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Tweaking the blueprint

Early confirmation of Scotland's failure to get into the top eight seeds for the next World Cup may have contributed to the nature of the team picked to meet Tonga at Aberdeen's Pittodrie Stadium, but some of the reasoning behind the selection remained very odd yesterday.

The reasoning behind Andy Robinson's squad selection seems very odd . . .
The reasoning behind Andy Robinson's squad selection seems very odd . . .

Andy Robinson, the head coach, confirmed that the fact his side now have no chance of improving their status ahead of next month's World Cup draw had firmed up his thinking, but claimed he already had been thinking along the team lines that were unveiled yesterday. If so, it seems that Allan Jacobsen's mind has become befuddled by nine defeats in the last 12 games, after he admitted to finding Test rugby "a drag" when quitting the national team this week.

After all, in seeking to play down the significance of the decisions to drop Mike Blair, Ross Ford and Jim Hamilton not just from the starting XV but from the entire 23, Robinson yesterday cited the importance of consistency of selection, yet offered an inconsistent-sounding explanation. "If you're going to select someone you want to give them two or three games, as well," he said, after including four players for their first starts of the autumn and three others – Rory Lawson, as well as the uncapped pair of Grant Gilchrist and Tom Heathcote – on the bench for this, the final match of this EMC Test campaign.

"We select them for a reason, but also you want to see the way someone like Al Kellock has handled himself, that when you get the chance off the bench, you take it. That's the other aspect to this.

"Players get opportunities and I would highlight someone like Max [Evans] this weekend. It's an important game for Max. He's been given a chance.

"I think Nick [De Luca] has been consistent in the way he's played. I understand that we all have opinions about players and I've got to look at the whole of a player and how he contributes in attack and defence, in every aspect of the game because that's what we have to put together. Different people have different opinions. That's the beauty of the sport."

It most certainly is, but surely the whole point of looking at players as a whole includes considering their effect on bringing about successful outcomes, namely results, set against which, consider the following:

n One forward and one back, Scott Lawson and Max Evans, have now gone from being on the bench against New Zealand to being dropped from the match 23 against South Africa to starting this match.

n Ruaridh Jackson, Robinson's first-choice playmaker at the World Cup just a year ago, has been dropped after two cameo performances in favour of the uncapped 20-year-old Heathcote, who has yet to play a true top-flight match this season.

Henry Pyrgos' selection maintains a policy of near constant rotation at scrum-half.

Al Kellock, who has won on six of his last seven Test starts was no sooner appointed captain for that World Cup than he was dropped from the team, but has taken a year to return in favour of Hamilton, who has been a loser on each of the last eight times he has started.

n Had Stuart McInally or Peter Murchie been brought on from the bench against South Africa, it would have been the 10th successive match that a new player had been bloodied in 10 matches this year. They have now been dropped without having played but, if Heathcote and/or Gilchrist get on this time, it will be the 10th time in 11 matches and they will be the 13th and 14th new caps this year.

Kelly Brown, will now make his third start as captain having worn a different shirt each time.

What should be defended is the coach's right to select freely from among those who are eligible to represent Scotland. Just as was the case when Brendan Laney was brought into the side 11 years ago, then, if he deems Heathcote a better option than Jackson, that is all that matters.

Setting aside petty jingoism, however, Heathcote's selection raises, purely on rugby grounds, more important questions about the failure of development programmes run at vast cost, to generate competition for places from among home-grown players and the way Jackson seems to have gone backwards in the past year.

Saying all of which, this is a team that should have the power to dominate the Tongans and – particularly because of the inclusions of former Glasgow Warriors clubmates Lawson and Evans – to excite with ball in hand more than any other selected by Robinson in his three-and-a-half years in charge.

With the coach explaining that he feels Ford has become a one-paced player, Lawson will be given a long-awaited opportunity to demonstrate his pace around the pitch and ball skills, starting for just the second time in his last 22 appearances – the other being a World Cup warm-up match against Italy last year – and just the ninth time in all in a 35-match career that stretches over seven years.

It was, meanwhile, hard not to read a hint of threat into that observation from Robinson that this is "an important game" for Evans, who began his Test career at the same venue with a try as a replacement against Canada four years ago, but is starting in his preferred position at outside-centre for the first time in two years.

The prospect of the little trickster linking up with Matt Scott at centre and even more so with full-back Stuart Hogg and winger Tim Visser for the first time, is rich with promise.

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