Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland have some homework for the Calcutta Cup

John Barclay
John Barclay was a determined figure in the autumn and it paid huge dividends - pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

There are certain things we know to be true.

Warren Gatland doesn’t rate Scottish players much. Eddie Jones runs his mouth before and after games but doesn’t like it when people call him on it. Both are still good coaches. Officials still make mistakes, with HIAs and TMOs and all the other acronyms. Water is wet, the sky is blue (except for viewers in Scotland).

Based on the evidence of recent weeks, here are some other truths:

  • Scotland won’t beat England with a misfiring scrum
  • Scotland won’t beat England if we miss touch on penalties or aimlessly kick possession away
  • Scotland won’t beat England with ropey defence in the wide channels
  • Scotland won’t beat England if the referee gets on top of us at the breakdown

Despite the fact that Scotland as a squad are about where we would want to be following the loss to Wales, England are increasingly immune to romantic notions of underdogs, plucky heroism and scraping a win with a couple of penalties. It’s not that they are a “great” side but they are ruthlessly aggressive in defence and very astute tactically. Efficient and brutal, in that most English of ways – even if they pick the odd Islander, or even God forbid a Scot or two.

But they are not, I think, unbeatable, and the good news is that Scotland are more likely to beat them playing like attacking Scotland than last-decade Scotland which may at least provide some entertainment. Even in the bloodbath of Twickenham last year Scotland scored three tries.

Like a worrying number of international teams, adaptability seems to be one of their problems too – just witness Italy’s ruck disengagement masterclass from last year.

Without a dedicated openside, England tend not to challenge the breakdown much, preferring instead numbers wide in that smothering blanket of a defence and you would hope Scotland will send Barclay and Watson in over the ball more to keep them honest. The fact that Scotland haven’t utilised that as a tactic much yet doesn’t mean they won’t, and they’ll need that same space if their own plans are to prosper.

So it is not likely that John Barclay, the captain, will be given the heave-ho after one very poor game and one average one.

Here’s another truth: we won’t win without Finn Russell at 10. Gregor Townsend is not going to drop the closest thing to, well, Gregor Townsend, to come along in 20 years so can we just stop all the suggestions of playing Greig, Hoggy or Kinghorn at 10 with a week and a bit’s notice? Sadly it is perhaps true also that we won’t win if Finn has another off day but a big game like this in front of a home crowd, should be the reason that Finn gets up in the morning.

The crowd also need to provide a “home atmosphere”. Murrayfield needs to be raucous and intimidating and you can’t do that if 50% of the crowd are swinging low. There were a lot of noisy French fans in excellent voice last weekend and the worry is more of the same. Murrayfield has its voice so let’s use it and give them a taste of what unsettled our lads at the Cabbage Patch so badly last year, and in Cardiff this.

Townsend also boosted the squad over the weekend with the news that Josh Strauss, Tim Visser, Tim Swinson, WP Nel, Matt Scott and James Malcolm have all been called into the training squad. Charlie Shiel and Darcy Graham will also take part in the sessions at the start of the week, while Magnus Bradbury, Murray McCallum, D’arcy Rae, Nathan Fowles, Richie Gray and Duncan Taylor drop out of the squad. Visser and Malcolm are cover for Lee Jones and Neil Cochrane who picked up head knocks at the weekend. Alex Dunbar remains with the squad but still has a thigh injury and presumably won’t feature against England.

Here, for me, are the areas for homework across the team.

Front row: England have a mighty pack and recently they’ve been training with Georgia in a series of scrum sets refereed by Wayne Barnes that apparently taught England lots of sneaky new tactics. If wee Eddie doesn’t go after Finn (“flakey isn’t he mate?”) or Hoggy (“not as good as Mike Brown though is he mate?”) with the mind games, you can bet Simon Berghan scrummaging on his knees won’t have escaped his notice. The news on WP Nel, who we know can scrummage may mitigate this slightly but he will be unlikely to start. More of the same, ie parity and not much worse, must be the aim. Easier said than done.

Second row: more big carries and the lineout needs to be spotless. We’re in good shape here and Tim Swinson returning added much-needed grunt to Glasgow at the weekend. I’d argue that Toolis should still hold the bench slot against England though. The lineout was a quite brilliant attacking platform in the autumn with the same personnel and needs to become that again.

Back row: the breakdown. This is an area we could potentially boss but haven’t targeted all that much yet. Having blown the Welsh off it last year, this year we saw the same in reverse while the French were excellent at protecting their own ball and stealing ours. England have no out and out 7 but they will expect to win without one. Discipline in this area keeps the visitors honest and forces them to keep defenders closer to the ruck. Denton offers a bigger impact from the bench so he may not start but Josh Strauss is in fine form and has a legitimate claim to a starting berth if Toony can look past Wilson.

Half-backs: No surprises: fix the touch finders and kicking from hand. Give Hogg the touch kicks and Laidlaw the goalkicking. Finn may feel like they are taking his toys away but running the attack and marshalling Ford and Farrell will be hard for anyone, let alone a guy desperately seeking form. England’s kicking play is excellent, Scotland need to be equal to it as it drives the game’s momentum.

Centres: defence, and giving Huw Jones more time on the ball. Dunbar won’t be in, Taylor is definitely out so the choice is to play Scott or Horne at 12, or play Bennett at 13 alongside Jones. I’d go with Horne to keep some semblance of familiarity. They are defensively fragile perhaps but Dunbar/Jones was our top pair and still got obliterated against England last year; Horne went well against France and deserves another shot. Scott or Bennett could come into play as bench options in place of Chris Harris.

Back three: defence, positioning. England’s kicking from hand was accurate and varied so they’ll need to be on the ball as they will receive more of what Wales got. France found us out in the wide channels so defence from 13 out needs to be tighter and less ragged. For this reason, we’ll probably see the same unit start.

Here’s the team I think could line up against England:

Hogg, Seymour, Jones, Horne, Maitland, Russell, Laidlaw; Reid, McInally, Berghan, Gray, Gilchrist, Barclay, Watson, Strauss
Bhatti, Lawson, Nel, Toolis, Denton, Price, Scott, Visser.

Toony may well find it hard to leave out Wilson, and Mark Bennett has been looking very sharp for Edinburgh; we’ll know the team on Wednesday.

Here’s another truth: Scotland, since last year, have been pretty uninspiring or downright awful against teams they’ve been expected to beat (see: Samoa, Fiji, Wales this year etc).

But how have they gone against the teams no-one much expected them to beat, like Ireland, Wales (2017 edition), Australia and New Zealand last year?

If Scotland can once again raise their game this might be closer than we think; we can but hope that Scotland can truly live up to the tag of “darlings of Europe” by putting one over on the Auld Enemy.

86 Responses

  1. Interesting and well thought through article, as always.

    Perception is an interesting thing, isn’t it? If we were playing Wales or Ireland at Murrayfield on Saturday, no-one would say that it was impossible for us to win, certainly not after last year. Similarly, if England had to go to Cardiff or Dublin this weekend, no-one would say Ireland or Wales had no chance. Yet mention England and suddenly Scotland have no chance, according to many experts….

    I think it was Peter Wright who stated after last years Twickenham debacle that Scotland’s problems against England as as such mental as anything. I think he’s right. We cannot afford to go into our shells against them.

    As much as England won against Wales, they failed to score a single point in the last three quarters of that game. That’s hardly crushing dominance, is it?

    What it reflected was a never-say-die attitude from the Welsh that we must replicate…an in-your-face approach that has to be the hallmark of everything we do, both in defence and attack. As much as there are intricacies in approach, a core component to our game has to be an anger burning from the humiliation that was handed out last year…..and before others bring out excuses, the score was 10-0 when Fraser Brown returned from his yellow card…not 20-0 or 30-0….

    It is absolutely right that Scotland have to play their new/natural game against England….whilst England haven’t scored a lot of tries in recent years at Murrayfield, our return is even more miserly…one try in home fixtures against England since Duncan Hodge’s effort in 2000.

    That is pathetic, pure and simple, and needs to change.

    Intelligence, physicality and controlled anger throughout…anything else will see Joe Marler and his like returning down south on Saturday night talking about having secured another routine victory, where England’s power advantage meant that Scotland were never in the game.

    And who wants that?

    1. Playing England at a power / aggression game won’t win…Playing a game of pure attack won’t win…Playing pure strategy won’t win…. Mix them all at the right times will win.

      1. If we play with the power, skill, intensity, aggression, tactical awareness and determination that we did in the NZ game, then we’ve a decent chance. If we play with the power, skill, intensity, aggression, tactical awareness and determination that we did against Wales, then it’ll be a bloodbath.

  2. My squad for England would be :

    1. Gordon Reid
    2.Stuart McInally
    3.Simon Berghan
    4.Jonny Gray
    5.Grant Gilchrist
    6.Josh Strauss
    7.John Barclay
    8.Ryan Wilson
    9.Ali Price
    10.Finn Russell
    11.Sean Maitland
    12.Matt Scott
    13.Huw Jones
    14.Tommy Seymour
    15.Stuart Hogg

    16.Scott Lawson (Would be James Malcolm but this game adds pressure)
    17.Jamie Bhatti
    18.WP Nel
    19.Tim Swinson
    20.Cornell Du Preez
    21.Greig Laidlaw
    22.Pete Horne
    23.Ruaridh Jackson (Appears he can cover 15 as well as 10, also has experience!)

    1. Why has Hamish Watsom been left out? Arguably our best perfromer over the first two games and for some time before then.

      For me Peter Horne and, it pains me to say this, Laidlaw deserve their starting spots as well. I would also remove Du Preez form the team, the squad and international rugby.

      1. Horne is a tricky one, I would like some (proper) Fly Half cover on the bench, Jackson provides it but he also gives cover to the back three. I personally like Du Preez I think he has had a hard time of it recently and should be given a good opportunity to show what he can do.

    2. Finn Andrews who in their right mid has Strauss, Wilson, Du Preez etc selected ahead of our best performing back – Hamish Watson. You surely have to be an English troll trying to wind up some Scots

  3. I don’t think anyone expected us to beat Wales. Everyone with a brain knew with it being at the millennium it was no more than a 50/50 match for us. People thought it would be our best chance in a long time to get a result in Wales but apart from a few cocky internet trolls who thought we had won by 20 points before a second had been played everyone I know seen it as a 50/50 game which could go either way. Think some of our fans lost our minds after the autumn internationals and without using rationale thinking just assumed we would thrash Wales in Cardiff.

    1. I completely disagree. With injuries, and form etc many people thought we’d win and I don’t think it was unrealistic. However u can’t say no one thought we wouldn’t win clearly that was not the reality of what the feeling was. You can argue it was unfounded but not that it wasn’t there nor that it was a mad thing to think.

    2. I agree with referendum. There were a number of reasons to expect to win, I did and I think we should have, and if it was on tomorrow I’d say the same.

      Simple fact is we played very poorly, they played very well and duly we lost…

    3. BW and I dont agree that it was folks with no brains and trols that expected us to beat Wales.

      I did and so did you, you foretold us on 1st Feb ‘you’ve got to fancy us despite having such a poor record there.’ We need to win away and Wales were not in the best of shape. They are above us in the RWC rankings now mind you. No one predicted that before the game.

  4. Excellent article. England’s record is testimony to how big an ask this is. That said, we are playing in front of our fans with a much improved scrum. The inclusion of Berghan and Gilchrist gave us grunt in the face of a strong French pack. Denton was superb when he came on and an in form Strauss is fit. That is a changed dynamic. Russell needs to start. His kicking has been good in the Pro 14 and the stats show it. That said, if he doesn’t tighten up, Hogg or Laidlaw can take over. We didnt run the ABs close by playing expansive rugby, but by getting right up there into their faces. Keep it tight and intense, start quickly and play the territorial game. If we are in it at half time, who knows. I know, it’s the hope that kills you!

  5. I would drop Barclay. He has struggled in contact in both games and hasn’t had his usual impact at the breakdown.

    Denton at 6 for collisions.

  6. I was confident for France but I’m not confident for this game, but I think I also have a mental block when it comes to England!

    If we play as well as we did against New Zealand then we will beat them, it’s a simple as that, although I have said before that even though Russell, Jones and Hogg are the figureheads for our style of play I feel that it’s the skilful ball players at prop (Fagerson, Bhatti and Marfo) that are crucial to it.

    1. Really agree on the props. Everyone was obsessed with our scum going into the Wales game – but the real challenge in missing Fagerson, Dell, etc was the ball carrying and influence they have in the lose.

      Townsend has been able to ‘get away with’ picking a relatively lightweight back row with focus on skill and breakdown work because he had monster ball carrying props – I think this is part of the reason we’ve struggled to have same influence in breakdown this year. And why he’s been willing to go back to Strauss and Denton

  7. Real pity Nel, Dunbar & J Gray are not fit enough. I’m with Stuart I’d drop Barclay, he’s looked tired so far. We need to challenge England all over the pitch, agree with RuggersB we have have to mix it up. A huge Hogg Garryowen early doors with Mike Brown being legally flattened would be a nice start. I’d go
    Hogg, Seymour, Jones, Scott, Maitland, Russell, Laidlaw, Denton, Watson, Wilson, J.Gray, Gilchrist, Berghan, McInally, Reid – Reps – Kinghorn, Horne, Price, Barclay, Toolis, Welsh, Lawson, Bhatti

  8. Couldn’t agree more that Russell must start. Yes sometime what he does doesn’t work and puts our defence under pressure but more times than not it does and it puts our attack in great situations.

    You look closer at Russell’s 2 missed penalty kicks for touch against France and both were moments of near brilliance. His first miss was taken from barely inside France’s half yet if it was not for the breeze which pushed the ball further just when it looked like going out 5 meters from France’s try-line we would have had a line-out practically at France’s try-line. His second penalty was taken no more than 5 or 10 meters away from his own 22 yet Beauxis was 5 meters inside his own 22 when he stopped the ball from going out – almost an incredible 40+ meter kick which would have gave us a line-out 15-20 meters away from France’s try-line.

    I hate this idea that the worst thing you can do in international rugby is to miss touch after winning a penalty. After watching Scotland’s conservative penalty kicks for touch for 15+ years before Finn Russell came along where we would never make more than 20-30 meters and gain barely any advantage from a penalty I am so relieved to see someone actually taking the attack to the opposition even if it results in a few missed touches as in the long run you are actually gaining point scoring opportunities from his kicking unlike previous kickers

    1. Let’s get big Doddie Weir to take match ball out on Saturday and see if it can inspire the team and crowd like it did for the ABs game.

  9. Great article as always.

    Staying in the match until half time will be crucial. If, defensively, we start like we have in the last two matches then it’ll be a long dark afternoon.
    Yes, Denton is a strong arm to have from the bench, perhaps it’s worth starting him in order to give the pack more instant grunt. Having Wilson come on later would inject a bit more pace and mischief.
    I’m a wee bit intrigued by the idea of starting Nel. Unlikely I know but I think he gives the best chance of a solid scrum and I just wonder if having him on for the first 40, with Berghan as some fresh muscle in the second half, is a better chance of the scrum being destroyed in the first 20 minutes. England enforcing scrum penalties on us at will, combined with Farrell’s accuracy from the tee could see us cough up a lot of points. If I were in the England front row I wouldn’t want Nel to start.
    Just a thought.

    Midfield is tricky but I think Horne did well against France and I think some consistency in the back line is needed. If Finn has a shocker and England are out of sight at 60 minutes the I’d quite like to see Kinghorn come on for a stint at 10. Finn needs some competition and we need to blood new talent at 10 if the squad is to have real depth in every position.

    1. I think Nel was eased back into Test rugby during the summer tour after a spell away due to injury. He was just what we needed in the last 30 mins in Sydney last year. The way Berghan came back against France, he’d be unlucky not to start this Saturday. Maybe Nel on the bench if Toony and his team think he’s fit enough for a Test?
      Would also like to see Bennett in the 23. He seems to have fully recovered from last year’s injury, and retained his sharpness and eye for a gap.

  10. Must stick with them in the first half. A bright 5 mins from us, then twenty five minutes of bash from England. Survive that and the win is possible… did someone say 8/10 at Murrayfield in last 10 tests?

    So, I’m picking a big strong pack. As many leaders in the starting xv as possible: Nel, McInally, Berghan, Gray, Gilchrist, Barclay, Wilson, Strauss, Laidlaw, Russell, Scott, Jones, Maitland, Seymour, Hogg.
    Welsh, Lawson, Reid, Toolis, Denton, Price, Horne, Visser.

    Watson, Wilson and Barclay is difficult. Whoever trains best should get the nod. But being equal, I think Watson falls out on size.

    If Berghan can switch back to loosehead and Nel’s arm is better then that is the strongest front 3. Also happy would not give much away scrumming down with Welsh and Reid in the last 15.

    Can Scott slot straight in at inside centre, especially if Laidlaw is calling more of the plays?

    Toolis, Denton, Price, Visser – the impact from the bench.

    1. Not rocket science – Why are you dropping our best back row player by a mile – Hamish Watson

      1. See comment re ‘size’ and ‘leaders’ in the context of sticking with them in the first half, subject to form in training. Also, Denton to have more impact off the bench.

      2. Why not , he can have that opinion, even if it does turn out to be flawed. Watson is unquestinably a brilliant player . Its a game of 80 minutes ,if we are really going to be a side to compete we need to play horses for courses. Wilson has a bad boy edge , Denton and Strauss are both premiership carriers, Barclay and Watson are ruckmasters. Barclay will need to start, so its a tactical decision on the mix and bench.

        Personally I think Wilson will trouble England and as long as long as he doesnt trouble Nigel Owens too much we are in business. Watson is not a thug, Wilson is maturing fast.

        Watson on the bench for the closing phases is a credible option.

      1. Yes, I also know he’s our best TH by some way, but Berghan can play on either side – hence the comment ‘if Berghan can switch back to loosehead’. How had you read that? I’d also suggest it is easier returning to LH (than changing to TH).

      2. I didn’t number the picks and said Berghan at LH. I don’t see you calling out Scott for being on the wing etc etc. More to the point, consider why it is daft – look at the size & weight of Berghan compared to Reid, also making it an all E front 3; the strongest, most destructive pack possible to front up; frankly don’t want to see Bhatti on the pitch against England at this stage of his career. If you know Berghan is not capable of playing the position then feel free to shout, but his bio and public statements suggest otherwise. All that aside it is more interesting than picking the team everyone could – with only 8 & 12 open for debate. Nel & Berghan looks more formidable than Nel & Reid.

  11. When I look at our best 15 when everyone is available I feel we are only missing a top quality winger and a loosehead who is brilliant in the loose as well as the scrum.

    Obviously our wing options are not great with Visser lacking the defensive game and Maitland lacking the attacking threat/try scoring ability needed in the international arena and Lee Jones just does not have enough to his game to make it. The only Scottish winger I rate in any way is Seymour but even on form I would say Seymour is behind the likes A.Watson, Daly, K.Earls, Stockdale, North, L.Williams and Teddy Thomas etc. Darcy Graham looks like the fast creative winger we’ve been crying out for, for so long and Kinghorn looks to have all the assets to not only play on the wing but to be a great winger.

    Marfo showed he could solve our loosehead woes during the Autumn internationals as did Bhatti(and against France) and Reid has shown that he is a great scrumagger even if he lacks an all-round game.

    Then you look at the rest of the team which is filled with great quality. McInally looks a top quality hooker great at both carrying and scrumaging. Fagerson and Nel are great all-round tigheads. The Gray brothers form a great partnership in the 2nd row with Toolis and Gilchrist adding plenty of cover. Watson is a world class flanker, Barclay is a beast at the breakdown and Denton look’s to be getting back to his best and M.Fagerson and Bradburry look great prospects.

    Hogg is one of the best backs in the world and Huw Jones is one of the best attacking 13’s worldwide. At 12 we have Dunbar/Duncan Taylor who are both top talents when fit. Russell when in-form and confident is one of the best fly-half’s out there and with Price, Christie and George Horne looking great prospects we are well stocked at 9 for the forseeable future. And then we also have the talents of Graham and Kinghorn coming through in the back 3.

    We may lose on Saturday but the future of Scottish rugby looks bright.

    1. You didnt rate Seymour last week :

      ‘I’d argue having Teddy Thomas in your side is an advantage over having Seymour in your side on current form.’

      1. Ginger McGhee -Firstly I was very much correct that having Teddy Thomas in your side is an advantage to Seymour considering Thomas scored 2 tries against us. Teddy Thomas is a complete and utter superstar already with 8 tries in his first 10 international matches and I can’t see too many coaches/pundits wanting to select Seymour over Thomas. It’s nothing against Seymour who when on form is a fantastic player but at this point in time Thomas is the better player who will offer more for your team.

      2. You’re making out as if he’s being inconsistent when both comments he made are saying the same thing….

      1. I wouldn’t rate any of those guys over Seymour, to be honest. Yes, they’re all very good players, but so’s he.

  12. Nice article Rory – agree on all counts, save for Hogg for the touch finders. My understanding is that Hogg has an issue where his kicking has to be managed or he risks injury. Besides, much has been made about Finn being a senior player now. If we are putting faith in him for this match (which I believe we should) why would we take away one of the responsibilities he will presumably hold whenever he starts at 10 from now on just because it’s England?

    Thought about it long and hard and I believe that we will see a near identical starting XV as France. It’s international rugby, we need consistency and no-one drastically underperformed against France. It’s Toonie though, so plenty chance I’m wrong about that.

    Nailed on for me are:
    2 – McInally, 3 – Berghan
    4- Gilchrist, 5- Gray
    6 – Barclay, 7 – Watson
    9 – Laidlaw, 10 – Russell, 11 – Maitland, 13 – Jones, 14 – Seymour, 15 – Hogg

    Either Reid or Bhatti at LH, most likely Reid
    Either Horne or Scott at 12, most likely Horne
    Wilson, Denton or Strauss at 8, most likely Wilson but I take Rory’s point on Strauss

    Subs – Bhatti, Lawson (Malcolm would be a huge call given his game time recently), Nel, Toolis, probably Denton, Price, Scott, probably Bennett (or Kinghorn).

    Glad that the wild team predictions of last week have calmed down. Though think we still need to remember that Scott, Strauss and Visser were left out of the initial squad as much for form as injury, so can’t really see Toonie parachuting any or all of them to start.

    Back row in particular is hard to predict though. Who would begrudge Hamilton another go after the Autumn? and he’s not even being discussed! Unless we see Tombola max and go for 2 back rows on the bench at Scott’s expense. Cant see it though.

    1. In latest Scotland squad, came off bench last two Tigers matches and started the game before that (including scoring then taking over captaincy).

    2. I doubt Visser was left out of the initial squad because of form, I am just not buying that.

      At the time he was dropped for the Autumn Internationals he was being highlighted by the english press for his strong premiership performances.

      33 caps , 30 starts, 14 tries, you tell me what is not to like about a 6ft 4in try scoring machine who can match anyones speed in the premiership. Will he make it to the match day 23 !

      For me you dont bring him back as a tackle bag or to coach the others on the blokes he beats week in week out in the premiership.

      1. Good call…great summing up and his weaknesses are nowhere near the weaknesses they were. I’d back him to add to his international try ….saving record on Saturday! ;-)

      2. Dont have a source for this, but wasn’t he told by Toonie in the summer to stay at home and work on a few things? May well have done so and I do like him as a player, ditto Strauss and Scott.

        My only point is that I dont expect Toonie to parachute more than one of them at most into the XV, would be too disruptive and if he rated them all that highly they wouldn’t have been left out of successive squads.

      3. Ross: I heard that before and never bought it then and Visser has continued to demonstrate it was unjustified. It may be down to other reasons , not bad ones, just ones that cannot be published.

      4. Fair enough, as I said I like the guy, always been a fan, and it’s always good to have a finisher like him in the team. Just trying to guess what Gregor will do with the team. But I guess we will find that out tomorrow…

  13. Lets make sure Nigel is made welcome.

    I hope the coaches have a good chat with him about the scrum and the breakdown wrt his likely interpretations…

    On the breakdown I think its becoming more of a liability to compete-France “did well” to disrupt but also gave away multiple penalties, duly kicked over. I noted that our boys went in less often.

    Sadly, jackaling is becoming a “losers tactic” and something refs are looking for with penalties in mind.

    On the scrum lets hope Dan Cole is not given his usual 45 degrees of freedom…every time I see spidercam his boring in is an outrage.

  14. We have enough options from 11 to 15 , they could all do a job with a home crowd backing . Townsend’s problem is distribution through 10 , what to do with the gambler.

    While I think a good head would be better than a down on his luck good ol loveable gambler, I say Finn is due a big hand sometime soon. He has got the game, solongas he takes a advice from Kenny Rodgers:

    You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
    Know when to fold ’em
    Know when to walk away
    And know when to run

    Every gambler knows
    That the secret to survivin’
    Is knowin’ what to throw away
    And knowin’ what to keep

    But if he muffs it up, ahm stringing him up, you hear me boy.

    1. Maybe not the best choice of song for the weekend since apparently this was the England WC 2003 squad song…… #justsayin

      1. There is not a gambler among them. A bunch of well thought out professionals who expect Finn to be wreckless.

  15. Now where’s that varmit Eddie Jones, he is due some time in the big hoose in the east end.

    1. The main thread of anger against Finn was his brainless kicks. Who cares if they were inches from brilliance they failed and it wasn’t going to change the game finding those extra yards.

      The sound after the dust has settled analysis on here has shown over and over that he had a pretty solid even above average for Finn influence in the main body of distribution with hand and not the disaster everyone thought. However it still stands that he lost us points, tries and huge yardage therefore field position to being too greedy.

      Give Hogg those kicks and watch Finn run the show in active play. Glorious!!!

  16. I disagree and think the tone is unnecessary.

    It was you who posted in the Wales Match Preview thread on 1st February at 3.23 pm ‘you’ve got to fancy us despite having such a poor record there.’ What has changed other than the result!

    You were right to be optomistic , no shame in that. We were 5th in the world rankings. We were right to back ourselves and we were not deluded, this side were, and are, capable of more.

    We were let down and the accountability for that is immature leadership, which will, we hope, improve. If we were to get back to’winning on the road’ (Gatland’s criticism) that was the game.

    Regardless of what we go on to do in this 6N we need to learn from the poor preparation for Wales and that starts with honesty, ruthless honesty.

  17. We’ll need plenty of grit and then more grit for this but above all we’ll need to stay cool and ride the waves to come through this.

    I expect they will put 15-20pts on us to silence the home crowd…the boys need to be so ready for a shocking start this time round and rally!

  18. Would love to see us take a lead in a Calcutta match and see where that takes us. Puts different pressures on with that.

  19. The reasoning some give for potentially leaving Watson on the bench is total nonsense, ‘he can make an impact off the bench’ they say. You don’t bench your best players, you play them for as long as possible. It’s not complicated.

    I’d drop Barclay for Denton. Keep Horne at 12 and bring in Duncan Weir for Russell and we’re in business.

      1. I’m allowed an opinion, just like you are. Please don’t try to tell me otherwise pal. When Russell kicks a match winning penalty or DG under pressure as Duncan Weir – or Dan Parks – have done more than once then I’ll start to believe he has the necessary mettle. Watch Russell when he sees there’s a camera on him, starts dancing and playing up. I read Jim Hamilton say he has a white Lamborghini and has a Louis Vuitton man bag. I read elsewhere another player saying they used Russell’s private jet, I assumed it was a joke but didn’t see a punchline. Surely not? Now Russell comes across as a decent guy and I don’t dislike him at all, I’m desperate for him to perform on Saturday assuming he plays. But his head is a worry, the LV man bag thing…..

        Interesting claim above on Hogg and why he doesn’t regularly kick the touch finders. I did wonder if there was a reason such as that as it seemed too obvious to put him on them otherwise.

        So David Moyes is enlisted by Eddie Jones to help England. Hopefully Moyes is honest and doesn’t act as a Scottish spy behind enemy lines, as an honest Moyes is what will give them awful advice. ‘Ye need tae run more, and get the ball in the mixer Eddie’ is all he’s got, man is a clown.

      2. Busy Little Bee: “When Russell kicks a match winning penalty or DG under pressure…”

        You mean under pressure like a touch line conversion to get to a Pro14 final? That kind of pressure? Or does it have to be a penalty/drop goal?

      3. NRS: I think the only thing better than Russell’s pass and conversion is how bitter Ferris was afterwards. Loved it.

  20. My squad for Saturday would be:
    1. Bhatti
    2. McInally
    3. Berghan
    4. Gilchrist
    5. J Gray
    6. Barclay
    7. Watson
    8. Denton
    9. Laidlaw
    10. Russell
    11. Maitland
    12. Horne
    13. H Jones
    14. Seymour
    15. Hogg

    16. Lawson, 17. Reid, 18. Nel, 19. Toolis, 20. Wilson, 21. Price, 22. Kinghorn, 23. Bennett

    Calls for Russell to be dropped are ridiculous, he has had a couple of poorer games of recent but is still our best play-making option. He actually didn’t play badly against France with ball in hand. His kicking was erratic and he missed a tackle that he shouldn’t have gotten close too. That was Maitland’s man and he was out of position. Russell was a cover tackle that wasn’t quick enough. Against Teddy Thomas that is not unheard of!
    Reid has scrummaged well over the 2 games but so did Bhatti when he came on, I think Bhatti offers more in the loose and merits a start. Reid can come off the bench and apply pressure to the English scrum and make some big hits on tiring legs.
    I think Ryan Wilson is a fantastic player for Scotland but on this occasion, we need a battering ram. Denton is fitter and better than Strauss in this area so he gets my vote.

    Calls to drop Barclay, Watson & Russell are complete nonsense, and to even consider adding Duncan Weir is beyond insane.
    I also seen a comment to play Nel at Loosehead (Not Rocket Science), lets play players in their favoured position and not experiment against the World #2 team.

      1. so the line up of Nel McInally Berghan, should really read Berghan, McInally, Nel. You can see the confusion it causes when you do a line up out of numerical sequence.

        Either way, I disagree on switching props from side to side when we have suitable players in the same slot.

  21. Fully agree that Russell has to start. A steady-as-he-goes fly half isn’t going to win us the game. We’ll need the x-factor players to come up with something unexpected, as the English defence is annoying good. My suspicion is that England are generally better all over the park, but if the pack can keep us in touch, then we’ve got a puncher’s chance if the backs fire.

    In some ways, the model might be the WC QF against Aus, where we were under pressure a lot, but were incredibly opportunistic and almost (should have!) pinched it.

    My instinct is to play Barclay and Watson, as I do just love a good poacher. My worry is that England don’t play an out and out 7 because their pack is so massive and athletic, they can just drive over the ruck to turn it over. We might need a bit more ballast in the breakaway forwards than usual.

    For me, Wilson does great work spoiling ball at the bottom of rucks and is solid without being the greatest carrier – perhaps a more defensive pick than Strauss or Denton. Depends what balance you want in the pack. Tough call, and one I’m glad I don’t have to make.

  22. Been pondering the squad changes this morning, and remembered that, before the Australia game in the autumn, Toony also made changes. Those changes were decisively in regard to players who were now available and could add something to the game ahead. Maitland went straight into the team and Brown onto the bench. For that reason, I don’t think any of the changes are to pad out the numbers for tackling or scrum practice. Each of those players brought in, with the exception of Malcolm who is just for cover, must be in contention for the 23 these coming weekend. On that basis:

    Visser: must be in contention for at least a bench place. Seymour hasn’t wholly convinced so far and he offers a more attacking threat than Maitland. More likely to be on the bench to offer the possibility of an attacking thrust in the final quarter, with the focus more likely to be on keeping things tight defensively to begin with.

    Scott: with Dunbar and Taylor out, there has to be a more detailed discussion about who plays 12. The experiment with Jones at 12 didn’t work, so its a straight choice between Scott and Horne. I think Toony will go with the latter, but it shows that its not a certainty.

    Strauss: as with much discussion above, it is difficult to conceive of Toony altering the mobile starting back-row, unless he considers that Strauss packs a better opening punch than Wilson. He won’t drop Barclay and Watson has to play. If he’s not competing with Wilson to start, he’s competing with Denton for the bench spot.

    Swinson: offers a different game from Toolis off the bench and can cover 6 as well. For that reason, I’m going to stick my neck and say he’ll be in the 23. I’m a big fan of BBT, but this is the epitome of “horses for course” in my view.

    Nel: if he wasn’t fit enough to at least bench, then he should be playing for Edinburgh against the Dragons. He will be in the 23, no question in my view. On balance, I think that Berghan deserves the opportunity to start.

    1. …scunnered by the character limit, I may just have to write an article some day…

      On the basis of the above, I’m going to go with the following 23:

      1. Reid
      2. McInally
      3. Berghan
      4. Gray
      5. Gilchrist
      6. Barclay
      7. Watson
      8. Strauss
      9. Laidlaw
      10. Russell
      11. Maitland
      12. Horne
      13. Jones
      14. Seymour
      15. Hogg
      16. Lawson
      17. Bhatti
      18. Nel
      19. Swinson
      20. Wilson
      21. Price
      22. Scott
      23. Visser

      Narrowly missing out are Toolis, Denton and Bennett for the bench.

      1. The good news is that side would not let anyone down. Wilson has to be in the 23. Such a menace and will go toe to toe with any of them. Back row is the biggest issue. He will go for Horne.

  23. My team for the England match would be….

    1. Gordon Reid
    2.Stuart McInally
    3.WP Nel (IF… 100% ready to go…if not Berghan)
    4.Jonny Gray
    5.Grant Gilchrist
    6.Ryan Wilson
    7.Hamish Watson
    8.Dave Denton
    9.Greig Laidlaw
    10.Finn Russell
    11.Sean Maitland
    12.Matt Scott
    13.Huw Jones
    14.Tommy Seymour
    15.Stuart Hogg

    16.James Malcolm (looked impressive in last club match …Lawson doesn’t look international standard to me)
    17.Jamie Bhatti
    18.Berghan (WP Nel on bench if not 100%)
    19.Ben Toolis
    20.Cornell Du Preez or John Barclay or Strauss (pros and cons to them all)
    21. Ali Price
    22. Mark Bennet ( better centre than Horne)…However Horne more versatile
    23.Kinghorn (x factor if game is tight in last 1/3 or 1/4 and can cover 10)…or ….Visser (if experience preferred)

    Think we need to go with x factor on bench than versatility….’safe’ won’t win this one IMO.

    1. Struggling to see why Horne would be dropped to be honest, Scott just joined up with squad and Horne an integral part of the Townsend style, starting or from bench. No way he is not in 23. Agree with 21-23 but Horne at 12 before Scott and your back line is solid.

      Big game to throw a front row forward into. What if McInally gets injured early. Malcolm not ready for that yet!

      Cornell du Preez needs his South African passport back and remove all knowledge of his Scottish eligibility!!

      Can’t see Barclay being dropped but can see why you have in your line-up. Looked average in last 2 games and gave away more penalties than usual (even for him)

      1. Horne is too lightweight in the tackle to deal with the powerful midfield of England… and is similar to Jones yet simply not as good. Dunbar or Taylor would have played ahead of Horne…because they are better defensively. Considering the opposition Id go with Scott…and I’m not even a huge Scott fan.

        Fagerson was introduced young …Bhatti young…why not Malcolm? Lawson is bang average even as back up. If you can’t introduce a young player at a home game that gets them fired up then I don’t know when….meaningless summer tours tell us little.

        Agree re: Du Preez….should by all accounts be great at this level…but has simply been utter mince. I like Barclay but he is making selection hard with 2 poor performances.

      2. “Horne is too lightweight in the tackle to deal with the powerful midfield of England…”

        He’s the same weight as Owen Farrell but 2″ shorter, so he shouldn’t be much of a liability. He missed 1 tackle against France, a couple against Wales, 4 out of 19 against Aus… he’s hardly a defensive liability. Farrell missed seven tackles against Wales, but England still did alright. And while Joseph is defensively sound as well as a good attacker, Jones has made 15/15 tackles in the 6N so far. Not really a bad centre combo, stats-wise.

      3. I agree that Malcolm is ready to experience some form of International rugby, not a Calcutta Cup match after little recent game time. He is still only 3rd/4th Choice at Glasgow when all players are fit.


        He is a potential summer tourist or a replacement against Italy at the end of the 6N.

        I agree with RuggersB about Horne, he is a solid defender and if you remember correctly. Dunbar got turned inside out at Twickenham last year, Farrell run amok.

    2. If Scott is fully Test match fit I’d pick him ahead of Horne. Yet he’s not long returned from injury so that’s a risk, surely? In any case, Horne was fine against France and deserves another start this Saturday.

      I think Denton’s gradual reintroduction into the side worked well against France in the last 15/20 minutes. Not enough imo though to displace Barclay from starting, as captain, in a Test he will surely be totally up for to, among other things, help atone for last year’s humbling at Twickenham.

      It’s good that Toonie has a growing number of players to choose from because we’ve been very lucky so far with injuries in the first two rounds.

  24. My squad for Saturday:



    Front row picks itself given how they did against France. At lock I opted for Toolis as he offers more physicality and oomph than Gilchrist. In the back row, we need brute strength and size hence those picks. Watson is good and a menace but a wee bit small.

    9 and 10, Laidlaws experience to start and manage the game well, price coming on later can add the zip at the right time. At centre again neither deserve to be dropped. Visser starting may be controversial but is in good form too. Maitland can offer cover later in the game across the back 3.

    As for subs, I would hope nel can get 20-30 mins off bench as he won’t be ready to start and in the forwards,the others did well last week.
    In the backs, Horne can cover 10 if need be so leaves a place for Bennett who has done well since returning from injury and deserves a chance. Maitland already discussed above.

  25. The first game agains Walles du Preez did not get any bal carry or play with eather been droped by 9 and 10 or thrown away.Barkley is out of form Watson dont pass any balls go dead with his carries Denton dont have good hands Straus if on form and fit can play very well 6 Denton 7 Straus and 8 Du Preez and use him to carry ball up Wilson also not performing Wont play Russel totaly out of form on the moment and Landlaw on 9 .Locks 4 and 5 can stay 123 an stay 15 14 13 12 all can stay

  26. don’t rule out Russell at 12, he is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice after all…
    I reckon we could be in for a few surprises in terms of line ups and tactics. Toonie managed sides have destroyed many of the personnel who will be in opposition on Saturday.

  27. Headline in the Independent:
    ‘Reid says Scotland will repeat mistakes of Wales loss against England’

    I am surprised though to hear Reid saying that Scotland believed they ‘just had to show up’ to win in Cardiff. How is that possible? I can understand going into that game with confidence after the autumn, but ‘just had to show up’??

  28. Andrew, the headline on their web currently says “Gordon Reid admits Scotland believed their own hype before Wales loss – but vows not to do same against England”

    I long ago gave up reading anything reportedly said by players and coaches before matches, its now best to ignore what they apparently say at almost any time. Listening to them is like listening to any other business person / politician – even if what they say is correctly reported in context, many of the brighter ones stick to the old “never say what you mean, never mean what you say”.

    1. David, the article page headline says that but if you go to the ‘Rugby Union’ homepage and scroll down, it still says “Scotland will repeat mistakes…”

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