Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has opted for the greater experience of Peter Horne over the undoubted potential of Adam Hastings to pull the strings against France in tomorrow’s Six Nations clash in Paris. Horne is 29 years old, has 39 caps to his name and may be more comfortable in the big match environment, although Hastings has twice as many international starts at stand-off than his Glasgow team-mate.
Horne has started just two matches at No 10 and the omens are not altogether favourable. Horne’s first start was against Italy in 2015, a match which Scotland lost in the final ten minutes, largely thanks to the stand-off failing to find touch. Horne’s only other Test start at stand-off came against Fiji in Suva in the summer of 2017. Scotland lost that one, too.
The Glasgow Warrior has gained the reputation of being a safe pair of hands without much evidence to back that up and it might have been better to have thrown Hastings into the deep end given the long-term outlook.
“Probably his game last week where he played at 10,” said Townsend when asked why Horne had got the nod.
“He has played at 10 for Scotland before and has covered both 10 and 12, played a number of games for Scotland, played in the Six Nations in big games. So that was a big factor. Adam would have been in a better position for selection if he had played more rugby over the last month.
“Since the Saracens game, he was not in the 23 for their [Glasgow’s] game against Ospreys, was with us against Italy and was then on the bench for Glasgow last week. Peter is in a better position, having played last week, to carry on that good form he showed against Cardiff.
“He’s probably our most organised and best prepared player in the squad. He’ll know everything about the French, what they’ve been doing, their individual players, he’ll be able to talk through our gameplan in minute detail.
“That’s a huge asset when you’re playing at 12 to help a 10 out in his game and that’s what he’s shown when he’s played outside of Finn over the last few years. Bringing that experience and knowledge to 10 will, I believe, be important this week.”
Elsewhere there is a little and large match-up in the midfield where Scotland’s pocket rocket Nick Grigg takes on the bowling ball on legs that is Mathieu Bastareaud. Grigg is an excellent proponent of the “chop tackle” around the ankles if only because he has no choice when faced with a player who carries an extra 31kg into the contact.
If Bastareaud gets the ball at pace anywhere near the Scotland line then Grigg is roadkill but you could say the same about almost anyone else who Townsend could have selected at 13. What Grigg does have is superb running lines and Scotland will attempt to exploit the big man’s lack of conditioning to pick off the dog legs he sometimes leaves in defence. Moreover, in an age when player welfare is at the top of everyone’s agenda, it is devilishly tricky for the giant Frenchman to tackle Grigg anywhere other than high.
“They’re two very strong players,” said Townsend when asked about the midfield mismatch. “Obviously Bastareaud’s strength is a bit more aligned to his weight, whereas Nick’s strength is really about that power he shows to bounce off tackles, to really put his shoulder into tackles and drive people through. It shows that rugby’s a game for all sizes.
“We’ve got a player like Nick Grigg and Darcy Graham who are playing Test match rugby. I don’t know their exact height but they’re obviously under six foot and there are players out there who are more than 140kg. So, there’s more than one way to get behind a defence. Nick has shown that time and time again for Glasgow. He played very well in our summer Test against Argentina and now has the opportunity to make sure he plays right throughout the Six Nations after Saturday.”
Furthermore, there should be space in the wide channels for Grigg and the Scotland wingers. France left their back field unmanned and England repeatedly took advantage of that with probing kicks in behind the front line. France will learn that lesson and drop at least one more defender back, leaving the front line short-staffed.
But for all the talk of the backs, the match will almost certainly be won and lost up front where six of the Scotland pack are from Edinburgh. They have beaten Toulon in Toulon and Montpellier at home and won’t fear taking on the French in an arm wrestle. Especially since they have not one but two big, ball-carrying bruisers in a revamped back row, Josh Strauss and Magnus Bradbury, which is two more than Scotland usually boast amongst the breakaways.