Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v England: the teams

WP Nel - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography
WP Nel - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography

And so it comes now to the great battle of our times.

Or alternatively, really just another rugby game, but one that will undoubtedly select the course of the 2018 Six Nations for Scotland. Win, and amazing things could still happen. Lose, and the Wooden Spoon becomes an unlooked-for reality once again even with Italy still to play.

Oh, and we haven’t beaten England in 10 years, home or away.

So, no pressure then.

Gregor Townsend has opted against the full-on Tombola for what could be the most important game of our season, with no changes to the starting lineup that defeated France. There was a threat of a Siberian snowstorm but the forecast is looking clear and dry. A great day for running rugby, you might say.

That means Pete Horne continues at centre, and Ryan Wilson at 8 which were the only positions with any great debate after Greig Laidlaw proved so useful two weeks ago. Come on, he wasn’t going to drop Finn.

It was announced today that Matt Scott is coming back to his old club on a 2 year deal. (There are also rumours from Big Jim on the Rugby Pod that Luke Hamilton has been targeted for a move north with both Glasgow and Edinburgh interested. Anyway, back to the business in hand). Despite being called up to the squad last weekend, the soon to be Edinburgh-centre has missed out, with in-form Glasgow centre Nick Grigg given a chance to fill the centre spot on the bench instead of Chris Harris, unused last time.

Blair Kinghorn and Ali Price are the other backs on the bench while Tim Swinson is called up ahead of Ben Toolis after a strong showing for Glasgow at the weekend. It is perhaps harsh on Toolis, but Swinson and Gilchrist are more of the type that suit this sort of game, which is likely to represent a further step up in physicality and aggression.

WP Nel (now Willem, it seems) is the other new face on the bench but by and large, this consistent selection represents a chance for the team to build on the France result and put a marker down against England. Gordon Reid said earlier in the week that Scotland were guilty of believing their own hype before the Wales game.

No-one is hyping us much now, which is maybe the best place for Scotland to be.

Scotland: 15. Stuart Hogg, 14. Tommy Seymour, 13. Huw Jones, 12. Pete Horne, 11. Sean Maitland, 10. Finn Russell, 9. Greig Laidlaw; 1. Gordon Reid, 2. Stuart McInally, 3. Simon Berghan, 4. Grant Gilchrist, 5. Jonny Gray, 6. John Barclay (capt), 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Ryan Wilson.
Replacements: 16. Scott Lawson, 17. Jamie Bhatti, 18. Willem Nel, 19. Tim Swinson, 20. David Denton, 21. Ali Price, 22. Nick Grigg, 23. Blair Kinghorn.

England: Mike Brown; Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Jonny May; George Ford, Danny Care; Mako Vunipola, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Chris Robshaw, Nathan Hughes.
Replacements: Jamie George, Joe Marler, Harry Williams, George Kruis, Sam Underhill, Richard Wigglesworth, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell.

BT Murrayfield, Saturday k.o 4.45pm

72 Responses

  1. I thought the line up for France looked much more compelling than that against Wales, so i’m pretty happy with this team sheet. Grigg had perhaps not entered the midfield debate so much, but can’t argue against his inclusion. I wonder if the call ups for Visser, Scott and Strauss were partially to get an inside line on some of the competition. It’s good to still have decent unused options in the wider squad at halfway through. A massive challenge lies ahead. Looking forward to it.

    1. Doubt that the call were to get intel. More to do with having run training with decent numbers. Every one called up replaced some one injured, Mcguigan, Taylor/ Dunbar, actually can’t think who Strauss replaced off the top of my head.

      Has Grigg played much with Jones? Only worry would be who you play 12 if Horne went down or had to move in to 10

      1. Have you not watched much of Glasgow this season? Grigg has played at 12 with Jones at 13 on a few occasions and looked very suited to the role. He is a very talented player, more than capable of playing either 12 or 13 as required on Saturday.

      2. Strauss replaced CDP, and it’s ironic that you couldn’t remember him, as no one remembers him being on the field against Wales….

      3. Stouff CDP still in the squad. Strauss replaced Bradbury who has dropped out along with Rae, McCallum and Fowles.

    2. Grigg was excellent for Glasgow last week against the Cheetahs, his work rate in defence and attack is juist excellent. In many ways I think he is a better 13 than Jones but he does his work quietly.

      1. I like Grigg…buzz bomb of a player. His fast,fair and hard tackle that immediately took that big hooker out of the game at the weekend was a sight to see.
        Jones, however, has proven himself on the test stage…our 1st choice centre. Grigg with it all to prove at this level.

  2. Nick Grigg has been rather overlooked & his performance this weekend shows he’s not one to duck away from tackles. V hard to stop given his build & quite like the idea of him coming on in the last 20 mins or so to have a charge at the English centres. Usually runs good supporting lines too. Happy to see Swinson on the bench too, always brings a combative edge to his play which we’ll need. Some might say the back row is a bit light but not so worried on that front & Denton – and possibly Swinson at 6 – can bolster from the bench if needed. Really need clear thinking matched with unflinching determination to give it a good crack. Here’s hoping everyone & everything falls into place on Saturday evening (including a suitable venue for an isolated Scots fan!)

    1. Warks Scot, I’m not proud to say I trump you in the isolation stakes. Our family flight to the Canaries takes off before kickoff and lands after the final whistle. I simply wasn’t paying enough attention when flight options were put to me by English Mrs Mc some months ago…

      Good to see Grigg in the 23. Like others, I’d overlooked him too.

      1. Sorry to hear that John. Here’s hoping you end up wishing you’d seen a great match and result, and not grateful you were on a plane instead of watching it…

      2. I’ll be watching in The Flower of Scotland pub in Fuerteventura ! I also can’t get diaries & holidays right !

  3. Some good chunky meat on the bench. Would love to see Grigg come on and repeat his thundering tackle from Friday.

    Lets just not embarrass ourselves please. Finn, screw the nut and work that magic.

  4. From the Guardian – The English coaches are already trying to influence the ref regarding Berghan’s scrummaging technique whilst deflecting their own illegal boring in from Dan Cole. Hopefully Toonie will ensure the ref keeps an eye on Cole.

    1. The England coaches use the media to disrupt the opposition and influence the ref in every match they feel a challenge coming on. Maybe they feel a wee bit threatened.

      Its a ploy that doesn’t break any official rules and so they can freely do that. I don’t respect that aspect of their approach though.

      1. Like the side and the bench generally. What I would really like now is media SILENCE. Let the Poison Dwarf play mind games on his own.

  5. No complaints about the starting XV, though I would have gone for Strauss or Denton for Wilson, to get a bit of grunt from the start, but I can understand the reasoning in leaving this until the final quarter. England will be mobile to begin with, and that’s our most mobile back row.

    On form, Grigg deserves his place, but I just think it is risky having the two backline replacements with 1 cap between them, which is why I would’ve opted for Scott and Visser. There is a big difference between performing well at PRO14 level and performing at Calcutta Cup level. I only hope that Grigg fairs better than he did in Fiji.

    The nightmare scenario is presumably one with injuries to two out of Hogg, Horne and Russell. But we had our nightmare last year, so lightning can’t strike twice, right?

    1. I’d have started Visser and had Maitland on the bench as cover instead of Kinghorn. And, like you, I’d prefer to have seen at least one modern-sized back rower starting.

      1. Agree with possibly starting Strauss or Denton …the bringing on Wilson who can play with intensity across the back row.

        Kinghorn is perfect replacement to me. Hugely talented…but raw and relatively or completely unknown at this level.

        We need talent to win this match…not just experience. Visser and Maitland both known players to the England team..and so offer less potential impact I think.

      2. As you say, though, Kinghorn lacks experience at this level. We’ve got enough lack of experience as it is! And Visser is probably our best try-scoring winger.

  6. Important this year not to get distracted by whether Owen Farrell plays or not. That was a question in the run-up to last year’s game as well and was all over the papers. I don’t know whether it impacted the players or not, but I remember a lot of the fans were feeling encouraged when it looked like he wouldn’t play.

    We have to focus ruthlessly on our own game and deliver it with accuracy and precision to have a chance. No reason why we shouldn’t do that.

    1. Agree.

      But how come we announce a day earlier?

      Seems to be potentially to their advantage (e.g. in back row)

      1. Is this a statement of intent in the ‘new world’ of Scottish rugby. We’re fielding a team to win playing our game rather than hoping to catch them out and prevent them winning?

        Therefore the timing doesn’t matter.

      2. lessons from Gatland – Allowing the team an extra day to get used to it and focus internally. Just a statement of positivity.What is Eddie Jones saying , I like a bit of banter.

      3. I dare say the team was picked after the final whistle of the France game.

        Just needed to go through the formality of making sure everyone’s fit.

        Scotland don’t want to play a spoil game and pick players based on who could disrupt England, if there’s an injury the gameplan is up the swanny.

        Toonie has shown in the Autumn with McInally, Marfo, Toolis, Hamilton etc. coming in that as long as they excecute their gameplan they can be competitive.

  7. It’s all about the first 10-20 minutes. We cannot afford any penalties or missed tackles in the first quarter. Then let the crowd, the fitness and natural exuberance shine through!

  8. Grigg is hard to tackle and late in the game that might result in penalty’s. Jones is used to playing with randoms now.

  9. Swinson is a hard tough guy but I always worry he is just a bit too small for an international lock forward. Which is of course crazy as he is a big dude but you get my meaning. However if he comes on and smashes Itoji back first up he may well be the one we need at the end.

    Happy Matt Scott is coming back.

    1. There’s some truth to that, but Swinson can also cover 6, so I think that’s probably worked in his favour this time around,

      1. I like Swinson, not the absolute tops, but gives us some options. First choice back line to go 60 – 65, then instead of subbing Gilchrist, put on Swinson @6 and Denton @ 8. That would be some serious bench grunt if it’s close. They do have the Hask, but if he makes the bench, he’s not the smartest, by any stretch of the imagination.

    2. He got himself into a really good run of form last year leading up to and during the 6N. He played well v France in Paris and scored a try under the posts!

      He used to be an ill-disciplined liability a few years ago but seems to have matured into a dynamic workhorse.

  10. Worried about Nick Grigg at international level. Hope that, if he makes an appearance, he proves that wrong – see L. Jones against the All Blacks. But still very worried. Even without him Laidlaw, Russell, Horne will be attacked by big heavy runners…

  11. Its a fair selection…being consistent and giving same guys another chance to roll and improve.

    A little worried about us through the middle…good attack…defence?? Nick Grigg looked back to form at the weekend and is a tough player to pin down…can be strong and allusive player. He’s got it all to prove at this level though.

    Swinson?….I think Toolis is very unlucky…and Im not convinced thats the right choice..but he can play 6 (in fact arguably better suited to 6) and played well at weekend. He’ll need to play with as much intensity for it be the correct choice for this match.

    Very glad to see Kinghorn on the bench. Huge potential. Great game to come and show himself…could be x factor needed if we are still in the game later on.

    WP Nel great to have come on at some stage…England will be a bit less confident at scrum time.

    If we actually turn up this time…could be a great game. Another like last season or the Wales match and it’ll be a long ,frustrating & disappointing match.

  12. I like Grigg, he’s a fine runner and tackler, and he always plays well for Glasgow….. but

    He does have a tendency to over extend himself in defence, sprinting out of the line to make a crushing tackle. When these come off they halt attacks full stop; but quite often they do not. He gets the man a bit late, ball is shipped and there is a Grigg shaped hole in the line for attackers to target.

    I’m sure he’ll be a bit more circumspect against England, our midfield defence has been porous enough.

    1. Take it easy and sleep with ease, that is covered. If that does happen we have a full back, the last line in defense , apparently , so I am told, not that I have noticed. Give Grigg a bit of slack, every one of them out there has strengths and opportunities.

      1. I know, and I don’t mean to demean his very impressive strengths; my heart just almost jumps out of the North Stand everytime I see him spring, cruise missile-like, out of the defensive line.

  13. Especially loved the news that Eddie Jones was getting the inside scoop from none other than David Moyes. Bang average football coach…bang average player…limited success.. spent most of career in England.

    Instead of talking with someone like Sir Alex Fergusson…proven, hugely successful Scottish coach. Rather than ‘sell out’ Davie boy.

    Carry On Eddie!…. as you were

    1. Moyes or Ferguson ? would make absolutely no difference. Both would be as much help in preparing to face Scotland at rugby as Eddie the Eagle.

  14. We might also need a wee bit of luck to go our way to pull this off, whether over reffing interpretations or the bounce of the ball.

    England’s first try against Wales was a brilliant piece of opportunism by Farrell and May following an excellent box kick from Care, but had two major bits of luck in the build-up. Firstly, none of the officials picked up that Anthony Watson was several yards offside for the box kick. This happens regularly and is very frustrating; watch it again – it wasn’t marginal and should have been picked up by the TMO. Secondly, when Watson challenged for the ball, it ricocheted directly to Farrell about 15+ yards away. The vision and execution of what followed was outstanding, so I’m not having a go at England or saying they didn’t deserve to win. They took their opportunity.

    These are the key moments that can go for or against you. I know teams make their own luck, but hopefully Scotland will be on the right side of the key moments.

    1. Yes..I think England have improved considerably in playing heads up rugby, in that they know where to put the ball when space opens up. Where I don’t think they have improved much is when the opposition play unforeseen tactics and plays them at pace…something this Scotland team can be very good at when they turn up & click.

  15. Kick for territory, chase hard, don’t miss the tackle after the chase, mix it up, keep them thinking.

    Interesting selections, Nel is likely very fit but is he match fit (or with all the fancy scrum machines is match fit not a “thing” anymore). I like Kinghorn on the bench, he has been sprinkled with magic dust & can be a thrilling runner. Surprised at Grigg, I really like him but is he too small. Swinson adds grunt. Be fascinating if there’s 10 points or less in the game on the hour mark.

  16. Still 7 players short of our optimal 23 (Dickinson, Dell, Brown, Fagerson, R. Gray, Dunbar, Taylor) but getting stronger, thankfully.

    As I said in the aftermath of Cardiff, we would beat the French and raise our game against England. It will be Ireland in Dublin that tells us where we really stand. Here’s hoping one or two more players are back available for that one.

    1. Not so sure Dickinson or Dell is our optimal…I think we have moved on. I prefer both Marfo and Bhatti.
      Dunbar is rarely fit anymore and doubt he ever will be….Dell has plenty time to get back fit and improve though.

      1. Well here’s hoping both “Al’s” make it back fit…..I suspect they both have a role to play in RWC2019. Bhatti will be sorely tested on Saturday…I hope he can continue his development. As for Dunbar, I sincerely hope that you’re wrong.

  17. Very glad Grigg is getting recognised – he has been absolutely blistering for Glasgow recently.

    Keeping with the starting team from the France game is fair enough – you could argue for swaps in a few positions but most of them are 50/50.

  18. I do kind of understand the size thing but brain, attitude & technique can definitely make up for a few kilos. The Glasgow team v Cheetahs was probably light by today’s standards e.g.Fusaro, Horne, Jones, Niko, Jackson but didn’t seem much of a handicap. And England’s midfield certainly isn’t huge. Mobility & heads up rugby could win on Saturday, though England are very capable of that too.

  19. Farrell is the heartbeat of the English team. England are formidably strong & very well coached however they haven’t been too impressive so far in this 6N. I’m hoping Russell & Hogg get a wee bit room to play. Finn is due a good game and Saturday would be a no bad time for him to have a good game.

    1. It will take 15 men to beat England so why depend on only 2 of them. One so unpredictable he needs to catch up with himself and the other so predictable, he is shouting for the ball every single play.

    2. In all seriousness they weren’t that convincing up until last years match with us and that was carnage. They have so many pretty bang average performances and yet still seem to win. We need to not have as many injuries so early this year that was a big issue although we were pretty far gone by the 20 minute mark anyway. Be great to go ahead and see where we go from there.

  20. Im glad its Nigel Owens reffing this one as he does not take any POOPOO and wont be unintentionally biased towards England.

    Im starting to think England are getting the rub of the green similar to when the all blacks had that aura where they could get away with all the cheating back in the Carter/McCaw era. taking nothing away from england or that all blacks team as they are both excellent but when your put together a long run of wins the refs will favour in you in the small things without realising.

    [Edited for language]

    1. Also he wont let the Tmo take charge of the small desicions and try to sway his mind unless he is clearly wrong, seen alot of biased tmo decisions recently and they have the best possible information.

  21. Thrilled to see Nel back in contention, but with no game time it has to be a gamble. If we could look after the French & Welsh scrums, I’d have thought we could look after England’s. Launchbury, Lawes and Itoje ( the inheritor of McCaws invisibility cloak ) in the loose is another matter

  22. Why do we release our team sheet so early?…. England obviously still deciding based on our selection.

    1. The footy world wonders why rugby ever reveal their teams days before the match. It surely gives opposition huge advantages if u want to take them. I like the drama of announcement but definitely think it takes away the element of surprise.

    2. Settle down , have a cuppa tea or something. It will make no difference , just as Gatland gained nada when he did it with us. They will be needing an extra day of Eddie wisdom, give them a chance for pete’s sake.

      Besides , gives the blog an extra day to get overheated.

      1. Totally agree, let the PD make a meal of his team sheet, which media release GT can use as his team talk.

        Never mind the tea, something a lot stronger is called for at this stage of the game. ?

    3. Presumably tho the team sheet is not set in stone or there is scope for injury replacements etc?

      Surely one of these days GT will spring a shocker, e.g. Dickinson and Dunbar are actually fit, or he fancies playing himself at stand off…

  23. Scotland need to play the best game of rugby they have ever played and get the rub of the green to be in with a chance of winning.

    Off the back of recent form they should lose to England, but we know the team is capable of winning, they just need to excecute it.

    Is Nick Grigg coming on for Horne our answer to when Ben Te’o inevitably comes on for Ford and Farrell moves to 10?

    1. Too right. They looked constantly offside to me against Wales, and their line speed is fast enough as it is.

  24. Absolute joke that Toolis is not in the 23. I’m actually surprised hardly anyone has mentioned his exclusion. He’s our second best lock, Personally don’t think he should have lost his spot to Gilchrist. Played 6 good games in a row, had one off performance against Wales in a game where most of the team did, then plays really well off the bench against France and somehow loses his spot to a player that has been injured for ages and doesn’t offer a lot. You have guys like Russell and Seymour who have played poorly for multiple games and keep their starting spot…. go figure

    1. I totally agree, Gilchrist plays one good game and people somehow forget Toolis’s form prior to the Wales game (where everyone played bad, including Gilchrist who did less than Toolis did off the bench). I think Toolis would have played better than Gilchrist did against france if he started. A number of French lineouts Gilchrist nearly got to Toolis would have eaten for breakfast. It’s sad because I think Scotland are missing out on a world class lock who seems to have been thrown to the side for nothing more than 1 average game!

  25. I agree Ewan. Toolis absolutely dominated against France. Played much better than Gilchrist. His performance has been outstanding of late! Honestly don’t understand why they would drop him. Stand out player by far!

    1. To be fair I wouldn’t say he dominated against France but he did play really well off the bench.. Gilchrist played well also. I do think that Toolis is the superior player though and that 1 good game by Gilchrist shouldn’t trump 6 straight good games from Toolis.

  26. I think Barclay and Watson were overrated last year for their breakdown work, you have to remember that the scotland team then had Marfo, Brown and Dunbar who were pilfering alot of ball and without that now its starting to show that they are not as great as we thought perhaps (still first choice of course) .

    1. Luke Hamilton was a menace when he came on last week . In same match Visser was sidestepping his way through heavy traffic and tackling like the best of them. Glad it is not me making the decisions.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion