Scott Johnsonâ€™s somewhat bizarre selection decisions continue for Scotland ahead of their crucial match against Italy this weekend.
David Denton has been widely acknowledged a being Scotlandâ€™s best performer in the opening two round of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations, although that in itself is not necessarily great praise, however he finds himself relegated to the bench in place of Johnnie Beattie.
That is no slight to Beattie, who has looked in good form from the bench, however it seems an unusual decision for Johnson to have dropped his best player, particularly as Denton can also cover the blindside, which is currently occupied by Ryan Wilson, a natural number 8.
Chris Fusaro retains his place at openside following a decent debut in the Calcutta Cup, however the overall selection in the back row does mean that there is still, unfathomably in the opinion of many, no place for the captain, Kelly Brown.
Elsewhere there a couple of changes that will likely prove a bit more popular with the Scottish fanbase. Richie Gray comes into the second row after he was left out of the England squad to work on areas of his game. Johnson said this of his selection:
“We’ve been talking to Richie since the autumn to work on certain areas of his game, he went back to his club and worked on a couple of aspects of his game. Coinciding with some issues we’re having with our set-piece, the timing was right. He’s showed some improvement in his game and hopefully we derive the benefit in other areas as well.â€
“I want people to play for Scotland on achievement and form. It shouldn’t be who you are – the same rules should apply. Richie has acknowledged it. He’s a great lad and a great human being. It’s nice to have him back.â€
In a further effort to iron out the issues at the set piece, Johnson has relegated the much-maligned Ross Ford to the bench, with Scott Lawson coming into the side, charged with sorting out the scrum and the lineout.
In fairness to Johnson, he was happy to acknowledge and tackle criscisms of the team and his selection policy, saying:
“All I care about is the team, did we perform well? We didn’t. Should we be disappointed? Yes we should. Are we disappointed? Yes we are.â€
“It’s amazing, the people that judge you the most know you the least. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I’m not going to argue against it – the people I care about are the people close to us.â€
“Is the mood down? Yes. Should it be down? Yes, it should be.â€
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to do better and that’s what we’re going to do. The best way to close a critic’s mouth is to perform. We’d like to have a win – we don’t walk away from the fact that it’s a competition.â€
“We’re out there to compete. A great performance determines our win. Everyone is a bit edgy. They’re coming at us – but walk towards the pressure. That’s the way to go. Take it from them. We’ll be alright.”
Outside of those three changes the rest of the team remains the same as that which England defeated 20-0 at Murrayfield, while the only person not in the 23 against Italy who was involved against England is Richie Grayâ€™s younger brother Jonny.
He misses out on his bench spot as Tim Swinson drops from the starting XV to the bench in order to accommodate Richie in the starting XV.
What do you think of Scotlandâ€™s current form, and their selection decision? Can this team beat Italy? Let us know via @FifteenRugbyXV or through the comment box below.
Italy v Scotland, Saturday 22nd February, 13.30.
15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors),Â 14 Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors),Â 13 Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors),Â 12 Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby),Â 11 Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors),Â 10 Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors),Â 9 Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby);Â 1 Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors),Â 2 Scott Lawson (Newcastle Falcons),Â 3 Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors),Â 4 Richie Gray (Castres),Â 5 Jim Hamilton (Montpellier),Â 6 Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors),Â 7 Chris Fusaro (Glasgow Warriors),Â 8 Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier).
Replacements:Â 16 Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby),Â 17 Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby),Â 18 Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby),Â 19 Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors),Â 20 David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby),Â 21 Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors),Â 22 Duncan Taylor (Saracens),Â 23 Max Evans (Castres).