Planet Rugby

State of the Nation: Scotland

04th December 2013 14:17

Share:

duncan weir scotland

Fly-half contender: Duncan Weir

As we do at the end of every year, we look at the state of affairs in each of the world's leading nations. Next up, Scotland!

There is a measure of cautious optimism around Murrayfield, despite familiar issues rearing their heads for Scotland in 2013.

Inconsistency plagued the Scots as a solid Six Nations campaign was followed by an injury-hit tour of South Africa, and a largely disappointing trio of November Tests.

Little can be read into that June voyage, so ravaged was it by wounded players, and last month's defeats to South Africa and Australia were entirely expected from a statistical point of view.

But Scott Johnson was keen to stress that this year was about much more than results.

The Australian used the final six Tests of 2013 to broaden his horizons as the build-up to the Rugby World Cup commences, and gave players the chance to stake their claim to a starting berth ahead of next year's Six Nations.

In June he had no option but to dig deeper and deeper into his player pool as bodies piled upon the treatment table. In November, premeditated rotation was the order of the day.

This approach, he argued, would widen Scotland's player base, before a more strengthened, focused methodology was adopted come February 1st and their Six Nations opener in Dublin.

It did ensure Scotland were all the more unlikely to topple either of their heavyweight November opponents thanks to a mishmash of selections and alternations.

The problem Johnson was trying to address was plainly clear though - illustrated perfectly as the hosts crashed to a 28-0 defeat to the Springboks and a narrow loss to the Wallabies six days later.

With participation figures so low in Scotland - there are just two professional team - meaning a desperately small player base, the national side often suffers from an inhibiting lack of depth.

Minus the potency of Stuart Hogg, Matt Scott and Tim Visser from the backline, their replacements visibly struggled to cut the mustard against rugby's big boys last month.

While the hosts enjoyed the lion's share of possession and territory against the Wallabies, and during the second-half against South Africa, they remained unable to cross the try line. Imprecision and indecision at key moments were their undoing. When their opponents had opportunities, they took them.

Quality, creativity and ruthlessness continue to elude the Scottish attack.

Indeed, the identity of the man in charge of kick-starting Scotland's attack is still a mystery.

Johnson has yet to opt permanently for either the confident, assured style of Duncan Weir or the more mercurial talents and vision of Ruaridh Jackson as his first-choice pivot. Bath's Tom Heathcote will remain on the periphery until he can muster some game-time, potentially through a change of club.

Despite recent set-piece woes, the pack remains an area of strength but the inclusion of a genuine openside is a must in the ever-crucial breakdown battle. The absence of quick, clean possession was a sizeable factor in Scotland's impotency.

Captain Kelly Brown (fine player though he is) is not the answer in the number seven jersey - if he finds form and fitness, Ross Rennie should be Johnson's first pick. He is a world-class player, and Scotland produces precious few of those.

Johnson spoke highly of the character of his younger, inexperienced players despite the November defeats, and the attitude of his charges was a definite positive to emerge from a tough month.

With the arrival of Vern Cotter on the horizon, it is important that the coach now decides upon his first-choice XV and picks them regularly with the World Cup now less than two years away.

by Jamie Lyall
@jlyall93

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , April 18
Harlequins vs LeicesterHarlequins vs Leicester Preview
Saturday , April 19
Exeter vs Sale15:00
Bath vs Worcester15:00
Wasps vs Gloucester15:15
Sunday , April 20
Northampton vs London Irish14:00
Newcastle vs Saracens15:00
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
RaboDirect PRO12
Friday , April 18
Leinster vs Benetton TrevisoLeinster vs Benetton Treviso Preview
Glasgow vs UlsterGlasgow vs Ulster Preview
Saturday , April 19
Zebre vs Edinburgh14:30
Connacht vs Munster18:15
Sunday , April 20
Cardiff Blues vs Scarlets14:00
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Ospreys16:45
More RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures
Top 14
Friday , April 18
Castres vs MontpellierCastres vs Montpellier Preview
Saturday , April 19
Oyonnax vs Toulouse14:55
Perpignan vs Toulon17:00
Grenoble vs Bayonne18:30
Biarritz vs Brive18:30
Racing Metro Paris vs Clermont Auvergne18:30
Stade Francais vs Bordeaux-Begles20:35
More Top 14 fixtures
Super Rugby
Friday , April 18
Hurricanes vs BluesHurricanes vs Blues Preview
Melbourne Rebels vs Western Force19:40
Saturday , April 19
Chiefs vs Crusaders19:35
Waratahs vs Bulls19:00
Sharks vs Cheetahs15:00
Stormers vs Lions17:05
More Super Rugby fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , April 13
Saracens 28 - 24 NorthamptonSaracens vs Northampton Report
London Irish 40 - 12 NewcastleLondon Irish vs Newcastle Report
Saturday , April 12
Worcester 33 - 38 ExeterWorcester vs Exeter Report
Leicester 27 - 15 WaspsLeicester vs Wasps Report
Gloucester 17 - 18 BathGloucester vs Bath Report
More Aviva Premiership results
RaboDirect PRO12
Benetton Treviso 45 - 27 Newport Gwent D'gonsBenetton Treviso vs Newport Gwent D
Scarlets 27 - 20 ZebreScarlets vs Zebre Report
Munster 5 - 22 GlasgowMunster vs Glasgow Report
More RaboDirect PRO12 results
Top 14
Bordeaux-Begles 20 - 22 ToulonBordeaux-Begles vs Toulon Report
Toulouse 16 - 9 BriveToulouse vs Brive Report
Grenoble 30 - 36 Montpellier
Perpignan 22 - 12 Oyonnax
Bayonne 24 - 19 Stade Francais
Racing Metro Paris 37 - 7 Biarritz
More Top 14 results
Super Rugby
Chiefs 22 - 16 Melbourne RebelsChiefs vs Melbourne Rebels Report
Western Force 28 - 16 WaratahsWestern Force vs Waratahs Report
Lions 12 - 25 SharksLions vs Sharks Report
Cheetahs 31 - 52 CrusadersCheetahs vs Crusaders Report
More Super Rugby results
Aviva Premiership
Friday , April 11
Sale Sharks 12 - 27 HarlequinsSale Sharks vs Harlequins Report
More Aviva Premiership results
RaboDirect PRO12
Ulster 58 - 12 ConnachtUlster vs Connacht Report
Edinburgh 22 - 29 Cardiff BluesEdinburgh vs Cardiff Blues Report
Ospreys 25 - 19 LeinsterOspreys vs Leinster Report
More RaboDirect PRO12 results
Top 14
Clermont Auvergne 23 - 11 CastresClermont Auvergne vs Castres Report
More Top 14 results
Super Rugby
Highlanders 27 - 20 BullsHighlanders vs Bulls Report
Reds 20 - 23 BrumbiesReds vs Brumbies Report
More Super Rugby results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Saracens1976
2Northampton1966
3Leicester Tigers1963
4Bath1959
5Harlequins1954