Iain Morrison looks at the contenders for the key No.10 position.
Chances of starting v England: 65%
Gregor Townsend says: “Finn made a few errors and he’ll be working hard to make sure that, in things like kicking penalties to touch, he does them better under pressure. He will be under even more pressure against England, who have a very good defence. He did some very good things [against France], in attack, but we know he can play much better.”
We say: On his day Russell is world class but the kicking game of England’s 9, 10 & 12 won the day against Wales while Russell’s kicking from hand almost cost Scotland against France. Townsend will probably conclude that Scotland need Russell at his best to have any chance of beating England so the coach will throw him in and pray that the fly-half unearths the best of himself.
Chances of starting v England: 15%
Gregor Townsend says: “He’s a very good ten. He jogged through a few plays in the car park as preparation [for the France match]. I’m sure that was enough for him. We needed to keep going at the French but wanted to keep Greig on the field, keep leading and kicking well.”
We say: Laidlaw is a master of all trades but his presence at ten causes defensive headaches all round and he offers no discernible threat with the ball in hand. Laidlaw’s selection at stand-off would be almost an admission of failure of Townsend’s entire rugby philosophy because the little Borderer is there for his tactical kicking game. But we’ll take him at nine, thank you.
Chances of starting v England: 20%
Gregor Towsend says: “I would be frustrated if Peter Horne hadn’t got more game time [for Glasgow], he’s had Champions Cup matches, our reserve ten in November ….Peter and Finn are the only tens that are playing regular rugby, (so) we will have to look elsewhere in the squad if they were to be injured.”
We say: Horne punches above his weight but he too is a defensive liability. He was beaten on the outside by Hadleigh Parkes for Steff Evans’ try in Cardiff and beaten by Teddy Thomas last Sunday. A safe paid of hands at ten, Horne sits too deep, even with quick ball, and he crabs diagonally cross field, taking away space from the outside backs, while Russell squares up defenders beautifully before firing his bullets.
Chances of starting v England: Zip
Gregor Townsend says: “We’ve got players that we know have played fly-half for Scotland in the past. Last time I was involved, as assistant coach, Greig Laidlaw was the stand-off, Ruaridh Jackson was his competition. They’re both in the squad. Those are players that we know are very good rugby players, that could fit that role.”
We say: Jackson must look at Russell and wonder what might have happened had Scotland persevered with him all those years ago. He plays a similar game to Russell but has been a revelation at full-back for Glasgow this season, scoring a belter of a solo effort on Friday night against the Cheetahs. Jackson hasn’t played nearly enough at ten in recent years to slot back in at international level.
Chances of starting v England: Zip
Gregor Townsend says: “I am excited by the potential Adam has, his work rate in those early season games [for Glasgow] was outstanding and that is why we want him in for a day’s training with us and hopefully give him a boost going into the games during the Six Nations with Glasgow. The realistic target for him would be the summer tour, to play and be in the mix for that.”
We say: If Townsend wants to hold Russell’s feet to the fire then Hastings is the best long term bet. He plays flat and puts players into holes. He also shares Russell’s ability to ghost through defences. The defence rarely gets a big hit because of his footwork in the heavy traffic. He needs time in the saddle to hone his game management.