Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Lions or Lambs pt I: Scotland’s Backs

Tommy Seymour - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography
Tommy Seymour - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography

There are just 8 international matches left for Scotland’s finest to impress ahead of the British and Irish Lions’ tour to New Zealand – and the first batch of 3, in the shape of the Autumn Tests, are almost upon us. In the first of two articles, Kevin Millar takes a look at how the Scottish players can make an impact in the mind of those all important Lions’ selectors.

Full back – Stuart Hogg

Rivals include:
Mike Brown (Eng), Dave Kearney (Ire), Liam Williams (Wal), Leigh Halfpenny (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
More consistency under the high ball. Beyond that Hoggy just needs to keep doing what he does so well – terrifying the opposition when he gets the ball in his hands. His cover defence has improved immeasurably since the last Lions’ tour so if he can be solid when receiving kicks there won’t be many advantages his competition can hold over him. Oh and he should definitely make sure he’s not dropping the ball in the act of scoring…

Chances of travelling?
In the departure lounge.

Wing – Tommy Seymour

Rivals include:
Anthony Watson (Eng), Tommy Bowe (Ire), Hallam Amos (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
You Shall Not Pass, Gandalf style defence. His seven try burst to start the season has definitely caught the eye but if he wants to tour he’ll need to show his positioning and tackling is up to the task – there will be no hiding place against an All Blacks side that will be isolating Savea/Naholo/Dagg for a one-on-one with their opposite man on a regular basis.

Chances of travelling?
Should keep his passport handy.

Outside centre – Mark Bennett

Rivals include:
Jonathan Joseph (Eng), Jared Payne (Ire), Jonathan Davies (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
To reclaim the number 13 jersey for Scotland for starters. Beyond that he’s another, like Tommy Seymour, who needs to prove he can defend at the same sort of level as his extravagant attacking talents – memories of the Scottish midfield being ripped to shreds by Samoa in Newcastle will still be lingering.

Chances of travelling?
Keeping an eye on other players’ injury status.

Inside centre – Alex Dunbar

Rivals include:
Owen Farrell (Eng), Robbie Henshaw (Ire), Scott Williams (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
Consistent rugby under his belt. Eck has a great mix of skills for a 12 – he can run over people if necessary but he also has the footwork and (for the most part) the handling to vary his game. Having the flexibility and sufficient pace to defend at 13 will also stand in his favour. If he can show he is 100% fit and back to his best he surely won’t be far away from the selectors’ thoughts.

Chances of travelling?
Should keep his passport handy.

Wing – Sean Maitland

Rivals include:
Jack Nowell (Eng), Simon Zebo (Ire), George North (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
Tries. And a demonstration that he has the confidence to back himself 9 times out of 10. Sleepy Sean’s move to Saracens has definitely helped him rediscover some of his mojo after an essentially wasted season with London Irish. He has an almost preternatural instinct for positioning and is Scotland’s best under the high ball which could help him find favour with Warren Gatland. He’s also got Series Winning Lions Tourist on his CV, which helps.

Chances of travelling?
Should keep his passport handy.

Stand off – Finn Russell

Rivals include:
Owen Farrell (Eng), Jonny Sexton (Ire), Dan Biggar (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
To take charge. It’s a case of wresting some control of the Scotland backline away from “The Comfort Blanket”, Greig Laidlaw. The national side have been far too reliant on wee Greig and the Gallus One needs to be vocal and boss the back line – he has to show he can make the right decisions consistently if he is to have any chance of threatening selection in a congested position.

Chances of travelling?
Keeping an eye on other players’ injury status.

Scrum half – Greig Laidlaw

Rivals include:
Ben Youngs (Eng), Conor Murray (Ire), Rhys Webb (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
To continue being the “The Comfort Blanket”. It might not be the best for Scotland, potentially hampering their long-term development, but Greig continuing to be the main man at 9 / goal kicking / decision making / skippering and the rest of the team playing better when he’s on the pitch might persuade the Lions’ selectors that he could be influential Down Under.

Chances of travelling?
Should keep his passport handy.

Dark horse – Huw Jones

Huw looks like he as all the potential to be the next big thing for Scottish rugby. The Stormers’ midfielder has great feet, pace, distribution skills and knows his way to the try line. He doesn’t lack for power – but he may be slightly undersized for a Warren Gatland style centre. With his contract in South Africa coming to an end he has a big decision to make: to come North for a season that will tie in better with the Six Nations and increase his visibility for Lions’ selection. Or stick with Super Rugby and hope the quality of that competition stands him in good stead to be in contention for the tour to New Zealand.

Next up on Friday, I’ll take a look at Scotland’s forwards.

24 Responses

    1. There was a method to my madness in the midfield (honest!) I was looking at Bennett as a different type of centre, possibly the one who can offer a similar skillset to Jonathan Joseph to challenge the ABs in a different way. So he (and possibly Huw Jones) could be competing for that sort of role – of course those types of players will need to convince Gatland to move away from his obsession with picking the biggest men he can find!

      My comments for Dunbar would stand almost verbatim for Taylor who finds himself in a similar situation but further behind in terms of coming back from injury. Personal opinion I would have Dunbar at 100% slightly ahead of Taylor at 100%.

  1. Assume it should be Rob Kearney at fullback ? Also strong views here in England that only Eddie Jones thinks Brown is better than Alex Goode.
    Good read though. There is unfortunately but inevitably a real contest for every spot. If it goes the SCW “dirttrackers from day 1” route then Laidlaw could well captain them.

  2. Will be surprised if Gatland doesn’t play Liam Williams as a wing which hinders Tommy and Maitland chances.

    Gatland doesn’t like us so they’ll all need to play like Hoggy just to get a sniff. Roberts Davies centre pairing sure to be his fav zzzzzzzzz.

  3. With Gatland being the Lion’s coach then I’m afraid, barring Scotland winning at least 5 of the next 8 tests, that our nation will be under-represented against the All Blacks.

    Despite Hoggy being the best full back in the NH over the past 2 seasons and Halfpenny being injured for a long time Gatland will without a doubt start the Welshman at 15, although surely he couldn’t be so myopic to exclude Hogg from the touring party.

    The starting centres will more than likely be two from Davies, Henshaw, Farrell and Joseph – probably Henshaw and Joseph as Farrell would only be in for his kicking duties but as Gatland will play Halfpenny then he is surplus to requirements. I personally think that Dunbar is (when fully fit) the best IC option but I fear that none of the excellent Scottish centres will tour.

    Guess who Gatland will start with on the wing! North and A.N. Other! He seems to like Maitland so he may tour again, Seymour should be a shoo-in for the other starting wing and will probably tour, but I expect Watson or Nowell will get the nod.

    Half backs – Laidlaw will tour, may even be in with a shot, but will be behind Webb and Murray. Russell will most likely not tour and even as a rabid Scotland supporter I couldn’t make a case for his inclusion.

    My favoured Lions backline would be Hogg, North, Joseph, Dunbar, Seymour, Biggar, Murray. Gatland will play Halfpenny, North, Joseph, Henshaw, Nowell, Biggar, Webb – not that I’m accusing him of being biased at all!!

  4. I personally feel that the backs should be

    9- Murray, 10- Farrell, 11-Nowell, 12- Dunbar, 13- Bennett, 14- Seymour, 15- Hogg

    Reason why: Murray is is a class act, Farrell can kick and control the game very well, Dunbar defo, Bennett because Joseph cant defend, Nowell I feel is underrated, Seymour is pure class and Hogg is Hogg

    1. Neither Dunbar nor Bennett are on particularly good form. Also, Bennett’s defence didn’t look so hot against Samoa in the RWC.

  5. I’m more than happy for him to take his pick of “his own”, our guys play rugby not Warrenball and I don’t want them picking up any bad habits, Dunbar could start thinking he’s Andy Henderson or something hideous!

  6. The fact is England are unbeaten in 9 tests and beat Australia 3-0 in an away series. Ireland have beaten SA and NZ in the previous 12 months. They will provide the bulk of the Lions tour party unless the 6N radically upsets the form of the last year.

    Given Gatland is the coach of Wales and we haven’t finished above them in the 6N in donkeys years, it is a safe bet that our representation on tour will be minimal.

    Probable: Hogg, Nel
    Possible: Laidlaw, Seymour, Maitland, Taylor, Dunbar, Bennett, J. Gray, Dickinson, Hardie.

    I’d guess we’ll get three tourists and none will start the first test unless injury intervenes. To get any more we need a passable showing in the AIs and to have a storming 6N.

    1. I still don’t get the sense they’d trust us even if we won a Grand Slam next year. The argument being that the Lions needs a core of proven test winners. It would have to be a very big flash in the pan!

      1. It is kind of a moot point whilst we still get beaten every spring by our Lions rivals. Everyone complains about Gatland but do you really doubt he’d sell his granny for a Lions series victory in NZ?

      2. Look at it realistically in the backs, neither Laidlaw or Russell merits a call up. In all probability Gatland will look to play Farrell at 12 (gives him 2 kicking options alongside Sexton, Biggar or Ford at 10), 13 is pretty much up for grabs, no-one stands out right now. Back three we might hope to get some recognition (if I am right about 12, hard to see Halfpenny get a call, doesn’t offer much outside his boot and that was awful on Saturday), probably Hogg if he maintains form and possibly Seymour. Up front, right now, it is hard to see anyone other than Grey (J) and Nel. Think four is the max. If GT goes as backs coach, outside chance of one of the centres, otherwise not.

      3. Whilst I think Gray is a fantastic player it must be the most hotly contested position: Itoje, Kruis, Launchbury, Lawes, Charteris, AWJ, Henderson, Dillane, Toner are all viable candidates. Have I missed anyone?

  7. Lots of other candidates to look at, Ben Te’o in the centre for example. We know which of our guys could add something to the Lions but if Scotland aren’t winning games against top opposition then none of them are going to be going. Anyone who wants to be on the plane to NZ needs to show it on Saturday. Australia looked better against Wales than they did in the World Cup, are we better than that day and can we keep our heads and get a result?!

  8. Hogg, Seymour, Nel, must be close to being certainties.

    Fraser Brown, J.Gray, Dunbar, Dickinson, Maitland must be in with a chance but must must play well in the AI / 2017 6N.

    Indeed a fully fit Dunbar starts for me @ 12.

  9. Some of Saturday’s team can put down a marker on Saturday by beating Australia. Being an international player will not be enough to get selection for a Lions tour to NZ, the ultimate challenge in rugby football. The selectors will be looking to those with experience or serial winning and the ability to influence test matches. Players with this CV have been sadly lacking from Scottish teams for many years, hence the derisory contribution to recent tours.
    I agree with FF. At present only Hogg and Nel, subject to form and fitness over the intervening period, would be probables for selection. Results against Australia and the other home nations in the Six Nations will dictate how many others join the party. Of note is that other teams have more challenging matches over the next month in which players can demonstrate their skills and fitness at test level. A rousing win against Georgia is not of the same order of magnitude. On the basis of last weekend in Cardiff a number of Welsh players have serious ground to make up.
    It would be good to revisit this topic post the Autumn internationals.

  10. Need at least three or four wins in the six nations including a scalp away and then GT to tour as coach. Otherwise it will be the usual 2 or 3 only – Hogg, Nel, Gray

    Regardless of what happens in the Autumn tests, which are hopefully about a Pyrgos / Russell half back combo and getting the most out a depleted front row including new hooker.

  11. Only back that will make the initial squad is Hogg. There are other options that are either playing better in all other positions or are part of combinations that Gatland will look to utilise.

    In terms of backs – and considering the style that I think Gatland will play, and injury pre-tour form are:
    Murray, Davies (moving ahead of Webb imo) & Wigglesworth (I think he offers a better alternative than Youngs/Care to the other 2)
    Farrell, Sexton, Biggar
    Henshaw, Roberts, Joseph, Tuliagi
    Watson, North, May, Williams, Abendanon*
    Hogg & Halfpenny (Because he, Williams, and Abendanon also play wing, I think he gets in front of Kearney – but after last week he might end up the starting xv !)

    *(if he can travel- if not R Kearney comes in)

    Seymour & Russell are first reserves, but really on form none of our centres – though deep in terms of talent are ahead of the above plus J Davies and potentially also Barritt, Ringrose & Te’o.

    For wing, again the likes of Wade, Nowell, Zebo, Trimble, Ashton and Gilroy could also be in the mix with Visser and Maitland but there is enough choice to imagine that only Seymour tours

  12. Henshaw probably in front for the 12 jersey, in the Gatland mould and played out of his skin last weekend.

  13. I think there are quite a few Scotland players who should be in the squad. However, I also think that Gatland isn’t even willing to consider the majority of them. Especially now that Townsend has told him he would rather mow the lawn that summer.

    Will be the usual unsurprising Gatland selection. His selections are really just big physical guys who play to a predictable good level. I dont have that much interest in B&I lions… 6 nations and even AI’s are of more interest to me.

    The thing about B&I lions now is that it seems a out of touch with the current ability levels of northern and southern hemisphere sides. The gap used to be huge hence it would take a selection comprised with the best players from each home nations country to even compete with NZ & Aus……now however… there’s nothing in it… in fact Eng are arguably the top team at the mo.. 2.NZ 3. Ire. 4.Aus 5. Any of Scotland/Wales/France. On their day any team could win against the other. Fine margins at the moment. A combined team no longer required imo.

    In some ways Id prefer he didn’t pick any of the Scotland players so they dont pick up serious injuries…but many of them do deserve some recognition.

    Players who , imo, are definately good enough…at least for the squad..

    Nel, Dickinson, J. Gray, R, Gray, Hardie/Watson, Barclay, Russell, Jones, Taylor, Dunbar, Seymour, Hogg.

    1. All Blacks down to 2nd! That gave me a nice chuckle for a Monday afternoon.
      Fwiw, I agree about the lack of interest in the Lions. All having more Scottish players does it reaffirm that we’re moving in the right direction, but I’d quite happily not have a single player make the next 4 Lions squads if we could win one 6N in that time!

      1. On the other hand the Lions is an invaluable tool for teaching our players that they can actually compete with other Home Nations players and indeed the southern hemisphere’s best which should do wonders for their confidence. Unless they get mucked about like Mike Blair/Ryan Grant/Ross Ford/Euan Murray etc etc…

    2. Personally I think he will pick consistent performers and that limits many of the Scots.

      So lets consider Half backs Russell , Farrell, Sexton , Dan Biggar.

      Farrell kicks and can play centre, so we will be suffering him this summer , no question.

      Sexton kicks and is consistent (also good at boo hoo’ing) he is in.

      Which means Russell versus Dan Big diva , which would you chose ? That’s right , the consistent one not the maverick. (Oh and he is the first choice kicker for his country, offensive style as it is).

      With regret , we idolise a 4th choice and I do mean with regret, he suits our style, but with the choices, would you take a risk?

      Personally I would rather see our players get it right at club, then country, the lions is a bonus. I think a few have their eyes on the wrong priority right now, If it was a bottom up decision. I would pick only one of them, J Gray and he is likely to be unlucky due to captaincy selection. However , I can see competition there as well, depends how he is thinking. In my book J Gray is mentally the best choice, a players player.

      I think if he was to pick a token scot in the backs , it would be wildcard Huw Jones and that is about timing new , fresh and full of potential, a tour could really make him peak. Tommy Seymour might be unlucky as can find the line, great strike rate and plays for the team week in week out. I

      Hogg , back to that word consistent ? Would you ? really ? I hope he does, it would sicken me to see the immature Liam Williams get the nod.

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