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The return of Scotland's lost boys

Out with the old, in with the old?

Johnnie Beattie is thriving after his move to France   Photograph: SNS
Johnnie Beattie is thriving after his move to France Photograph: SNS

Andy Robinson has moved on and Scott Johnson has been installed as Scotland's caretaker coach for the Six Nations, but does the Australian's arrival herald an injection of new blood? Or could Johnson go back to the future to get Scotland winning again?

It was one of the peculiarities of Robinson's reign that a host of top players simply fell off the Test radar screen during his time in charge. In some cases, it was simply a matter of form. In others, injuries clouded the picture. But one or two players became persona non grata for reasons that were never fully explained.

Some have hinted that Robinson was not one to let go of a grudge easily. Certainly, his reputation as a fine coach but an inconsistent selector was only enhanced during his three years in charge of the Scotland side. It would do Johnson's image no harm were he to make it clear that the issues of the past have no relevance any more, and that players will be chosen on merit alone.

So who could come back into the picture? Some are crying out for a recall, while others might be tempted to reply by telling Johnson where to stuff his invitation. But it is clear that a number are playing well for their clubs, with some consistently reaching the levels that once made them Scotland regulars.

Johnnie Beattie

Age: 27. Club: Montpellier. Caps: 16. Last appearance: Ireland, August 2011.

The athletic No 8 was outstanding for Scotland in the 2010 Six Nations, finally burying his reputation for inconsistency with a series of brilliant performances. Had the Lions been touring that year, he would have walked into the side. However, Beattie underwent shoulder surgery that year, came back too early and could not recapture his form. He was subsequently left out of the 2011 World Cup squad and failed to fire with Glasgow. At the end of last season he moved to Montpellier.

Life in France has done wonders for his game with it suiting his dynamic style and reports suggest he is close to his best again, thriving in Montpellier's cosmopolitan environment as the club mounts strong domestic and European challenges.

Alex Grove

Age 25. Club: Worcester Warriors. Caps: 3. Last appearance: Argentina, November 2009.

Grove seemed to be Robinson's golden child when the young, hard-tackling centre was picked for the coach's first three games in charge of Scotland. But that was it as far as Test appearances were concerned, as he played no part in the subsequent Six Nations.

Grove made a surprise return to the Scotland camp last June when he was chosen for the summer tour to Australasia, but he did not figure in any of the three Tests. However, he has been a model of consistency at Worcester this season, helping the club stay well clear of the Aviva Premiership's relegation zone.

Hugo Southwell

Age: 32. Club: Wasps. Caps: 59. Last appearance: Wales, February 2011.

Another in the hero-to-zero category, Southwell was rarely absent from the Scotland squad following his debut in 2004, but he vanished completely after Scotland's feeble performance against Wales at Murrayfield in 2011 was punished by a 24-6 defeat.

His career had seemed to stall at Stade Francais as well, and he was released by the club a few months later. It may have surprised even him that he was then picked up by Wasps, but Southwell has made the most of his chances over the past 18 months. Now captain of the team, he is playing as well as at any time in his long career.

Nikki Walker

Age: 30. Club: Worcester Warriors. Caps: 24. Last appearance: Italy, August 2011.

Walker has had one of the strangest career graphs of any Scotland player. First picked for the autumn Test series in 2002 (he scored a try in the win over South Africa), he then vanished from the Test arena for five years before making his return in the 2007 Six Nations.

Robinson warmed to the big winger slowly and gave him six caps in 2011. However, Walker then suffered a serious knee injury and missed that year's World Cup. He subsequently moved from Ospreys to Worcester and has been a regular starter for the club this season.

Simon Taylor

Age: 33. Club: Bath. Caps: 66. Last appearance: England, March 2009.

Perhaps the most naturally gifted forward Scotland has produced in the modern era, Taylor decided to take a sabbatical from Test rugby around the time of Robinson's appointment. Unimpressed by that lack of motivation, the coach made the exclusion a permanent arrangement.

In truth, the famously taciturn two-times Lions tourist probably still wants to be left alone. At 33, he is not exactly a spring chicken either. However, Taylor is still one of the most consistent players in the Aviva Premiership, and has played a full 80 minutes in almost every one of Bath's games this season.

Phil Godman

Age: 30. Club: London Scottish. Caps: 23. Last appearance: England, March 2010.

Godman was anointed by Robinson as his playmaker-of-choice when the coach took over in 2009. He responded with some weak performances and was soon removed to make way for Dan Parks. Godman then suffered a serious knee injury that ruled him out for an entire season and cost him his place at the 2011 World Cup.

He was billed "the forgotten man" when Greig Laidlaw made the Edinburgh fly-half slot his own. However, Godman returned to strike the dramatic dropped goal against Racing Metro that virtually earned the capital side a place in last season's Heineken Cup knockout phase, and he was recalled to the Scotland training squad soon afterwards. He could not add to his cap tally, though, and moved to London Scottish, where he has been a regular starter this season.

Scott MacLeod

Age: 33. Club: Newcastle Falcons. Caps: 24. Last appearance: Wales, February 2011.

MacLeod had a 46% win ratio with Scotland, and the sprightly lock's talismanic value was never clearer than in Mar del Plata, in the second Test of the 2010 Argentina tour, when he stole a critical line-out to give Scotland a first southern hemisphere series win.

Despite that, he drifted out of the picture over the next year, opting to move to Kobe Steelers in Japan rather than push for a place at the World Cup. He returned to the UK last May and has since established himself in the Newcastle Falcons side that has dominated the English Rugby Championship this season.

Ally Hogg

Age: 29. Club: Newcastle Falcons. Caps: 48. Last appearance: Wales, February 2009.

Strictly speaking, Robinson never picked Hogg for Scotland, but he chose the player often enough when he coached Edinburgh. As soon as Robinson took over as Test coach, however, Hogg disappeared off the national scene without even a Scotland A appearance to his name.

Newcastle coach Dean Richards has no doubt that Hogg is still international class. The versatile flanker/No 8 has been the Falcons' forward rock in their unbeaten season, spearheading the side's promotion drive with the same adroit combination of raw physicality and sublime ball skills that made him a virtual ever-present for his country for the five years before Robinson took over.

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