Scotland on the up?

Dan Parks kicking Scotland to victory.

By Andy Mackie

Scotland took a southern hemisphere scalp for the second successive year against South Africa on Saturday. Las year after victory over Australia I looked at the state of Scottish rugby overall. This year in the wake of the latest victory I am going to concentrate on the national team.

There is little doubt that both in terms of ability of individual players and strength in depth that the squad is in ruder health than it has been for many years. There are still some areas of concern, not least the lack of a genuine cutting edge in attack, but lets concentrate on the positives first.

The Scottish pack of the 1970’s featuring the likes of Mclauchlan, Carmichael, Brown and McHarg was known as the mean machine and its present day counterpart is showing similar qualities. Indeed there is not a pack in world rugby you wouldn’t fancy the Scots having at least parity with. Especially satisfying is the number of genuine international quality second rows available. This position was an achilles heel of Scotland for many years, while some excellent locks, notably Doddie Weir and Scott Murray, have played for Scotland over the last 15 years they tended to be of the beanpole variety. Scotland seemed incapable of producing the second row monsters such as Johnson, Grewcock and  Shaw that England seemed to churn out. Yet this autumn the prodigious and giant Richie Gray, the resurgent Scott Macleod, the near 20 stone Jim Hamilton, and tough nut veteran Nathan Hines have all pulled on the blue jersey. Add to that Glasgow skipper Al Kellock who is just returning from injury after leading Scotland to victory in Argentina and that’s a formidable bunch. Gray is particularly exciting as at 21 he seems destined for greatness.

Behind this group in the back row Scotland have if anything an even greater wealth of talent. The killer B’s back row of Barclay, Brown and Beattie proved as good a back row as any since Jeffrey, Calder and White this year. However injury to Johnny Beattie has allowed Richie Vernon to blossom at number 8 for club and country. It will be interesting when Beattie returns to see if Andy Robinson elects to go with the power and solidity of Beattie or the pace and offloading of Vernon. Alistair Strokosh also missed the autumn schedule through injury and on return will provide fierce competition to Kelly Brown on the blindside. Over on the open both Ross Rennie and Allan MacDonald can count themselves very unfortunate to be contemporaries of John Barclay – surely one of the finest open sides in the world.

The one area of slight concern may be the front row. Not that there is anything wrong with the first choice trio of Jacobsen, Ford and Murray. Jacobsen in particular is in the best form of his life and they are both effective in the scrum and dynamic around the park. The worry would be in the back up players. At prop Moray Low has done well when called upon but the likes of Dickinson, Cross and Traynor have yet to convince at this level. The nightmare scenario for Andy Robinson would no doubt involve a serious injury to Ross Ford as Hall and Lawson may be decent club players but neither are serious international class hookers.

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