THE conventional thinking about stand-offs, for at least a couple of decades now, is that there are two stereotypes and you have to choose between them. Cavalier versus roundhead, gifted but risky versus predictable but dependable; quicksilver or concrete.
That was how the debate was framed when the contest was between Gregor Townsend and Craig Chalmers, and until recently the respective merits of Ruaridh Jackson and Duncan Weir have been seen from the same perspective. Jackson is the inspired ball-in-hand attacker: Weir the calculating, kick-for-position No 10.
But Scotland coach Scott Johnson looks at the two Glasgow men from a slightly different angle. These days, he believes, there is no longer a black-and-white choice, for Weir now embodies at least some of the virtues which were once Jackson’s principal strengths.
Hence the selection of the team to face Ireland on Sunday. Weir at outside-half: Jackson out of the squad altogether.
Full-back Stuart Hogg is the first-choice back-up at 10, and could end the game there, Johnson said yesterday. Scrum-half Greig Laidlaw has lengthy experience in the position, and replacement centre Matt Scott could also deputise. But for the bulk of the game, ideally till an away win is in the bag, 22-year-old Weir will be running the show.
“It was a tough one,” Johnson admitted when asked about the selection. “He’s added some things to his game. I think he’s developing as a player.”
It is just as well for Weir that the coach thinks he is developing, because Johnson went on to admit bluntly that he had not been too impressed with the Glaswegian. “I say this without disrespect: when I first coached against him I saw a fat little kid. Couldn’t believe he was playing rugby at that level, in that position especially.
“His body’s changed dramatically. He’s deceptively quick and he’s added a thrust in his attacking game. He was known as a big kicker of the ball and could control a game that way, but I think he’s added things to his game. He’s changed his body and we like that. We want consistency now. If he can’t do those things, he’s not a 10; we expect him to boss people around.”
Weir was a more than useful footballer at school, so it was no surprise that when he turned to rugby he became known for his kicking ability. But he agrees with his coach that he had obvious deficiencies until not too long ago, and that he is now a more versatile athlete. “When Johnno first met me in the summer tour in Australia it was a huge learning curve,” he said. “Especially when Gregor came in at Glasgow as well – they’ve both developed my attacking game and I feel comfortable in the roles that I need to perform now on the field.
“Since I first joined Glasgow there was always the competition with Ruaridh. Club teams and international teams always have competition for places, it’s something that you need to deal with and you need to take every opportunity you can on the field.
“I can only take the opportunities that are put in front of me by the coaches. I’ve been on the bench for Glasgow, but coming on, and I feel I’ve done my best to up the tempo and put in the points that the coaches want to see from their stand-off. Although the game time has been small, I feel I’ve been doing that pretty successfully. I just have to grasp the opportunity, and look to boss the Scotland team to a nice victory on Sunday.”
Scotland beat Ireland in last year’s Six Nations Championship, but nice was probably not the best adjective to describe the 12-8 victory at Murrayfield. Nerve-jangling would be better terms for a match in which the Irish, who scored the only try of the game through winger Craig Gilroy, did everything but win.
“We can take good pride out of our last game against them – having 20 per cent of the possession and still going on to win the game,” Weir remembered. “We can take confidence from that. But we know that Ireland attacked very well against the All Blacks and stretched their defence. So it’s about us containing them in defence, but also going out there and moving the ball about in attack and then playing where the space is.”
Defending solidly, attacking perceptively, and using the space well. If Weir can do all that, and steer Scotland to victory into the bargain, he will have more than justified Johnson’s faith in him as a well-rounded – but no longer chubby – No 10.
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE