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Six Nations 2023 Championship in focus: Scotland under Gregor Townsend seek consistency | Rugby Union News

Can Scotland put some consistency together to trouble the top end of the Six Nations table?

The last time Scotland visited Twickenham in the Six Nations, they won. Can they repeat the trick and put some consistency together across a full campaign in 2023?

Over the last two years, for victories in Paris and Twickenham, read defeats to Ireland home and away, to Wales in Cardiff, Australia at home, and in their series decider vs the Pumas in Argentina from the jaws of victory. Scotland are the most inconsistent of sides.

Here, we take a closer look at how Scotland are shaping up ahead of that opening match against England in the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham…

Fixtures

  • England – Twickenham – Saturday, February 4 – 4.45pm (GMT)
  • Wales – Murrayfield – Saturday, February 11 – 4.45pm (GMT)
  • France – Stade de France – Sunday, February 26 – 3pm (GMT)
  • Ireland – Murrayfield – Sunday, March 12 – 3pm (GMT)
  • Italy – Murrayfield – Saturday, March 18 – 12.30pm (GMT)

What’s changed?

In recent weeks, there has been change at a coaching level with attack and assistant coach AB Zondagh departing out of the blue.

Former Scotland attack and assistant coach AB Zondagh resigned out of the blue this month

Former Scotland attack and assistant coach AB Zondagh resigned out of the blue this month

On Wednesday, a little over a week out from the start of the Six Nations, the SRU confirmed New Zealander Brad Mooar, former All Blacks assistant coach and Scarlets head coach, would join as attack coach on a short-term basis. Glasgow Warriors assistant Pete Horne has also joined the set-up for the first two weeks of the championship.

Gregor Townsend’s 40-man squad contains four uncapped players in Leicester lock Cameron Henderson, Glasgow centre Stafford McDowell, and most intriguingly, Munster’s Irish-born fly-half Ben Healy and Bath wing Ruaridh McConnochie, who holds two Test caps for England but now qualifies under the new International Rugby Board rule.

Munster's Irish-born fly-half Ben Healy has been called up, having recently confirmed a move to Edinburgh for next season

Munster’s Irish-born fly-half Ben Healy has been called up, having recently confirmed a move to Edinburgh for next season

The headline news coming out of Scotland’s autumn surrounds the seemingly volatile relationship between head coach Townsend and playmaker Finn Russell.

Townsend left Russell out of his entire training squad for the autumn, in addition to stripping the captaincy from full-back Stuart Hogg, with back-row Jamie Ritchie now skipper.

Jamie Ritchie is now Scotland skipper, after Stuart Hogg was stripped of the captaincy

Jamie Ritchie is now Scotland skipper, after Stuart Hogg was stripped of the captaincy

Those decisions followed a Six Nations last year where Russell and Hogg were part of a group of six highly-experienced squad members reported to have defied protocol to go out in Edinburgh after Scotland’s Round 4 victory in Rome.

The result of that saw Russell dropped to the bench against Ireland in Round 5, and even with the game going against Scotland, he was not introduced until the final 14 minutes.

Neither Russell nor Hogg toured with Scotland on their three-Test series in Argentina during the summer – a tour they lost 2-1.

Off the back of March’s incident, and a year in 2020 where Russell was omitted from the squad for every Test Scotland played due to a previous fallout regarding alcohol, the Racing 92 fly-half’s Test career appeared over when Townsend left him out in November.

The relationship between Finn Russell and head coach Gregor Townsend has proven a fractious one over the last year

The relationship between Finn Russell and head coach Gregor Townsend has proven a fractious one over the last year

Yet, an injury to Adam Hastings saw him not just called up, but reinstated straight back into the starting side to face the All Blacks. Will Townsend now stick with him?

What’s hot?

While there are obvious deficiencies within Scottish ranks, there is also a great deal of talent at Townsend’s disposal.

Hogg, Russell, wing Duhan van der Merwe – who is on course to be fit despite ankle trouble – centres Chris Harris, Sione Tuipulotu and Cameron Redpath, utility back Blair Kinghorn and scrum-half Ali Price are all capable line-breakers, and if on song with a good deal of steam built up behind them, are a tough side to contain.

Powerful wing Duhan van der Merwe should be free to play in the championship after an ankle injury

Powerful wing Duhan van der Merwe should be free to play in the championship after an ankle injury

For all the off-field issues, Russell and Hogg remain extremely talented rugby players

For all the off-field issues, Russell and Hogg remain extremely talented rugby players

The forwards are less filled with quality, particularly with the number of injuries suffered, but Scotland are a side who will give up nothing easily, with huge work-rate.

Bar Ireland, they have also beaten each of England, France and Wales in recent years, in addition to Italy, and so they hold no fear going into each clash. Indeed, they have beaten each of those sides away from home too.

Scotland possess quality within their squad, particularly in the backs

Scotland possess quality within their squad, particularly in the backs

In 2023, they host Wales, Ireland and Italy, with trips to England and France. Much will rest on the opening clash at Twickenham you feel. Start positively and Scotland could well prove dangerous.

What’s not?

Having made such a positive start to the championship in 2022, beating England at home, Scotland’s Six Nations petered out in familiar fashion: three defeats from five leaving them well short of anything resembling a title challenge.

So often in recent years, Townsend’s Scots have picked up marquee victories, only to fail to take advantage by losing when opportunity next knocked.

Scotland have regularly let games or opportunities slip by over recent years

Scotland have regularly let games or opportunities slip by over recent years

In the end, they were firmly dispatched by the tournament’s top two France and Ireland, while they also lost in Cardiff a week on from their win over England – that Test a huge chance to stake a claim at the top of the table, but one missed.

In July, they recovered from an opening Test loss to Argentina to win the second Test comfortably, before losing the third Test decider from the jaws of victory 34-31 from a position of 15 points ahead. While November saw defeats to Australia and New Zealand, but a dominant win over Argentina.

Inconsistency remains the main thorn in Scotland’s side, with their performances often illustrating the talent and ability they do possess: broken-field running, quick, attacking backs, but ultimately their flaws too: power differential, set-piece inaccuracy, needless indiscipline.

Tuesday brought news Glasgow Warriors had terminated the contract of Rufus McLean after the Scotland international pleaded guilty in court to domestic abuse, but Scottish rugby has come under fire over the last fortnight for the fact McLean appeared for Glasgow while the case was ongoing and details were known.

Glasgow Warriors terminated the contract of Rufus McLean this week, but the wing was allowed to play while details of his domestic abuse case were known

Glasgow Warriors terminated the contract of Rufus McLean this week, but the wing was allowed to play while details of his domestic abuse case were known

Lastly, injuries. Key back-row Watson remains a doubt, having been stood down due to concussions, while wing Darcy Graham (knee), hooker Stuart McInally (concussion), second row Scott Cummings (foot), back-row Rory Darge (ankle), and props Allan Dell (calf), Zander Fagerson (hamstring) and Oli Kebble (shoulder) all failed to make the squad.

Darcy Graham's injury absence is a big blow for Scotland

Darcy Graham’s injury absence is a big blow for Scotland

Key player

Finn Russell. As fractious as Russell’s relationship appears with Scotland head coach Townsend, the national side lack attacking intent and a threat without him in the team.

Russell changes the whole dynamic of Scotland's attack play when he is in the side

Russell changes the whole dynamic of Scotland’s attack play when he is in the side

Brought back in to start during the autumn, having initially been omitted from the entire squad, Russell’s impact on Scotland was immediate. His range of passing, timing, playmaking, and skill was there for all to see.

Mercurial he may be, but if Scotland are to stand a chance of winning something during the Six Nations, he must be in the side.

Championship record

Six Nations since 2000: None

Overall: 15 titles outright (1887, 1889, 1891, 1895, 1901, 1903, 1904, 1907, 1925, 1929, 1933, 1938, 1984, 1990, 1999)

Scotland’s 40-man squad for the 2023 Six Nations:

Forwards (23): Ewan Ashman, Josh Bayliss, Simon Berghan, Jamie Bhatti, Fraser Brown, Dave Cherry, Andy Christie, Luke Crosbie, Jack Dempsey, Matt Fagerson, Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Cameron Henderson*, WP Nel, Jamie Ritchie (c), Pierre Schoeman, Javan Sebastian, Sam Skinner, Rory Sutherland, George Turner, Hamish Watson.

Backs (17): Chris Harris, Ben Healy*, Stuart Hogg, George Horne, Huw Jones, Blair Kinghorn, Sean Maitland, Ruaridh McConnochie*, Stafford McDowell*, Ali Price, Cameron Redpath, Finn Russell, Ollie Smith, Kyle Steyn, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Ben White.




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