Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Who will Vern Pick to face England?

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

Scotland head coach Vern Cotter is likely to stick to the tried and tested for this weekend’s Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham, which makes the team a lot easier to guess.

There is little doubt around the front-row, with Al Dickinson, Ross Ford and WP Nel set to retain their places from the World Cup quarter-final. The front-five, in fact, will be the same, with the Gray brothers reunited in the engine room.

The only change to the pack that started against Australia may be at blindside, where John Barclay comes into contention after missing out on the World Cup. Blair Cowan is the incumbent 6, but Barclay offers more physicality, while also a menace at the breakdown and a superb defender. The Scarlets man may get the nod because of his added bulk, but Cowan is also likely to have a busy afternoon from the bench.

Beside either of them, David Denton and John Hardie will once more complete the back-row trio with Josh Strauss short of game time.

Skipper Greig Laidlaw will almost certainly link up with Finn Russell as Scotland’s first-choice half-backs, but the rest of the three-quarters is more debatable.

Matt Scott had a good World Cup, and has been first choice under Cotter in the absence of Alex Dunbar who re-appeared briefly for Glasgow in recent weeks before succumbing to injury again. Throw Duncan Taylor in the mix instead and Cotter has a selection dilemma in his midfield. Taylor, a Sarries man who knows the ‘wolfpack’ style of defending, understands England coach Paul Gustard and is in exceptional form deserving  of a starting opportunity, but it would be harsh on Scott to pick him at 12.

A lot will come down to the fitness of Mark Bennett – if he’s at 100% he will start at outside centre; if he’s out, expect Taylor to take the 13 shirt.

The back-three is has a familiar look to it, with Hogg and Seymour almost certain to be there, but the final wing berth is another up for grabs with Tim Visser out injured.

If Bennett and Scott are retained from the World Cup quarter-final, Taylor may even find himself deployed on a wing – a role he has performed for Saracens in recent weeks.

Sean Maitland would be the front-runner to join his former Glasgow colleagues but has had injury problems recently, although he did come through 80 minutes for London Irish at the weekend – at fullback.

The bench will see Stuart McInally and Moray Low replace the injured Fraser Brown and Jon Welsh as front-row reserves alongside Gordon Reid, while Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Ruaridh Jackson will cover the half-backs.

The back-three berth on the bench will go to one of Maitland, Scott or Taylor, depending on the make-up of the starting XV, while the back-row will be covered by Blair Cowan.

The remaining spot is more interesting, with Cotter either able to select a second back-row player, likely to be Josh Strauss, or a conventional lock reserve, probably Tim Swinson.

The need to match Courtney Lawes/Maro Itoje in the final 20 minutes might edge it towards Strauss.

Predicted Scotland XV to play England: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Duncan Taylor, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw; 1 Al Dickinson, 2 Ross Ford, 3 WP Nel, 4 Richie Gray, 5 Jonny Gray, 6 John Barclay, 7 John Hardie, 8 David Denton

Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Moray Low, 19 Josh Strauss, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Sean Maitland

52 Responses

  1. Agree with most of that. I too expect Barclay to get the nod. However, I suspect Cotter might stick with Maitland and therefore Taylor will have to settle for the bench (assuming Bennett is fit). Personally, I would like to see Taylor start on the wing. The thought of Scott, Bennett AND Taylor all starting is very exciting indeed (and with Dunbar to come)!

  2. Bennett has just started training from a troublesome shoulder issue, another bad injury to it could be bad news as they’re notoriously hard to overcome. Even if he’s fit lets bring him in 50-60 mins in and let him run at some tiring legs and get him 20 odd mins of test contact. Scott 12 and Taylor at 13, Seymour and Maitland on the wings and Hogg at full back. With Dunbar, Horne and Visser to come back and Hoyland looking hungry thats pretty decent. Alas I think our 6 nations is going to be determined by injuries and our lack of depth in some areas.

  3. Completely agree re Bennett, even if his shoulder injury is 100%, his match fitness won’t be and England will come out of the blocks at 100 miles an hour. I think that, plus the tactical insight that Taylor should give will swing the selection in his favour with, as you say, Bennett to come on after 60 mins when hopefully we’re still in it and the game is perhaps becoming more broken up – what i like most about that is that the defensive approach you’d need to handle Taylor is going to have to change significantly for Bennett, and that’s exactly what you need your subs to bring in most cases, a point of difference, rather than more of the same.

    Other than that, I don’t see any real surprises – I’d like to see Weir on the bench rather than Jackson as he offers that point of difference, but I also get that Jackson provides more positional flexibility, so assuming BVC goes for an extra forward, then this should mean that Jacko is in – but I also think BVC likes the cut of Weirs jib, so won’t be surprised either way.

    I think Pat MacArthur is a better shout on the bench than McInally, unless the ability to cover both hooker and back row is a factor – with both fit and on form Rambo would probably shade it, but he’s not and Pat is – so based on form alone, the wee man should get the nod. Swinson has played 6 for Glasgow once or twice, although more through necessity than anything else, Strauss I don’t think is up to match speed and could do with a couple of games for Glasgow, so could we see the return of Big Bad Bob? He would cover second row and back row and seemed right on the pace against hairsprays at the weekend.

  4. A wee bit more food for thought there than I was expecting. Would it make more sense to start Maitland with Taylor at 13, Bennett on the bench? If Maitland’s hammy can’t do the full 80, shift Taylor to the wing for the last twenty when Bennett comes on.
    Saying that I can’t recall a time when Bennett has suffered for fitness on form following a time out – he usually seems to come back firing on all cylinders and maybe Cotter will back that. It is England though; tough gig.
    The starting 6 and 2nd/ back row replacements permutations are intriguing. No idea, but all proposed above seem sensible. Reckon Swinson will be on the bench with one of Strauss/Cowan/Barclay to miss out entirely. I’ll chuck my hat in with Barclay starting, Strauss and Swinson on the bench, and no Cowan. Writing that seems very harsh on Blair on the back of the Australia game though.

  5. It would be great to see Barclay, but I think he’ll be the one that gets left out. I’d go for Fagerson on the bench instead of Moray Low. If we’re taking WP Nel off it’s because the game is well won or well lost. Let’s hope the former…..

  6. If Taylor plays it must be @ centre, if anything an interesting alternative (if Bennett is not risked) would be Weir @ 10 & Russell @ 12 (I have to admit to having no idea if Bennett can be risked not having played for a month).

    Keeping England guessing & keeping them away from doing pretty much the only thing they do well (bullying retreating packs) is a must & Weir kicked very well in Swansea

    Dunbar’s continuing absence is a massive blow as an on form / fit Dunbar (for me) is the Lions starting 12.

    McInally brings a ball carrying (& a back row option) that MacArthur doesn’t bring to the table (BVC doesn’t rate McArthur & he is only there due to a distinct paucity of options)

    Hogg, Maitland, Taylor, Russell, Seymour, Weir, Laidlaw
    Denton, Hardie, Barclay, Gray x 2, Nel, Ford, Dickinson

    Lamont, Scott, SHC
    Cowan, Toolis, McInally, Reid, Sutherland

    1. You won’t let this Russell at 12 thing go will you Jocky? Haha. Not going to happen mate, we have 4 top quality centres, and Russell certainly isn’t one of them. Add to that Weir’s limitations and it just doesnt make sense. Agree with the rest though, subbing in Scott for Weir. Also, on your bench, you’ve got 2 loose heads, not sure if a mistake or not, but it will be Fagerson or Moray Low on the bench with Reid.

      1. Please let it be Fagerson. Sooner he is blooded the better. Yes he will get dunted a few times, that’s how he will learn. Never been impressed with Low. Russell at centre is lunacy as long as we have guys fit.

      2. FiferMitchell,

        Mistake on the prop front sir, was thinking Fagerson but typed Sutherland.

        Re Russell @ 12 – I worry about the distrubution to our back 3 with Scott/Taylor in the centre.

      3. Scott and Taylor are both great defenders and fantastic distributors of the ball. They will bring others in round them no problem.

        What they lack is perhaps the ability to break defenses in the way that Dunbar and Bennet do, but that is mitigated by the fact that they play a style that is straight up, hard,. drawing a man and shipping it. You don’t need to worry about their distribution.

        Russell is our by far best 10. His kicking range isn’t far off that of Weir’s in terms of use for pegging back teams.

  7. It would be good to see Duncan Taylor get a start. He’s in very good form and playing regularly for one of Europe’s, not just the English Prem’s, top club sides. And agree with others that if there’s some shuffling to be done, he could take a wing berth.

  8. I think this game will be won or lost in the tight five. Our tight five looks as good as I can remember since the 6N began – but English fans seem confident they’ll dominate us here. Time for Scotland to deliver on their promise as the rest of the field all look a bit less convincing than usual.

  9. Yep Taylor should start; he’s fully fit, in form and has that insider knowledge. I would play Maitland on the bench. I used to rate him highly but he’s just not been that good recently. Got to take a risk with starting Bennett; he’s surely our best line-breaker just now. Seymour now returning to some form and there’s got to be an interception try in there somewhere. I would be tempted to play Strauss at number 8 with Denton on the bench and yes, Barclay should start.

  10. Hogg, Taylor, Bennett, Scott, Seymour, Russell, Laidlaw, Dickinson, Ford, Nel, J Gray, R Gray, Cowan, Hardie, Denton. Subs: Mcinally, Reid, Fagerson, Swinson, Strauss, Hildago-Clyne, Jackson, Maitland.

    This is the team I expect but I’d quite like to see Barclay over Cowan.

    1. This is the team I’d like to see but with Watson instead of Cowan, and Barclay on the bench instead of Strauss as Strauss only really works at 8.

  11. Great comments and interesting to hear everyone’s views. I have a sneaky suspicion that we won’t see Strauss in the match day squad going by Peter Horne’s commentary during the Glasgow game. I may be reading to much into it but I got the distinct impression that Strauss is still suffering/nursing his head knock and like another poster pointed out, he wasn’t carrying at all for Glasgow when he came on. It suggests he isn’t at 100%; therefor I think he will be rested. The Centre dilemma is a welcome one, yet still a dilemma! When is the last time we could be in the position of contemplating between such talent – even with Dunbar missing? Mon the blues!!!

    1. I don’t expect to see Strauss in the squad. Barclay or Cowan to start, the other on the bench. I think a lot of folk would like to see Barclay start, he’s a bit harder nosed than Cowan IMHO. The Taylor / Bennett / Scott story is harder to call. Good arguments for whatever BVC decides. Personally I would have Taylor as a starter.

  12. Bennett if fit or Taylor if not. Maitland should start. Weir should not make the matchday squad, as Jackson is a better fly half, regardless of other positions. Would like to see both Fagerson and, if fit, Strauss on the bench, Swinson if not. Cowan, Hardie and Denton to start. The rest of the pack picks itself. Cannot wait for this one. Best Scotland team since 1990. And, to mix threads, i’m going to be singing “Come all without, come all within, you’ll not see nothing like the Mighty FINN!”

  13. The mystery of the starting 15 resolved:
    Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (capt), Al Dickinson, Ross Ford, WP Nel, Richie Gray, Jonny Gray, John Barclay, John Hardie, Dave Denton.
    Looking good!

      1. ha ha ha – with the additional insight from the starting 15, I’ll take a pop with: Reid, Mcinally, Low (too early for Fagerson?), Swinson, Cowan, Hildago-Clyne, Jackson (could well be Weir), Taylor.

      2. So Fagerson and Weir make it ahead of Low and Jackson.
        I like the overall balance; will it be enough?

        16. McInally 17. Reid 18. Fagerson 19. Swinson 20. Cowan 21. Hidalgo-Clyne 22. Weir 23. Taylor

      3. I sure hope so Matto! Fagerson over Low is brave but probably correct, can’t wait to hear the wider media waxing as lyrically about him as we have been! Weir is interesting over Jackson, I suppose he’s able to steady the game if it needs it, and Jackson’s ability to cover 15 isn’t necessary given both wings ability to cover fullback and Taylor’s versatility. Very much looking forward to this game, and I have that usual sense of optimism brewing inside me ahead of a tournament. I can’t remember how many times I’ve said it to my family and friends over the last few years, but I feel like this group can do something special! Never before have I seen a better Scotland squad!
        If Nel can get the better of Marler, which I’m sure he can; if Denton and the Grays can out carry the England forwards- again I’m sure they can; and if our two specialist 7s can gain the upper hand at the breakdown over England’s two 6’s, I feel we can do it! Not to mention our backline which has played together for about a year now, and know what Vern expects of them, whereas England’s backline, if equally talented, have only had a few weeks with Jones. I just hope Laidlaw can find his kicking boots again, it will be vital with Farrell on the other side!
        Come on Scotland!!!!

      4. I hope so too! Just kick on from Australia game, sort out restarts and maul defence, don’t make any crap decisions, and fingers crossed for a first win against the Auld Enemy in a good old while!

  14. Starting line up leaked on BBC. Barclay starts. Bennet and Scott too everything else as expected. Subs TBC.

    1. Yeap, as predicted (earlier in the thread) – Barclay in – but not Taylor.
      Happy with this. Would have liked to see Taylor start but I am sure he will have a chance to make an impact in some capacity over the 80 minutes.

  15. I really like the look of the back row, but my concern is that we are giving away a substantial 30 kg against the England back row. Our speed and accuracy will have to be perfect to make this work. I have horrendous memories from both Twickenham and Murrayfield of watching us being blasted backwards relentlessly at rucks over the last few years. I’m sure England will try the same previously successful tactics on Saturday, so I hope we have the minds and minerals to deal with that.

  16. Very exciting starting XV and probably the best we could hope for. If the confidence from the world cup can translate and Scotland gets stuck in early, it could be a great spectacle. I would be more concerned if England had selected their in form young stars by they appear to have played it relatively safe. The majority of the Scotland XV will have experience against these guys and know what to expect.

    My slight concern is with the bench. Swinson and Cowen feel a bit lightweight, especially if the driving maul is causing problems though Strauss not at his best. I would also prefer to see Jackson as back up 10 in order to provide an alternative attacking option. He also has experience in the premiership and will know how the England players operate. Weir feels a bit safe and negative. Used to defend a lead or play the territory rather than vary the attack. Let’s hope that Denton rediscovers a bit of form.

    Excitement is brewing nicely but hard to shake the fear of disappointment! Come on Scotland!

  17. Matto I have those horrendous memories too but previously England weren’t playing against such a back row as we’ve selected.

    Thanks to a wee bit research there I have worked out that this Scottish back row is 9lbs heavier than the Aussie back row that humiliated England in the World Cup….

    1. Aye indeed, Pocock’s a bit of a lump, but Hooper is probably lighter than any of our options and that combination of power, speed and technique was certainly effective. Really hope it’s an area where we can impose ourselves.

  18. If Bennett is truly Test match fit then no problem for me, and having Duncan Taylor to cover wing or centre becomes a plus.

    Like Matto, I recall wincing as we were blasted back in the Calcutta Cup in 2013 at Twickenham. But I’m more optimistic about the lack of importance of the back row weight differential for two reasons. First, the 2013 team instructions were to limit numbers committed to the breakdown, and that was a disaster. Second, I do feel we have enough grunt in the front five, including around the park, not to have to worry about being shunted aside. In that respect, Richie Gray improved in the RWC and I fervently hope he continues to do so on Saturday.

    My unadventurous prediction for Saturday is that it will be a really tough encounter for both sides, with a winning margin for whomever in single figures.
    Come on, Scotland!

    1. Agreed, the players and tactics are well improved. Parity or dominance at the breakdown would bring joy to the soul!

  19. I distinctly remember Fagerson coming off the bench to work his magic in a Glasgow game then being put in from the start next game and being blown away and subbed at half-time. Surely a summer test is possibly the place to test his mettle? I think Low has improved in a team going very well in premiership rugby and a more steady ship should we need him if Nel gets injured? Like the forwards on bench in general but does anyone think we lack game changers in the three backs we have there? I like Visser and know he’s injured but does he merit being a first choice after being a bit part in the world cup. Has he improved alot at Quins?

    All in all I feel we need to show finally our potential is not worth the little it has shown in reality in the six nations. All of the squads win ratio in six nations is less than 25% which is wooden spoon territory. Some have yet to know how a six nation win feels like. I’d hate to hear the Wales and Italian pre match conference with Laidlaw with his we were close and played well and we’ll win next time lines for what else can he say? But for us to finally grind out a win in the first weekend and be full of tries. Only two against england at murrayfield in 15 years. Here’s hoping as hope springs out of us early Feb every year. This year there is evidence to back up this hope much more than for a long long time.

    1. Visser was going great guns for Quins before his injury. I think he was leading the Premiership try charts and had picked up at least one club player of the month.

  20. Happy with the starting team. What makes me happiest is that the team is roughly what the consensus was on here and other blogs, in years gone by we would be puzzled and bemused at certain players inclusion for no apparent reason. It seems vern can pick a team, something SJ and AR before him could not so to save their lives and something that has cost us.

  21. Ahh, the plot thickens. Taylor is on the bench because he hasn’t been training due to a back injury. Lamont may take his place on the bench. We will know today.

    “Sean Lamont will come in if Duncan doesn’t make it. Duncan ran for the first time today – that’s why we had him on the bench. He’s still got to be confirmed for tomorrow as well. So there’s still a question mark on him: he’s got to come through today’s training. But we’re very hopeful.” BVC

  22. I am very pleased with the squad selected and especially pleased to see a Strathalian in Zander Fagerson getting named

    Really really looking forward to this game and mainly due to wondering how we are going to play and if the influence of the new coaches will be evident especially JasO with the attack

  23. Trying to keep optimism and expectation in check. The ‘UK’ papers are obsessed again with dangling the threat of relegation over Scottish heads – we need results to restore some credibility to Scottish rugby. This looks like the squad to deliver it, come on Scotland!

    1. A bit rich considering we are little more than a baw hair behind England and France in the rankings, and well ahead of Italy. A victory would be the perfect remedy to silence the stirrers though.

  24. Anyone have any thoughts on Lacey the ref. What does he look for? Will that help or hinder Scotland? England supporters pretty confident it seems. Be great to put them in their place.

    1. I would not rely on Lacey to give us anything. He is a less fussy version of George Clancy, who we have next.

      I used to hate having Wayne Barnes, but he has improved immeasurably – now an excellent referee.

      We have who we have, but there is no doubt that some coaches take the referee into account. Gatland an obvious case in point – Garces clearly doesn’t like the way Gethin Jenkins scrums, so why expose him. Unfortunately we do not have that luxury.

      Personally I would have been happier with a French referee, mostly they are up to the front row antics.

      Just got to get on with it.

  25. Sitting on a Norwich bound train on Friday evening before the game reading the London Evening Standard. It’s as if England must be playing themselves as there is no mention of the opposition. The selection for the match tomorrow means I’m confident of victory bar the all too familiar cock-ups at key moments. The English bench is stronger so we need to be 10 points clear at 60 minutes. We can do this!

    1. Nowhere to put this right now, but just watched the under 20’s hand out a 24 – 6 drubbing to a bigger, supposedly stronger, English side. Got blown away at the set scrum, but totally superior in almost every other aspect. ? ? ?

      1. It was incredible. Defence was immense as well. England broke the line a few times after being 24-6 up in the last twenty minutes. We managed to get them to knock on over the line, bundle them out to touch or tap tackle them into submission. The full side would do worse than have a wee look at this in the morning before heading on the bus to the game. First ever win for the Scotland Under 20’s against England.

      2. It was a superb effort on all aspects, except the set scrum. But, if you think about it, Fagerson, our best (still eligible) wasn’t playing because he (almost certainly ) will come off the bench in the Big Boys game tomorrow. The rest played a traditional Scottish game, hunt hard and in packs- and it paid off. Plenty of gas and quality in the backs to pull England out of shape.

        It was a quality performance to get over the set scrum disadvantage and play the game on our terms (I.e. You can have as much ball as you like, but when we get it we will use it much better).

        It was a most mature performance from a team of youngsters.

      3. What a tremendous result. What do you put it down to? New coaches? academies? Anyone know where and when the next 20s world cup is? Our results in the last one kept us in the top tier didn’t they?

  26. Graham, if you think tonight’s Standard is not entirely comprehensive in its coverage (I read it too on the way home), you should have seen the guff the Standard printed in the run up to the RWC. And then, while everyone could see the wheels falling off, the guff printed while the RWC was in progress.
    I suppose this really means that until we start to win games like this, we won’t be taken seriously by the London journos.
    Come on, Scotland!

  27. 306 caps in the starting pack
    187 caps in the backs
    493 caps in the starting line up

    We are beginning to have a little more experience in our ranks.

    We’ll find out if that is enough experience to beat the auld enemy tomorrow.

    1. I think one of the most positive signs is the players who are out injured that would otherwise have been people’s first choices yet despite that we are all happy that we have a great squad – we are developing depth and the success yesterday of the 20s is another sign of this – I know it’s my traditional pre 6 nations rush of confidence and positivity. Actually to be honest it’s a traditional that only germinated last year :)

  28. Angus,

    The next under 20 WC is this year in England. Scotland are in a group with Australia, England and Italy.

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