Allan Massie: Six Nations bonus points a non-starter

Picture: Ian Rutherford
Picture: Ian Rutherford
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BAD ideas need to be knocked on the head pretty smartly. The suggestion that bonus points should be introduced in the Six Nations is one such. They may be necessary, and indeed desirable, in other competitions, but the Six Nations is fine as it is. It ain’t broke; there is no need to fix it.

Happily, the admirable French coach, Philippe St-Andre, has made just this point. Given that he was a prolific scorer in his playing days, and that France might benefit more than most countries if a bonus point was awarded for scoring four tries, he can hardly be accused, as a Scottish spokesman might be, of resisting the innovation because it would be to the disadvantage of his country.

Meanwhile, thoughts turn to Scott Johnson’s selection for Twickenham. Lots of us have probably warmed to the Australian coach after his sparky show at the tournament’s press launch, and may therefore be in indulgent mood. Nevertheless, there is so much uncertainty that only one thing is sure: the team he names will leave a lot of people dissatisfied.

It’s likely that he will include Sean Maitland. Even those of us who have doubts about parachute boys, and recognise that they come here because they have abandoned hope of playing for the country of their birth, may accept that he looks a very good player and is a good deal more Scottish than many who have worn the jersey with distinction. Johnson flagged this up by telling us that when Sean was a wee boy, his father used to get him up in the middle of the night to cheer on Scotland in the Five or Six Nations. Fair enough, though the lad must often have cried himself to sleep when returned to his bed. In any case, he has been here longer than the Leslie brothers had when they were picked for Scotland – and we were glad enough to have them.

Tim Visser hasn’t been at his best recently, but if he is given the ball in any sort of space, he will score tries. So he will play – and if his defence is still a bit flaky, the same may be said of his opposite number, England’s Chris Ashton. With Stuart Hogg in good form again, that’s the back three sorted.

Most of us could probably come up with half-a-dozen permutations of the centre partnership, and not be fully satisfied with any of them. I would guess that Matt Scott will keep his place, but if Johnson is in the mood for adventure, he might go for two new caps in the Glasgow pair, Peter Horne and Alex Dunbar.

Since Johnson has let us know that he sees Greig Laidlaw as a 9 rather than 10, I would expect him to be at scrum-half with Ruaridh Jackson outside him – assuming he has recovered from his bruised ribs. Jackson has been playing very well recently, and, if Laidlaw is not to be at fly-half, there is surely no immediate competition, since Duncan Weir hasn’t looked either as sharp or as confident as he did last season, and it would be a gamble to pick young Tom Heathcote for such a big match. In any case Jackson, as I’ve said before, is the best tackler among our possible 10s, and we need a good tackler in midfield against England.

The starting props will be Ryan Grant and Euan Murray, but surely Ross Ford can’t pack between them since he has played no rugby since before Christmas. With Scott Lawson out injured, it looks like a choice between the Glasgow pair, Dougie Hall and Pat MacArthur. I’m an admirer of MacArthur and would pick him, but I guess he will lose out, perhaps altogether, since Johnson might want to have the experienced Ford on the bench.

The lock position is as it has been for a couple of years, 
with Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton and Alastair Kellock in competition. Usually it’s a choice between the bulk of Hamilton and the line-out expertise of Kellock, with Gray a certainty. I expect this is still the case, even though Gray has been struggling in a desperately poor Sale side.

The back row is as usual the most competitive part of the team. I thought Johnson had omitted Alasdair Strokosch, but it seems he was only excused the first week of the get-together. The only genuine open-side is Glasgow’s perpetual motion man Chris Fusaro, but he is a little short of game-time recently, and may have to wait. It’s very good to see Johnnie Beattie back in the squad, but he may have to content himself with a place on the bench and perhaps a start against Italy next week. That said, both he and David Denton have been on the mildly-injured list, so selection may depend on which comes off it. I’ll be disappointed if Rob Harley doesn’t start, for reasons I’ve given here before, while Kelly Brown must surely play because he is one of those players you can rely on to do the right thing.

So my starting XV would be: Stuart Hogg; Sean Maitland, Alex Dunbar, Peter Horne, Tim Visser; Ruaridh Jackson, Greig Laidlaw; Ryan Grant, Pat MacArthur, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton, Rob Harley, David Denton, Kelly Brown.

What’s yours? More to the point, what will Johnson’s be?