Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Why Matt is a must for Vern’s Six Nations squad

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

As Vern Cotter prepares to announce his final Scotland squad for the Six Nations, one man who has surely played his way back in from the cold is Matt Scott.

The centre left Edinburgh Rugby after five years to join ex-club colleague Greig Laidlaw at Kingsholm, and has flourished for the Cherry and Whites this season, scoring 11 tries in all competitions.

His latest pair, which helped David Humphreys’ side to a big win against Worcester Warriors on Saturday, are evidence that Scott’s game is evolving and improving under the pressures of the Aviva Premiership.

The 26-year-old’s second try was a 60m run-in after he gathered a loose ball – but think back to Scott’s fifth Test cap against the All Blacks in November 2012, and it was a very different story.

Scott intercepted a pass from Dan Carter, but with 50m to go and the line at his mercy, was forced to find then club colleague Tim Visser, who finished the move off.

Matt Scott – photo © Alastair Ross

Fine margins make huge differences in international rugby, and that is one example of where Scott has developed his game over the last six months with a little extra pace. Another, is the number on his back.

Found almost exclusively in the 12 shirt during five years at Edinburgh, Scott has shifted out one at Kingsholm to fit into the Gloucester midfield alongside Billy Twelvetrees.

He now possesses a more all-round game as a result, and his versatility could prove useful for Cotter during the Six Nations.

With Huw Jones likely to come into the tournament rusty after his off-season, Duncan Taylor only managing a few minutes off the bench for Saracens on his injury recovery (before going off again), and Peter Horne still on the injured list, the door is surely now open for Scott to return. If Jones does make the cut, ironically Scott may find himself shunted back in to 12 to accommodate.

The former Currie centre was reportedly “gutted” after he missed out in the Autumn, but his eye-catching form is sure to see him return for Vern’s final Six Nations in charge when Cotter announces the squad soon.

A starting place is no certainty though; with Alex Dunbar, Jones and Mark Bennett all still in the mix, Scott faces stiff competition if he is to return to the Scotland team.



56 Responses

  1. Cotter rushed him back from injury too soon a couple of years ago that resulted in a hellish performance against Wales which he never really seemed to recover from. The move to Gloucester seems to have been the shot in the arm he needed and it’s great to see him going so well.

    Having said that, I guess we need to look at the whole package, scoring tries for fun is a huge plus, but how many of them have been simple run ins? has he created for others? whats his defensive work rate like? how many tackles made/missed? how many turnovers won? etc…..I’ve not seen much of Gloucester play, but from what I’ve read, he seems to be a bit of a fans favourite down there, so that has to be worth something. Def think he should be part of squad so Cotter can have a closer look at different partnerships, although suspect any experiments may be left to Toonie during the Summer tour.

    1. I’ll not admit to having seen lots of Gloucester either but he has been impressive when I have seen them. Upped his defensive game and seems to be quite comfortable at 13 – whether he gets game-time is a different story, but deserves recall.
      A prime example of where ‘A’ team fixtures would come in handy!!

    2. I regularly watch and keep up to date with the Aviva Premiership highlights and to be fair he hasn’t created a lot of the tries that he’s scored but is always running the support line to finish off or keep the move going. One of Pete Hornes greatest attributes is his support running so think of that awareness but with Scott’s added bulk he’s a dangerous proposition within the opponents 22

  2. Still not convinced by him defensively, watched the Wasps v Gloucester game over Christmas and Scott was badly at fault for one of the Wasps tries, gave me memories of his last performance in a Scotland jersey when he was too easily stepped. I also think that whilst he is certainly making the most of his chances he is benefitting from defences being utterly terrified by the pace of May & Sharples on the wings for Gloucester thus affording him a bit more room in the 13 channel than he would receive against international class teams.

    Having said all of this, assuming Super Dunc is out of the running initially then I would have absolutely no problems with Scott being included in the training squad along with Dunbar, Jones and Bennett although I think he will be hard pushed to make it into the first XV he may well sneak a bench spot if we go with Jackson (could cover 15 allowing more flexibility for the back 3) as cover for Finn with Dunbar-Jones starting, assuming Bennett does not explode into life vs Munster.

    What we would have given to have someone like Scott on this form in the past decade or so though…. unfortunate timing for him!

  3. With Horne injured and all but Dunbar being outside centers, then it would be sensible to bring him back. Was prone to the a rush of blood to the head defensively in a Scotland shirt, has this been improved by Gloucester?

    1. This is a key point -although we have a plethora of good centres now, Dunbar is really the only out-and-out 12 we have. That Scott can also play 12 more than competently would elevate him from wider squad place to match-day squad for me in the same way that Taylor covering wing also makes him a more value match-day squad member.

      In reference to the talk of his defensive frailties – the center channel accentuates any little mistakes more than most positions; I don’t think any of our centres are particularly defensively suspect. I feel he is more competent than both Bennett and Horne in defence though, although it is marginal.

  4. B
    Has to make the squad at the very least. Hopefully we won’t see any bad injuries in the next few weeks, in which case we should be looking at our strongest back line depth since 5 became 6. Not sure about midfield, as we have 4 excellent options fit in Dunbar, Bennett, Scott and Jones. I’ll leave it to Vern to decide who impresses in training. Whichever 2 don’t make it are on the bench along with Price. Starting: 9 Laidlaw; 10 Russell; 11 Maitland, 14 Seymour, 15 Hogg. Russell covered by Hogg/ Laidlaw. 15 covered by Maitland/ Seymour. Reckon any of the centres could cover wing in a fix.

    1. Playing wing is definitely not a centre job. Just look at what happened to Elliot Daly when Eddie Jones put him on the wing against Argentina! This is especially true for Matt as he’s moved from inside to outside centre.
      I’d expect BVC to start against Ireland with Dunbar and Bennett with Jones OR Scott on the bench with Tim Visser covering wing. That said, it’s a gamble not to have a fly-half on the bench. Unlike many on this site, I quite like the little barrel of fun that is Duncan Weir. I’d trust him to close out a game better than Russell (on the rare occasions we are in the lead in the closing stages of a test match!).

      1. Weir is an interception waiting to happen; that huget try still gives me shivers! I like the guy at club level, but he just isn’t good enough at operating a backline to be a viable international option for me. I would absolutely love for him to prove me wrong though!

      2. Agree, though Taylor and Jones can both cover it well I reckon. Saying that, am also happy with Visser.

        I also like Duncy, but just don’t feel he fits the style we’re playing. May well be made to eat my words when he closes out a nail-biter in the 6N.

  5. Right now my centre partnership for Ireland would be 12 Dunbar 13 Scott. The former is one of their first names on the team sheet imo and the latter is in the form of his life. As mentioned in the article, I expect Jones to be rusty after a SH off-season.

    Also, whilst on the topic of Jones,there are rumours about that another of his Stormers teammates, Ollie Kebble, is coming to Glasgow next year. Young prop, originally wanted by Munster. Might explain why Puafisi isn’t staying

  6. Fair play to Scott for getting out of his comfort zone and developing as a player by moving to a new club. A few more underperforming Edinburgh players, currently in the doldrums, would do well to learn from Matt and challenge themselves by moving south.

  7. Matt Scott has certainly stepped up! Like other have said, it’s unfortunate timing for him as all of a sudden it has become our strongest position. He should get in the squad but if Huw Jones is fit he will certainly start.

    Just putting it out there…Huw Jones to be 6 nations player of the year and will tour with the British Lions. He is going to bring the same attacking threat as Hogg to the tournament and is going to blow all the pundits away. He could well be the final piece of the puzzle to bring us back into grand-slam territory. Is my head in the clouds?! Surely!

    1. It depends how match sharp he is but agree if he’s fit, Jones is the first centre picked. Cotter wants X factor players who can play heads up, and with Russell, Jones, Hogg and Seymour you need a defensive rock as your other centre so Dunbar may get the nod in the absence of Taylor.

    2. I think it is a bit, Jimmy! If Rugby Union only consisted of centres, we’d be nailed on for the 17 Grand Slam – Dunbar, Bennett, Jones, Taylor and Scott to name but five.
      I’ve been surfing a few sites, for instance the BBC’s Have Your Say on Chris Robshaw’s injury, and it’s astonishing how the majority of contributors complacently assume the whole tournament is about Ireland v England on the last weekend. They have a reasonable point on current form, of course, but I am so hoping we chuck a massive spanner into their works on 4 Feb at Murrayfield.
      This is the best Scotland squad for 18 years, and I hope our boys do themselves justice this 6N.

  8. Is Jones still injured? It was touch and go if he’d make the 6 Nations but I’ve heard nothing since.

      1. I follow him on Instagram, he’s just posted a story of him doing some Ankle exercises..make of that what you will!!!! Doesn’t look too promising though…

  9. I don’t mean to ‘piss on your chips’, but there are unreasonably high expectations of Huw Jones after only 3 caps.
    The first few caps are supposed to be easier than those following, as the other teams do their homework on the players and work out tactics to stop them.
    He’s had a promising start, but so did all the other centres we have currently.
    Matt Scott has always been a good player, but unfortunately rushes out of the line too often, leaving his other defenders exposed. If he can control this bad habit he’s easily good enough going forward.

    1. Agreed P.O probably getting carried away, but he has been absoloutely lighting it up in S.A. His step is class and his hands are great. I know highlight reels can at times flatter players, but definitely check his cuts on youtube. Seriously impressive stuff!

  10. Rory @357pm nails it, considering everyone fit the backs v Ireland will be
    15.Hogg, 14.Maitland, 13.Jones, 12.Dunbar, 11.Seymour, 10.Russell, 9.Laidlaw (I’d personally have Price @ 9) replacements – Taylor, Price & AN Other.

  11. Any chance of a ‘Why John Welsh is a must’? Could bring a little more chip and chase magic to the side.

  12. It gives a warming glow just to be able to read an article like this and know that it’s an accurate analysis of the strength of the Scottish midfield. Whatever way you look at it perming the best pairing from Dunbar, Bennett, Taylor, Jones, Scott and Horne is a wonderful conundrum for any national coach, never mind a Scottish one.

    Obviously they are not all fit, but at least now we are in a position where an injury to one or even two of these players is not a death knell for any creative rugby as it might have been in the early 2000s.

    Also, talented as these guys are, there is some serious opposition available to other 6N sides – the likes of Slade, Joseph, Te’o, Williams, Roberts, Henshaw and others are fine players and superb athletes, who pop up so regularly in the modern game.

    Still, at least this year we have players worthy of inclusion in any conversation about who poses the biggest attacking threat in the championship.

  13. Dunbar is my first pick due to his outstanding defence and ruck work, he is like an additional back rower in some aspects. Like others I can’t claim to have seen him playing recently but IMO Scott is his equal when we have the ball, but has his defence improved enough, he can be a liability.

    Totally agree with pragmatic optomist, Jones has still to prove himself IMO, yes he was brilliant in the AIs but we have seen it all before, but I do think he is the real deal and hope he proves everyone right. Taylor was in good form last year, however he is yet to be proven fit, he was pretty anonymous anytime before last year, balls in his court as it were. Bennett I still think is not quite at his best, he is getting there though and I thought he had a good game on Saturday.

    I would like to take them all in the squad but is there room?

    1. Dunbar seems to have developed the annoying habit of not giving a scoring pass and being stopped before the line, as exemplified against Cardiff. He’s a nailed on starter but hope Murchie made the point after the game that he should have been given a walk in rather than clear out a ruck and power over himself like a boss.

      1. Indeed, I hope he got a lambasting for that, could have quite easily been the butchering of the bonus point.

      2. I thought it was a poor decision but I looking at it on catch up and subsequently changed my mind.

        He needed to make that decision early as the defence drifted in between, so I think it was more of a 50/50 than a selfish call.

        I think in a split second he chose the risk to go solo over the risk of a pass not getting received. Maybe I am wrong and a quality Centre should have followed instinct rather than what he could see at pitch level (which means he is still lacking game time). He certainly made Murchie look like an important man.

  14. The talent pool available in the centre does make you wonder how Ritchie Vernon feels about the ‘SRU advice’ he got re making a change of position from the backrow…….

    1. Well he appeared in a pro-12 final a RWC at centre so probably quite happy. Would he be any closer to a starting berth in the backrow. I think history shows us no as he’s already lost his place in the squad following the RWC11

  15. I remember being hugely excited by the Dunbar-Scott pairing when the first featured together (I think) against South Africa a few years back. They have rarely played together since (that I can recall). This would be wildly lamented were it not for the rise of Bennett, Taylor, Horne and Jones. Changed times indeed. I think it was only three or four years ago..

  16. The point of this post is promoting Scott and there is no question that he on form and surrounded by very capable colleagues.

    Most of these posts are talking about attacking play , how about defence ? Maybe we should try and rank them by defence ?

    The conclusion is that there is too many Centres to chose from and I cannot conclude who should get the game. It may be that VC needs to pick horses for courses ?

    On that basis I wonder how the other nations are viewing our stars and what their SWOT analysis looks like?

    We have been talking about the strengths for weeks now, no need to labour that again, however what might neutralise our strengths?

    Where are the weaknessess ? How will Ireland be seeing us ? (The rest will hope Ireland can do some damage and by the time we get to them we are strategically wounded)

    For me the opportunities lie in finding replacements at 10, 15 . Where will we find replacements that can play to their game !

    We are wedded for all the right reasons to this illusive pairing. I suggest they are irreplacable and subsitutes bring a sense of adequacy at best in comparisson. So what will happen if they get injured and historically this is what has heppened whenever Scotland manage to get 15 balanced individuals on the pitch.

    The risk must be the laidlaw Russell linkage and is it robust enough to set them loose?

    I dont know the answers but all ears !!!

    1. Bulldog you do know that SWOT analyses these days are known as “Serious Waste Of Time” unless you are part of the McKinsey school bus cabal ;)

      I do though agree with your sentiment. We should be looking at how our competitors perceive our threats and weaknesses as well as simply discussing the finer aspects of our own talents.

      I recently read an excellent piece by Gordon D’Arcy in the Irish Times on the Henshaw-Ringrose partnership and I would agree with his statement that this has the makings of a seriously dangerous 12 & 13 for Ireland of which I would not be overly confident in Scott’s ability to defend against for 80mins, Dunbar though is a different beast and is why he is surely one of the first names on the team sheet if fit (Nel, Gray, Laidlaw, Russell, Hogg the others). Indeed if Taylor was fit I would not be surprised if BVC goes for a defence first option of Taylor-Dunbar in the centres to counteract the Irish threat, rotating the selection dependent on the opposition much like he has done with the back-row in the recent past.

      The big issue for ourselves in my eyes is Laidlaw, Russell and Hogg as you also point out. I don’t see any viable replacement for Russell or Hogg whilst Laidlaw, much lamented as he is, still provides our only world class kicking option.

      If he and one or I shudder to think, both Russell and Hogg, get knocked out a game we will be in serious problems for game management and goal kicking.

      Do any Warriors fans have any input on Russell’s current form from the tee? Improving or still hit and miss?

      1. He is improving but I still wouldn’t want him to be Scotland’s primary kicker. Laidlaw is therefore in by default.

      2. Thanks Gordon , I didnt know that but feel sure there is nothing new under the sun….

        Whatever we call it , we need to really get into BVC shoes to work out who will make it.

        Is it not ironic ,that us scots are talking up our strengths, it is so not scottish to be this positive.

        That in itself is a ‘Paradigm shift’ (last reinvented and served up in return for your hard earned bawbees by Stephen Covey), unless you know different ? :)

    2. I’d imagine the Irish gameplan will include pressurising the Laidlaw-Russell link so the former is forced into inaccurate passes and the latter is rushed into mistakes and trying to force his game. It will be interesting to see if Cotter’s pragmatic philosophy of the scrum half dictating play, similar to the French scrum halves of old (Fouroux, Berbizier) will be supplanted this 6N by Townsend’s more adventurous policy of the play being dictated by the fly half (what might be called the Welsh style).
      The best Scottish half-back partnerships (in my time Laidlaw-Rutherford; Armstrong-Chalmers) have been more than the sum of their parts, based on familiarity through regular playing together from a young age, and willingness to change the focus within the partnership based on conditions and the opponents they were playing. I don’t get the sense that Laidlaw and Russell have ever really gelled as a partnership and agree with others that Price would be a better match for Russell given that they play together at club level and Price’s service would give Finn a better platform to display his undoubted skills. Personally I don’t think that Russell is in full control of his skills and can reign them in at present to meet the needs of the team. He seems to want to win the game himself at times and is therefore vulnerable, rather than choosing the critical situations within a game when to exercise them. I would assess him currently as a player with high individual skills but who is lacking in overall game management.

      An adequate replacement for Nel was identified in the autumn internationals. There is no-one for fly half (Weir may be loved by many on this blog but is not international quality, and has a different skill set) so I would expect Irish backrow runners hammering down the No.10 channel from the start. Russell is game enough to tackle them but at what physical cost.

      1. I think you’re right that Russell sometimes struggles to reign in his natural exuberance when a bit of game management is required. Whih is exactly why Laidlaw at 9 runs the show. Price is undoubtedly a huge talent but doesn’t do that yet. In terms of established partnerships I’d bet Russell has played alongside Laidlaw more often than price too.

      2. HB : I would agree on the Laidlaw – Russell partnership, it is a bit clunky.

        Armstrong is a good example of right, he used to mop up a load of poor forward ball. It was a different game however same principal.

        We need a scrumhalf who can give quick , clean ball or no ball at all. Russell, is at his best , when he plays it fast and loose. Absolutely no hospital passess for obvious reasons.

        The Scrum Halfs options are :

        1) Back to the pack,
        2) Kick (lord help us)
        or 3) Run it himself.

        These blogs are full of Laidlaw bashing so I am not going there,

        In conclusion Laidlaw is there for experience, leadership and place kicking, Pyrgos has more international experience than Ali Price, I suspect Cotter will want to see more before he takes a punt against Ireland.

      3. Anyone name one Scotland game where Russell has failed to reign in his natural exuberance?

        It’s always been Laidlaw managing the game.

        For example, trying on too much against Cardiff at home in the first half; but not doing the same against Australia in test matches seems like a pretty calculated gamble to me.

      4. @NRS : Not sure i understand what your point is , Laidlaw has flaws but is there for his experience and leadership.

        He does not stand out in any one aspect but is adequate. Together with his experience and metronomic kicking from tee is the best package we have right now. FR does need quick ball to set the line on fire IMO so the forwards need to give Laidlaw clean ball.

        FR has not always been exuberent or the match winner.15th Feb 2015 Sco v Wal , was carded and we lost 10 points. In 72nd minute we got a penalty in their half and he under cooked the touch find, they caught and came back at us. We finally scored in the 79th minute there was no time left to draw or win the game. Scotland 23 ; wales 26.

      5. I think the point is that with Laidlaw next to him Russell may make fewer rash choices which get punished at test level.

        I think FR is a superb player but I don’t want to see him try ot chip his opposite number on his own 5m line for Scotland as he did against Edinburgh recently. That was a bad decision (I still think he is a superb player who can be the best Scottish FH since I’ve been watching rugby – roughly 1990).

    3. The fragility of our game depending on Russell and Hogg is apparent to all. I’m not saying Ireland will target those two to injure them but they’ll certainly try to neutralise them. We have to have more options than just the 9-10 axis. Both Seymour and Maitland have to be hungry for work off either Laidlaw or Russell. Our forwards have to work harder to get into position early to be a runner/carrier/decoy. It’s not rocket science but Laidlaw’s game management and Russell’s ability to spot a gap or mis-match is quite a formidable combination.
      Eventually I see Price-Russell starting and Laidlaw-Weir closing the game out but not until after the 6N, and only subject to injuries and form. Against tough opponents and in dire weather I’d probably swap those pairings so Laidlaw and Weir can keep us in the mix and when the oppo is tiring bring on the attacking flair. Maybe I’ve been drinking too much of my namesake.

      1. By the same token, Ireland rely heavily on their 9/10 axis and we should be looking to disrupt that (legitimately of course). Murray often gets an armchair ride and we need to apply real pressure there – he is also prone to losing his judgment and temper under severe pressure. Price rather than Laidlaw is more able to apply that pressure, but as I said earlier in this thread I just can’t see Vern not starting with Laidlaw.
        As for Chunky, well for me the game was up for him in Dublin last year, when he was selected to do a specific job that in the event he showed he couldn’t do at Test level. Hate to have to say it because he’s a good soldier, but he shouldn’t be figuring in Scotland selection any more except in an emergency.

      2. I guess we’ll see if Price can put Murray under pressure on Saturday. He’s hoping he can put one over him.

      3. It’s horses for courses, what kind of game do you want to play? Do you want to manage the game carefully or do you want flair and off the cuff style play. Personally I favour the latter, it works for Glasgow and the former has not worked for Scotland in the past. I also Don’t think Laidlaw / Russell has ever really clicked, because Russell stands so flat he needs fast service to have sufficient time to work his magic. You get a lot of things with Laidlaw but fast service is not one of them.

        Ireland will be tough opponents as always but there’s nothing to fear, our guys play against their guys regularly in the Pro12 and do well enough.

  17. John Mc re Weir exactly my feelings on him, has nothing at international level, & the Ireland game was the last straw,
    Funny the SRU let him move to Edinburgh (Cotter must have told them he’ll not be near a squad again).
    Furthermore whoever Edinburgh play @ 10 its unlikely they can be any worse than they are presently.
    The more I think about it the more positive I am that Price should start V Ireland

    1. Price, presuming he starts ahead of Pyrgos, can put down a marker with significant performances against Munster and Leicester, particularly if Murray and Youngs play.
      Laidlaw will start v Ireland but it will be because of his goal-kicking and leadership.
      Next year, with Townsend as coach I envisage change with the team being adjusted in advance of the 2019 world cup.

      1. Amongst a few other things, Saturday offers a big chance for Price and the Glasgow back row to make Murray’s life a misery, and in doing so undermine his and Ireland’s confidence in the run up to 4 Feb.

  18. didnt hogg get 100% of kicks when he played 10 against treviso ? could be another safe international kicker instead of laidlaw if price was to start, would allow russell to continue focusing on game also.

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