Analysis: Scotland’s defence off the lineout

Date published: March 16 2017

Our resident analyst picks out where Scotland's lineout fell apart last Saturday at Twickenham, on a day to forget for Vern Cotter's side.

Look out for our other analysis piece this week focussing on how Wales' lineout was more successful.

Scottish Defence

The English mauling of Scotland was a complete mismatch, the like of which nobody expected to see.

The Scots were physically battered and out thought tactically and they were shown up at the very point when they had raised Scottish expectations.

One of their biggest weakness was lineout defence from first phase. In this section we’ll investigate why Scotland were as terrible as they were.

This is great play by England, Owen Farrell does enough to just stop the drift, by running a hard line, and when George Ford gives the pass he loops around and draws attention to the outside to open up the midfield. But, as good as it by England, it’s really poor by Alex Dunbar.

The centre slows down as Jonathan Joseph gets the ball, perhaps expecting the play to come back towards him, and misses the tackle.

As good as England’s passing is, this is another error by Scotland. Finn Russell and Hamish Watson come up quickly but faster than Dunbar and Huw Jones.

As soon as the ball is moved wider than the first two defenders it becomes a three on two and Jones has to just guess who to go for.

Scotland have thrown defenders into the backfield, at the expense of the midfield, but they can’t do anything to stop Joseph.

In this final example, it’s the same old story as we saw above. Scotland are set up okay but as soon as Nathan Hughes runs the hard line he completely changes the picture and takes out all the inside Scottish support.

Owen Farrell runs directly at Dunbar, which prevents him from drifting, and hits Joseph who is charging through the hole.

Dunbar and Jones might have looked like they were responsible for these tries, but they were consistently left isolated by hard inside English runners which paralysed their inside defence.


Scottish defence has been solid throughout the Championship, but they were undone on Saturday. Top level teams should never concede from first phase off any set piece, they certainly shouldn’t concede three times from that scenario in a single game. 

The game on Saturday against Italy, which could’ve been a Championship winning game, will now be a real struggle for the Scots.

The Italians will be licking their lips, knowing that Sergio Parisse can tie up the inside defence and Luke Mclean and Tomasso Benvenuti can charge through the midfield.

Two wins would be a demoralising return for a Scottish team who are definitely improving.

by Sam Larner