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Pack of eight: All you need to know about Scotland

As we continue though Ireland’s Six Nations opposition in reverse order, we happen upon Scotland.

Jonathan Sexton tackled by Richie Gray supported by Jerry Flannery Mike McCarthy and Isaac Boss
Jonathan Sexton tackled by Richie Gray supported by Jerry Flannery Mike McCarthy and Isaac Boss
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Who’s their coach again?

The common consensus is that Andy Robinson is doing a fine job on limited resources with Scotland. He was a coach too early discarded by England when a steadied ship was needed more than a rocking chariot.

Though he may well be a two dimensional tactician, it would be hard to conjure a coach who could be anything else with this group of Scottish players.

There are mitigating factors at play way beyond Robinson’s control. he arrived in Edinburgh the same year that he Border Reivers were disbanded, leaving only two Scottish clubs laying in the Pr012, the mass exodus of players south of Hadrian’s wall and into the Premiership. In this case the common consensus seems the correct one.

How did they get on last year?

Only a final day home win over Italy steered them clear of the wooden spoon – on points difference. They looked promising on the opening night, scoring three tries in Paris, but that was followed up by a limp showing at home to Wales before a typically stifling performance to keep Ireland within three points.

It’s worth noting that they were better in the final three games when Ruaridh Jackson was chosen as the starting number 10. Also, we would do well never to forget that Scotland are the team who beat us in the Ireland’s last appearance at Croke Park. This revenge hit-list is getting longer and longer.

Were they any good in the World Cup?

Not really no. they failed to get out of their group. However, that was the group of death (a scenario posed to Ireland in 2007) and the presence of Argentina and England was always going to make a quarter final appearance a commendable feat.

In fact, they were struggling away quite nicely and according to plan – beating Georgia and Romania – until the dramatic final minutes of the group match against Argentina. it was a match they were in the midst of chiseling out win in, until a calamitous six missed tackles allowed Gonzalo Amorosino scamper in for the decisive score in a 13 -12 win for the Pumas and a place in the spotlight against New Zealand.

What are their strengths?

The pack is not to be messed with. If they could avoid playing on a Sunday then Euan Murray is a prop who can more than match any loose head on his day. But it is the line-out which really sets them apart, that set-piece could never be weak when it a man the size of Jim Hamilton is struggling to hold down a jersey. Ross Ford is the new captain and, as a hooker, he will surely lean towards the catch and drive tactic.

Star man

Richie Gray doesn’t exactly hurt the line-out options either. Quite aside from his amazing Apollo-like flowing blonde hair, Gray’s athleticism really turns his country’s pack from a hulking immovable mass into a dynamic and forceful weapon.

Sadly, the Scots don’t have such star quality behind the scrum.

Many new faces in the squad / any old warhorses retired?

Two grand old servants to the jersey called it a day after the World Cup. Former Leinster lock, Nathan Hines, has made for France for a big pay day before he hangs up his boot.

But it is  the absence of Chris Patterson which will be felt most acutely. The fullback not only brought massive experience to the side over the last 100 odd caps, but he was also a dead-eye off the kicking tee having notched with 809 points with the thistle on his chest.

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How’s the kicker?

With Paterson gone, whoever is selected at number 10 must also step up to the goal-kicking duty. Dan Parks is enjoying his rugby since moving to Cardiff Blues, but at international level (or with a less capable backline) he never quite looks capable of impressing. Robinson may play it safe with Parks, particularly with England first up, but it would be a far more interesting spectacle if he selected wee Duncan Weir instead.

Either way, Scotland won’t be scoring as many penalties as they have done over the past 13 years. Paterson once slotted away an incredible 36 consecutive placed kicks between August 2007 and June 2008 – That’s a World Cup and a Six Nations without one off the post or trailing wide.

Any injury strife?

Scotland’s two-dimensional back-line is further flattened by the continued absence of the man who should be king (or the fly-half at least). Jackson has a hamstring strain which will keep him out for the first two games at least. Outside centre, Joe Ansbro will also miss the Calcutta Cup meeting with a back problem.

Kelly Brown, who could have captained the side, will be out for most if not all of the tournament, meaning the young but promising David Denton should be given the chance to impress.

Ulster wing, Simon Danielli, also looks likely to miss out on a starting berth for those fixtures. The brilliant recent form of Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy have ensured he has not been able to wear the red handed jersey since November. As a result of his lack of match fitness, Robinson has hinted that he’ll have to introduce him gradually.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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