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Scots' lack of depth is laid bare

AFTER all the hand-wringing, soul- searching and sheer anger that has followed Scotland's no-show against England, this should be the weekend when all the players overlooked for that game stake claims to places in Scott Johnson's team.

Ross Ford has been criticised in many quarters for his erratic throwing in and reluctance to hook for the ball. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS/SRU
Ross Ford has been criticised in many quarters for his erratic throwing in and reluctance to hook for the ball. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS/SRU

Some will try to do just that but, with a third of the players in the Edinburgh and Glasgow starting XVs not qualified to play for Scotland, the pressure on the incumbents is nowhere near what it could be.

Ross Ford, the under-fire hooker, whose Edinburgh side will face Connacht in Ireland this evening, is the only one of the 14 Scotland-based players from last weekend's starting XV to be sent back to his club. After 73 caps, this could be a signal that his erratic throwing in and reluctance to hook for the ball are going to have to be cured before he will again be automatic choice for the national side.

Not always fairly, Ford has been blamed for Scotland's problems in the set-piece, exposed in the opening two games of this season's RBS 6 Nations. In fact, when it comes to the lineout, his throwing has been only one of several problems that have also included issues with the players supposed to be lifting the jumpers and with the timing. But that has not slowed the flak heading in the 29-year-old's direction.

More of an issue for Ford is that he has openly admitted he does not like ­hooking in the scrum, preferring to drive over the ball. That can be a problem if the other side are as good at scrummaging as Italy are likely to be when the Scots play them in Rome next weekend. Not only does it create the risk that Scotland may get driven off the ball - that happened against Ireland - but it removes the option of getting the ball out of the scrum quickly.

What must be worrying Ford is that while there was an argument for giving the likes of Matt Scott and Tommy Seymour, both of whom have been injured and are short of game time, an extra run in club colours, he is at the opposite extreme - he has been a virtual ever-present for Edinburgh when available and has started both Scotland's Six Nations matches - but has still been released.

Worse, if he is hoping to play his way back into favour, then he is unlikely to get much time to do so, since Alan Solomons, the Edinburgh, head coach, has stuck with the side that should have started last week in Newport but fell victim to a waterlogged pitch. Ford has had to be satisfied with a place on the bench.

At least he is behind a Scotland-qualified player in the Australian James Hilterbrand, one of four in the starting line-up with the pedigree to play for Scotland but who were not brought up in the country. They are heavily outnumbered, though, by the seven with no Scottish blood. Of the international contingent, Andries Strauss, the centre, is making his club debut and three more including Mike Coman, the back row and captain, are making their first starts. It is a healthier outlook over at Glasgow where the head coach, Gregor Townsend, has sprung a surprise by naming an unchanged starting XV for the first time since he took over. That means there are 12 Scots taking the pitch in Cardiff looking for revenge for the Heineken Cup defeat there.

It is a particularly big match for Henry Pyrgos at scrum-half and Ruaridh Jackson at fly-half, both of whom know there could be places in the Scotland squad up for grabs. Pyrgos was in peak form last week, producing the moment of inspiration that resulted in the only try of the win over Connacht. Jackson is all too aware that Johnson, the Scotland head coach, has gone into both games so far without specialist fly-half cover but could be persuaded to change his mind. Chris Cusiter and Jonny Gray, who each had a few minutes off the bench against England, are lined up for a bench role again this weekend.

All round, though, 10 of the 30 starting players are non-Scots. While most of the Scotland international players are not available, it does not help that overseas rivals are occupy­ing so many places behind the current team. Just where is the competition for places that Scott Johnson says he is so keen on?

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