Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v Italy – Player Ratings

Finn Russell
Finn Russell - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography

The Townsend era begun in exotic Singapore with a fine victory over Italy. Here is how the players rated:

Duncan Taylor (8) – Out of position at full back but looked calm and composed and broke the line with his carries. Even kicked a conversion!

Damien Hoyland (8) – Very busy afternoon, solid first up tackling and a good finish for Scotland’s 5th try.

Matt Scott (6) – Had a quiet afternoon at 13 in a position he hasn’t featured as much in for Scotland, didn’t seem to gel with Dunbar but solid enough. Not much carrying from the midfield all game.

Alex Dunbar (6) – A horrible pass off Bradbury’s shoulder cost Scotland a try, but was effective otherwise in his usual role of defensive leader.

Tim Visser (7) – Mad a sublime full stretch catch for his try that most cricketers would be proud of, and carried well. Definitely didn’t fancy trying too hard to stop Campagnaro though when the Italian broke free for their first try.

Finn Russell (9) – Finn’s ‘Mad House Party’ was in full flow, with the usual combination of chip kicks, insane flicks and some big hits deployed in a highly entertaining 54 minutes. Has got a lovely black eye to match Hoggy as well but will hopefully be ready to face the Wallabies.

Ali Price (8) – Pure pace and energy all game from Price, a constant threat. Scotland looked markedly less like scoring when he came off. If Townsend wants to play super high tempo rugby, Price is the man.

Allan Dell (7) – Solid in the loose, and the scrum went very well all game.

Ross Ford (8) – Standard 6/10 from Ross… Wait? He did what?! Oh, okay. The big man doubled his career try total with 2 decent finishes but doubts about his darts remain. Looked to be absolutely puffed after 30 minutes such was the humidity in Singapore.

WP Nel (7) – Good comeback in difficult conditions. Carried hard, tackled well and scrum was solid. Good day at the office for his second game back.

Tim Swinson (6) – Lots of grunt work, but nothing really spectacular. Perhaps better suited as an ‘Impact Sub’?

Ben Toolis (9) – Carried his exceptional form into the international arena. Solid line out, excellent maul defence and carried really well. My Man of the Match.

John Barclay (capt) (7) – Communicated very well with referee, and continues to look the part as skipper. Worked very hard to shut down a potent Italian backrow and did a lot of carrying first half.

Ryan Wilson (7) – A late replacement for John Hardie, who as predicted injured himself, this time without the help of the opposition. Wilson was abrasive but not at his best.

Josh Strauss (7) – Some big carrying got the backs lots of front foot ball. However, the bearded wonder tired badly as the game went on before Bradbury replaced him.


Fraser Brown (7) – A solid cameo, and I would still suggest first choice at hooker despite the mini-Ford renaissance.

Gordon Reid (6) – Pretty anonymous including an early spell as a blood replacement, aside from a cheeky trademark pick and go.

Zander Fagerson (7) – We now have two genuine options at tighthead! The Glasgow prop worked incredibly hard about the paddock and is a real menace at the breakdown. Scrum may even have improved when he came on.

Rob Harley (6) – Nothing much of note – he made tackles but really can’t be considered an option at lock. Lewis Carmichael has been called up from the Western Force to join the squad perhaps in recognition of this.

Magnus Bradbury (6) – Couldn’t get space to work his magic. Looked solid enough though and was the usual physical presence.

Henry Pyrgos (6) – Steady from Henry, but the pace really did drop when he arrived. Made enough of a nuisance of himself to get Braam Steyn sin-binned.

Pete Horne (6) – Had a decent half hour but the drop off in quality from Russell was clear today.

Rory Hughes (5) – Added late on to the bench after Hardie pulled up. Hughes didn’t touch the ball but was defensively exposed for the second Italian try. Luckily by then the game was long finished as a contest.

38 Responses

  1. Can only agree with all this. Important game for Toolis, Hoyland and Price stepping up to fill the gap left by notable absentees. Hope Magnus has a big game at some point on the tour. He is filling out into quite a beast. Was a bit disappointed with the centres, particularly Scott, who looked to be lacking a bit of sharpness. Price defo above Pyrgos as the future 9.

  2. If tollis replicates yesterday’s form against better opposition, I.e Oz, then he should start ahead of one of the Grays.

    What makes him so good is his ability to read and steal lineouts, plus carry well. Someone both Grays really don’t do anywhere near as well.

    1. As much as I like the Gray brothers I have to agree with this. Toolis was terrific yesterday, he played how I think we have all wanted Jonny to play for ages. With a fully fit bunch of locks to choose from I’d have Jonny and Toolis starting, with Richie off the bench, but in fairness that trio would be fully interchangeable.

      Talking about a fully fit bunch, I wonder what our 23 would look like if we had zero injuries. Personally I’d go for Dicko, Brown, Nel, J.Gray, Toolis, Barclay (c), Watson, Strauss, Price, Russell, Seymour, Dunbar, Jones, Maitland, Hogg. Ford, Sutherland, Fagerson, R.Gray, Hardie, Laidlaw, Horne, Visser.

      Some team that!

      1. I think Dicko is done. A year out, I don’t think he will be same player again given his age.
        Mine would be
        Dell Brown Nell
        J Gray Toolis
        Watson Bradbury
        Price Russell Maitland Taylor Jones Seymour Hogg

        Dunbar is not as good as Taylor, the latter is much quicker, stronger tAckler and runs superior lines.
        I’d also have George Horne over Laidlaw, who is utter pish.

      2. It’s a little much to call Greeeeeg “utter pish”. I can see that Price might be more Toonie’s pace, but Greeeeeeg’s led us well and put himself on the line for years now. I can see next season he might well be on the bench to close out games, and retiring from internationals after that.

        But pish? Never!

  3. I feel sorry for Townsend there are so many great backs how does he pick a back line when there all fit .

    1. I know, I’m sure he’s looking back longingly at the days when his back division would have been so much easier to call… Nick De Luca, Simon Danielli, Hugo Southwell, the list is endless!

      In all seriousness though, you’re right. In 20-odd years that I’ve watched, this is by far the best depth and quality that we’ve had in our back line.

  4. I agree with the article plus the other commenters on Toolis, a really excellent game and as a line out technician, he really is exceptional. I feel that with our options at lock now, we are more likely to pick based on the opposition (Glasgow style Toony Tombola). R Gray bring far more effective clearing out at the breakdown for instance, not that Toolis was particularly poor at this. J Gray bring exceptional tackling and defensive organisation, Cummings looks to bring a bigger carrying threat etc. Each has their own skills and will be suited to particular matches. I feel a little for Swinson though, who is most likely to drop out of the reckoning altogether.

    Lock depth chart: JGray, RGray, Toolis, Gilchrist, Swinson, Cummings, Carmichael, Calum Hunter-Hill

    On a slightly different note, I wonder if the new game plan might be perfect for Sam Hidalgo-Clyde to make his return. If he is at all competent under Cockers next season, I expect to see him fast-tracked into the squad. His pace and sniping around the fringes would bring another option like Price to bring on late in the game vs tired defences. Lovely!

  5. It will be interesting to see the team for Oz and Fiji, for me it would be:
    VS Australia
    1- Reid, 2- Brown, 3- Nel, 4- Toolis, 5- Gray, 6- Barclay (C), 7- Watson, 8- Strauss
    9- Price, 10- Russell, 11- Visser, 12- Dunbar, 13- Scott, 14- Hoyland, 15- Taylor
    16- Ford, 17- Dell, 18- Fagerson, 19- Swinson, 20- Wilson, 21- Pyrgos, 22- Horne, 23- Jones

    Vs Fiji
    1- Allan, 2- Ford, 3- Fagerson, 4- Swinson, 5- Toolis, 6- Bradbury, 7- Watson, 8- Strauss,
    9- Price, 10- Russell, 11- Visser, 12- Dunbar, 13- Grigg, 14- Hoyland, 15- Taylor
    16- Turner, 17- Dell, 18- Nel, 19- Carmichael, 20- Hardie, 21- Kennedey, 22- Jackson, 23- Scott

    The fact that we can still have such a strong team whilst missing big names is very encouraging. The big test will be the AI’s against OZ and NZ
    VS New Zealand
    1- Dickinson, 2- Brown, 3- Nel, 4- Gray, 5- Gray, 6- Hardie (fit and on Form), 7- Watson, 8- Strauss,
    9- Price, 10- Russell, 11- Seymour, 12- Taylor, 13- Jones, 14- Maitland, 15- Hogg
    16- Ford, 17- Sutherland, 18- Fagerson, 19- Toolis, 20- Denton, 21- Laidlaw, 22- Horne, 23- Dunbar

    1. There is currently a guy (don’t know if anyone has heard of him) called Aaron Tait, he’s playing out in New Zealand at the minute for Tauranga Sports, I have never witnessed at young player from age 14+ with a step like this guy. He has just been called up to the Bay of Plenty U19s Squad and has previously played for Glasgow U16s and Edinburgh U18s as well as Scotland U16s and U18s. This guy is a real talent and if he returns to Scotland should be one to watch for the future.

      1. Was gutted to see Tait disappear from the Academy – thought it might have been his diminutive stature that had left him in the cold, but it may have been mutual if he had decided to head to NZ. Hopefully he returns to Scotland at some point next year as he’s seriously talented and is clearly determined to play at a high level. Oddly, there’s been no mention of the MacPhail Scholarship at all this year. Bruce Sorbie was dispatched to South Africa in January under the title of the “Stellenbosch Rugby Academy Scholarship”. At the time I thought that was supposed to be an expansion of the MacPhail programme but perhaps they’ve just replaced one with the other?

        Rather worryingly, the size of Stage 1 & 2 seems to have been halved since last year and the spine of the u18s team is conspicuously absent. Connor Boyle, Ross Thompson, Jack Blain, and Jacob Lineen (all of Stew Mel) are all missing, despite dominating their positions at the recent U18s festival and winning the Scottish Schools Cup – You’d think they’d be the first names on the list?

        It’s all slightly odd…

    2. I’ve liked what I’ve seen of Carmichael this season for Edinburgh. Might need to bulk up a bit to be a genuine contender at international but is a good carrier with lots of energy.

      Who would be your captain against Fiji and NZ? I like the look of both teams but would probably swap Barclay into both to fill this role.

      1. I don’t know about having John Barclay in both teams, personally I think he needs a bit of a break. We could also be doing with finding a longer term captain (as Barclay is 30 and Laidlaw 31) these guys aren’t going to be around forever and let’s face it is Laidlaw really going to be the captain or first choice scrum half when he returns in GT’s eyes?

        Looking at all the possibilities for the future I would see a leadership group being built of Magnus Bradbury, Fraser Brown and Ali Price whilst the likes of Finn Russell could also be considered in this group.

      2. I don’t think Carmichael is big enough to be a lock but is a very decent and mobile carrier. Perhaps he would be better suited to playing 6? The experience in Australia will do him the world of good.

      3. Jonny will be captain soon enough – he was obviously Townsend’s captain at Glasgow and will be around for another decade.

      1. Ah…correction. LEE Jones, of course. He’s been out so long, I’d overlooked him! Good to see him in though!

  6. Everyone Harking on about Toolis instead of one of the Greys. First of all, no, never. Secondly I thought it was only Johnny in the squad with Ritchie injured or am I mistaken? I’m growing a bit fed up of Dunbar. He has been anonymous in attack for a few tests now and I was a big fan. Think he needs a rocket. Shame the other centres are injured. I woulda dropped him to make a point if there were options. Finn and Price aside I wasn’t as Impressed. Scotland did well but that was a frail Italy second string in parts. Fiji Aus was an interesting watch, so many intercepts on both sides but Aus would have butchered some of our defending yesterday. Equally I think we will cause them problems out wide. I hope it’s Finn Vs Quaid rather than Foley. Memo to Howley. Watch this test if you want to see rugby chaos rather than your rugby coma.

    1. Dunbar might be being complacent…but it doesn’t strike me as being his style. I wonder if he’s exhausted and needing a break, rather than a boot up the posterior

    2. Was it really a frail Italy second string yesterday? Not challenging, simply asking.
      In any case, I thought the first Test under the Townsend regime was pretty encouraging in distinctly non-northern European playing conditions. Invention and pace in the backs – liked the double loop moves – and an emphasis on NZ style offloading. Build up to Ford’s second try would have shredded every other international team’s defence, not just Italy’s.
      Good signs of regained strength up front – essential when the fancy dan stuff goes a bit awry and the ball needs recovering, and for generating the possession to start the fancy stuff in the first place.
      Haven’t seen any of the Aus Fiji game so not sure what kind of Wallabies team we’re going to come up against on Saturday. Whatever, it could be a cracker and I’m looking forward to it.
      Nice start, Toonie.

      1. Italy with Parisse = full strength

        Italy without Parisse = frail

        Thought Mbanda and Campagnaro looked v good. Everyone else pretty mediocre (at best)

  7. Agree that Toolis was MoM yesterday, and has been immense all year in a very poor Edinburgh side. This doesn’t mean he should immediately replace one of the Gray brothers.
    He’s more of an athletic line out jumper who gets around the park and has good hands. I don’t think he has the weight or the grunt yet, for those ‘hard yard’ types of games we have against England and France.
    Another good option at lock, and well deserved recognition for him.
    Hopefully he gets another chance against Australia, who also employ the same ‘rangy’ types of lock.

    1. Looks like he could be an option as “the mongrel” in the pack. It was a good look yesterday even before they played-Toolis the troglodyte and “Gentleman Tim” Swinson!

  8. Bit harsh on Swinson, he looked to be a pain in the backside at the breakdown and was involved in a lot of the groundwork. Otherwise generally agree with your scores.

    Next weekend I’d expect it’ll just be a couple of tweaks to the bench and xv. It’d be good to see grigg come on as an impact sub when the game opens up, I’d have him over hughes at 23.

  9. Agree toolis played well but he is slight and looks soft. Compared to players like Lawes, Whitelock etc. All our locks look a bit soft. None have that nasty bastard in them that good 4’s usually have. We have a load of hard working and skill full locks, I.e. Joe Launchburys but no Botha’s

  10. Crazyjoe you are 100% correct

    I’ve thought for a wee Anton Bresler (who qualifies for Scotland shortly) fits the bill nicely. whether he is good enough is another matter.

    1. Closest we’ve had in recent years was probably Hamilton but even then he was more stupid than hard. Look at Brodie Retallick. He’s a nasty gentleman*. MJ. Why is it you can walk down the street of any Scottish town and find those nasty gentlemen* but they’re all 5ft nothin! Imagine if Wilson was big enough, he has it in him.

      * watch the language – Ed

  11. In four years time I reckon Ali Price, Finn, Fraser, Zand, Johnny, Hamish and Timbo will be wearing the Lions red in SA, as long as a Welsh manager is not in charge. Vern will be the boss.

  12. I don’t think Pete Horne should be on the bench, what about bringing through some new talent such as Kinghorn in these tests? Let the young guns show what they can do and if they can’t? Well guys like Pete Horne will still always be here tomorrow, same problem as we’ve had with Laidlaw and Co for far too long…. Reliance!!

    1. Kinghorn has his moments, but he has also had his struggles at both Pro12 level and laterly at the U20 WC, where he is now. His time will come, but he should be allowed to develop at the right pace for him, rather than being thrown in at the deep end.

  13. Overall a very positive start. 55 very good minutes, 15 poor minutes and 20 minutes that were average. A lot being made of poor Italy and them missing Parisse but bear in mind we were without: Hogg, Seymour, Maitland, Jones, Bennett (that’s a quality backline there), Laidlaw, Richie Gray, Sutherland, Dickinson. And also Jonny, Hardie Watson from the squad weren’t playing.

    Toolis was exceptional both in the air and swimmng through the maul. Russell served up the full repetoire of skills. So maverick and unpredictable. Good to see both wingers score also, but the centres were pretty poor and we are really lacking in a gainline buster – be that in the centres or back row – at the moment.

    Was quite an old pack, Ford, Nel, Swinson, Barclay and Strauss all wrong side of 30. Nothing immediately concerning though but would like to get another hooker and tight head coming through. McInally doesn’t seem to have it. McCallum and Rae obviously looking promising at prop though, but they need games.

    1. No wonder they were knackered after playing 90 minutes ! Or are you going by the BBC Scotland clock ? :) :)

  14. Good result and some good performances in a challenging environment. It was evident that when we raised the tempo Italy couldn’t live with our attack, which is great and if we have slightly less oppressive conditions we will hopefully be able to keep this up for longer spells of a game.

    I don’t mean to sound a bit negative but I though the breakdown was inaccurate toady with the ball not being properly secured on a number of occasions. This is quite possibly due to the tactics Townsend wants to employ, having forwards as runners available in the back line, but it is paramount to secure our own ball. I think this is a significant risk against the Australian back row. I’m sure the coaches will address this and more in training this week and Watson coming in will make a big difference.

    Really pleased for Toolis showing his good form for Edinburgh in a Scotland shirt. I also really want to see more of Bradbury. He dropped the pass which led to Italy’s first try ( though the pass wasn’t great) but he looks pacey and he’s a big boy. Could really fit the bill of a big ball carrier for us.

  15. Generally, agree with the player ratings. Good article.

    The only issue I have is your comment regarding Ford, saying “doubts about his darts remain”. Surely 21/22 (95%) lineouts won (according to ESPN) isn’t bad going?!

    I know over the past couple of seasons he has had issues at the lineout but surely his performance in this department on Saturday can’t be criticised!

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion