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From despair to dreamland: Scotland's strength in depth finally comes good

By Steph Brawn

Cast your mind back to March when Scotland, after seeing off Wales and Ireland in the Six Nations, were beaten spectacularly by England 61 – 21.

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There was a genuine feeling that unlike other years, this time the Scots could defeat the Auld Enemy. Since the wooden spoon in 2014, they had grown in confidence, gained some world-class players and were proving themselves as a force on the world stage.

But when Fraser Brown was sin-binned for taking England’s Elliot Daly above the horizontal just minutes into the match and Stuart Hogg and his replacement Mark Bennett both departed early with injuries, the team was in disarray. Scrum-half Ali Price at just 5ft 8in had to move onto the wing after hastily discussing with his replacement Henry Pyrgos about which of them was going to give the position a shot.

Tommy Seymour, who had become a talisman on the wing, also had a disastrous day at full-back. The dam which took so many years to build had burst. England scored a flood of tries, painfully exposing Scotland’s lack of strength in depth and ending a realistic dream of winning the tournament in devastating fashion.

On Saturday, when Hogg injured his hip in the warm-up ahead of the final match in the Autumn test series against Australia, memories of that catastrophic day came back to haunt many a Scotland fan. The full-back had been so key in the series and with centre Alex Dunbar out with injury as well, that pit-of-the-stomach feeling struck again as Saracens’ winger Sean Maitland moved to full-back on his international return from injury and one-cap Byron McGuigan stepped into the left wing.

But after 17 minutes, McGuigan showed some impressive football skills to score his first try for Scotland in his first start. He followed it up with another score in the second half when Maitland set him up to touch down in the corner on the hour mark. The Sale man had no idea he was starting until 20 minutes before the match was due to kick-off and his performance was nothing short of outstanding.

 

And he wasn’t the only newbie to make a good impression on the Murrayfield turf. Stuart McInally was quite possibly the star of the series starting at hooker in every game after struggling to secure a regular place in the squad since missing the World Cup through injury in 2015. His line-out throwing was much-improved and he scored three tries from driving mauls over the course of the series, only two short of the amount veteran hooker Ross Ford has scored in his entire international career. He is now without a doubt the top choice number two.

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Fellow front-rower Darryl Marfo didn’t have a club in the summer and emailed Edinburgh Rugby to ask if he could play for them. Any fan would be foolish not to be extremely on edge when he was named in the starting line-up against Samoa in the first test, but he was solid in the scrum throughout the three matches and a great ball-carrier. Prop Jamie Bhatti was also sublime when called upon, even in areas you wouldn’t expect him to be, such as when he made a barnstorming run against Australia which eventually saw Jonny Gray run over for the Scots.

And Glasgow Warriors centre Pete Horne, who has often struggled to get into any real stride in a Scotland shirt, stepped up to the plate in some style when he had to replace Dunbar in midfield after showing himself to be a powerful and reliable replacement in the New Zealand and Samoa tests. He made good breaks, got himself into useful positions and constantly looked hungry for tries, scoring one against the South Sea Islanders in the series opener.

Scotland scored eight tries against the Aussies well and truly putting their World Cup woes behind them with a record-breaking points tally over a Southern Hemisphere side. After coming within inches of beating the All Blacks and scoring six tries against Samoa, it was the best test series the nation had seen for many years.

Every Scotland fan thought that cringe-worthy day in London would still be lingering in the back of the mind come the 2018 Six Nations but it’s safe to say those dark memories are already beginning to fade after Gregor Townsend’s men proved they have more than just 15 weapons in their arsenal.

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So often a laughing stock in the past, Scotland now have to be taken seriously and if they can take this form into the Six Nations, there might just be more records broken.

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Shaylen 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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J
Jon 11 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Ioane is going to be more than good enough to lock up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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