Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Few changes for Scotland side named to face Ireland

REPRO FREE***PRESS RELEASE NO REPRODUCTION FEE*** EDITORIAL USE ONLY 2020 Guinness Six Nations Championship Launch, Tobacco Dock, London, England 22/1/2020 Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend and captain Stuart Hogg Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Gregor Townsend announced a fairly familiar looking matchday squad to face Ireland on Sunday with only a few eyebrows raised at his selections on the bench.

After being recalled to the squad for the first time in this Six Nations Championship, Exeter forward Sam Skinner has headed back down the road to start for his club tomorrow, having been unable to usurp any of the loose five forwards from the starting line-up.

His versatility at being able to cover jerseys 4-6, and potentially 8, may have made him a handy replacement option, however Townsend has instead opted for Edinburgh pair Grant Gilchrist and Nick Haining on the bench.

“A number of factors have gone into selection. Form, would be one; what they’ve done for the team in past, and also who what opposition we’re up against this weekend, so that’s why Grant and Nick got the nod over Sam and others that were in the mix.

“We’ve got good competition there, it’s the first time we’ve brought Sam in for the Six Nations squad and one of the reasons is because he’s very close to the 23. We’ve not called up that many English-based players throughout this period unless they were in the mix for the 23. Sam’s aware of that and he’s just got to build on his performances and see where we stand next week.”

With Zander Fagerson suspended, WP Nel replaces him as starting tighthead prop and Jamie Ritchie also returns to the pack after missing the defeat to Wales through injury to once again team up with Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson in the back-row.

While Cameron Repdath still recovers from the neck injury sustained in his scintillating debut against England, Sam Johnson replaces James Lang at inside centre, and Sean Maitland’s particular set of skills sees him start on the right-wing against fellow resident-Kiwi James Lowe.

Maitland takes over from Darcy Graham who wears the number 23 jersey, and the previous incumbent of that – Huw Jones – wears number 22 meaning there is no recognised fly-half replacement on the bench.

Townsend confirmed that in the most unfortunate event of Finn Russell going down, Stuart Hogg would be asked to move into the 10 jersey.

“Hoggy played there for about 30mins against Wales in the Autumn, and when we played Ireland in the final fixture of the Autumn Nations Cup, Jaco van der Walt started and we didn’t have fly-half cover on the bench, so Stuart was due to cover that position if required.

“We feel where Stuart is just now, getting him on the ball more would be a positive thing. He’s our captain, so going into 10 as an attack-leader; a team leader; would be something that flows naturally.” Theoretically, it means that if Hogg moves to 10 both Graham and Jones would be able to move it in at 15 – or even Maitland, with Graham more likely to cover the wing – so versatility and serious pace is available were the craft and guile of Russell to be lost. But let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (c), Sean Maitland, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson,
Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, George Turner, WP Nel, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson

Replacements: Jamie Bhatti, David Cherry, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Nick Haining, Scott Steele, Huw Jones, Darcy Graham

58 Responses

  1. I think that any time that Finn Russell is out of action is detrimental to a Scotland team’s chances regardless of the replacement. To that end, and with Hastings also unavailable, I don’t really have any concerns about Hogg being that replacement. Having both Jones and Graham available in reserve is a real strength.

    Forward replacement strength is certainly not so apparent though, at least when compared to what looks like a very strong Ireland 23. Not meaning to belittle any of the boys in our 23, they’re all a decent standard these days, but it is on my mind that our front row bench is basically last year’s Edinburgh 3rd choice.

    I think it’s anyone’s game. Hopefully the team believe in themselves.

    1. I’ve realised a while back that our problems at 10 were to a large extent not problems at 10.

      Russell has been a revelation, but he has had too much to do.

      More physicality from the pack and better options inside and outside have made all the difference.

      I mean, look at Farrell or Sexton…by themselves they are really nothing special, but they use their resources well.

      Still, would rather we had a 10 or 10/12 in the 22 shirt…could be a long 79 minutes for Hogg after they crock Russell off the ball.

      Ross Thompson in for Italy!? He’s talented enough.

  2. I find the Gilchrist on the bench thing pretty self explanatory, lineout is massive , it is such a huge element of launch play to so much in terms of how you set to defend and attack.

    Gilchrist is a lineout caller, for all I can see Skinner isn’t for Exeter, often, and hasn’t ever been for Scotland – with the ability Ireland have come lineout time and the throwing ability of Kelleher (outstanding) on the bench, it makes sense to have that lineout option there as Ireland will come on strong in that area. You want to try and kill as much of their pick and go stuff at source as you can, as their pack is one you would think will lean heavy on that.

    Haining seemed to get into Irelands head based on what Tom English said came out of their camp, Haining is a great nause, he does get under the skin of players, is abrasive and aggressive in general, good to have that against Ireland, hopefully he can be our POM here, like he has been a few times now.

    For all it is great to actually have Hogg fit at all, it is hard not to look at the bench and see just how much the inclusion of Hastings can change the dynamics coming from there given how well he has filled in at 10/15 even at International level.

    As an aside Bhatti, from the little I actually manage to see of Bath looks to be heading back to the aggressive, nasty ball carrier he was looking for Glasgow and Scotland a few years ago, also knows how to pop a scrum, pleasing to see him back involved. I hope the return to Glasgow can see him kick back on, no issue with him on the bench and back with the squad.

    1. Great post, Ting.

      I confess I’m one of those who is pretty surprised at Skinner missing out for Gilchrist but your observations about the lineout are probably spot on. I hadn’t thought of that.

      I’m actually really pleased to see Bhatti back. Like you say, at his best he’s a nasty aggressive presence in the loose which we’re sometimes missing and maybe fills a gap left by Zander’s absence.

      It may be an unpopular view but as much as Kebble is a fantastic player I sometimes feel he can drift out of games and look like he isn’t pushing himself enough. Maybe being pushed by Bhatti will drive him on a wee bit.

      Agree about 10. If Hastings is fit he gives us another options to change things up but in is absence our best game changers are elsewhere so put Hogg in at 10 and bring in Jones / Graham.

      Anyway, #asone and onwards for Sunday.

      1. Grant Gilchrist hasn’t played much for Scotland recently…has been impressive at times but the last real contribution I remember was he was a penalty machine. So he needs a positive contribution when he comes on and his eagerness to impress doesn’t mean penalties….we’ve a decent bench we need them to impact well

    2. Really, a line out caller, who would have though that makes him unique in a pack of 8 who have voices and a rugby brains.Who would have thought ! Well not me but I love the lateral thinking .

      Let’s be clear, Gilchrist is an over the hill, line out caller, I feel sure someone else will be calling when he is not on the pitch. No one is buying that opinion Ting, sorry they might, but I am not, it is not ‘self-explanatory’ at all, IMO.

      He will be ok for the last 15 minutes. But if we need a lock any sooner , it will be a bad decision.

      However , we have a great side and his inclusion (or ill flamboyant opinions) will not take anything away from that.

      It is going to be a great weekend for Scottish rugby.

      1. Shocked you’ve never heard the term line out caller before TBH, pretty widely accepted Grey manages the defensive lineout and Cummings offensive. It’s a pretty specialised skill rather than it being shooty in who calls it.

        For an over the hill line out caller, it’s an area Edinburgh have had an outstanding record in in recent years.

        The likes of Launchbury for instance missed out on Lions selection to NZ because of his inability to call a line out.

      2. This is not the tv show ‘Call my Bluff’. Edinburgh and Glasgow have poor line out throwers so it is not an area of excellence by a long way.

  3. Does anyone have a stat on how many times Russell has played 80 minutes against Ireland? Just a hunch, but from the top of my head I feel that he has been missing on a number of occasions. Could that be the point of difference that we need for it all to come together on Sunday?

    1. I’m not as in depth as disco but from recent memory that post isn’t that absurd

      2015 – ehmm wit? Canny mind mate… did we play Ireland that year…

      2016 – Hogg wonder try at the Avvia (ooft) didn’t play

      2017 – We beat them at Murrayfiled he played and was sublime

      2018 – Kinghorn scores off a scrum and we butcher the Jones pass, he plays but Ireland were unreal then Schmidt was at his tactical best.

      2019 – Murrayfield Johnson try, mental Finn offload – we lost but he’s great

      WC – we are trash they shut down him and Hogg easily

      Not played against them since, interesting point mate!

      He’s also since had THAT game at Thomond v Munster when he popped the nutmeg and had some other unreal offloads to set Racing away.

      1. ..and yep…Farrell already saying thats his plan…2019 RWC = shut Hogg & Russell down = game over.
        Doubt thats just press talk…they’ve done it before and will likely do it again

        Townsend has had plenty time to adjust the tactics in prep of Ireland’s tactics.

  4. I have a feeling a red card will come Sunday…not sure who for…just hope it’s not for us. We do need particularly against Ireland 15 on the pitch maybe cope with one yellow but look how it changed game last year

    1. Any team in the 6N needs to keep 15 on the field. The odds of winning with 14 are stacked against.

    1. Off course he is , Skinner has a place with the European and championship cup holders . I am sure there is a reason for Gilco , I just cannot think what on earth that is, other than he is a Bingo caller , oops I mean line out caller, lets hope he does not turn it into a lottery.

      I suppose he had nothing else on this weekend anyway.

      1. Which of the Bingo callers decides to go over the back when the clear and obvious answer is 2 or 4 at worst. We are still doing it. Brown in particular cannot throw in it is a risk. If calling is a skill , how comes we get it wrong so often. It cost us the game against Australia in 2015, as a consequence the semi in that Joubert debacle. If we had gone short we would have had sure ball .

  5. The pessimist in me says Finn gets nobbled early on by an unpunished cheap-shot (see POM on Hogg as an example). Hogg steps up to 10 with Huw Jones to 15. Both play better than could be hoped for. However Hogg starts to get frustrated by Sexton milking penalties by flopping around on the ground every time someone looks at him funny. Eventually he snaps and ends up carded and the team implode giving up a slender advantage to lose it in the last 15 minutes through costly mistakes and penalties.

    1. Naw, you wouldn’t sacrifice a lock pairing that predominantly works well on the premise of one game, you would make alterations to correct issues surel eh,… you’d speak to them and show them analysis, give then the chance to correct it and put in measures you felt might it correct it surely, aye, naw,’d speak to the pack, watch how players train etc not just decide “naw I don’t like Gilchrist” .. you’re not saying thing I find of interest TBH. It’s Abe Simpson waves angry fist at the sky stuff.

  6. Just to further add to the line out thing….anyone watched the Wales game back ?(don’t it’s balls) we lost two trys off line out maul, you think line out isn’t a focus…meh, fair play. The line out defence was in bits in that game, again, can see why this is an area we are focusing on i.e Gilchrist typically defends it and swims up it well. We were always going to pick a physical lock. That game shows how huge line out is.

    1. So why was Gilco not picked to start ? Are we prepared to lose two tries from the line out again with Grey and Cummings when the amazing line out swimmer that is Gilco is warming the bench. Meh !

      1. I am sober, I just do not buy the Gilco selection speculation and made a point. Gilco will do his best, he is not a bad choice, just not the obvious one.

    2. Maul was bad that game yet generally recently we’ve been much better… why so bad that game?? And Ireland use this well so we somehow need to get on top of it. You get on top in that area you can be guaranteed 10-14 points from it in a match. Too much to give away.

      The psychological toll is huge if team goes to corner knowing its a weakness….

  7. I love this place for optimism you can’t beat it. Though I know for the never ending false dawn that we have all far too often experienced you end up protecting your inner being to help soften the blow. Though I have great belief we will win. The boys are creating a strong culture of a new relationship in bond. Finns having fun . Hoggy is showing maturity the forwards have clicked and this Sunday provides the perfect and last opportunity to claim a one over ‘others’ who want to claim a ( possible) lions place.

    1. Dream weekend. Win for Italy, France and Scotland plus Sexton sent off in dying seconds. Here’s hoping 🤞

      1. A controversial red card against Liam Williams causing Italy to win by one point plus a crushing Scotland win. Happy for France to run riot although part of me feels the mocker gods should smite them for their Covid shenanigans. Here’s hoping.

      2. To win championship we need France and Wales to lose…France haven’t won at Twickenham in 16 years. Ahead of match with us ideally you’d want France and Wales both to lose once….gives us a much better chance of winning it all. The most likely of that is England winning today and France beating Wales. Anything else is unlikely….

        Eng win Wal win and we beat Ire all poss we become favourites ahead of our final match real pressure on France too.

        So we do want eng to win today the best for Scotland.

  8. Possibly the weakest replacements bench we have seen from Scotland for some time. Injuries to our 2 first choice hookers , a card for Z Fagerson and Kebble not being selected hasn’t helped. Contrast this with Ireland’s excellent bunch of replacements and I think we can see them pulling away in the final 20. Like most others on here I don’t know why skinner isn’t on the bench , or toolis for that matter if it is line out parity we seek. I only see defensive solidity in the centres but little creativity, Harris performances warrant him keeping the jersey but Johnson has struggled for form and fitness , we have better choices in his position.

      1. I am a fan of Mark Bennet but he mostly gets a run out at 13. I would like to see Matt Scott given a run if games again. He’s never let us down but I do not think Tooneys a fan of either.

      2. I think the fairly obvious criticism of the midfield is that is lacks gas and creativity. I like Johnson but assuming Harris has established himself, Redpath really is the perfect foil. On that basis and given the other options I’d like to see Jones tried at inside centre or (brace) Hogg. Get either one of those on the ball more often. If the latter you can move Maitland or Jones to 15 and there is Darcy on the wing. I still think that Taylor, Jones is a perfect combination but not an option as long as the defence is built round Harris (though could he not move inside?). Anyway let’s see how Johnson Harris go…

    1. Is Kebble injured ? I have no doubt Bhatti will raise his game when he puts a foot on the grass however Kebble does not deserve to be dropped. I rate him every bit as highly as Sutherland. There are many more positives tomorrow than usual.

      1. Yeah I’m not sure about that call. I’ve always said Bhatti is a guy who takes time to play himself into form and I know he has had some minutes on the pitch with Bath. Once he’s up and running he can be excellent but I didn’t know he was approaching that kind of form now! He has scrummaged well against Furlong in past. Remember Glasgow win at the RDS in 2019. Furlong came on at half time and got schooled for 20 minutes by a top form Bhatti before being subbed off. But something has made Glasgow /SRU want to resign him.

  9. Watching Italy v Wales, sorry but it’s time to call a halt to Italy’s six Nations journey.They have had their chance but just keep going backwards.Rugby really is tedious when one team just isn’t up to the challenge as demonstrated by the fact that I am posting half way through the first half.
    Italy’s ambition each season seems to amount to targeting all their resources into the game against Scotland to try and prove that they belong in this company .
    Time to go back to the five nations or give someone else a chance.
    29 minutes in, four try bonus point achieved .. goodness knows what the final score will be,whatever Wales want I suppose,
    I’m away for a walk before the France England game.

    1. Prob right. However the 6N competition is a closed shop and mitigates against the growth of the game. Time for a truly international competition organised in leagues with opportunities for promotion and relegation. Trouble is World Rugby is in the pocket of 6N.

      1. What militates against the growth of rugby globally is the way that management of global rugby is totally dominated by and for the benefit of approx 10 established nations.
        Compare to FIFA which is much more equal.

    2. They should stay , I am sure the early years for France were poor and look at them now. Italy have more registered players than Scotland or Wales and the game will grow in Italy , which is more than is happening in Scotland.

      Now that I have made my opinion clear, why are we chatting about Italy in a Scottish Rugby Blog. By all means moan about Italy when we play them.

      1. Sorry didn’t realize that the blog police were on duty.
        Seem to remember plenty of chat about POM sending off v Wales,was it a Welsh knock on v England ? etc.
        It’s a rugby blog

      2. Rule 3 ‘stay on topic’. Save it for next week. The clue is in the name ‘ scottish ‘.

    3. Totally disagree. They’re a young side, give them a break. Their under 20’s beat Wales last year… they need time and resources, but they’ll get there. Plus, and most importantly, I like my trips to Rome to watch Scotland play – the food and weather alone are good reasons to keep them in. Not sure a weekend in Georgia has the same appeal?

      1. Yes Al , Rome is a great trip, good for wives and girlfriends as well, but not on the same trip, keep them apart.

    4. Italy leaving the 6N would be a massive indictment of rugby and its pretensions (delusions?) of being a global sport.
      It’s a country with 65m people and a genuine regional hotbed in the North. We’ve just got to stick with it.

      Remember a few years back when Scotland were the target of the ‘let’s kick ’em out’ brigade?

      Had it happened it would have likely been terminal for the game in Scotland and would’ve diminished the 6N to a joke as it would’ve been impossible to justify keeping Italy in also Georgia who some suggested as replacement wouldn’t have been any better and it would have ended up as a 4Nations on pay per view with 10,000 people watching.

      1. Know what you mean but 31 losses in a row, come on, Scotland at their worst were no where near that. Just putting it out there, where do you draw the line.

    5. TEE CHEE
      Careful what you wish for. Scotland have still to play Italy and a win is certainly not guaranteed.

  10. Wayne Barnes is touted as the No 1 international ref now that Nigel has stepped down. But. good as he is, he misses far too much in open play. T he forward pass and the knock on in particular.

    1. When they were reviewing Biggars high tackle, I noticed in the replays, immediately after he drives his shoulder into the head of the prone player. Not picked up by any official.

  11. Back on topic.

    Ireland, like Wales, have got dog in them – a compliment to both of them. Meaning among other things that more often than not they find ways to stay in games even when they’re on the back foot.

    If we can find again the total focus, discipline and power over 80 minutes at Twickenham this year and for much of the Wales game, we should win this tomorrow.

    We haven’t been bullied up front iirc since Ireland duffed us over in the RWC 2019. One of the reasons why our performances and results have gradually improved since then.

    France’s defeat by England today gives us extra incentive to win tomorrow and at the least keep our hat in the ring for this year’s title.

    Mon, Scotland!

  12. It’s very Scottish that in The Rugby Union Six Nations 2021 title race we’re but a stones throw from the final round of fixtures and we can still win the whole thing and on the other hand pick up the ultimate poisoned challis of The Wooden Spoon for coming last in the competition….

  13. If we lose 50-0 in the next three games ?
    Not a lot of confidence in the team you have.

    1. TC: ? what , say again, in simple english or even scots . I do not understand the comment .

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion