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Team Profile: Scotland

Updated: Monday, 02 Feb 2009 15:36

Mike Blair - key to Scotland's attacking close to the ruck
Mike Blair - key to Scotland's attacking close to the ruck

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History: Scotland have not coped well with professionalism, with the traditional area of the Borders unable to support a professional team and of all the world great rugby nations it is the one where the game appears to be in something of a decline. They have a proud Six Nations record, however, with 14 outright wins and three Grand Slams. Since 2000, the addition of Italy has also seen them struggle and their Six Nations record is much poorer - for a while now, they have had to be content with the occasional one off victory.

Coach: Frank Hadden. A pragmatic former PE teacher who still has the school-masterly air, Hadden looked to be on the way out a couple of years ago but survived the post-World Cup inquest thanks to almost making a semi but going down to Argentina. There are still plenty in Scotland who think Hadden's time has run its course but to be fair, Scotland have improved under him, partly thanks to Andy Robinson instilling good standards at Edinburgh. This season, he must contend with whiffs of both optimism and the last chance saloon.

Captain: Mike Blair. The captain and the team's fulcrum, Blair is the man to shut down if you want to limit Scotland. As well as kicking, passing and breaking well, Blair's timing and intelligence are a huge help to his pack – basically, because he works the yard or two either side of the ruck so well, his forwards can count on taking the ball into collisions on favourable terms most of the time. That equals momentum and go-forward ball, off which Blair can be deadly.

Key Men: Allan Jacobsen, Jason White, Alasdair Strokosch, Hugo Southwell

Aside from Blair, Scotland don't really boast much in the way of superstars. Allan Jacobsen is a very good prop and gives them solidity up front, while White and Strokosch bring tough tackling and work rate to the party. Strokosch in particular is the type of player who could give Ireland a problem. Southwell lacks pace and penetration but when Scotland do turn over one of the big boys, his kicking often plays a role.

Playing Style: The close in attacking will be based on Blair's ability and reading of the game while there is a choice to be made at out-half between Phil Godman and Dan Parks, who inspired Glasgow to a victory in Toulouse recently. Unusually for Parks, his passing game stood out in that way and he may get yet another career reprieve. Generally, Hadden has sought to up the pace Scotland play at in attack and defence – if they are to reach the upper echelons of the table quick rucking and aggressive defence are crucial. The limiting factor is that in terms of offloading and running talent, Scotland have deficiencies that will count over five matches.

Prediction: Scotland v Wales could be a very good game on the opening weekend, with Wales possibly falling prey to thinking of bigger things. The valley men may just have the bench to re-focus and swing things in the final third of the game though. Next up, France away is daunting; the Scots travel on a wing and a prayer. Italy v Scotland is at Murrayfield and Scotland just have the edge in one or two areas so should beat them and avoid the wooden spoon while they will also fancy Ireland in the next match. Ireland should be playing at a higher level then in the last year or so by then however. In terms of causing a shock, the best bet is probably England away in the final week. Fourth, with wins over Italy and England, is not beyond them.