Scotland aim to end Autumn on a high

Scotland head coach Vern Cotter named his 23-man squad for the Georgia game today. It’s not very experimental – remember Tonga 2012? – and so carries on from what we have seen so far, but he has done some shuffling.

Richie Gray has been back in training this week, and with Tim Swinson announced in the Glasgow team to face Ospreys it was near inevitable Richie’s heft would be required to face the Georgian pack. Grant Gilchrist reverts to the bench after a quiet afternoon against the Pumas.

Richie Gray on the charge for Scotland - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography

Richie Gray on the charge for Scotland – pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography

Props Dell and Fagerson make it three from three and their reward is to face a formidable Georgian scrum, although Ross Ford’s ballast has been picked in the middle ahead of dynamism in the loose.

Magnus Bradbury drops out of the squad completely as Rob Harley starts at 6 with Ryan Wilson given the nod at number eight. This means that John Barclay – the pick of Scotland’s back row so far – sits on the bench. It also means no appearances for either Josh Strauss or Cornell du Preez this autumn, as the latter is forced to wait for a first cap.

Much has been made of Greig Laidlaw’s performance on Saturday, but the 58-cap veteran was never going to be dropped and Cotter’s captain leads the side again alongside the mercurial Finn Russell. The half-back pair won’t play together again until the Six Nations, so another 80 minutes under their belt would do no harm.

Huw Jones’ injury, suffered in the act of setting up Sean Maitland against the Pumas, provides Cotter with his real selection headache of the week. There has been no SOS call for Matt Scott, and with Duncan Taylor still sidelined, Mark Bennett dons the number 13 jersey, with Pete Horne left to provide midfield cover from the bench.

The back three  all keep their spots from the Argentina win; no surprises there. Expect the Scots to look to move a hefty Georgian side around.

Among those lying in wait on the bench, Moray Low’s place might have been in some doubt after a disappointing cameo from the Exeter Chiefs’ man last week, but with no other recognised tightheads left in the squad, he hangs on. Gordon Reid and Josh Strauss are also playing for Glasgow which means Alex Allan again covers the loosehead and John Barclay provides versatility across the back row.

Ali Price will hope to earn his first cap after two spending the last two Saturdays on the Scotland bench, while Rory Hughes returns to cover the wing having also sat on the bench against Australia. If it’s a tussle, expect Cotter to stick with the first choices as long as he can.

Scotland team to face Georgia: Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (c); Allan Dell, Ross Ford, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray, Jonny Gray, Rob Harley, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson

Replacements: Fraser Brown, Alex Allan, Moray Low, Grant Gilchrist, John Barclay, Ali Price, Peter Horne, Rory Hughes

Unavailable through injury: Alasdair Dickinson (hamstring), John Hardie (ankle), Huw Jones (foot), Henry Pyrgos (knee).

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53 comments on “Scotland aim to end Autumn on a high

  1. WestCountryTartanArmy on

    Interesting, particularly in the back-row. Surprised that Bradbury has been ommited altogether. Harley inclusion a strange one. Not included in 2016 6N squad or World Cup squad. Has he been playing well for Glasgow? Would it not have been a chance to see CDP if not going for continuity?
    Bennett back in presumably for his pace which makes sense against Georgia. All in all I’m quite happy with minimal changes. Need cohesion and understanding to grow.

  2. Cameron on

    Looking at that pack confirms everything that people have been saying up to this point. The game is going to be a fight in the ditch between the forward packs, so we have brought along the sort of brawlers that will be able to cope with that.

    Harley loves the dirty work and tackles like a man twice his size, Wilson is meant for nothing other than combat and Ross Ford has rightly returned because of his incredible strength up front which will again take some of the pressure off our inexperienced-but-performing-well props.

    If we can spin it out to the backs through a few phases with quick ball, I’d imagine we will do damage to that Georgian back line. Very much their weak area.

  3. FF on

    Not massively impressed with Harley in for Bradbury (really, what is the point?) and would have preferred to see Du Preez from the bench but glad Cotter is treating this test match seriously and has named a strong squad.

    I really hope Bennett shows us what he can do, it seems incredible he is now third in line for the jersey when everyone is fit.

  4. 1.8T on

    I think Bradbury can be disappointed, thought he had a good game on Saturday. Maybe he just wanted to give Harley a game, I quite like him but I would have thought someone with more heft would be better against Georgia. Barclay has played well and is a known quantity so nothing new to gain by playing him. Hope Wilson behaves himself as otherwise he has also been playing well.

    No arguments on the rest of the squad, Laidlaw was never going to be dropped and I don’t think he played as badly as everyone is making out last weekend but his default “go slow” whenever we are struggling a bit is getting annoying as when we are going forward he is consistently excellent.

    Hope the front row can hold up ok, they didn’t disgrace themselves last weekend and Ford and Richie Gray’s mass should help a bit.

    Again I really don’t understand why we hamstring ourselves by playing this match on a crappy narrow football pitch when the way to beat them is by running round them.

  5. Alanyst on

    From a “not losing our place in the rankings” point of view this game is a massive risk to be managed….looking at risk/reward for the next 6 games (with current scores, obviously):

    Team Home? Win Draw Lose
    Georgia H 0.067 -0.933 -1.933
    Ireland H 0.989 -0.011 -1.011
    France A 1.256 0.256 -0.744
    Wales H 0.82 -0.18 -1.18
    England A 2 1.227 0
    Italy H 0.066 -0.934 -1.934

    So basically a loss this weekend (or against Italy) means we need to beat England away to make up — not exactly an appealing option (how many years now since we did that?).

    For the other games, winning either of France away or Ireland at home would yield a slight profit, while Wales looks like the sealer…

    • WestCountryTartanArmy on

      Interesting to see the weighting given to home vs away games. Amazing to think that drawing at home to Ireland would lose (albeit 0.011) ranking points.
      That game in Paris looks like a massive opportunity!

      • Merlot on

        Of course as soon as the results of this weekend are included all your analysis is obsolete. If Ireland beat Australia this weekend then our first 6N game means we have a lot more to gain by beating them.

      • WestCountryTartanArmy on

        Merlot, don’t know if that was in response to my comment, but the point still stands regardless of this weekend. As I see it currently, beating Ireland at Murrayfield will be a tougher ask than France in Paris. That’s my point.

    • Mikelinds on

      That is an excellent illustration of why BVC should stick with tried and tested. Lot to lose, not much to gain.

    • Not rocket science on

      I hadn’t looked at the order of fixtures for the 6 nations, but that looks a bit tasty doesn’t it?
      Ireland at home to start – players they know well and know they can beat from Pro 12 and Pro 12 playoffs.
      France away – a massive opportunity against a team reeling from a heavy away defeat to England on the opening weekend.
      Wales at home – ditto Ireland.
      England away – you never know, albeit expected loss.
      Italy home – in the bag.

      I make us clear favorite in 3 out of 5 (we certainly stand to lose more ranking points than gain), with France away a real possibility.

      Unless England beat both Wales and Ireland (on the last week of the tournament) away, we are tying for the lead with them and it comes down to points difference.

      I guess the flip-side of the risky ranking points situation is that we’ve actually been handed an opportunity to win the tournament. Not to get ahead of myself or anything.

      Cheers Alanyst.

      • WestCountryTartanArmy on

        Ever the optimist! I don’t dispute it’s possible, but it is also quite possible that we go into the last round as a head-to-head wooden spoon decider. Agreed the fixtures fall in a decent order. This year I felt (as much as we were disappointing against England) that it was far from ideal game to kick off with. 2017 is a real opportunity IF we get off to a good start.

  6. Calum on

    Quite disappointed with this selection. Would of liked to have seen Hoyland in the squad. Also in the back row I would rather have CDP, Bradbury, Watson, I feel Harley just is not quite international quality. Everything else fine though, as long as Price gets at least 15 minutes of game time this week.

    • Mikelinds on

      CDP is not in top form. Hoyland, yes, but not now – WC ranking points are key. See above. Lots to lose, little to gain. Same applies to 6N. GT can shake things up as he likes in the summer. Price, only if the game is won, then, yes 15 minutes with Georgian legs flagging a bit then his extra pace might put a gloss on things. Not otherwise.

      Personally I think we are in a better place under Cotter and much of that is through fairly consistent, conservative selection. The Toonie Tombola may be quite different!!

  7. john martin on

    I reckon Harley is too slow to play in the back row however against the big burly boys of Georgia he may well be just what the doctor ordered (remove the Georgians forcibly from the ruck/maul to enable quick ball to be released to our very exciting backs).

    • Mikelinds on

      I suspect the extra line out option also came into play. As long as he is the usual nuisance, I’m not too troubled. Doubt we’ll see much more of him after this.

  8. JohnMc on

    No problems with this selection. We’ve all been eager to see evidence of depth in the pool available to us. So here’s more for us to look at on Saturday. Not so long ago we were totally strapped for quality, but things are changing for the better definitely. Hoping for a good win this weekend.

  9. Angus on

    Good to see consistency and especially our young props getting the experience. This will prove valuable moving forward

    Going to be a physical game without a doubt

    If Laidlaw is going to crab sideways from rucks he has to have a dart a couple of times to keep the defence honest, otherwise he is just shift their defence across and narrowing the attacking channel

    side issue – what was the score with Cotter v Toony?

    Was Toony signed to replace Cotter cos the SRU didn’t want to lose him to a foreign club? If so, what would have been bad about him getting the experience for a couple of years then coming back to coach Scotland?

  10. Ade on

    Pretty much as expected bar Harley, and I thought VC might have gone with a 6:2 split on the bench – but WTF do I know! :0)

    Barclay and Gilchrist will be looking to make a big impact off the bench. Barclay to cement his place following 2 good games, and Gilchrist to make up for a so-so game last week. He wasn’t that bad, but he wasn’t that good either, which I think will have disappointed him.

    Front row – hold fast, do your basics and learn from every minute on the pitch against these guys. It will be time we’ll served.

    Think it will be tight, but we have the quality to win it.

    • WestCountryTartanArmy on

      Gilchrist is going to have to do something pretty special to have any hope of becoming a regular starter again, but having him back to full fitness to push RG (let’s be honest, JG is in another world at the moment) is great. More to the point, it gives us another option off the bench.

      • Ade on

        Exactly – the more options available the better. We are building experience in the pack, and our midfield cup runneth over seemingly.

        Competition keeps everyone on their toes and drives standards up.

        The only areas for concern for me in that regard are 9, 15 and possibly 10.

        None of Laidlaws’ rivals have been consistent enough. Hogg, excellent though he is, still needs pushing – hopefully Kinghorn can do this soon. We have alternatives to Russell in Weir and Jackson, but we know that they don’t have his gifts. Still, we are overall in better place than years gone by.

  11. john martin on

    Wasn’t it – Montpellier were probably going to approach Townsend & the SRU had to make the decision whether to lose the best young Scottish coach of a generation & stick with BVC or offer him the Scotland job?

    I think it must’ve been close & whatever way they decided would’ve prompted comments.

    So BVC off to France………….

    • Angus on

      Don’t get me wrong I love Toony and what he has done with Glasgow but after years in the wilderness we are seeing real progress under Cotter….

    • WestCountryTartanArmy on

      why ‘lose’ GT? It wouldn’t have been forever. Could have gone to France for 3/4 years and then taken over after Japan 2019?

      • Rory Baldwin on

        The sense is that after a few years developing abroad Toony might have been too expensive for the SRU to get back without him taking a hefty pay cut. Quite who held the gun to their head is open to debate…

      • FF on

        I thought Toonie and his backers in SRU did? GT said he wanted to coach Scotland with this group of players, as he’s been central to their development at Glasgow I guess it might make sense. The upshot is that Glasgow have Dave Rennie rather than Wales so that is a big win for us! As good as GT has been for Glasgow he’s probably taken them as far as he can and now they have the best up and coming coach in the world.

      • Angus on

        Did Cotter take a pay cut to coach Scotland? Would have thought he would be on much the same as Toony would get in France

  12. Mac2 on

    I think Harley is in to stop their driving mauls from lineouts, defensive solidity, as a lineout option and added ballast to aid what is a bit of a lightweight pack, especially the front row. Once the Georgians start to tire, (hopefully), Barclay will come on to add a bit more zip, ,attacking threat and quick ball.
    Good point made by ‘Angus’ re Laidlaw crabbing across field on what is a narrow pitch to start with & therefore restricting the room our backs will have – that said he’s still way out in front as our best scrummy / leader / kicker.
    Lastly I hope that Bennett doesn’t try to take on too much & plays what’s in front of him, given the pressure he’ll be feeling thanks to Jones’ displays over the past 2 weeks.

    • Cameron on

      Re Bennett, I guess we’ll see what he’s made of. Going from being the obvious choice for the future of Scotland at 13 to the (maybe) 3rd choice in that position puts pressure on him.

      I think he’ll perform under it. I hope we see him shine.

  13. Doddie's trews on

    Disappointing to see how many seats are still available for tomorrow’s match. Not even filling out a 18k stadium is a poor reflection of the fans.

    • WestCountryTartanArmy on

      It is really disappointing. Pricing excellent, solid location. I would have thought any Weegie would go not to mention the rugby fans of Ayrshire of which there are a fair few? If I were north of the border I’d quite happily go from Edinburgh or further North. I can’t understand how 50,000 went last week and yet most of those would then be turned off either by Georgia or the distance?

      • Rory Baldwin on

        Speaking only for myself, without a car it would require an awful lot of expensive and unreliable (see last weekends tweets!) public transport to get there from this far north to cover the game. Which is why Gav and John are doing it as they are a lot closer! Having managed 50K for the Argentina game, not selling out Rugby Park would be a big disappointment.

      • WestCountryTartanArmy on

        Completely get that. Would never chastise individuals for their choices. Just surprised that there isn’t the interest. Even if not a massive rugby fan, if you lived within 20/30 miles of Kilmarnock would you not think – “international rugby on my doorstep, nice day out”?
        Admittedly my views are probably skewed by the fact that I’ve spent £200 on a 16/17 hour round train trip to go to Murrayfield (with hotels etc on top) to see us get completely outclassed!

      • Matto on

        I wonder how much the season ticket factor comes into play? I have one and made the last two games and will hopefully make the 6N home games too. However, it takes me 6 hours to get to Murrayfield (more or less the same to Kilmarnock) and since this one wasn’t on the ticket, it was just a bit too much to do the big trip three weekends in a row.

    • Ade on

      That is a real shame. Living down south it is hard to see many games involving Scottish sides apart from the 1872 Cup on trips home at Christmas – and our next one will be Glasgow at Leicester. But if I was in the central belt I’d be more than happy to take my boys down to Killie for the afternoon when the pricing is so generous for an international game.

  14. pragmatic optomist on

    The changes in player fashion is all very amusing and a bit pathetic. Who should be in the team? Bennett was the next big thing, but now Huw Jones is lionised on the back of one game. Ridiculous. Same with Harley a few years back. A pest and tireless player, but now Bradbury has had a few decent games for Edinburgh, he must be the next big thing! He was fine on his debut, but didn’t set the heather on fire. Get real!
    Last year it was Hidalgo Clyne who was the ‘bees knees’. Where is he now?
    It’s all to do with form and injury which comes and goes for all players.

    • Merlot on

      Much as I admired Bradbury’s debut, I do think Harley is the better player. Cannot believe somebody said he is “too slow for the back row”. Not sure that is even close to the truth. Has never had a bad game in a Scotland shirt and always puts himself about. Glad to see him back.
      Some people on this blog seem to think that any youngster is better than the experienced, proven incumbent. Change for change’s sake does not make a winning team.

    • FF on

      To be fair, Huw Jones is being lionised off the back of two games! I don’t think anyone has suggested Bennett is not a very talented player, in fact many people have suggested he could be in the running for a Lions place, but the competition for the 13 shirt is now exceptional. Which is a good situation for Scotland.

      I think you’re wrong about Bradbury though. He is 21 and is something Scotland have sorely lacked for years – a dynamic, tackle-busting, ball-carrier. Harley is tackle-bot but he is more or less redundant when we have the ball. I expect Bradbury to be in the Scotland team for years to come, Harley hasn’t been able to nail down a place when we’ve resorted to capping Kieran Low, Blair Cowan, a totally uninterested Johnnie Beattie. They are totally different types of players and Bradbury is in a different league in terms of talent.

  15. pragmatic optomist on

    FF, Bradbury is indeed promising, but whether he’s in a ‘different league’ remains to be seen. I’m all for positivity about the lad, but there is too much hyperbole and no real substance yet.
    Many of the recent U-20 side are promising, with Fagerson and Bradbury well to the fore, but there are others. It certainly doesn’t mean that proven players should be discarded.
    I’d argue with you about Beatties talent, but probably not Lowe or Cowan.
    As for Bradbury being the ball carrying no 8 we’ve lacked, are Strauss, CDP, Ashe and Denton not ‘tackle busting’ number 8’s? I think you’re getting carried away on a wave of wishful thinking here. I sincerely hope both Bradbury and Jones are as good as you think they are, but they’re being seriously built up without a lot of evidence so far. I’m not saying they’re not good, only that we don’t really know how good.
    I always wonder how each of the no 8’s would fare against Vunipola of England!
    He is the benchmark now.
    (I agree that we have many more options at centre than elsewhere)

    • Cameron on

      Taking each in turn,

      Beattie has (had?) all the talent but hasn’t seemed that interested in nailing down the strip despite being given ample opportunity to do so. I’m disappointed by that because he was a really classy player when flying. From memory, I think he was pretty peeved with some of his treatment in previous years. Probably more to that story along with the exile of Kelly Brown and until recently, Barclay.

      Strauss hasn’t really shown up at test level. It might be that his style of running just doesn’t impact at international level. He’s unconventional in body position and his upright running style means that running into international class defenders puts you back yards, rather than running through them.

      CDP is great and could be a fantastic option for Scotland. I look forward to seeing him.

      Ashe has been hampered by injury and the poor bugger looks like he’s going to continue to miss rugby for quite some time. gain, could come good and that would be fantastic.

      Denton is an absolute wrecking ball when on form. Unfortunately, his limited passing ability and lack of vision for anything other than the big big bosch is frustrating. Similar to Beattie, he can also look like he’s struggling to impact on a game, not something you need from an 8.

      All of this is of course, predicated on Bradbury being selected primarily as an 8. He’s able to play as a genuine 6 (when we aren’t deploying our 2 7’s tactic of late) which adds to his usefulness and he is absolutely flying for Edinburgh.

      As for the Huw Jones vs Bennet debate, it’s not a case of one being excellent and one being awful. They are both cracking players, just that Bennet has recently had a bit of an issue with form and injury. Being able to select one of Taylor, Jones & Bennet at 13 and one of Dunbar, Horne & Scott at 12 makes me frankly giddy with excitement given the total paucity of options we had there until as recently as 2012? 2013?

    • FF on

      CDP isn’t capped yet, so yes we have lacked him in previous years! Denton brings so much to Scotland but has been limited by injuries and has had very erratic form. Neither Ashe nor Strauss have looked totally comfortable at test level and have struggled to make the impact of a Vunipola/Morgan/Faletau/ O’Brien. That’s what we need, a go-to guy to guarantee us front-foot ball and who scores tries. Maybe Bradbury won’t live up to his promise, but he is an exciting player. Not sure if Edinburgh website is up to date but it sas he has 19 appearances, 10 starts and 5 tries. Every time I’ve seen him play for Edinburgh he’s made things happen. He’s the most exciting backrower who’s actually come through the Scottish system for years (Ritchie looks good too). Harley is an honest trier and a workhorse but wouldn’t be capped by any other 6N or 4N team (probably even Italy IMO).

      • WestCountryTartanArmy on

        That is an important distinction to make (would Ireland/France/England/Wales cap X or Y)? I think you can use that as a yardstick for all our players. Sometimes we get carried away by bits and pieces of quality or positives in certain players games but objectively we need to consider their shortcomings (the exception being Laidlaw where this happens a lot)! It’s all well and good listing 9 back-row players of an equal quality (solid/decent) – I’d rather only 5 – but World Class. I dare say the same can be applied at Centre. We all love Dunbar and are excited by Jones and love how Bennett and Taylor have come on as players. You add in Scott, Horne etc and suddenly we are embarrassed by our riches in this department. However, in all honesty, how many of those would get in, say, the Irish side and how many wouldn’t even make the squad? I don’t know, but I just think that we lose objectivity in this and sometimes we look for a glut of players rather than true gamechangers. Quantity (whilst important) is not the same as genuine quality.

      • Cameron on

        I honestly think our complement of centre’s is up there with the best of the other nations. No BOD is gone, you can throw a blanket 0ver the rest,

        At the very least, we aren’t going to be embarrassed there and each of them is capable of breaking the game open.

        Back to the back row, I think FF has it pretty squarely there. We’ve not had a wrecking ball 8 for a while. It would be good if we found a guy that consistently turns up to play.

  16. pragmatic optomist on

    I agree with your assessment of most of the players Cameron.
    I saw Johnny Beattie field a ball behind his own goal line playing for Montpellier, and send a kick spiralling past the half way line. A conundrum of a player. Maybe he’ll write a book and let us know what really happened.
    Think you’re a bit harsh on Strauss, who hasn’t been given much game time to prove himself, mostly through injury. Agree that his running style is a bit upright, but surely ‘coach-able’ even at his age. I also look forward to seeing CPD playing for Scotland, but he probably should have started a game in the AI’s, rather than wait until 6N.
    As for Bradbury, I agree that he might be a blind side at international level rather than an 8, but then we don’t really have a true wrecking ball type no8, like Picamoles or Vunipola.
    Maybe we never will and need to stick to our strengths.

  17. john martin on

    Harley is a solid option, he’ll clear the rucks, be handy in the line-out, make a physical nuisance of himself but he is slow (of foot & of hand), I’ve always thought (given our back row options) he’d be better @ lock.

    I’d like to see us taking quick tap penalties today, keep away from the big Georgian scrum & run the legs off them.

    Denton is our wrecking ball but fitness is a concern, DD was a colossus @ the RWC & whilst we can’t blame him for joining Bath was it the right move (maybe Blackadder will “sort” him).

    All things being equal I’d say Denton Hardie Du Preez is our best back row.

  18. Peter McWhirter on

    Harley is a good option but I can’t help but feel that he should really have been.blooded properly in 2013/14 which would have made him 23/24 instead of 26 where there are younger competitors coming into the squad, having said that he could be the best out and out 6 that we have, we also have to sort out the issue of the front row and players “just clinging on” surely the likes of Moray Low and Gordon Reid have had their day and should be just playing club rugby by now.

  19. Frazer on

    Everyone has their favourite players and those that they don’t have much of, for want of a better expression, a connection with, and for me Harley is one of those.

    He’s certainly steady enough and nobody can doubt his commitment, but to my mind he’s just not International quality, and of all the back row options we have I would put him at the back of the queue.

    If we had a fully fit bunch to choose from I would go for Barclay, Hardie/Watson, Denton, but would be happy to have a second choice of Wilson, Watson/Hardie, Bradbury. Even then there is still CdP, Strauss, and Ashe to consider, and even James Ritchie for the future.

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