Rugby Union

Scotland should play this back row against England

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There has been much talk about England’s incorporation of two specialist openside flankers into their squad, something that was lacking under former boss Stuart Lancaster.

An area of the team that has not been as widely discussed is the wealth of back row talent at the disposal of Scotland coach Vern Cotter.

Along with homegrown talents Adam Ashe, Chris Fusaro and Hamish Watson, they have foreign imports Josh Strauss, Dave Denton, John Hardy and Blair Cowan. Completing the lineup is seasoned veteran John Barclay.


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All of these players have specific talents and skills, however, I believe Scotland require a potent back row if they are to finally return the Calcutta Cup to Scottish hands.

It is almost a given Chris Robshaw and Jack Clifford will take the six and seven roles for England with the only real question being whether Josh Beaumont or Billy Vunipola will start at eight.

As for Scotland, it is a far more open field. Number eight Ashe has been struggling with injury and may not make the cut, but apart from that, there seems to be a great deal of competition.

The best back row selection to put pressure on England's breakdown would be Cowan at blindside, Hardy openside and Barclay at eight.

Now, I can already hear the cries about Denton's destructive carrying or Strauss’s open play; or how Fusaro and Watson should both be picked to reward impressive seasons.

Denton and Strauss are both excellent ball carriers, although they both have their flaws. The former is not much of a line-out jumper, while the latter often struggles to achieve consistency.

Cowan, Barclay and Hardy are all breakdown threats and competent fetchers, while the last of the trio is also a defensive rock with a huge engine.

Cowan is also fantastic in open play and boasts a good turn of speed, while Barclay has been one of the most consistent performers in the Pro 12. In addition to his phenomenal support running and leadership qualities, he can line-out jump, tackle like a machine and carry the ball in hand.

Barclay, who has been waiting for a return to international rugby for a long time, generally operates as an openside, but he has plenty of experience playing at eight, too.

These three men could combine in a similar way to the Australian back row that was so impressive at the World Cup.

The strategy would involve one man making the big hit while another forces a turnover as the third prepares to run the ball hard at the gain line, with the three being almost interchangeable.

Cowan and Barclay are also solid line-out operators which will give Scotland four jumping options.

As for the bench cover, Josh Strauss has a strong case to earn a spot. When bodies are tiring and the game is breaking up, he could come on at eight and cause mayhem with his strong carries and link play.

This back row could really pressure England at the breakdown and nullify the new balanced back row they look to be adopting.

Who should line up for the Scottish? Give YOUR opinion in the comment box below!

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