Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland Team To Face Italy

Try-scoring Harlequins wing Tim Visser is the only change to the starting XV for Scotland this weekend, but on the bench there are some adjustments aimed at stopping the 50-70th minute rot that was noticeably absent during the World Cup.

Exeter Chiefs prop Moray Low may have a first appearance for Scotland since the 2014 summer tour, while 23-year-old Edinburgh Rugby loosehead Rory Sutherland, could make his international debut after Gordon Reid has under-performed from the bench in recent weeks. Ryan Wilson and Pete Horne also make it to the bench.

Here are the 23 hoping that the match in Rome on Saturday will be more like the World Cup warm-ups last year and less like any of the 6 Nations horror shows – and there have been plenty.

Scotland team: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Mark Bennett (all Glasgow), Duncan Taylor (Saracens),Tim Visser (Harlequins); Finn Russell (Glasgow), Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester, capt); Al Dickinson, Ross Ford, Willem Nel (all Edinburgh); Richie Gray (Castres); Jonny Gray (Glasgow); John Barclay (Scarlets), John Hardie (Edinburgh), Dave Denton (Bath).

Replacements: Stuart McInally, Rory Sutherland (both Edinburgh), Moray Low (Exeter), Tim Swinson, Ryan Wilson (both Glasgow), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh), Peter Horne, Sean Lamont (both Glasgow)

46 Responses

  1. Pretty much what I would have picked. I might have dropped Denton but Wilson is a loose cannon and our discipline record has been pretty good so far. Lot of folk don’t like Visser but he can score tries for fun when he’s in form and has plenty of pace against the Italian backs who unless I’m mistaken don’t have much in the way of speedsters. Hopefully Russell has a better game, I’m confident if the forwards can get us some good front foot ball Laidlaw and him can do the business.

    There’s little doubt the Italians target this game as an opportunity for them and throw everything at it, why wouldn’t they, they have a reasonable record against us. What we seem to do is choke under the pressure. If we keep calm and just play the game we should hammer them but crumble and let Italy get a sniff then they are remorseless.

  2. Even though there’s a few players out of form (Denton being the biggest offender) I think a bit of continuity in selection, hopefully not losing!, will do the team some good. We’ve chopped and changed a lot in the past hoping for that miracle combination to take us to greatness Denton I’m sure will know that Strauss is on his shoulder so hopefully will up his game, he has shown is class in the past, lets hope he can find it again. Realised I’ve used ‘hope’ a lot in my post – typical Scottish rugby fan!!! Anyway, I think we’ll click this weekend – I dreamt a 40-13 win for us…lets….hope!

  3. No Strauss not even on the bench? Strange/bad decision not to choose him, doesn’t even get ahead of Ryan Wilson.

    Never going to happen, but Sam H-C should go in ahead of the consistently poor Laidlaw, Italy would be an excellent game to get a start for him.

    1. SHC has been in dire form for Edinburgh and Laidlaw was one of our best performers against Wales. Not sure why dropping him would give us a better chance of beating Italy. Just wish Prygos was on the bench to give some fresh legs/thought in the last 20. SHC is talented but can’t yet control a game.

      1. Why should SHC be expected to control a game? He should be the link between the forwards and the playmaker at 10. One of our problems is that there is too much control from a boring 9 and not enough from our playmakers outside.

      2. Grayson Hart was an interesting addition to the squad. I’m a fan of club combinations at 9 and 10. Shame.

  4. No idea why Wilson has been brought back into the equation after missing the full squad a month ago. His form hasn’t improved enough for Glasgow to merit a recall. Cotter did the same with Cowan at the world cup – very strange but at least that worked. I’m not sure what Cotter thinks Wilson will bring coming off the bench at 60-65 minutes, if it’s tight his discipline will let us down as it often does for Glasgow. The Wilson Swinson substitute penalty infringement machine combo (aka the Swilson) could prove fatal.

    Strauss deserves a shot at 8 following his performance v Munster as Denton hasn’t been breaking the gain line. If the game turns into a wrestling match in the final 20 mins like it did in the the 2014 Rome game it would have at least been good to bring Strauss off the bench to create some space in the midfield as it takes two men to bring him down when he is at his rampaging best.

    Glad Fagerson and Reid have been fully dropped, our scrum disintegrated both times they were given run outs against England and Wales.

    Can’t argue with Visser’s re-introduction, hope he has one of his better games. If Russell is on form I think he will probably get the space out wide to gain meters. Visser is probably ahead of Maitland for me at the moment as I can’t remember the latter turning in a good performance since December 2014.

    Delighted Hogg and Seymour are fit. They will cause a lot of problems.

    1. Fagerson didn’t get on against Wales. Not sure why Ben Toolis hasn’t been included on the bench, at least he’d help is win our line outs when we’re trying not to seize defeat from the jaws of victory. Swinson has rarely made an impact at test level (SA tour aside).

      1. Don I would say the scrum did get weaker when he came on. He did good stuff in the loose and had some carries but he struggled in the tight

    2. If you’re gonna make sweeping criticism of the scrummaging it’s always good to get your facts right.

  5. What is with all this Denton bashing?? His ball carrying has not been at the level it was in the RWC but to say he is playing badly is ignoring the rest of his game. Although he has struggled a bit so far at Bath, in my opinion he has come back a much more rounded player and people are ignoring this. I remember during the England game he was one of the few players that stood out in his aggression while defending – therefore I was quite surprised after the game when I started to read people comment on his form. Lets look at the stats…

    England game
    – Second only to Hogg in meters made (Third if you divide meters made by number of carries (Hardie leapfrogs him))
    – Was one of only 4 Scottish players to make a successful offload
    – Was the only forward to win a turn over! (the other players were Laidlaw with 1 and Scott with 2)
    – Was third highest in tackle count behind J Gray and Hardie, however he did not miss any (Hardie missed two) so realistically our second best tackler

    Wales match
    – Second highest meters made in forwards behind Barclay. Backs played much better this match so all had higher gains except Lamont and Bennet
    – Only forward to successfully offload. Backs got 3 offloads
    – Tackle stats not great for this game but still better than Russell and Taylor – two players nobody has suggested of dropping
    – Won 1 of our 3 turnovers alongside Hardie and Hogg (making him our leading turnover winner in the forwards over the 2 games)

    1. As someone who has been hoping for Strauss to take over from Denton, this is certainly interesting reading. I still feel that either Strauss or Denton coming on from the bench would be more impactful than Wilson.

      After seeing this, I would probably have gone for Denton to start and use his carrying and strong defensive work to tire the Italians. Then bringing Strauss on to make an impact off the bench, which I sadly am yet to see from Wilson. However, this would have needed the Strauss from the Ulster game and not the rest of season, which is always a gamble.

    2. He’s one of the victims of the boo boys on this board. See also Scott, Laidlaw and Visser who get an absolute pasting any time they do anything other than deliver an 8/10 performance, never mind how poor any combination of forwards or backs have contributed to us losing.

      I’ve been disappointed by performance by a number of players this 6 Nations. I’m not really sure why these 3 are the subjects of ire above others.

      1. DD hasn’t been flashy which is why he gets picked on even though he has been pretty solid and certainly Strauss has to up his game from tonight’s displace against the Dragons to displace him (dodgy forward pass try aside). I’m not a huge fan of Laidlaw who is too slow imho but he has the talent when he plays at pace, he just doesn’t do it enough in my book. Pyrgos is better but isn’t fit so we are where we are! Visser I like, going forward, but he defo needs work on his tackling although thankfully this has been improving with every game for Quins. Richie Gray on the other hand needs a rocket! He’s playing solidly but is capable of so much more!

      2. As a boo boy I’m still a fan of Denton, his Scotland debut for example was awesome. His biggest problem is that he looks like the Andrex puppy, while Strauss looks like a barbarian lumberjack (even if he runs too upright). Until Denton shaves his head and gets an ugly scar or cauliflower ears that is enough for Strauss to get the nod. Especially, as a Scotland shirt immediately reduces a player’s scare factor by a third.

        Which is another reason to boot Laidlaw out the team. Though not from further than twenty yards. Unless, we want to go with a Laidlaw, Weir combo!

        Scott has talent. Every time I read about him I wonder about why he was converted from fly-half if he grew up playing there? Anyhow, his problem is that he does not gel with Bennett and Bennett is better.

        That leaves Visser who tackles like Laidlaw and catches like Southwell. But he still makes it into the team on merit and speed.

        That leaves only Ford. Hookers should be able to hook and throw in at the lineout. Senior players should lead.

        All that said – happy with the team bar Laidlaw and Ford. Think it was tough on Jackson (unless he is injured), as he has been quality, again, since returning from injury.

    3. The stats make reasonable reading. DD does a lot of the grunt work and puts his tackles in tirelessly. But he is not there as a 6, a stopper, he’s playing 8, a carrier, and this is where the stats present only a slice of the picture. The 8 should ideally be rampaging through the oppos, generating momentum and offloading to get an attack going. DD will be credited with 6 or 8 carries per game, but they primarily consist of taking the ball a couple of meters and going to ground. Jonny Gray, Ford and Dickenson are all doing at least as well as that, and getting their tackles in too.

      As a 6, he would be fine, as an 8, he’s well below par at the moment. He can do the role very well, but hasn’t done so for a while now. This is the reason the supporters get a bit vexed I think, it is the gap between what we know he can achieve and his current lack of go-forward as a ball carrier.

      1. But they are not. Over the 2 games:

        Jonny Gray – 17 carries – 7 meters gained – 0 offloads
        Ford – 12 carries – 28 meters gained – 0 offloads
        Dickinson – 5 carries – 3 meters gained – 0 offloads

        Denton – 17 carries – 59 meters gained (52 more than Jonny) – 2 offloads (top offload stat of any player)

        Yes I think Denton can do better but I am just saying I don’t think he fully deserves the criticism.

      2. I suppose you can get stats to say anything. This also says a hooker has carried half as many metres than Denton , the number 8 . One is a loose forward and the other is there to shove, grunt, plug gaps in ruck and maul , make up the numbers and eat all the pies. You could expect the comparisson multiplier to be a good bit higher for DD than the front row , without whom of course nothing can be achieved (smiles).

        Now the encouraging thing is that those metres gained are likely to be forward and my criticism of Denton some years ago was that he carried from side to side and not forward. So he is getting better, I believe he still has a big game in him, and this is it , silence Sergio P and you silence Italy.

        It would be interesting to see the metres carried by 6 and 7, the off loads received and given etc. I want to see a much bigger game from that pair, one I rate , both I think are having difficulties settling in the team.

        That latter factor, can never be found in a statistic, at the end of the day , this is the greatest team sport ever, you need to play for each other and I am not sure we have a bunch of lads who are looking forward to their saturday aftenoon in this current side. Get that right , and you take to the pitch with the stature of 16 men.

  6. Taking a backward step I think BVC has made the correct decision not replacing DD with Strauss (whether he should have been on the bench instead of Wilson is a different matter). I for one wanted Strauss in the starting line up instead of Denton but in hindsight I dont feel he has done enough to earn the place. I think it would be a bad precedent if after 1 good performance (against Munster) when the pack was dominating if he was drafted straight in. His performances up until Munster were fairly average and he hasn’t got previous international experience to indicate he will seamlessly step up. First and foremost he has to prove he can consistently perform for Glasgow and show how hungry he is to get into the 23. If he has to work to get in the team I believe it will make him more motivated to hold onto the shirt once he makes it.

    1. I agree with the sentiment of the above completely. In retrospect probably fair DD is still starting given the stats above.

      However, the way BVC has played this situation doesn’t stack up for me.

      Wilson was told less than a month ago that he wasn’t playing well enough to get into the extended squad and he had specific areas to work on- Strauss was in the extended squad (although his form has been poor this season he has still been better than Wilson).

      Since then Wilson has played twice in Glasgow’s last three games. Once in the defeat v Ulster where he picked up a yellow card and once in the draw v the Ospreys were again he gave away a number of penalties. Neither performance was particularly impressive and his discipline was suspect. I can’t imagine this is what Cotter was looking for from him.

      Strauss on the other hand was outstanding last week v. Munster.

      Not sure how Wilson has parachuted into the team and onto bench!

      1. This is a good point and the way the discipline has turned round is really remarkable. Bringing someone in who is bound to give penalties away is useless for this new way which will win games if it’s carried through. As a referee in football I watch some really stupid stuff going on that if a management team have anything about them would be infuritating and again watch some rugby guys and think how stupid do you get? Only give away penalties that are smart and useful to the team or give away less points than the consequence of not infringing.

      2. Thinking about this and I am no fan of Wilson , quite the opposite , however if we had Strokosh available , I would have him in the 23 just for his grit. I think this is the thinking of Cotter, we need a hard man in there and Wilson is all we have left. That said , Stroker was true grit, Wilson is a daft laddie.

    2. Strauss is looking on decent form right now, however , best left where he is right now, it is a step up playing the pro 12 second strings to the full Bhoona of international rugby. I can see him and Hardie linking up well, but JH chose Edinburgh and not Glasgow , so we cannot try that one out in a safe environment.

  7. Presumably BVC doesn’t think penalties are as expensive against Italy and values a bit of abrasiveness against them. Horses for courses.

  8. Mostly agree with this selection. A few things I’d like to mention; Ford has to improve this game for he has not been great so far, his throwing mainly, although there could obviously be other reasons affecting the line out problems. I agree with Dents continuing and largely disagree with the bashing he has received for his performances, but I will say that he needs to show a bit more of the x-factor he showed in the RWC. On the Wilson/Strauss issue, it is a strange one. Personally I’m not a fan of Wilson and think his aggression is the only reason he’s in the squad because since Hamilton left, there’s no-one with that little niggle that coaches seem to like, but that being said, I’d have Rob Harley ahead of him if you want that niggle from someone in the pack, but I would have Strauss ahead of both because of the impact you’d hope he’d have of the bench. Not a fan of Swinson either, and whilst he is the most experienced back up we have atm, I’d have Toolis in, he’s bigger in size and impact and is better in the loose and in the line out. Bit disappointed that Ruaridh Jackson has been dropped for Horne, I think he’s finally fulfilling his potential atm having watched quite a bit of him for Wasps, and with Russell’s indifferent form lately, I thought he was pushing for the starting 10 shirt, as well as the fact that he suits our new style, having said that, Pete Horne is a terrific player and probably one of our most naturally intelligent rugby players. He’s always a good bet to pick stuff up by tracking breaks and being on the shoulder, a bit like Ashton does, so not too disappointed in all honesty. Sad to see Fagerson dropped but he’s not yet ready for this level, and more club rugby with Glasgow will help him, and Moray Low has been doing alright for Exeter this year. Having said that, however, we have to have a good lead by about 60 minutes because Nel cant be asked to play 75-80 minutes every game. Finally, I would like to say that the Laidlaw bashing is getting old. Firstly he’s the best we have available atm, at least until Pyrgos regains fitness and form, and SHC is not the answer right now. Yes we hope and think that he will be a test class 9 in a few years, and yes he had a terrific season last year, but at the same time, he’s in woeful form this year. His passing is very inconsistent at best. So whilst he has got more x-factor than Laidlaw, I don’t think he can be trusted to deliver the kind of service that Laidlaw does. Plus for the past 8 or 9 months, Laidlaw has been close to his best, not least during the RWC. Don’t forget that he was one of only 2 NH players nominated for World Player of the Year, not that I agree with this but he is a very good player and understands better than most what the game plan is from BVC, and in the second half v Wales he was sniping around the corners more which did help in stopping that awesome blitz defence they have.
    So all in all, I expect us to put the Italians to the sword this weekend. We had a very good win against them in August with two teams with quite a lot of changes remember, and we are back close to full strength, although their rolling maul is a worry again, so we have to prevent them sucking us into another arm wrestle. Play our game, get Hoggy, Bennett and the wings running in space, get a few more offloads going and get Russell playing back at his maverick best and we could put one of the biggest scores of the tournament on them.
    Oh dear, I seem to get carried away a lot, sorry for the length of this post again but I just get into a flow, haha

    1. Italian selection is bit of a mixed bag – outstanding back row and Furno back at lock, but their scrum is not the force of old and man of the moment Carlo Canno is out injured and replaced with Haimona – the worst professional international FH I think I’ve ever seen for any team. Hopefully his lack of service will help shackle Campagnaro and Sarto who bring the only real quality in Italy’s back division once the ball moves beyond the scrum half.

      I think the biggest risk is we beat ourselves and lord knows we’ve done it before. But if we can play in the right areas and avoid Italy dragging us into trench warfare we should be ok, establish a lead they have to chase earlier on in the game and we’ll be sitting pretty. Italy still in it with 10mins to go and we’re probably goosed!

    2. I’ll say it: Whatever Andy Nicol thinks this tournament is dead rubber for us. The results do not matter. Mid table at best. If you cannot test out younger players on the international stage, when can you. Laidlaw is not the answer for Scotland’s style of play. Try SHC, maybe he will be boosted by international rugby, I’d be depressed and off form playing with the Edinburgh backline! Also, players like Finn Russell need to be asked to take responsibility.

  9. I really like Denton & was delighted at his performances in the RWC, however by those standards he has had 2 poor games, stats can be made to mean anything & by virtue of having the heart of a lion, Denton will try all day but he hasn’t done what he’s in the team for so far.

    However Saturday would be an excellent time to find his swashbulking form again creating the gaps for our dangerous but ball starved backs.

    Wilson is in the team (as FiferMitchell states) as this team lacks a wee bit of nastiness.

  10. No surprises with the starting team selected. Tim McVisser well worth a go now he’s proved he’s top club level match fit with Quins. Glad someone has researched and posted the Denton stats. As I’ve said on earlier posts, he’s not been as good as he was in the RWC but he has not been the disaster some have claimed on this forum. Laidlaw pulled his socks up v Wales in terms of not poncing around so often before finally getting round to distributing the ball. Keep those socks up!
    We really should on form lines win this and I hope we do with a convincing margin.

    1. If we agree that SHC’s form is rank this season why are the selectors avoiding the experienced internationals in the position who are still playing at a high level? Laidlaw deserves to be the starting scrum half but Cusiter or Blair coming on as a closer makes sense. The bench shake-up indicates the previous incumbents weren’t up to the job.
      Italy based on their performances in the 2 matches, are an improved side this season. Saturday’s game will be critical to the development of this Scottish team. A loss must see some careers come to an end, as a second whitewash beckons. Time for a clear-out, and can we expect Cotteto hang around?

      1. Have Cusiter and Blair not both retired? Whatever happened to Rory Lawson? Quality SH but never got a lot of game time due to the aforementioned.

      2. Blair is absolutely done. Every time he’s played for Glasgow this season they have struggled. No coincidence that since Ali Price has emerged, Glasgow have upped their tempo and looked more like themselves.

      3. I often used to think that about Blair, a great rugby mind but spent a bit too much time thinking and not enough being a scrum half, bit like Laidlaw really. Cusiter was the better scrum half IMO

  11. A fit Alex Dunbar is 1st name on the team sheet, whether it be 12 or 13, it’s Dunbar & someone else, his combination of power, feet, turnover potential & pace is priceless.
    Andy – Mike Blair is a Rolls Royce & IMO Scotland’s best 9 (still)

    1. And he’s only slowed down to Laidlaw pace. And makes up for it with quality of service! 1981!

  12. Just finished watching Wales vs France. Wales looked a better side than they did against Scotland. and though France were comfortably beaten in the end – I don’t get the feeling that Scotland will have an easy time of it in Paris.

    1. They might struggle playing the match in Paris this year that’s true cos France will be lining up at Murrayfield. It would be a walk over… literally. France were terrible with a bit of genius here and there. Triuch-Dhu made them tick so bit worried he’ll now start against Scotland. But their discipline was atrocious. They’ll be at least one cheap shot given away and think we have more guile to break them down than Wales have. Need the win on the board tomo though…

      1. Real mixed feelings about France game – they look a bit clueless but still have excess power in their pack and we’ll have a long day at the office if we don’t stop the driving line outs at source early on.

        Definitely an opportunity for a win there but will be grim if we’re still chasing our first victory.

    2. We have France at Murrayfield this year and it will be about stoping them getting into any pattern. Last nights game was not about the sides but the referee. The welsh penalty count in the second half was outrageous and Wayne Barnes should have reached for yellow . Way too many penalties generally and especially when France were camped on the welsh line. I was almost feeling cynical wondering why is he not getting the cards out.

      Had that happened , had TD been on sooner , it would certainly have been more interesting. The french scrum half was dangerous, with the right 10 and quicker ball, they could be a tough team to beat. Wales were everywhere in defence ,must give them credit , for that , however when it comes to defence , we are competent so it is do able.

      However we have today to deal with first , I feel we need to start very well, lets hope it is not a peacock in place of a referee, like last nights debacle.

      1. If France play against us like England: narrow power based attack and drift instead of blitz in defence – it could be a long day. That said, their aerial game is not as accurate as England so those tactics could be poorly executed. Hopefully they’ll come with some joue joue which will suit us well.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion