Scotland’s reinvigorated rugby team are continuing to win praise from an arch-critic.
Jeremy Guscott, who accused the Scots of lacking any sort of game-plan last season, has included Edinburgh front-row pair Ally Dickinson and Ross Ford, pictured below, in his best team of the Autumn Test series. For Ford, it is further recognition on his journey back from the ignominy of being dropped for the 2014 Six Nations and Guscott, the former England and Lions centre now working as a television pundit, said: “He’s another tight-five forward who’s lost a bit of weight and got better as a result. It’s hard to know what’s caused him to re-evaluate but he’d done it and is reaping the benefits.
“His line-out throwing was good and he was lively around the field.
“[He] beat more defenders [six] than any other hooker this autumn and also had the best line-out success rate [97 per cent] of any player to throw into more than ten line-outs [32 from 33].”
As for Dickinson’s front-row abilities, Guscott admits it is not his area of expertise but insisted: “The Scot had great stats through the autumn and the Scottish scrum held up well.
“Props get penalised quite heavily by referees and he avoided that and also got his hands on the ball a few times, which is always good to see from a prop. He made 17 carries this autumn, only two props made more, both of whom played four games to Dickinson’s three.”
Overall, Guscott could not resist singing Scottish praises especially against New Zealand in spite of a narrow loss.
“I was not just entertained by the [All Blacks] game at Murrayfield, as a neutral I found it enthralling.
“There were simple little touches, like at the breakdown Greig Laidlaw would pass to a forward but they might then move it on two or three phases further out from the breakdown.
“New Zealand do that sort of thing as a matter of course but tell me a northern hemisphere side that does that?
“To see a side from the home nations do that both frequently and comfortably was refreshing. Sometimes they [Scotland] played a little too much in their own 22.
“You have to get the balance right, you should know quickly whether you’re going forward or need to get rid of the ball and exit your own half.
“Fly-half Finn Russell looked comfortable in only his fourth Test – the 22-year-old seems born to play Test rugby. His half-back partner Laidlaw was a brilliant captain but it was really a whole team performance.
“Laidlaw stood out because he looked so confident – it was as commanding a performance as I’ve seen at nine from anyone in the world this year.
“Scotland produced an almost textbook performance. It was a simple game-plan, with players committing hard and rising to the occasion.
“They can take plenty from their performance.”