Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland vs Ireland: The Teams

Vern Cotter’s last Six Nations begins with the squad to face Ireland and as usual it’s a case of gradual evolution rather than radical change.

With Toolis, Hardie, Hoyland and Cornell du Preez all named for Edinburgh against Munster tomorrow night, Hamish Watson and Allan Dell lead the Edinburgh contingent with cap centurion Ross Ford dropping to the bench for Fraser Brown. It’s probably the biggest call in the team, with Ford’s experience often valuable alongside the less-grizzled props. Having said that, it is a dynamic front row and could stay together for some time.

The back row contingent was always going to be the in form Wilson and Watson + AN other. To resume his acquaintance with Conor Murray Josh Strauss gets the nod, while John Barclay moves to the bench. It means that perhaps aside from Berghan (unproven) and Weir (not proven) the bench has a pretty useful look about it.

In the backs the only question really was who to pick at 13 outside Dunbar who has recovered enough form going forward to make him the defensive cornerstone. The answer for Cotter is Huw Jones, who must have been training well enough to get past both Mark Bennett and Matt Scott despite not playing since his last appearance at Murrayfield. He’ll get his first taste of Six Nations rugby on Saturday afternoon.

Laidlaw and Russell continue their partnership and the back three picks itself. A settled team, surely not?

Enthusiasm is building nicely – here we go again!

Scotland team to face Ireland at BT Murrayfield on Sat 4th Feb (1425pm GMT):

15. Stuart Hogg, 14. Tommy Seymour, 13. Huw Jones, 12. Alex Dunbar, 11. Sean Maitland, 10. Finn Russell, 9. Greig Laidlaw (capt); 1. Allan Dell, 2. Fraser Brown, 3. Zander Fagerson, 4. Richie Gray, 5. Jonny Gray, 6. Ryan Wilson, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Josh Strauss

Replacements: 16. Ross Ford, 17. Gordon Reid, 18. Simon Berghan, 19. Tim Swinson, 20. John Barclay, 21. Ali Price, 22. Duncan Weir, 23. Mark Bennett

The Ireland team is as strong as expected:

Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; P Jackson, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, T Furlong; I Henderson, D Toner; CJ Stander, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.

Replacements: N Scannell, C Healy, U Dillane, J Ryan, D Ryan, K Marmion, I Keatley, T Bowe.

Referee: Romain Poite (FFR)

60 Responses

  1. Good team that. Interestingly the big calls are both for guys the Munster Irish have beef with: Strauss and Brown!

    I think it’s a fair reflection: we’re a backup 10 and a couple of props short of fielding a pretty good team.

  2. Straight off at a tangent. How about this alternative 23 assuming everyone fit:

    Dickinson, McInally, Nel
    Gilchrist, Toolis
    Du Preez, Denton, Hardie
    Pyrgos, Horne,
    Scott, Taylor
    Visser, Kinghorn, Hoyland

    Allan, MacArthur, Welsh
    Harley, Bradbury
    Hildago Clyne, Jackson, Jones/Hughes

    You wouldn’t be that disappointed with this team, with one or two exceptions perhaps. Strength in depth at last.

    Can’t wait for Saturday.

    1. That backup team is better than any 1st xv we could put out from about 2004-2014.

      Things are only going to continue to get better as the newly-invested academy pumps out more players. The future is bright!

  3. That is a gigantic replacement front row. Hopefully that would give scrum dominance and give Ali Price an opportunity to use his pace.

    Strong team. Hopefully we don’t get bogged down into a cheating match by the Irish pack.

  4. Pretty pleased with the team, pleasant surprise to see Brown in over Ford.

    That said, no idea why Weir is on subs bench, the guy can’t cut it at this level, this has already been shown time after time. Hogg and Laidlaw can cover 10, and we can be sure that Ireland will target Finn for special treatment.

    If, as happened against France last year, Russell gets injured early then we will lose with Weir on in his place.

    1. However Weir can kick from the tea to an international standard which is the one thing Russell is not there yet. Which means we could bring Price on when there is time to make a diference. Laidlaw often plays 80 mins as he is the only kicker. So every cloud….

      Also though he is a club standard player at least Weir plays Stand off for his club. Hogg and Laidlaw do not. I dont think we want players out of position especially if Hogg is the only full back we have.

  5. Would feel a bit more confident if Brown had Nel and Dickinson either side of him with Dell/Fagerson coming off the bench, and if Jones was match-fit. Tough call for Barclay and Scott. But still a strong team with a strong-ish bench.

    1. Especially as the Irish front row look pretty decent at last. Its clear BVC has gone for mobility there but devil in the back row. Irelands backrow are some seriously hard men so I assume thats why its Wilson and Watson. There are a lot of ball carriers as well.

  6. It’s great to see us picking a team, against one of the best sides in the world, that is designed to go out and play our own game. Vern has picked a mobile pack and a set of backs that excel in broken play and heads-up rugby – I’m starting to feel the old optimism rise again…!

  7. This 23 looks pretty good to me. Disappointment for some very good players at not starting or even getting a bench slot. But that’s the obvious consequence of growing strength in depth in many, not all, positions. Barclay/Strauss must have been a tough starting call for Vern.
    I am so excited about this coming Saturday. It’s going to be a mighty challenge, but we are putting out a side with a really good chance of winning this Test – and I think Ireland know that too.

  8. Big chance for Brown to nail the 2 shirt. Line out is our most effective attacking set piece, Brown simply must throw well and make sure this is a real weapon for us. We know his play around the park is excellent but we need our set piece to hold up to get a toe hold in this game.

    The Irish will target our scrum, our best hope of parity is to minimise number scrums.

  9. That is a good looking team, and for a long time I’m quite optimistic about our chances in the 1st game but the team need to come out the blocks firing. Too many times we have taken 20-30 mins to get into a game, and usualy by this time, the opposition has scored a couple. If we start hard, fast and disrupt *them* before they can find their stride, then we have a real chance.

  10. Here’s something else worth discussing/considering. We read a lot about the influence BVC has had on the team, building confidence etc. Given that a large majority of the players are Warriors, who really has been the influence ..Townsend or BVC. Towsend has the benefit of working with the players week in week out, whereas BVC only has them a couple of weeks a year. Food for thought

    1. I was thinking that myself, Toonie has Glasgow playing in a pretty Toonie kind of way, which is great. Scotland are trying to play the same way, whether thats down to the lot of Glasgow players who are accustomed to playing like that or to BVC I don’t know, I suspect a bit of both.

      I think the biggest thing that will be missed about Vern is his hardness, Scotland were until recently usually found wanting in terms of physicality at the breakdown. That seems to be changing. In John Barclay’s interview on the BBC I was reading earlier he basically says that being soft and getting bullied off the park is completely unacceptable in the eyes of Vern and that’s what he’s been working on.

      1. Good job Toonie is bringing Dan McFarland with him who has done wonders at Glasgow. Problem is humphries is going to Glasgow…

      2. Bringing in Richie Gray (the coach, not the floppy haired one) has probably made an enormous difference at the breakdown too. He sorted out South Africa who were weak at the breakdown, and turned them into one of the strongest sides in the world at that area of the game. Interestingly, now that he has left the SARU system their breakdown work has regressed…

  11. Man vs Man
    15:-Hogg (10) vs Kearney (8): No contest, Kearney is past his best and Hogg is one of the top 3 fullbacks in the world. Pace, flair, skill are all in Hoggs favour. Defence and experience are on Kearney’s side but that’s it.
    14:-Seymour (10) vs Earls (8): Tommy’s all-round game is that much better than Earls. As is his temperament. Keith still has gas but not in the same way.
    13:-Jones (8) vs Ringrose (10): Sorry but I haven’t seen enough of Huw to be confident here. Ringrose has that outside step we always saw from BOD. who knows?
    12:-Dunbar (10) vs Henshaw (10): Very similar inside centres, and I couldn’t pull them apart. Defensively sound, big lads who can make ground, even carrying tacklers.
    11:-Maitland (9) vs Zebo (10): Simon’s experience just edges this one, IMO. Both have a spark and both can make mistakes. Whichever makes fewer errors may make the difference.
    10:-Russell (10) vs Jackson (8): Finn could be world class if he could get his last 5 minutes right. Sexton would probably pip him but Paddy, no fool, is no Jonny, or Finn.
    9:-Laidlaw (8) vs Murray (10): Only Greig’s leadership and goalkicking bring him up from a 7 against one of the best in the business.
    8:-Strauss (7) vs Heaslip (10): I love Josh in the Pro12 but against Heaslip I fear he will be anonymous. Happy to be proved wrong but “class is permanent, form is temporary”.
    7:-Watson (10) vs O’Brien (9): Speed vs size. Aggression vs carrying. Turnover vs line breaks. Tackle low vs choke. I went for Hamish as we have the same surname!
    6:-Wilson (7) vs Stander (10): Sorry but the Irishman (sic) has it in every category.
    5:-J Gray (10) vs Toner (8): I’ve always liked Toner but the carrying, tackling & workrate of Jonny outdoes Devin’s work in the mauls and set piece.
    4:-R Gray (10) vs Henderson (10): Different players and on their day could easily swing the balance of the game. If Richie has a blinder and Henderson and off day, look for Scotland to win by 10. The opposite is also true.
    3:-Fagerson (9) vs Furlong (10): Only because everyone else seems to think Tad is the “real thing”. It’s only North of the border where we believe Zander is. This 6N may be his time.
    2:-Brown (8) vs Best (10): OK we don’t have a world class hooker, but Rory may be a bit complacent about that Lions jersey.
    1:-Dell (9) vs McGrath (10): McGrath just scrapes it on all fronts apart from age. I like Alan and I think Mcgrath is overrated, but he’s probably better.
    So Scotland (135) vs Ireland (141).
    Home advantage should give us an extra 3-4, and I believe our bench is better by an extra 3-4.
    It’s going to be close!!!!

    1. The difference will be on the benches, though, so you really need to score those to predict it!

    2. Excellent analysis. I definitely think we edge the midfield and back 3 but they edge the forwards. It is going to be close and I hope that we have the temperament to get on top and not let them “Munster” us at the death!

    3. Very good unbiased assessment. Two very good teams (that irish team looks fierce). Really hope it is a cracker, obviously with scotland winning, and the ref keeps it honest. Weak ref and ireland will steal this….

    4. Here’s my counter-offer based on what I’ve seen, although sadly only fuelled by residual booze…:

      Hogg: 9 Kearney: 7
      Maitland: 8 Zebo: 8
      Jones: 8 Ringrose: 8
      Dunbar: 8 Henshaw: 8
      Seymour: 8.5 Earls: 7
      Russell: 9 Jackson: 8
      Laidlaw: 7.5 Murray: 10
      Strauss: 7.5 Heaslip:8
      Watson: 8 SOB: 9
      Wilson: 7.5 Stander: 9
      Gray: 10 Toner: 7.5
      Gray: 8 Henderson:8
      Fagerson: 8 Furlong: 8.5
      Brown: 7.5 Best 8.5
      Dell: 6.5 McGrath: 9
      Ford: 7 Scannell: 7
      Reid: 7 Healy: 8.5
      Berghan: 6 Ryan: 6.5
      Swinson: 8 Dillane: 7.5
      Barclay: 8.5 Ryan: 8
      Price: 7.5 Marmion: 7.5
      Weir: 6 Keatley: 6
      Bennett: 8 Bowe: 8

      176 180.5

      I reckon it’ll end up 15-20.

  12. “Interesting” thoughts Merlot.

    Excellent looking team, if we can get the ball quickly we can do damage, (Andy 12.44) & Agree rearding Weir (Frazer 1245).
    Munster beat Glasgow recently but can Ireland do the same on the wide open spaces of Murrayfield?
    Best backline this century.

    Canny wait…..

    1. What do you mean “interesting”? That took me an hour and two glasses of wine to write!
      I’m fed up hearing about how Duncan Weir is not up to scratch. Everyone agrees we haven’t had the centres before now (well 2015 anyway) to show off. Although he’s not like Finn Russell, that in itself gives the coaches another option on how to play. If we’re 3 up with 5 to play I know I’d rather have the wee barrel firing it into the corners than Finn trying miss passes.

  13. Pretty much what we expected then. Big call to pick Jones in front of Bennett and Taylor (is he injured?). Likewise picking R Gray over Swinson who has been in excellent form. I have issues with both of them, I have always felt R Gray, while solid, has never lived up to his early high standards and is a poor ball carrier for a man of his bulk. Swinson was a penalty machine and offered little else but I have eaten my humble pie and will happily admit he has been on fire for Glasgow of late.

    Weir is a strange one. He doesn’t play the game we are trying to play, I don’t think he offers much coming on later in the game (other than if the game is won…). Pairing him with Price, what you gain in Prices speed you lose with Weirs slowness, or just kicking it away. There is a time and a place for his type of game but I don’t think he fits in with the rest of the squad, once upon a time yes but not now. Maybe Verns afraid Russell will get crocked early as Ireland will target him all day.

    I’m not as bothered as some people about Fullback, obviously losing Hogg would be a huge blow but Maitland can play there, I’m pretty sure I read something once saying it was his favoured position, and if Jones can supposedly play there too. Other than 10 I think we have ample cover in the backs.

    Backrow is about right, I would have probably started Barclay over Strauss but but not that bothered either way. Wilson’s form has earned him a start, hopefully he doesn’t explode.

    1. Chat is Gray has been playing well in France this season. Id say his best is better than Swinsons best. I always worry that Swindon is just a bit wee for the international stage.

    2. Don’t worry about the Jones over Bennett call. I think this weekend everybody is going to see just why Huw Jones has gotten the nod at outside centre. He is something a bit special. O halloran commented this week that he doesn’t think has ever seen a player with such a rounded skill-set. Bring it oan!

    3. Good to hear that big Richie’s been playing well, I agree that at his best I would have him over Swinson but he hasn’t been at his best whereas Swinson has.

      I hope so too re Jones, but he has to prove it on the big stage, not that I am in any way comparing him to them but guys like Godman and De Luca apparently used to train well and we know how great they were… definitely the strongest group of backs we have fielded in recent memory though, not a bad un among them. I hope laidlaw and the forwards can feed them the quick ball they need as they have the potential to run rings round most teams.

  14. Merlot – re Weir read 1.8T he puts it eloquently (I’ll add ….- firing it into the corners – that’s the theory but what actually transpires is always different) Hogg should be covering FH.

    Re interesting – quite a lot of 10’s in your wee wine induced synopsis.

    Huw Jones must be fully fit & in the AI he looked sensational.

  15. Huw Jones is the only back we have in the class of Hogg for footwork and beating defenders. This guy is going to light it up for us.

    We need to match the work rate of the Irish and keep 15 men on the park to get the win. I just hope they can keep the heads clear and build pressure just like for the Seymour try last year against Wales. More of that please Scotland to show the progression is genuine. Time to smash it up.

  16. Looks like a wonderfully balanced team and I have been trying to contain my excitement for Saturday but I’m afraid I’ve gone nuts. Edinburgh team looks good for tomorrow also.

  17. Off work sick so for some ‘fun’ watched the Ireland game from last year’s 6N. According to all reports we got hammered. Now Ireland were the better side but I don’t think it was as one sided as certainly I recall.

    My point is that we should think we can win at home against them. I like that we’ve gone for brown over ford. Without dickinson and nel we are unlikely to out muscle ireland up front and Brown can actually hook and Glasgow concede very few penalties at scrum time. So the more mobile selection is very positive.

    The interesting thing for me from last year was our maul defence was poor (no J Gray) and two of Barclay’s infringements were questionable. The irish scored 3 tries against 14 and the Dunbar yellow ended the game. So I would hope the maul defense improves and if we can keep 15 on the field we have a great chance.

    I know they are on a good run and have improved but so have the Scottish players both individually and collectively.

    No sexton definitely makes them weaker.

    1. Also factor in one of their tries was a total freak. Hogg and Seymour running into each other leaving their player (Earls?) to pick the ball up and run it in unopposed. Never seen anything so calamitous.

      1. What sticks in my mind from that game was Sexton’s histrionics, and that the Irish pack bullied us, particularly in the second half.

        That said when the ball went out wide we looked threatening.

        Expect a similar game on Saturday, Ireland will probably dominate at the breakdown due to their power and uncanny ability to take out players beyond the breakdown without the referee seeing, but out backs have the edge.

      2. Interesting comments there. I don’t imagine Hogg or Seymour would ever let that happen again. Both being too eager to help. Had either or perhaps both just left the ball it would never have been a try directly. Hogg’s hand put the ball off Seymour’s head and the rest was history.

        I’ve never understood after Japan showed how successful it is to get the ball out the scrum and get on with it at the world cup why more haven’t done so against dominate scrum? Even try to match it at first but if it doesn’t work change it. Most just take the penalty and the yellow card that follows which is stupidity of the highest order.

        I watched the highlights back and for Murray’s try if you watch Nel is in a good position and then for no reason falls forward and into the ruck slightly which leaves the gap for Murray to score. Didn’t seem there was any reason for that at all. They may well have still scored but it was a soft end to the play.

        We have a huge task on our hands at the weekend but we have the ability no doubt. I reckon this would be Scotland’s biggest Six Nations victory of all time should we get it done but it is not the most unlikely result. Belief and a bit of luck and we have a real shot. Get those restarts sorted and take half of our try scoring chances in the 22 and we’ll be there.

        Maybe at last the ref’s will be briefed on some of Ireland’s bending of the rules and they’ll get pinged. We can but hope. Hogg to score, Seymour, Watson and Jones. Can Ireland beat four tries and Laidlaw’s boot, it’ll be tough?

  18. A little surprised at a couple of the positions…but can’t really argue about that lineup. Its probably the strongest looking first 15 and bench that I can recall for over a decade.

    Can see the logic of using Brown for his general movement and ability at breakdown especially. The way he plays its like having 2 sevens. Keeping Ford for his experience guiding the guys off the bench and extra muscle at a time when energy is dropping is a smart move imo.

    Likewise Barclay off the bench ..plays 6,7, and 8 very well. Ideal cover…a little unlucky to not start but for the benefit of the team another smart move.

    Only criticism from me would be … Scott would have covered 12 & 13 spot better than Bennet. If Bennet can get going tho he can change a game.

    Glad Price is in ahead of Pyrgos… simply far more potential I think.

    1. I can only really conclude that Cotter doesn’t rate Scott at all. He can’t really be doing anything more to get selected. He’s tearing up the English league. Maybe Townsend will see things differently.

      1. I think if you look at the players in front of Scott:
        Huw Jones – comments from camp and SA have him as sensational. Hopefully in same class as Hogg. AIs support this.
        Dunbar – unique skill set.
        Bennett – Cotter took him to Clermont and gave him his debut. Former world breakthrough player of the year. Form player of last few seasons.

        It’s not really in Scott’s hands to force himself into contention. Even if he is highly rated and on form.

      2. Fair points. Truly incredible that we have depth enough to be keeping out the top(?) try scorer in the English league from our matchday squad just now!

      3. It’s also worth remembering that he plays for Gloucester, who are eighth in the English Premiership behind Harlequins (who Edinburgh thumped twice) and Leicester (who Glasgow thumped twice).

        It’s difficult to pick a player who is excelling in such a weak league…!

  19. If a questionable match fit Jones is picked ahead of Bennett and in-form Scott then it says a lot about Jones’ quality more than anything else.
    Matt Scott would’ve been one of the first names on the teamsheet for most on the last 15 years.

    1. Fantastic we have that choice and then there’s Duncan Taylor. The quality is building throughout the squad all the time now, it’s just mentality and experience that’s waiting to build. We’re sure to have a threshold game where this team breaks through. My only concern is the quality of our defence, is it ten points per game better than last year, can it be close to that by eliminating the silly unforced errors.

    2. I think you have hit the nail on the head there BLB. Jones is the next Scottish jedi. He could be the deciding factor in tomorrows match. The Irish don’t know anything about him!

      1. Jokes aside surely the Irish will have done their homework on him, but the casual 6 nations fans who weren’t paying attention to the Autumn Internationals and haven’t seen the youtube clips of Jones might be in for a shock.
        Cotter and his staff know their onions and there’s a reason they’ve rushed him back from injury to start ahead of excellent alternatives, the guy is different gravy.

      2. Hasn’t anyone figured out yet – Huw Jones is just another alias of Jason Bourne. Take a close look.

  20. For me, Jones deserves a crack after the autumn tests. The interesting point will be if the Irish put a couple of players defending Murray after Glasgow/Munster or they do their usual and have everybody running 2 secs ahead of the ball on a box kick. If nothing else Murray’s complaining may make the refs pay closer attention to the area beyond the gain line…a player being tackled 3-4 yards begging the ruck without the ball wasn’t clearing out when I played!

  21. Nicely balanced team which I believe can be highly competitive and beat the Irish. I think the forwards are actually well matched, but our attack in hand will out gun theirs and as long as we defend and properly exit box kicks then I think we have a chance. The big unknown for me is whether the mindset is right. I genuinely think that we have enough players now that will refuse to accept 2nd place – thinking of Jones, J Gray, Semyour, Fagerson, Wilson, Hogg and Russell …. I could go on.

    Really looking forward to see how our backs operate. Need to unlock their defence in a way Glasgow couldn’t do against Munster.

  22. V Munster the ball “didn’t bounce” for Russell. V Racing Metro he was sensational, we have to hope for a wee bit luck pertaining to the bounces of the ball.

    Also the pitch tomorrow is significantly bigger than Scotstoun so more territory to defend.

  23. Just back from an intensive pre-Test briefing in Broughton Street with fanatic Irish rugby supporting friends.
    They were:
    a) understandably proud of their team’s world ranking and recent defeat of the All Blacks; and
    b) really quite worried about the possibility of losing tomorrow to a resurgent Scotland side.
    I tried to help them by congratulating them on a) while urging them to concentrate more on b).
    I think they took it well.
    C’mon, Scotland!

  24. don’t understand why toner continues to get picked,… he’s that tall storky mate you bring along for a go at rugby…cos he’s reallly tall

  25. Friday night’s results a bit annoying, 3 games against the irish in which we failed to get over the finish line! The women came close but conceded a last-minute try, edinburgh lost by a point in a typical irish slug-fest, and the U20s lost by a point conceding a late try. Thought the U20s played well just out muscled by the irish pack at the end, matt fagerson looked good tho. Hoyland also keeps playin well, should get a shot in blue if maitland doesnt play well today. Still think we can beat the irish today, get parity in the pack, smash murray early and shred them in the backs. C’mon Scotland!

    1. It’s a bit disconcerting that the trait of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory permeates into the women’s and youngster’s games as well as being a mainstay in the men’s team. Only adds credence to the suggestion that there is indeed something wrong with the Scottish psyche when it comes to composure in sport. Maybe a sports psychologist would be a worthwhile acquisition by the SRU?

      I only caught the tail end of the women’s match, but the U20s really shouldn’t have lost theirs. Scottish pack totally bullied the Irish one, and Matt Fagerson looks like a real prospect. Looks more like a 6 or 8 then a 7; maybe he’ll move position as he matures. The team was often let down by their handling unfortunately.

      Edinburgh were dross it has to be said (as were Munster though in fairness). Still, gutting that Kinghorn’s kick fell agonisingly short. The two young props did well. This, combined with the U20s scrum being destructive, gives me a bit of optimism about the Scottish front row in years to come

      1. This is exactly what I was thinking when watching the U20s. We had the majority of the game won the set piece, were better at the breakdown and then lost.

        I dont think Ireland would have scored that pick and drive try in the first half with the first choice guys on who seemed more physical. Kick the penalties rather than going for the catch and drives on a wet night as you know the strength of your bench? Possibly poor decision making. The SRU has a a big enough budget to get in some full time sports psychologists if they dont already as I agree it seems to not be confined to rugby but possibly a product of our culture therefore needs to be addressed as early as possible in professional careers of any type.

        Positives though in Matt Fagerson who looked good at breakdown and carrying. Two starting props also had good games as did the ten.

        Here’s hoping we are all still buoyed with excitement and hope for the future of the game in Scotland come full time today!

      2. To be fair Edinburgh have been dross for a few years. The change of coach hasn’t led to any improvement. Warriors, as a team, are more than the sum of the individual players. Edinburgh are less. The move to Myreside is a step in the right direction in creating a separate identity.

        The womens and Under 20 results were a lot closer than in previous seasons. Progress is being made.

  26. That will teach Ireland a wee lesson. Next time you pick a gunfight, dinnay show up wi a knife !!! :)

  27. Maybe there was some learning from the Munster and Australia games there, eh. How to dig it out at the end! 2 wins eh Vern, he says with a twinkle in his eye….

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