Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Autumn Nations Cup: Ireland v Scotland team announcement

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has made six changes to the starting XV that faced France, with perhaps the most surprise omission being that of openside flanker Hamish Watson.

“Hamish Watson is fine. We’re just looking at other combinations and giving other people opportunities.

Hamish has played really well throughout this campaign. He has started every game and trained at a high level. Like any player, he’ll be frustrated that he’s missing out this week but it’s nothing to do with performance – he’s been one of our best players.”

Watson’s place at openside will be taken by clubmate Jamie Ritchie, whose positional shift opens up a starting spot for Blade Thomson with Matt Fagerson continuing at the back of the pack. Possible replacements off the bench are Sam Skinner – although it’s more likely he’ll come on at lock in place of Jonny Gray or Scott Cummings – and 34-year old warhorse Blair Cowan, included for the first time since 2016 before Townsend had taken the reins.

Rory Sutherland returns from his ankle injury at loosehead to pack down alongside Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson, who regains his starting jersey from Simon Berghan.

Edinburgh stand-off Jaco van der Walt becomes the latest SpringJock recruit, and with no recognised stand-off on the bench, Townsend confirmed that Stuart Hogg will be the back-up option there should anything befall the recently married man from Randfontein.

“I think just getting used to playing international rugby will be a great experience for him” said Townsend.

“This year and last year he’s taken his game to another level. Defensively, he must be one of the best tackling stand-offs in world rugby.

His passing and kicking are at a high level and he’ll be looking at ways to best influence the defence. It will just be that little bit quicker at international level but we have a real belief and faith in his ability and in those around him to bring the best out of backline this weekend.”

Alongside van der Walt at inside centre, “Super Dunc”, Duncan Taylor replaces Sam Johnson, and on the wing Darcy Graham replaces Blair Kinghorn who broke his finger against France.

“We believe this is a strong team. Players have high energy levels because they didn’t play last week and they are desperate to make the most of this opportunity.

“We started 2020 playing in Dublin and had a few opportunities to win that game and to score tries. We got turned over five times in the Irish 22, which is unusual and a credit to their defemce, but we know if we’d taken those opportunities it would have been a different scoreline. There’s a lot of rugby still to be played before we take on England in February, and we haven’t played that much rugby since the restart, whether at club or international level, so this would leave a good impression if they played well as individuals, if the team performed well as a collective, but there will be many more opportunities to put their hands up for selection come Six Nations time.”

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (capt), Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Duncan Taylor, Duhan van der Merwe, Jaco van der Walt,
Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Blade Thomson, Jamie Ritchie,
Matt Fagerson
Replacements: Stuart McInally, Oli Kebble, WP Nel, Sam Skinner,
Blair Cowan, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Huw Jones, Sean Maitland

33 Responses

  1. Prediction:

    At 60 minutes, Harris has been stripped 3 times and missed 2 tackles, Toony brings Jones on for Taylor.

    1. At 60 minutes, Harris has been stripped three times and missed 2 tackles, Toony brings on SHC for Matt Fagerson shifts Harris to 10, moves Fraser Brown to outside centre and sends JVDW home for drinking at his wedding at the start of November. Scotland play the rest of the game without a hooker but still manage to miss the back of the lineout with every throw.

      Actually optimistic for this one after the squad announcement…

  2. There’s some optimism Dennis!Jones has a real opportunity to put some points right for himself this weekend. I hope he goes out there and shows what’s been missing. Look out for Cowan’s display too. Great opportunities for both off them.

  3. My composite XV…

    Hogg, Graham,VdM, Aki, Henshaw, Sexton, Price, Sutherland, Brown, Fagerson, Gray, Ryan, Stander, Ritchie, Doris.

    Seems like we have the edge in the back 3 and front row, them in the back row, halves and centres.

    1. Some big calls in that composite team.

      Graham ahead of Keenan (the latter less experienced but just as promising, probably agree with you tho), VDM ahead of Earls (experienced senior player vs test newbie who has great qualities), Price ahead of Murray, Sutherland ahead of Healy, Gray ahead of Henderson, Ritchie ahead or O’Mahoney. Not sure many Irish fans would back any of these selections.

      Think lots of these are our guys trying to make their reputations against tried and tested Irish guys who are much more celebrated. Good time to start overturning some of these reputations then – think Ritchie and Sutherland are the closest but we need all these guys to perform.

      1. Pretty sure most Irish fans XVs would be all Irish!

        Some pretty close calls in there, but went with form (as I see it) over reputation…

  4. A couple of surprising and interesting selections there. A hefty starting pack which is more than handy when facing an Ireland pack always looking to try and get the edge on us up front.

    No disrespect to Watson, but it’s good to see Ritchie back at 7 where he flourished after the loss of Watson at the RWC.

    A fresh 10 is a decent call even though Weir has done ok so far in this tournament – much better than I thought he would tbf.

    Duncan Taylor is a really good all-round footballer who by all accounts is back to somewhere near top form at Saracens.

    We’ve got imo a decent chance on Saturday. France did deserve to beat us but we were competitive in that Test against a very good side now who saw off Ireland fairly comfortably recently.

    The ‘punt-chase-hope for an oppo mistake tactic’ is a go-to play featuring often in Tests these days and it’s killing the entertainment value for spectators. Hoping to see a bit less of that from both sides on Saturday.

    1. I share your view about Taylor who made one pass in his sub appearance which got our backline looking dangerous. As you say a quality footballer with the touch of class that can make a difference.

      Gregor was building up JVDW’s defensive work, kicking and passing. So it needs the guys outside to create with ball in hand.

      Hoping for less aerial tennis as it is dull and I think we will come second in that contest.

    1. Sexton say he wants to play on to the RWC, the heir apparent Carberry is back later this season and every Leinster FH has been called up to the Irish squad backed up by Billy Burns (Harry Byrne being the most hotly tipped).

      Wonder if Ben Healy will look at JVDW lining up on Saturday and see he could walk straight into the Scotland squad and stay there for a decade. I hope Glasgow have been a big wedge in the table – they have some big-ish names unlikely to renew their contracts at the end of this season (Nakarawa, Seymour, maybe even Huw Jones).

      1. Ben Healy walking into the Scotland squad for a decade?

        It’s like Russell and Hastings never existed.

        I would love Glasgow to sign him though and would finally give Hastings some competition in the seasons ahead.

      2. I think Healy would comfortably be 3rd choice 10 for Scotland right off the bat meaning he would probably get a cap off the bench reasonably early in his Glasgow career. In Ireland he has several players ahead of him.
        If he did decide to sign I’d like to see Hastings moved over to his native Edinburgh. Then we’d have two young talented 10s starting for the pro sides. 10 has been a problem area for Edinburgh for a while. Jaco is solid on his day but that’s about it.

      3. Yeah, Bazz you seem to have misunderstood. The 6N squad routinely has almost forty players so I think he’d immediately slot in unless VDW has an absolute stormer on Saturday. Weir is a good player and has done well enough but it’s clear Townsend doesn’t want to rely on him. So there is an opportunity for Healy to play test rugby almost immediately.

        I’m not saying he’d be ahead of Russell or Hastings (who is likely to be out for most of the 2021 6N anyway).

        When you take into account injuries, Lions tours hopefully for Russell, summer and autumn test series etc. it’s pretty likely Healy would be getting capped regularly straight away. That is just the reality of our lack of depth at 10.

      4. If it were to happen a move of Hastings to Edinburgh doesn’t seem entirely beneficial to the development of Chamberlain who would likely become 3rd choice at Edinburgh. Or would it do much to amuse the Glasgow support at a time when that relationship is fractured at best.

        You would be as well just having Healy as competition to Hastings, he would find a load of games between Hastings being away, Hastings being picked in Europe, Healy doing the same – a back up 10/competition at Glasgow would be playing a really high % of games across a season.

        A world where both Edinburgh and Glasgow have 2 really solid Scottish options at 10 seems ideal.

  5. Can’t help but think team selection, not bad. Weir has done him self proud but interesting to how the new Edinburgh ten performs. I’m thinking a solid third choice rather than competition. My only concern is the centres it appears to be on position which following a glut of great players, we are going backward.

    1. Scott and Dunbar; Bennett, Horne and Taylor; Jones and then Johnson and Harris. It is weird that for several years we had like a revolving door. Some seriously good players but none held a solid starting position for that long.

      1. Serious injury had a huge impact in Dunbar, Bennett, Scott and Taylor’s careers sadly. Dunbar and Bennett never really recovered.

        Jones has been badly managed IMO. Horne and Johnson have done well but they aren’t quite as high quality as the others. Horne is at the end of his career and Johnson looks less outstanding when he isn’t next to Russel.

  6. Pretty settled selection, particularly by Townsend standards. Looking at the front row with Nel on the bench looks like an eye on the scrum. Been pleased with Cummings in the lineout. The optimist in me hopes that this pack will evoke some of the physicality that was on show in the 6N but seemed to be missing during the last two games.

    One area I am worried about is kicking. This game could be very high attrition and some missed kicks could be costly.

    Wonder if Kinghorn will be behind Blain at Edinburgh now? Hate seeing talent waste but his poor decision making is too costly at Test level.

  7. What a bench, what a brilliant bench. I think Kebble is slightly underrated and Sutherland is overrated (the gap is not as wide as we think). Good to see Cowan back in favour. I am keen to see how he benchmarks, very bulky and a sensible head to calm the pack through the last 30 mins. I hope he pushes the boundaries, rumbustiously.

    Like most comments , I really cannot understand the lack of continuity at 12 and 13. I am past the stage of debating who should play centre. This is typical Townsend, Jones is playing full back, just finding his feet and he is the midfield replacement. I cannot help feeling we might only see him, if the game is lost. How cynical of me !I wish he would just stick with any pair and let them bond. Right now it is Harris and AN Other. It is not even fair on Harris. Seat belts on for take off, this is going to be a good game.

    1. Well it has been Johnson/Harris for some time now.

      Johnson was injured so Lang was in his place.

      Johnson returned from Injury and took it back.

      Johnson didn’t impress with his 2 opportunities and now that Taylor is also back fit he can stake a claim as Lang and Johnson have not.

      Seems like a reasonable sequence of decisions.

      Townsend also finally giving Huw a chance on the bench which is what most people have been asking for for a while. Centre is his best/natural position after all.

      1. It is his natural position re Jones, he hasn’t been playing 15 that long, I reckon he can remember how to play 13 if needed, and has thus far looked competent at 15 so can slot there if needed.

        It is also not that many games ago he was starting games for Scotland.

        Despite what some seem to want to perceive re a relationship between Townsend and Jones, Townsend does very often default back to trying to find a place for Jones.

      2. Huw Jones spent the RWC at home. Townsend seems to want to find a place for Taylor as well. Hutchinson has played 5 games and scored 2 tries since his debut in August 2019, impressive and full of potential. This is a long way of saying , I do not agree it has been Harris and Johnston for some time now.

        My concern and it is a cynical concern, because I am like that, is Jones is stepping up to international level as a replacement 13. If he comes on after the game is lost, he will have been seen to do nothing, and if he comes on to win us the game, well , he has not played centre for some time, once again, a big ask of him. I just do not want to see him buried if it all goes horribly wrong . I hope no-one is expecting him to be the Jones that dragged three englishmen with him to score. That was a long way in the past when he was playing centre week in week out. If he wanted to find a place for Jones on the bench , maybe Georgia or Italy , see how it goes. This is Ireland , a team Townsend’s Scotland has never beaten.That is all.

    2. I am all for continuity – it just boggles my mind that Harris is the player that is getting the continuity and everyone else is getting shuffled around!
      I don’t have the stats, but there can’t be many players that have been picked in the starting 15 in every game this autumn and for him to be one of them is frankly baffling.
      Hopefully Jones comes on fairly early and plays a blinder as I don’t think we will ever look great in attack with Harris playing (and think his defensive abilities are grossly exaggerated judging by all the missed tackles he makes!).

      1. Scotlands win record when Harris features is very good …. his selection stopped being baffling to most a long time ago I would say

        A lot of his work in tackle is because he is very often trusted with being the one to lead a press and chase of a receiver which he is very good at and hunt, that will on occasion lead to missing a tackle, which is visible to the eye test.

        In general though stats re tackles are so bland at times without detail and context to them. Harris is far more inclined to look for work and tackles he might miss, a far greater attribute than someone making 100% of 4 tackles and missing out on work, is that for instance a more admirable attribute? Not to most I can’t imagine.

        I would say the exaggerated statement is that to say we can’t look good in attack with Harris playing when there are already numerous examples to show that not to be the case. It was in part Harris inclusion at Twickenham which helped turn the game, France at home in the 6 Nations, excellent attacking Rugby, far better than that which we saw in Ireland when he didn’t play for instance.

        Did we cut loose and tear up trees away to Wales? No, nor did we v England when he didn’t play in similar conditions. Which shows games have context and nuance to them

        The attack of a side doesn’t solely hinge on the selection of one center either way, there are so many facets involved to what good attack actually looks like, it is incredibly subjective.

      2. I agree with some of your points, but just genuinely don’t think he is a good player.

        I don’t look at stats, but for me he seems to miss at least a couple of bread and butter tackles every game in his own channel.

        I also don’t think he offers any threat in attack which allows teams to double up on some of our other players a lot of the time.

        Of course there are a lot of factors in these things, and you are right in saying we CANT play attacking rugby with him playing is an exaggeration, but I do think he doesn’t help us to play attacking rugby which for me is a must in a 13.

        I absolutely disagree that he did much to turn the game at Twickenham though.

        We can’t all agree on everything, and each game I try to approach Harris with a blank slate and not impose my preconceptions on him (not that easy to do once you take a dislike to a player). I’m sure to some extent I am just watching out for what he does which makes mistakes stand out, but honestly I have yet to see what people see in him.

        I will try again tomorrow!

      3. Of course he will miss tackles, he defends what is the hardest channel to defend on the park, it is unique group who play 13 and don’t miss tackles.

        There are things you can think though, and then there is evidence….

        V France 3.01 who breaks the France defense and starts the momentum?

        v England 3.43 while the pass is sublime, who’s run and reverse pass occupies 4 English defenders to create the space for the time to make the pass and the width to make the pass into.

        That moment was evidence of the dummy running he can create havoc with by hitting up a defense on a hard line, he did it numerous times during the game. He does that both in attack and defense, it is always done at break neck pace.

        3.57 v Italy who hits a hard line to actually get over the line

        Similar threat offered v France in the summer game at Murrayfield last year which lead to his try.

        All of that is the work of a good Rugby player offering an offensive threat..and actual things to show that happen, and only moments at that, let alone body of work during a game. His defensive work is in reality an offensive threat.

        It might not be the offensive threat you like, but it is quite visibly an offensive threat both leading to scores from him and opening up chances for others.. it also displays a of a player living at International level, something a good/very good Rugby player does, a poor player isn’t even dreaming of playing at that level.

  8. I like the balance of this team. With Duhan, Taylor and Harris we have some real good strike runners mixed with the pace and agility of Hogg and Graham. The forward pack is excellent too and I’m very glad to see Sutherland back, I think we could have the edge in the scrums for the first time against Ireland in a long time.

    The bench is probably the best I’ve seen in recent memory. Let’s hope Townsend uses them with enough time to make an impact.

    All the best to Jaco. Real baptism of fire for him and I think he’ll be targeted early but as Townsend says he’s a very strong defender so should be able to hold his own.

    Hope we’ve been told to stop the aimless kicking as Ireland do not give away possession easily.

  9. Re 13
    I think Harris is a good strong club player, he does everything such a player does, runs hard, tackles & threatens the gain line. However as Fraser alluded to above he offers little in attack & allows the opposition to double team Hogg or Graham or VDM.
    I like the small things & the difficult passes he has not completed are exactly the point, he’s not instinctive, he’s not the top attacking threat at 13 we need.
    I think its a Scottish thing – we don’t luxuriate in the attacking verve, the brilliance of Jones or Hutchinson we prefer to extenuate the perceived defensive weaknesses of these boys.

    Incidentally, I reckon VDW is very decent but would be best employed at 12, especially with Russell at 10.

    1. Harris is a future British & Lion, he fits Gatlands style perfectly and is the best defensive centre at least in the Northern Hemisphere if not the globe (name another who is better, thats right you cant)

      1. If we had a full back with less ego and the willingness to tackle we would not need a tackler in an attacker’s position and an attacker in the last line of defence. It is all a compromise, and sometimes it works, however there is no long term gain. just my opinion.

You might also like these:

Craig is joined by John on the injured reserve list to have a wee look at the URC action from the weekend.
World Rugby has taken steps to ban Dupont's Law amongst three new law changes to be brought in in July.
Scotland came up frustratingly short in their final Six Nations match against Ireland, losing out on a place in WXV1 in the dying minutes. It was a disappointing end to what has been a very good, if not spectacular, tournament from Scotland. Eleanor has the talking points.
Scotland's Womens Six Nations came to a frustrating end with an eminently achievable third place slipping out of their fingers in the final minutes. Skye rates the players.

Scottish Rugby News and Opinion