A NEW chapter is about to be written in the story of Andy Robinson’s coaching of the Scotland rugby team.
In 26 matches undertaken with Robinson in charge, only Nathan Hines, Kelly Brown or Al Strokosch have started at blindside flanker.
But, with Hines retired and the latter pair injured, the coach will have to look around for an alternative for the visit of France to Murrayfield on Sunday week.
However, a solution could be under the coach’s nose at Murrayfield, according to Netani Talei, who skippered Fiji during last year’s World Cup and who has just been named ‘Hotel du Vin/Malmaison Edinburgh player of the month’.
Talei says Robinson need look no further than his back row colleague, Stuart McInally.
Accepting his award, Talei said: “Stuart McInally is playing amazingly well and it will not be that long before he makes Scotland’s team.”
In fact, Talei sees an opportunity for Scotland to draw upon a partnership developed at club level by pairing McInally alongside another up-and-coming in Dave Denton, who has been one of the successes of the RBS Six Nations campaign so far.
“The injury to Al Strokosch [fractured hand] is an opportunity for Stuart, definitely. Stuart is not the biggest boy but he has a big heart, he carries the ball well, makes tackles and has a good rugby brain. Of course, it depends on selection but he is ready to go now if selected.
“McInally and Roddy Grant, who is more of an open-side flanker, have played brilliantly and without doubt they should be in contention for a Scotland role.
“Stuart can play 6 (blindside) and No. 8. So can Dave Denton so they can share that role. Attacking wise Dave is doing pretty well. Defensive wise, McInally does some big tackles for a small boy. Together, they’d do brilliantly.”
In fact, McInally is only a few pounds lighter than Strokosch and the same height and, although Glasgow’s Rob Harley will be a contender, he and Denton have started seven Edinburgh games together.
On one occasion, McInally, a try-scorer, took man-of-the-match honours and was singled out for special mention by coach Robinson, who included him in the A side which thrashed England Saxons 35-0 earlier this month.
So far as Denton is concerned, Talei has been able to draw on his extensive experience with Fiji to offer the 22-year-old some advice in the No. 8 position.
“Dave and I have our jokes. I give him a few tips and he gives me a few back. Big as he is, if he adds a bit of footwork into his game he will be insanely unstoppable. At the moment, Dave is just running into boys and causing damage.
“I think he has been practising his sidestep but only a Fijian forward can really sidestep, of course!”
A contributory factor in Talei’s latest accolade has been the protection he gives to the relatively lightweight Greig Laidlaw in his stand off role – something that was lacking in Sunday’s international against Wales.
Then, Laidlaw was targeted in the build-up to a Welsh try but Talei says the situation is easily solved.
“Always during games for Edinburgh I tell Greig I’ve got his back covered. He is a small boy but he has a big heart. For his size, it is impossible to tackle an 18st back row running at him but he gives it his best. He hangs on.
“Others will be targeting Greig because he is a small No. 10 and, if I was running at him, he wouldn’t be able to get me down. On the other hand, if I was his back row I would always be on his inside shoulder.”
In the longer term, Talei sees a glowing future for Dougie Fife, the latest ‘bright young thing’ to come through the Edinburgh ranks with a try-scoring debut against Ospreys last weekend.
“As soon as he came into the team, Dougie made an impact people wouldn’t have expected because he is so young. He made the most of his chance and I’m well pleased because older players can learn from the younger ones and vice versa.
“You miss players who are involved in internationals so it helps when someone like Dougie, who is so keen, comes in and wins man-of-the-match.”
Talei himself is no stranger to MoM awards including when a Heineken European Cup quarter- final spot at home to Toulouse was booked against London Irish but he insists: “While we all can’t wait for April 7 and a crack at Toulouse there is also a desire to improve our RaboDirect League placing starting at Dragons this Saturday.”