Six Nations: A bluffer’s guide to Scotland

It’s really difficult to predict what Scottish team is going to turn up

What’s this about Scotland managing an early victory off the pitch in the build-up to next Saturday’s opening Six Nations Championship game against England at Twickenham?

That's a reference to the decision of Cameron Redpath to join the Scotland squad having previously played for England at under-20 level. Indeed Eddie Jones included the young centre in an England squad to tour South Africa in 2018 but Redpath withdrew with a knee injury.

It is not exactly a surprise that he has opted for Scotland as his father is former Scottish scrumhalf Bryan Redpath, who played alongside head coach Gregor Townsend.

Although he grew up and was educated in England, the Bath centre has made what appears to be a sensible choice for his rugby career. Jones, when asked about Redpath’s choice, said: “I don’t comment on other teams’ selection policies. I’ve got enough problems of my own without worrying about other countries.”


So what are head coach Gregor Townsend’s most pressing concerns?

He's got a problem at hooker as Edinburgh's Stuart McInally and Glasgow captain Fraser Brown are both likely to miss the entire tournament through injury. As a result two of the four uncapped players in the squad – Redpath and Gloucester secondrow Alex Craig complete the quartet – are hookers, Edinburgh's David Cherry and Sale Sharks Ewan Ashman.

Isn’t the flying Finn back involved along with several others who missed the Autumn Nations Cup internationals?

Indeed, Racing 92 outhalf and the man that Simon Zebo refers to as "white chocolate" Finn Russell returns after missing the tournament with a shoulder injury sustained against Wales in November. Newcastle Falcons backrow Gary Graham, Sale wing Byron McGuigan, Glasgow Warriors Grant Stewart and London Irish prop Alan Dell are also recalled.

Townsend has selected just two scrumhalves in Ali Price and Scott Steele of Harlequins, while he will be hoping that flanker James Ritchie recovers from a recent concussion issue.

There is plenty of good material with which Finn can work in the three-quarter line, especially in a back three that can be drawn from captain Stuart Hogg, Blair Kinghorn, Darcy Graham, Duhan van der Merwe and Sean Maitland.

Exeter Chiefs duo scrumhalf Sam Hildago-Clyne and backrow Sam Kinner are surprise omissions.

How do the fixtures fall?

They are away from home in the two toughest fixtures starting with the opening match against England at Twickenham and have also got to travel to Paris in round three.

Sandwiched in between is a home game against Wales and how they fare in those three games will have a substantial bearing on the mood and confidence within the Scottish camp as they finish the tournament with home games against Ireland and Italy.

In last season's Six Nations Ireland won 19-12 in Dublin – Johnny Sexton and Adam Hastings contributed all the points for their respective teams -– but had a little more in hand in the Autumn Nations Cup game, 31-12, at the same venue in December. It's been quite a while since a game between the two countries could be classed as entertaining, but neither Townsend nor Andy Farrell would care too much about that in victory.

In summary?

It's really difficult to predict what Scottish team is going to turn up. On their day, and with Russell in his pomp, they can be a real handful in attack, Ritchie and Hamish Watson are excellent scavengers at the breakdown, while prop Rory Sutherland has impressed in all facets of the game. They lost narrowly to England 13-6 last season, won in Italy and deprived France of the title and a Grand Slam with a superb 28-17 win at Murrayfield.

They need to score more tries. Scotland won as many matches as Ireland last season in the Six Nations, three, and before a ball is kicked that’s probably a battle that will be rejoined over the next seven weeks.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer