Six pointers for Scotland after sensational Twickenham showdown

Scotland's second half performance against England will certainly have encourged Gregor Towsend as all eyes turn to the World Cup

Last week I started this column talking about numbers and by 5.31pm against England at Twickenham in the Guinness Six Nations, most Scotland supporters were wondering just how high the next number on their mind would be.

That is because, at that time, England were 31-0 up against the hapless Scots and fans were predicting 50, 60 points and more to be inflicted on Gregor Townsend’s men.

Then the turnaround came. Captain Stuart McInally found an extra yard of pace to run in for a converted try from some 60 metres out and it was 31-7 at half-time.

It still seemed like a damage limitation job, but with seconds to go of an amazing second half the visitors were 38-31 up and dreaming of a famous triumph at a ground where they had not won since 1983.

George Ford’s late score grabbed England a draw after the most bizarre of afternoons and, after the dust had settled on that one, it all meant that Scotland finished fifth in the table.

With Rugby World Cup warm-up games not until August against France and Georgia here are six things that all Scottish fans will be thinking about until then.

Front-row: Loosehead strength in depth a concern

Allan Dell is a solid player and in the loose he makes some good yards, but if he gets injured between now and the World Cup, then there will be some issues around the Scotland number one jersey. During the Six Nations Jamie Bhatti, Alex Allan and Gordon Reid all played back-up loosehead roles, but the first two are not getting regular game time at their club while Reid is playing in the English Championship with London Irish.

Second-row: Can the Grays find colour once again?

Toulouse’s Richie Gray has had a torrid time with injuries and younger brother Jonny of Glasgow Warriors was benched for the England game last week, but with over 100 full caps between them, and still just 29 and 25 respectively, you feel the second-row duo have so much to offer Scotland yet. Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis are a good partnership for Edinburgh and their country, but it would be nice to see the Grays firing in the coming months.

Back-row: Can John get his Barc back?

This Friday night, John Barclay plays his first ever game for Edinburgh against Leinster in the PRO14 following nearly 10 months out with an Achilles injury.

Having been Scotland captain before the lay-off, the back-row will be looking to return to the international set-up and have a go at one last World Cup. You get the feeling that Scotland miss his ball carrying, calmness under pressure and leadership.

Half backs: Is the Price right?

Ali Price has had an up and down international career to date, but he is the man currently in possession of the Scotland number nine shirt. He played some of his best rugby at the top level in the second half at Twickenham and will now want to go back to Glasgow and have a solid end to the season. We all know what the experienced Greig Laidlaw can offer, but it was a pity that a shoulder injury meant that George Horne missed the tournament. It will be interesting to see who has the nine-jersey come Japan.

Centres: Trying to find the right combination

North of the border, we always talk about the midfield as a position of strength and it can be, it’s just that everyone is never fit at the same time. The likes of Duncan Taylor and Huw Jones are still on the sidelines.  Alex Dunbar seems to have fallen out of favour having gone on loan from Glasgow to Newcastle while Mark Bennett and Matt Scott have just returned from long-term injuries. Sam Johnson, Nick Grigg, Chris Harris and Pete Horne are also in the mix and it is vital Scotland find the right blend soon.

Back three: Young pretenders pushing old guard

One of the major plus points for Scotland during the up and down Six Nations was the form of young winger Darcy Graham. He scored three tries against Wales and England and has given Townsend some real food for thought. When he returns to fitness in a couple of months time, so has Blair Kinghorn and, with Stuart Hogg expected to be at full-back, it will be interesting to see how they push Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour for the starting wing spots going forward.

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