Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland Team to face Samoa

Finn Russell - pic © Al Ross
Finn Russell - pic © Al Ross

Finn Russell, Mark Bennett and John Hardie all return to the starting team to face Samoa on Saturday (k.o 2.30pm). Russell has been passed fit from an ankle injury while Hardie has completed return-to-play protocols following a head knock, as have Ross Ford and Matt Scott.

Elsewhere in the pack Ryan Wilson and Ford swap bench spots with Josh Strauss and Fraser Brown respectively. In the back three, the strongest attacking combination of Seymour, Hogg and Maitland will start together for the first time this World Cup while veteran Sean Lamont could win his 100th cap from the bench.

The boilerhouse once again features the Gray brothers with both Jonny and more surprisingly perhaps Richie featuring high on the list of the tournament’s top tacklers. Workrate indeed.

All in all it looks like something close to Scotland’s strongest current team – arguments about scrum-half aside.

Might we finally see Vern Cotter’s Plan A?

Scotland team to face Samoa: Hogg, Seymour, Bennett, Scott, Maitland, Russell, Laidlaw (captain); Dickinson, Ford, Nel, R Gray, J Gray, Wilson, Hardie, Denton

Replacements: Brown, Reid, Welsh, Swinson, Strauss, Pyrgos, Horne, Lamont

50 Responses

    1. Laidlaaawwww!!! : ) But seriously I agree. Good team, fingers crossed for a good win, no injuries and give Wales or Oz a real game in the quarters.

    2. Good sign that under Cotter we know our best team. Only Dunbar and Gilchrist are missing, which is pretty remarkable at this stage.

      I’m going to Newcastle to watch the game and feeling pretty confident we will win. Even if Samoa bring a better performance than they have so far in this World Cup, i don’t think they are the same side that beat us convincingly in SA two years ago. Might have been a tournament too far for many of their older stars.

  1. Agreed, strongest available team. I’m looking forward to seeing the back row play together again; I thought it looked very well-balanced against Japan. Russell and Hardie being available is great news. Good bench too. Come on boys, let’s do this.

  2. Expand the game, get their forwards moving, good defensive line speed and I fancy us to win the match by 20 points.

  3. First time poster here with a couple of questions. Pre-tournament all the talk was about Strauss but he has not been first choice for the big games – is this just about adjusting to international rugby? Ford is widely criticised on here but praised in commentary – why does that happen? Feel sure that Vern won’t let complacency set in and that we will ride the storm as we did against Japan and USA.

    1. Strauss has taken a little time to adjust to international standards but I thought he was better against SA than Denton. I think he may be on the bench here as he is effective cover in more back row positions. I think this match will go like the first 2 with an arm wrestle in the first half and permission to cut loose in the second. With the subs listed looks like it will be a Glasgow spine for the last 20 and some real attacking intent.

      1. Technically you could argue that he’s been going in to contact slightly too upright and you can lose more momentum when hit at that angle. I think Strauss has done well in the Pro12 because the tackling is not quite to international standard ant its definitely a step up. Also at Glasgow they play a more offloading game with the forwards than Cotter has played so far and going upright into the tackle makes it easier to offload.

      2. If you stand next to Ford he is massive. He has a lot of caps and played for the Lions. I think there is a lot of frustration with supporters that he is good but he should be world class. His lineout throwing could be a little bit more consistent, he scrummages well but doesn’t hook the ball, you don’t see him getting about and making massive hits all round the park and he doesn’t carry with as much success as say for example the other home nation hookers.

      3. I’m also left very frustrated with Ford. Has his moments of destructive carrying but then also can go missing, and wobbly in the line-out. If McInally could sort out his lineout and scrummaging technique (and maybe lump on 5kg or so) he’d be my number 1 due to his dynamism in open play.

      4. Big Al hit the nail on the head with ford. I feel the same about Richie gray, it’s not that they are bad, it’s just that I feel they should be brilliant as I know they have the ability. Ford is a fantastic rugby player but funnily enough struggles with the hooker bit from time to time, ie hooking and throwing.

  4. Thanks Big Al – that does make sense. We were disappointing in terms of turnover ball as well, especially compared to Wales and Australia. The fast rucking game of Telfer would be welcome and may make Laidlaw look better.

    1. There’s always a big debate over the back row because you are asking them to be carriers, fetchers and tacklers. Usually you strike a balance with a blend of all 3. A few teams like Australia now play with 2 fetchers in the back row. Scotland’s fast organised chaos game needs fetchers. if your fetcher is leading the tackle count then something is wrong. It also needs the other forwards to turn up quickly to clear our the rucks. Off course fetchers don’t need to be in the back row, one of the best fetchers in the international game in recent years was O’Driscoll and some of Scotlands backs are pretty good over the ball.

      1. This is where we miss Dunbar. He’s effectively another 7 at the breakdown. I think Blair Cowan sometimes is too eager to impress and flies into the tackles too much instead of doing what Michael Hooper does and just stand there waiting to get second man in. Or maybe even a Warburton and commit just enough to the initial tackle to make an impact, let the second guy put the player to ground then be right there on the scene to get hands on the ball.

      2. I love your definition of the backrow – carriers, fetchers and tacklers! Ideally you’d like them all to be all 3, but it’s more likely to find a blend, and why so many of us are fascinated by this balance. Even us armchair coaches could find the right blend!!!
        Which is why this balance of Wilson (tackler/carrier) Denton (carrier/fetcher) and Hardie (fetcher/tackler) works for me. Strauss (carrier/tackler) or Cowan (tackler/fetcher) could make an imbalance.
        Of course, this ignores the contributions of carriers (Ford, RGray), tacklers (Grays) and fetchers (Brown, Swinson) in the front five. But for these guys the priority is the set piece – anything else is a bonus.
        It also ignores who we are playing – against SA I believe there were too may carriers and not enough fetchers – we were never going to get enough ball to use our carriers effectively (certainly 1st half).

      3. You’re absolutely right, both of you. Dunbar is brilliant at getting over his tackler in the midfield and scooping the ball back. Also, I think we have to have at least 1 fetcher/spoiler in the team to get balance. I’d be happier with Cowan at 6 because I feel he straddles the 7/6 role well. He’s an eye for a turn over and doesn’t miss his tackles as well has having a massive work rate.

        I’m still not sold on Wilson. I don’t know what the selectors see in him but he seems to be their number 1 pick for 6.

        That said, the team looks good. Fully expect a solid win and an opportunity to get ourselves ready for whichever team we will face. Fingers crossed it’s the Welsh.

      4. Agree regarding wilson. Didn’t he only reach single figures in tackling stats in his other games in both in the tournament and before? I must admit, whilst I was surprised that Barclay and Cowan were left out for Wilson and Strokosch, Wilson’s form in the Pro12 run in, as well as his, ahem, nastiness… something which is lacking somewhat in our forwards seemed to make some sense, as well as the theoretical balance he brings to a back row with a natural 7. Personally, the four back rows in the match day squad I would pick would be Strauss, Denton, Hardie and Cowan (ignoring Barclay of course). Any combination of those 4 players brings balance I feel. And it seems like its in fashion? maybe atm? The Pooper is on fire, and Tipuric and Warburton have been picked for Wales. Just a pity about Hooper’s suspension, would have been awesome to watch the contest at every breakdown between 4 specialist openside fetchers.

      5. I partly think this is why quite a few posters would have had Barclay for Cowan, he IMO tends to win more turnover ball and is much more difficult to dislodge than Cowan. That said Cowan was decent on Saturday but I’ve yet to see him give a display like Barclay did against Italy pre WC. Agree with Andy, Dunbar is a massive loss in this regard as he is excellent at the breakdown. As for Strauss v Wilson I really don’t think there is anything in it, both play 6/8 for Glasgow and I don’t think either has shone for Scotland yet. Strauss is IMO the better player but I think has been taken aback by the ferocity of international rugby. Denton as mentioned earlier is also a lucky boy, having been responsible for 50% of the penalties conceded against SA, and wasn’t as effective going forward as he has been previously.

      6. Personally, I’m gutted we aren’t going to get to see a Hooper & Pocock vs Tipuric & Warburton face off. So much turn over ball. About 80% of rucks would be contested with by those 4 on their own!

        Strauss has looked quite subdued (even for Glasgow) so far this season which is a little strange. I thought he would take to international rugby like it was his birth right.

        I agree that Denton needs to get himself sorted out. He flits between being the direct, hard running defensive monster we know he can be in one game then becomes something that’s, well, not that in other games. He’s one who I think people might describe as sometimes having low ‘rugby IQ.’ Makes silly decisions often. I think he’s in the team in the same way that R. Gray was for a while. He’s got the sort of physique that Scotland cannot pass up the opportunity to put into a strip. At the very least, it means teams have to make sure they are committing men to contact, which is something we have perhaps lacked in the past with smaller forward packs.

      7. i have always been puzzled why Barclay was left out. He does get more turnovers but it would interesting to compare the penalty count. On reflection i think Cotter hasn’t picked him for this sole reason….same goes for Hamilton

      8. There is also another role that you’ve missed which is vitally important – First or second man to an attacking breakdown to cleanout or bridge. A role that Paul O’Connell does brilliantly. It stops the attacking teams fetchers – in modern rugby it’s vital.

        You usually find this person is very anonymous which could explain Wilson disappearing act. Ritchie Gray is given a carrier role which means a back rower (6) needs to make up for this. Need to watch the footage but I’d image Wilson patrols wide area to due to his speed.

  5. Hey all, very excited about this team and hopefully, booking our place in the knockout stages. Was in Newcastle last weekend and am still recovering a little, haha. The atmosphere was incredible, the South Africans were a great laugh and a lot of fun was had. If you’re going this weekend, definitely go to the fan zone, great atmosphere, big screens, plenty to eat and drink although its a little pricey.

    On another note, and sorry to change the subject a little, I have been thinking about a couple of philosophical questions regarding the team. One is realistic although a little down the road somewhat, and the other is purely fantasy rugby.
    1. When Dunbar and Duncan Taylor are fully fit, will they, and for who, will they return to the squad?
    2. If you can pick any one player in rugby to come into the Scotland team, who would they be?
    My thoughts: 1- Dunbar is a must obviously, and Vernon will drop out for him. With Taylor, I’m not sure. He’s a very very good, versatile player, and is highly though of at Saracens, but I’d say that he was competing with Horne for a place, and Taylor doesn’t offer anything Scott, Bennett or Dunbar don’t already offer, so I’d be tempted to stick with Horne. 2- This is tough. I think it would be useful to think of our weaknesses, and pick a world class player to sort out that weakness. So, a hooker who hooks and is capable around the park and who has a high linnet accuracy; a world class tighthead who is feared and destructive; a proper, out and out fetcher who turns over as much ball as the rest of the team combined; a nine who has consistent, quick and accurate passes, speed of thought and pace/trickery to keep the ruck guards honest; a big, powerful winger who is quick as lightening and a nightmare to try to stop. Personally, I’d go either for a fetcher, or a scrum half, so Pocock or Aaron Smith.

    1. I’d say, with 1, that Dunbar is our best centre so he’s straight into the team replacing Matt Scott. That’s a bit of a shame for Scott because I tend to think he’s pretty good. I’m hoping he gets into the club season without another injury because he’s crucial for Edinburgh.

      As for the 4th centre, I think you’re right that Vernon drops out straight away and then it’s down to Horne vs Taylor. I’d suggest that you pick based on what you need. If it’s attacking flair you want, Horne is a better shout. For solid defence you go to Taylor. (Therein, I think, actually paints a little portrait as to why England struggle so much. Their domestic rugby is really very attritional)

      2. Is a good question. I agree that we are occasionally weak at hooker but I’m not sure how reliant Ford’s performance is on everybody around him. I’d also love to get a really quick, sniping scrum-half to speed us up at the breakdown but I’ve hopes that SH-C turns into that. My greatest concern however is that we need more leadership in the team, particularly from the forwards who can sometimes look a little listless (hence, I think, the continued involvement of Big Jimbo Hamilton for so long when he’s not been his best for a few years but that’s by-theby and he was a great servant for Scotland for a long time.)

      It would be easy to pick somebody like Matfield for his brutal brilliance or the potentially (definitely, I used to play 7 so I’m biased) greatest ever player McCaw. So that’s what I’m going to do. Pick McCaw. Faster ball, slower opposition ball, great rapport with referees and the heart of a lion (rampant.)

      Only though, if in this fantasy game, I can have him at the age of about 26 so he can be there for the zenith of the careers of this crop of talented youngsters we have coming through.

    2. Scotland’s first choice set of backs is pretty good and starting to get some respect from top tier nations. If Dunbar and Bennett can both stay fit and get a run together at Glasgow I cant see them being anything first choice for Scotland for the next few years. If the forwards can get the backs enough fast ball they will worry most teams.
      The gravy train of world class Scottish scrum halves has dried up a bit. How I wish we could find another Gary Armstrong. The forwards aren’t too bad at the moment either we just need to get the blends right. I also think there is a lot of youth there and they will be very good in a couple of years. It will be interesting to see how things change when the forwards coach changes after the world cup. Personally if I had to pick one player it would be a younger Ritchie McCaw for his captaincy but also his all round fetching and spoiling ability.

      1. I think Scotland’s backs could go from strength to strength once Jason O’Halloran joins the set up after the world cup. Let’s hope Cotter gets an exceptional forward coach – if our pack was drilled as well as the Japanese we’d be a potent force indeed.

        It is strange that most of the brightest young stars that have emerged recently have been backs – Hogg, Russell, Bennett, Dunbar, SHC. However, on the horizon most of the best talent seems to be in the pack – Bradbury, Ritchie, Cummings, D’Arcy, Fagerson. It certainly looks like the quality of player coming through now is markedly higher class than over the previous 15 years, so hopefully we can move away from the test precipice and begin dreaming of success at test level again after a drought of biblical proportions. Spare a thought for Italy – once their centurions retire in the next couple of years it does look like they are struggling to replace them with quality players. Good for us, but bad for NH rugby.

      2. FF – agreed. Amazing how much of an influence Parrise is. When he’s on fire (and he usually is) the whole of the Italian team plays at another level.

      3. The next 6N is going to be interesting. O’Halloran in to coach the backs and either Hines or a new coach in for the forwards. It could bring a whole new look/ style to the team.

      4. If Hines can instil an ounce of the controlled aggression he brought with his game into the likes of Denton and the Gray’s, we’d have an incredible pack.

        If he gets those three big lads willing to tear people to shreds for the ball, not many would fancy a forward battle with Scotland.

  6. Merlot, I really like that idea of identifying players by key facets of their game and then using those to build balance and analyse selections etc – lets take it further then…

    For backs, I think you probably need to expand on the key attributes – perhaps speed, evasion, power, defence, kick, catch, pass.

    Back Three:
    Hogg – Speed, Evasion, Kick
    Maitland – Speed, Defence, Pass
    Seymour – Speed, Evasion, Catch

    We lack power, but make up for that with running ability. I don’t doubt the bravery of Hogg or Seymour, and their speed prevents defence becoming as much of an issue. Overall, not a balanced back three, but a back three picked to create chaos where samoa send up loose kicks or we get turnover ball.

    Bennett: Evasion, Power, Defence
    Scott: Defence, Power, Pass

    Great balance here with threat from both 12 and 13. No real defensive concerns for Scott either, but I think he’s therer for his distribution, not his tackling.

    Russell: Evasion, Pass, Defence
    Laidlaw: ……wow, actually struggling with this and I’m not a Laidlaw basher (honest!) …..I want to say Pass, but I really don’t think that he’s the most accurate or fastest passer of the ball in the squad. His kicking game I suppose is a strength from the tee, but from hand has been relatively poor. But OK, I’ll give him Kick. What about Speed – is he fast enough over the ground? Not as fast as SHC or Pyrgos, doesn’t really make any breaks – so not speed. What about Defence?…probably not, falling off tackles a bit recently, although I’m not sure the others offer any more here……So why Laidlaw?

    I’ll tell you what I think – I reckon there is is an overall balance in the backline that needs to knit together the individual teams within teams, and that’s experience – someone who reads the game, has been around a while and can galvanise the guys into a unit. Someone who can keep their minds on the job and noses at the grindstone – i think we have to assume that Laidlaw is that man – and these are qualities that BVC sees on the paddock on a daily basis and that you don’t really get to see from watching on TV or up in the stands – it’s something more elusive. I have absolute faith in these boys to go out and give their all – anyone that suggests otherwise is a fool. So I’m introducing a new key skill just for the wee man….Control.

    1. You could start a whole new blog on key player facets. I agree that Laidlaw is there for control. You do need a bit of that when the game plan is organised chaos. However, I’m sure some could argue that at times too much control and organisation is being applied when the backs (and fans) are screaming for the ball to be moved because its on. I also think that Leadership is a key skill and it would be interesting to hear the blog’s thoughts on player leadership ratings!

  7. I feel Weir may be a little undervalued here. Scores a try, makes a try and still doesn’t impress the blog. Was his kicking against SA policy , not going for touch against a team with 100% line out stats? He’s too good a kicker for him to be ‘missing’ touch every time (?).

    1. For sure his kicking was “policy” he just didn’t do it too well. Pretty sure policy was to kick infield to space and move them about. Horne on the bench gives more options, Weir was never going to start over Russell.

      As good a side and bench as we could have picked under the circumstances. BVC really does know what his first choice side is AND knows who he wants on the bench for plan B if needed. Light years in front of our recent coaches.

      Just hope we don’t have too many casualties. Hope Jaco Peyper gets a grip from the off. Not impressed with the assistants, Doyle and Mitrea. Still we could have had Clancy or Barnes. Could have been worse. Peyper has reffed us a few times so we ought to know what he wants.

    2. To be fair to Meatball, I was all set to give him an 8 following the second half where I thought he was brilliant but in the cold and sober light of day I felt the first half had to be taken into account.

    3. Wow what direction do you want the Scottish INTERNATIONAL level rugby team to go. I hear he has a NZ grandfather and the all blacks are considering him for a call up.

  8. Not much to say – pretty much our best team, nitpicking aside. Just looking forward to seeing what they can do. Come on lads, go forward in style.

  9. Come on Scotland do us proud! Show your Footballing (so bad they’re making my eyes hurt) cousins how its done!

  10. It looks like the best team and bench we can put together out of the 31. I look forward to being there on Saturday to be a part of it. Come on, Scotland!

  11. If you could transplant the personality traits of Stalin into Ritchie Gray you would have one Hell of a rrugby player

  12. Wouldn’t change much about the team. Thought Wilson had a good game (as good as it could get given the battering we took upfront) last weekend when he came on so probably deserves the start. I agree with the consensus here that Strauss hasn’t shown his full potential yet, regardless I would have been tempted to start him at 6 or 8 although he does offer good cover from the bench. Glad to see Hardie and Russell back, hopefully they can be the difference that makes things Happen.

    I’m confident we should he able to get a convincing win, if we don’t then we simply don’t deserve to progress.

    Shout out to big Sean who will probably get his century. Not the most talented player ever but you’ll be hard pressed to find a harder grafter with more passion. Although you certainly don’t get 100 caps for being rubbish. I always remember him in front of the East stand “that day” against Italy in 2007, you could hear a pin drop in Murrayfield and here’s big sean jumping up and down apoplectic with rage, he was the only player who seemed to give a shit.

    1. It seems Strauss could be the impact sub for this tournament. There’s sense in that: Denton gallops around like excited cocker spaniel, the game gets more serious around 60, on comes Strauss for impact (not necessarily for Denton). Especially if the Aussies haul on world class fresh players late on. Not sure who else would have the same impact and keep parity in that sense?

  13. I’m looking forward to Scotland qualifying with no serious injuries and building their team belief ahead of the knockout game…that’s not too much to ask is it?

  14. Given how results and performances have gone so far in the World Cup I would expect us to beat Samoa by 15+ points, however Samoa will see this as a huge opportunity to upset the apple cart but I still reckon we’ll beat they by a couple of scores – hopefully without any big injury worries.

    I’ve been disappointed with Samoa. I really expected them to be in the same position as us at this point with 2 wins and 10 points.

    I also hope that Wales beat Australia as I couldn’t see us beating the Wallabies, although would it be too much to ask for injuries to North, Biggar and Warburton?!?!?!

  15. Great idea. Do you have anyone living under your bridge who could do a better job. By that I mean anyone who hasn’t been retired for 20+ years

    Mods can you not just block his IP / IP range so we can be done with this Troll?

    Happy to advise how this can be done if you need a hand

  16. Suggesting that is all very well but who would you play instead? Swinson isn’t as good as either of the Grays, Hamilton has retired and we don’t really have any other international class locks.

You might also like these:

Craig is joined by Jonny and Iain to look forward to Glasgow's huge URC final in Pretoria, after the win against Munster and skirt around the latest news of the week.
Craig is joined by Jonny and Rory to look back at the disappointing end to Edinburgh's season and Glasgow's march towards the semi finals.
Gregor Townsend has named a largely experimental squad for the summer tour of the Americas. It's not a question of who misses out, but rather who is actually going, writes Rory.
Iain is joined by Jonny and John to discuss the penultimate round of URC fixtures as well as the recent Scottish Rugby Writers' Awards

Scottish Rugby News and Opinion