in the comments section.

WP Nel

WP Nel - pic © Al Ross
pic ©Al Ross

WP Nel broke pretty much every scrum put in front of him. Whether he got the rub of the referee, or his slight stature makes him hard for the modern large prop to get under/through, a succession of looseheads – including Scott Sio who made mincemeat of England and Wales in the scrum – came and went while WP stayed standing.

His partnership with Al Dickinson could become truly great if they could find a hooker who could match them in the loose as Ford does in the scrum, and the drop off in scrum performance when Nel wasn’t playing was noticeable. It was also a valuable source of penalties and reliable possession, which when allied with a boot like Greig Laidlaw’s kept Scotland close in games where they were losing tries.

He had a great tournament in the loose too, something that will be no surprise to Edinburgh fans where he regularly pops up on the score sheet. Not bad for a man earning his 3rd – 8th caps, he took to test rugby in exactly the manner Scotland fans hoped.

WP Nel Stats: Games played: 5 | Tries: 1 | Turnovers: 3 | Carries over gainline: 15 | Metres Carried: 36m | Tackles: 41 | Tackle success rate: 77% | Scrum penalties conceded: 0

Richie Gray

Richie Gray - pic © Al Ross
pic ©Al Ross

The 2013 British and Irish Lion returned to his best form at the World Cup, and his partnership with younger brother Jonny is one that is beginning to flourish for Vern Cotter’s side. The 26-year-old was an ever-present during the campaign, impressing particularly in the pool win over Samoa in Newcastle and quarter final against Australia.

Richie has taken a back seat in pundit’s admiration stakes since his brother’s arrival on the international scene, often accused of a lesser work-rate – he’s easy to spot whatever he is or isn’t doing – but Gray senior looked back to his best. He carried powerfully with his hands on the ball and disruptive at the line-out. He also put in a power of defensive work, ending up in the top ten tacklers (okay, he’s still behind Jonny) and only missing 2% of tackles throughout his tournament (that one he’s better than Jonny). Grant Gilchrist and younger brother may both be earmarked as potential future Scotland skippers, but when big Vern comes to selecting his side for the Six Nations opener, Richie Gray’s name will certainly be on the team sheet.

Richie Gray Stats: Games played: 5 | Minutes played: 350 | Carries over Gainline: 10 | Carries metres: 26m | Tackles: 55 | Tackle success rate: 98%

John Hardie

John Hardie - pic © Al Ross
pic ©Al Ross

The reaction by some to John Hardie’s call up was abhorrent. It’s all well and good having a debate about World Rugby regulations but using words like “immoral” in relation to sports administration is going too far. This was a guy who weeks before just missed out on being a super Rugby finalist due to injury, and was highly thought of in his native Otago.

Hardie more than justified Vern Cotter’s faith in him and then some. His tackling was ferocious and the awareness for his try against Japan was refreshing. Hardie’s stats are comparable to Richie McCaw with the All Black captain having played an extra game, and his absence was noticeable in the games against USA and South Africa. We can only wonder what might have happened if Cowan and Hardie (Hardwan?) had been unleashed against the Springboks. You wait ages for a Scotland coach to select a proper openside then he selects two at once.

Given his performance at the World Cup it’s a little surprising Hardie has ended up at Edinburgh rather than an English or French club. Given his late arrival in the Northern Hemisphere it may be the case that most clubs had already committed financially to the new season, however being in close proximity to his Scottish colleagues can only be a good thing for the national team as well as the development of Hamish Watson: it’s hard to see anyone taking the seven shirt from him, meaning others will be forced to up their game if they want to challenge for a starting berth.

John Hardie Stats: Games played: 3 | Tries: 2 | Turnovers: 2 | Carries over gainline: 7 | Metres Carried: 40m | Tackles: 35 | Tackle success rate: 88% | Penalties conceded killing ruck: 0

David Denton

David Denton - pic © Al Ross
pic ©Al Ross

The barnstorming Edinburgh back-rower returned to top form with a bang during the tournament, and topped Scotland’s carries with 45 from his four appearances.

The 25-year-old was in formidable form throughout the warms ups and first game against Japan – he did enough to earn a rest against the USA when many were asked to ‘double up’ – but it was his quarter-final performance that caught the eye.

He powered through a mightily talented Australian back-row, making 57 metres and seven tackles. Fault should not lie with him for the line-out debacle at the end that cost Cotter’s men a place in the last four.
For many, the introduction of Josh Strauss prior to the World Cup will have raised questions over where best to utilise ‘Dents’ – but in adding some passing to his skillset he’s done enough to suggest he’s in control of the number 8 shirt again now.

David Denton Stats: Games played: 4 | Turnovers: 4 | Minutes played: 320 | Defenders Beaten: 8 | Carries: 45 | Carries over gainline: 12 | Metres Carried: 102m | Tackles: 39 | Tackle success rate: 95%
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Reporting by Rory Baldwin, Gav Harper and Cameron Black

40 Responses

  1. Nel was an absolute revelation in the scrum. I mean, his ability was no surprise to anybody that watches Edinburgh but to take his technique straight into international rugby and mix it with the big boys? Marvellous.

    I have a lot of love for his totally placid response to everything though. Destroys a scrum? No reaction. Scores a try? No reaction. Just wants to get on with the game. Love that.

    1. I seem to remember Nel at one point after winning a pen (at scrum time?) beating his chest with one fist right over the thistle emmblem, absolutely loved that! Showed what it meant to him playing for Scotland.

  2. Nel for me, purely on the QF against the criminal element. Breaking a scrum that broke the welsh and the english. Jobs a good un

  3. The pack really did well. The backs shone a bit more in the ‘easier’ games, but the forwards kept us in the tough games against Samoa and Oz, with the exception of ‘that’ lineout. When you look at the stats it’s hard to split those mentioned. I think WP probably had the biggest impact on our fortunes, so I would go with him. Impressive for a prop to concede no penalties in 5 tests. Same goes for Hardie as an openside at the breakdown. It’s a shame we can’t hybridise Fords strength and throwing with Brown’s loose play. For 6N I would like to see Cowan, Hardie and Denton together in the back row, with Strauss on the bench (he’s a great player, but Dents had more impact in the RWC). Wilson didn’t do it for me in the competition. Second row Grays, Gilchrist on bench (looking forward to Toolis challenging for that in future). Edinburgh front row, Glasgow replacements. The pack is sorted at the moment, though we still lack depth in the front row. I hope we will find a way to combat really physical teams like England and SA and that our days of watching the team shunt a few metres backward at each breakdown are in the past. Kick off with England at home this year and we absolutely have to go for it full throttle.

      1. I don’t want to overhype the lad but I feel that Hamish Watson may end up being the next Scottish star player in the not too distant future – he’s shaping up to be McCaw-esque!

  4. I think comments about a bit of a lack of cutting edge in the Edinburgh backs is fair enough (though they can still put out a decent starting line up), but the pack as a whole should be able to deliver carnage, twice over.

    1. I think that lack of edge is maybe a little over egged but yeah, I wouldn’t look at the back line as necessarily being a strength. More solid, dependable backs.

      The forwards however, I’d expect to batter many, many teams into submission. Lots of young, hungry, physical boys in that pack and an increasingly sharp looking back row.

    2. The emergence of Hoyland may help Edinburgh with regard to the backs, but I feel they need a quality stand-off to give them more of a cutting edge, maybe Te Rure will fill that void.

      1. Yeah, lots of hopes being pinned on that young lad.

        Tonks isn’t a 10, Heathcote was a huge disappointment, Laidlaw was out of position and the rest haven’t really been of note. last time we had a 10 that was capable of operating in the Pro – 12 was Godman to my mind. Be nice if we could pinch one of the Glasgow boys that can play there and give them a bit more time. Be good to get either Weir or Horne playing there consistently without weakening the Glasgow team significantly. Even from a Scotland point of view, having two fly-halfs playing regularly would be great. You’d argue that with our forwards, Weir’s style of playing 10 would be perfect.

        I fully expect a beating from the Glasgow contingent now!

        ‘Hand off our embarrassment of riches!’

      2. Hoyland is certainly looking good so far. Te Rure would have to have a Russellesque emergence to become the main man anytime soon. Duncy would indeed fit into the Edinburgh game plan, putting the forwards in the right places. I just can’t see any Glasgow player being that happy about leaving the Scotstoun set up for Murrayfield, and I can’t see Townsend being that happy about losing his number 2 stand off either. I can’t see Horne moving either. Of everyone, I see Jackson as the more likely to come back up from Wasps. We should have tried to sign Maitland at fullback and then kept Tonks at 10 (he’s steady if unspectacular) in the hope of one of the youngsters stepping up.

      3. Absolutely right. I was thinking of course of the greater good… in no way was I being a typical one eyed Edinburgh supporter…ahem…

        Seriously though, you’re right about Tonks and I’ve perhaps been a little harsh. He’ll be able to get our pack in the right place as he’s pretty good kicking from hand.

        I’d be OK with Jackson coming to Edinburgh. To be honest, I don’t think he’s that good a 10 but I’d be happy for him to play elsewhere. He seemed good at 15 and his defence looked to have improved in the limited game time he got.

      4. Kinghorn has been selected at 10 for the Connacht game. Whilst it is more than premature to pin our hopes on an 18YO with one professional substitute appearance to his name, it is promising the Solly is giving him a chance. I hope he is given a run in the team to cement his place, and I also hope that Solomans takes the long view on this; he WILL make mistakes, but to make them now at 18 will make him a far better player in the future.

        Just think – what if Scotland might have two international standard fly-halfs and an international standard midfield! If you had told me that just five years ago I would have laughed you out the room!

      5. Well, that in itself is good. Bringing him in slowly so he gets used to the level will be important.

        Let him watch the way everything works from as close as possible than look to move him into 10 in closing stages of games/give him sub appearences. We are, unlike the past, perhaps in the position of being able to bleed players in slowly rather than throw them into the game and hope all is well!

  5. The entire team were poor and the forwards were rubbish except for Gilchrist. He was amazing and should get the vote.

  6. WP Nel was arguably the best tight head of the World Cup. His scrummaging is sensational but around the pitch he’s extremely useful to.

    Denton had his best patch in a Scotland shirt, his performance against Aus was the best performance by a Scottish 8 for a long, long time.

    Hardie is an awesome rugby player, scary he didn’t get a sniff with the AB’s. Richie Gray was back to pre Lions form and Jonny Gray made a ludicrous impact for a 21 year old.

    Has to be said Ford and Dickinson were impressive. So whilst WP Nel is my vote the whole pack is so promising moving forward.

  7. It’s nice to have so many to choose from for a change. Ritchie rediscovered his 2011/12 mojo. Hardie was outstanding, and like others I’m amazed that no big English or French team tried to sign him up. Denton answered nearly all of the questions posed by his critics in recent seasons. But I have to plump for Nel, who apart from the other good reasons set out in earlier posts, has got us to the point where as supporters we no longer feel a sense of dread (penalties conceded, getting splintered etc) when Scotland pack down at the scrum. Overall this was an encouraging show from the whole pack, something to give us some confidence for the 2016 6N.

    1. I hope Zander Fagerson and D’Arcy Rae are invited to train with Scotland over the next year or two – there is so much they can learn from Nel who is, in my opinion, one of the best technical tightheads to play in Scotland for quite some time.

      The way he took apart Scott Sio was the kind of performance that I’ve wanted to see from a Scottish prop for a long time – he was ‘streetsmart’ and ‘clever’ and all those things that other teams do to us that usually has us all screaming about cheating! These are things a world class prop can do and get away with.

      As an aside, I hope all the Six Nations refs were watching Nel and the Scottish pack dominate through the WC, and now ref us as such through the 6N. It has happened to us many times in recent history that we have a scrum that we feel is dominant, but our opposition seem to be reffed in a way that suggests the ref decided their scrum is better before the match even started. It would be nice to be on the other end of that for a change!

  8. I may be going off at a tangent here, my apologies Cameron/Rory if so, but I just hope that we carry on going forward in the 6N. I remember well the high of last years Autumn Internationals, especially the game against Argentina, and thought we would carry that form into the 6N. We all know what happened.

    We need to carry on bringing through youngsters like Fagerson and Rae (and others) and exposing them where appropriate to the international scene to ensure that we can field a full squad of competitive players so that the grief caused by injuries is limited.

    Is anyone else genuinely optimistic but at the same time scared as hell that we’re going to shoot ourselves in the foot (just because we have so many times before)?

    1. Dan Mac, I am like you also Spartacus!

      Meaning like you I have a mixture of hope and dread about the 2016 6N and beyond. However, there are a few things to make me think this isn’t another false dawn.

      Consistently improving performances in the Pro 12 by Ed and Glas.

      Backed by good progress in the Euro cups.

      A steady improvement at Test level in the last year – culminating for us in being three minutes away from exiting this year’s Rugby Championship winners in the RWC QF.

      Up and coming youngsters in our only two pro clubs.

      Quality players plying their trade elsewhere in top European teams.

      A good spread of (not too many) non-Scotland qualified players in our club sides who help to raise standards.

      Really good coaches at our two clubs and an excellent and canny coach of the national side.

      Taken together, probably the best position we’ve been in, in terms of foundations for good national performances, for a number of years – possibly decades.

      And on a completely emotional level, I was lucky enough to be at Twickenham for the QF to witness in the flesh a performance that, irrespective of the result, proclaimed that we can be players on the world stage again, despite our limited playing numbers.

      I really do think pride was once again restored in Scottish Test rugby at this world cup, and would dearly love to see that translated early in 2016 into some improved results and performances for the 6N.

  9. Continuing off tangent – when I read the above it really shows how we are crying out for a 3rd team again (be it Aberdeen or Borders – or a real left-field London Scottish). When you consider the number of Props, locks, back rows and centres we have it would be brilliant to have a 3rd team thus giving them high-end game time. To rattle of a few names that will likely not be first choice squad picks for E or G when all are fit:

    Sutherland, Bryce, Allan, Rae, Fagerson, Dell, Shiels, Turner
    Swinson, Low, Cummings, Toolis, Mckenzie
    Ashe, Watson, Ro Grant, Fusaro, Holmes, Harley, Bradbury, Blake, Bordill, Eddie
    Horne, Fergusson, Vernon, Kinghorn, Dean, Bulumakua, Hughes, Jones, Bryce, Murchie

    With Academy supplements, perhaps a few returners from France / England you could have a very competitive team akin to what Connacht are in Ireland. I think you could put out a team from that lot that would more than complete with the Dragons, Blues and Italian teams for the ‘best of the rest’. Funding (especially in Aberdeen with Oil and gas drop offs) is the key. On a week where the RFU in England will make an extra £15MM it only serves to highlight the challenge in keeping up – gamble on 3 again or put all eggs in the 2 ???

    1. If the SRU could find five million we would have a third team but until they start getting value for money from the tv deals for the six nations and the ERC then we will always lag behind the others. Ireland get by because Leinster and Munster are well supported and get good gate receipts. Ulster too have good crowds but also have had a new stadium built for them care of a nice juicy grant from the NI gov. The SRU are building but it’s baby steps for at least another five years I would say.

      It’s a pity because I agree that 45 man squads mean players aren’t going to get enough game time.

    2. As a Scot living down South I’d love to see London Scottish “parachuted” into the Pro12. I have every reason to believe there would be significant support from those Exiles not already supporting LS. There would be a significant “away” contingent from other exiles living in and around London.
      However, this is a way away, and not just financially. Glasgow and Edinburgh would have to dominate the Pro12 (or at least both get into the ERC) for at least a couple of years in order to show that there is sufficient talent there to be spread around. The strength in depth at both clubs has yet to be proved – see disappointing results in round 5. Injuries and call-ups to the national squad may see your “crying out for a 3rd team” a bit premature come Spring!
      That said, I’d like to see some of these youngsters be put “on loan” to London Scottish, or indeed any pro side that will give them game time (Newcastle look to be needing a few fresh faces).

      1. I think we are old romantics but I prefer to see the London Scottish option being explored over any other third team. Just for the avoidance of doubt I am not in favour of a third team, not at this time.

        However If I was I like the idea of London Scottish.

        With the population of inner London being the same as the whole of Scotland there is likely to be support from ex pats and neutrals as well. The scots brand in London would be a good seller IMO.

        The benefit being an establish presence to grow upon rather than starting up from new. Richmond is a big rugby district. Arguably there is likely to be more scots fans available in inner London than in any other Scottish regions. (It is a marketers dream challenge)

        I am wondering how the leagues would feel about including another team anyway and if London Welsh would want a similar deal?

        On balance I am inclined to say lets wait and see.

        I really want to see Edinburgh progress more and wonder how Glasgow survive if (and when) Toony was/is made an offer he could / can not, refuse elsewhere. (I feel it is inevitable)

        Mind you , it would be useful to see if setting up a third team in London would meet his aspirations.

      2. I have commented on this before. It is a non starter for a number of reasons. It has been talked to death on Rolling Maul. About the only thing that might change things would be the introduction of ring fencing in England, and right now, that appears to be kicked into the long grass.

        LS are relatively successful in a tough league but struggle to get crowds of over 1000. As a good example the Exile Derby with LW drew less than 1500.

        The standard is competitive, but way short of Pro 12.

        I doubt if the High Heidyins at LS have any great appetite to change a 5 year game plan to take the next step up. (Incidentally 5 years is optimistic, Bristol, far better resourced haven’t managed). Bridges are still being rebuilt with the SRU after McKie’s axing of Academy funding.

        In case of doubt, I am a regular attender at RAG.

      3. I don’t understand how LS can advance any further than where they are now. Inadequate results apart this season they don’t have the crowd numbers and even if they did they can’t go up to the premiership without a new stadium

      4. Thanks for that persepctive Mike. I have not seen or read any of the debates, however the idea feels good.

        I suspect pro12 rugby in London would attract a larger crowd if marketed properly. It feels like there are a lot of clubs in the area however there will always be one away when LS are at home. I just wonder what marketers could do to pull that neutral audience in. London just feels like a place that would attract players and could draw crowd numbers if marketed correctly. The underlying benefit being we are bringing on scots for the national team, however I wonder how they could claim residence if not in Scotland.

        My experience of the ex pat mentality is that national loyalty and sense of community is stronger. I suppose in summary it feels liek LS is under achieveing (gate footfall) and pro12 would change that and bring something better for the ex pats, however there are obvious drawbacks, not least being the exsiting club setup and getting ringfenced.

      5. Mike – Just a thought came to me after the 10 minute lockout came in . Pro12 in London will actually bring welsh and Irish ex pats in as well as they will supporting the away team , so once again that expat loyalty and community will be strong. It feels like after an initial capitalisation to get it going it would pay its way. Feels like a lost opportunity.

      6. Angus,

        This season’s results first – the standard in the league generally has improved. LS has a relatively small squad and like last year has a long injury list. The first loss, Moseley at home was a direct consequence of lack of preseason games. The others have been relatively close affairs. Jamie Stephenson who went to Wasps has not been satisfactorily replaced and Dan Newton has been out injured for a while as has Miles Mantella. Like Scotland in some senses – first choice XV is very competitive, take out a few key players and it is a struggle.
        On the ground front, there is a planning application in to redevelop the RAG in conjunction with Richmond. Not all at once, I expect if permission is given there will be an initial relocation of the existing facility within the ground available, followed by incremental improvements as circumstances permit. I think the experience of LW moving to Oxford then back to ODP has shown how hard it is to relocate from a traditional base, although LI have settled in Reading. As I said before it is a long haul to move from Championship to the next level up, especially the way the RFU fund clubs. Only Exeter have really been successful.

        Personally when a third side can be afforded I would prefer it to be in Scotland. There is no reason why last season’s development of players being loaned to LS (Braid and Rae) shouldn’t be developed.

    3. If Glasgow and Edinburgh can grow their fan Base and regularly get crowds of 10,000 and the new club can get 5-6,000 then it starts to become more viable. Success for G and E over he next few years hopefully puts bums on seats. Hopefully the pro 12 final is another big money spinner for the SRU

    1. Well I think we are just about there both should end up in the top 6 in the pro12. Edinburgh should be drawing bigger crowds. Scotstoun is limited in its capacity but has a great atmosphere. However nowhere near the numbers to justify even conidereing a third side.

      1. A new home for Edinburgh would be a good start. I would hope that a decent season will have them drawing crowds comparable to Glasgow on a regular basis.

        For the life of me I do not see where a third side can be based right now. Bear in mind that the side will in all likelihood be unsuccessful to start with so the supporters will have to be pretty hard core. As above, LS with a relatively successful side in an area with a decent rugby tradition mostly struggle to get 1000. Larger gates are largely the result of clubs with a large fan base being the visitors.

        For once I agree with the SRU, Academy investment is a better path forward right now.

        On one of the other topics above – the London Exiles are fairly tribal LW back at ODP so no real reason for them to watch LS in Pro 12, similarly LI in Reading.

        My views may be on the glass half empty side, but I remember the consequences of LS going under and the length of time it has taken to fight our way back up the leagues.

      2. My original conjecture about London Scottish being parachuted into the Pro12 was based on the possible solutions to the obvious issues about a 3rd pro team for Scotland.
        Firstly – competitiveness. LS recent results have nothing to do with the idea of them surviving in the Pro12 (not that mid-table in the Championship is anything to be sniffed at). The point was made that the squads at Glasgow and Edinburgh are getting big enough that some seriously good players are not going to be getting enough game time. So why not spread them amongst 3 teams? It wouldn’t take many Glasgow/Edinburgh players to bolster the current LS squad.
        Secondly – support. OK 1,000 isn’t a lot for Pro12 but it’s a base, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying I’d go to the RAG much more often if it was Pro12 level rugby. Irish/Welsh exiles would too (to see games against Leinster, Scarlets etc). I have loads of Irish friends who love rugby but don’t follow LI, similarly LW. Even Italian exiles in London & SE would go to the RAG for Treviso/Zebre away games!
        Thirdly – facilities. The ground is already looking for planning permission and expansion of the existing would be a lot cheaper than trying to find a home for a 3rd team in Scotland.
        Lastly – funding. Obviously the SRU don’t have a lot to spare, but getting sponsorship of a Pro12 team in London must surely be easier than trying to get similar amounts for a side in the Borders, Aberdeen, Dundee or anywhere else.
        All this is pie in the sky if Glasgow and Edinburgh don’t perform in the Pro12/Europe. However, assuming my hopes and dreams of both of them getting into the top 6 and knockout stages respectively, and Scotland finishing in the top 3 in the 6N, then the SRU should at least be thinking about it.

  10. Just checked back. Look at the thread on Rolling Maul / Championship, page 7, “London Clubs may be Moving”.

    Key point is the RFU would have to sanction cross border competition. I think not!!!!

    1. I don’t support LS as a third pro-team. However, LS are in a pretty unique position that they are already a registered member of the SRU as they are dual registered. I think it would certainly go to World Rugby for arbitration. I seriously doubt the WR regulations were written with the three dual registered clubs in mind and I’m sure LS could argue that as registered members of the SRU they had the right to participate in competitions they organised.

      Regardless, the situation would only arise if the Premiership is ringfenced. Would it really serve the RFUs interests to first prevent LS having the opportunity for promotion and then prevent them competing in the pro-12? They would be inviting a PR catastrophe at best and a law suit at worst.

      LS only floated this idea to warn the RFU off ring fencing – it is a bluff but if push came to shove I don’t think it is a foregone conclusion the RFU would or could dig its heels in.

      1. You are spot on with the ring fencing comment. No ring fencing and LS will stay put. RFU also haven’t got the best track record in law suits as LW can testify!!!

        I would like to see some more youngsters given the chance to come to LS on loan, but that is constrained by RFU funding criteria on match day EQP’s.

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