Despite the differences between the two sports similar debates are currently going on amongst fans of Scottish football and rugby.
In football, Kris Boyd had become accustomed to being left out of big games by Rangers and chose to quit international football because he was not satisfied with being always on the bench. This was because he was seen by management as being a one dimensional player. He scored goals but his all round game wasn’t good enough to justify his selection particularly against higher skilled defences. In the end, Boyd altered his game and tried to become a more all round footballer. As a result he has forced his way into being an automatic starter for Rangers and is now being approached to reconsider his position for international selection.
But the debate goes on. Is Kris Boyd now a starter because of a lack of options at his club? Has he really changed his game that much? Does he still take away more from a team than he offers? One thing is sure. If Kris Boyd had Fernando Torres or Wayne Rooney in front of him in the pecking order there would be no debate. But as the players competing with him for selection are Kyle Lafferty and Nacho Novo, there’s hardly an embarrassment of riches available.
The same argument is being played out in Scottish international rugby with Dan Parks. While Dan Parks has always been recognised as a very strong kicker his tackling and delivery leave a lot to be desired. At club level his defensive weakness has led to Bernardo Stortoni alternating in at stand off in defensive situations, a scenario which we may see play out with Chris Paterson in Cardiff on Saturday.
Parks has been out the Scotland team for fourteen months, but he is a different player since the last time he played for Scotland and despite his weaknesses he has one strength over any other stand off available for Scotland in relation to his game management ability. There is no doubting that he has an arrogance and ability to take over the game with his kicking, a virtual guarantee of points scoring and an awareness to play the field position game to his teams strengths.
There seems little doubt from the pattern of recent selections that Robinson and Townsend would prefer their stand off be an all rounder but Parks’ selection for Cardiff on Saturday indicates a recognition by Scotland’s management that the other options available are either unproven or too risky – the product of thinking just too far outside the box. Phil Godman continues not to assert himself as his supporters would wish. Having conclusively lost two head-to-head duels with Parks in the Inter City matches over the Christmas and New Year period his performance against France was mixed at best. Considering Ruaridh Jackson as an option is jumping the gun dramatically. Though his day will come he’s just not ready to play at this level. The other options are Chris Paterson, previously written off by Robinson as a viable option at stand off, or Hugo Southwell, who doesn’t see number 10 as his preferred position although he has played there for Scotland A and is a talented player Scotland probably should utilise somewhere in their team or at least have available on the bench.
The final option is Mike Blair. He’s clearly seen as one of Scotland’s top players and while it’s no doubt tempting to see if both Blair and Cusiter can be accommodated in the starting 15 to date he’s untried in this position.
Scotland need to be more adaptable and urgently start exploring other options. In his article, “The Curious Case of Rory Hutton”, Kevin Ferrie of The Herald writes about the lack of adaptability of Scottish coaching. The fact that Dan Parks is now seen as Scotland’s best option in the playmaker position may be seen as a sad indictment on coaching in this country recognising as it does that no stand off available to us has been developed beyond his level.
At the very least, with the kicking prowess of Parks and Paterson, Scotland should be able to defend in the opposition half and kick the penalties which come their way but they won’t be a true threat at top international level until they have real attacking options. With Scotland being left with no other option but to turn to a player Robinson clearly wanted to discard from the international scene and who wasn’t in either the chosen 44 in August, the A team in Belfast or the 22 chosen against France there could be no better demonstration of our lack of progress as an attacking force at international level.
In the second guessing of the selection that will no doubt continue until Saturday, Scotland’s supporters should avoid being be too harsh on Parks because the simple fact is that now as never before we really need him to be playing at the top of his game. Rumours coming out of the camp suggest that Robinson expected to lose against France but that Wales is a match he believes Scotland can win. Let’s hope that in the critical selection of Dan Parks at stand off he’s got it right.