Six Nations Preview: Scotland

Head Coach: Vern Cotter

Stadium: BT Murrayfield (Capacity: 67,800)

Captain: Greig Laidlaw

IRB World Ranking: 7th

Last Season: 4th

Prediction: 3rd

Scotland are a much changed outfit to the one that used to try and avoid the wooden spoon and that is mainly down to the influence of new head coach and former Clermont Auvergne guru Vern Cotter.

The autumn was another tough one for Scotland once again losing narrowly to Australia, much like the World Cup fiasco and to lose by one point against a team that ran riot against Wales was not a bad effort.

They followed this with a three point victory over Argentina and then they ran riot against Georgia clinching a 43-16 win in their final autumn test. Not a bad November for Scotland.

The pack is strong and does the basics extraordinarily well, the scrum for Scotland is a very positive area and that was shown against Argentina in a formidable performance.

Scotland could mount a serious challenge this year and look the most in form northern hemisphere team bar England and Ireland who are a cut above this season.

Jonny Gray is becoming an all singing, all dancing lock and he is real leader for Scotland on the field. Also a top line out option and providing some ballast at the scrum.hogg

In the backs there is the sensational fullback, Stuart Hogg, a counter attacking nightmare, he tears defences open with his fast feet and agile reflexes. His kicking game is also just one more trick to terrorise the opposition’s backfield cover players.

Scotland have the luxury of three home games this year, they come against Italy, Ireland and Wales. Two of those games should be Scotland’s for the taking. Italy and Wales won’t hold much fear for Scotland. Away trips to Paris and London will always be tough.

Cotter knows how good his team is and the fact they have three home games will breed confidence in the camp. If they play like they know they can that tie against Ireland and the trip to London could be interesting propositions.

Fixtures

v Ireland, BT Murrayfield, 14:25, Saturday 4th February

v France, Stade de France, 15:00, Sunday 12th February

v Wales, BT Murrayfield, 14:25, Saturday 25th February

v England, Twickenham Stadium, 16:00, Saturday 11th March

v Italy, BT Murrayfield, 12:30, Saturday 18th March

My Scotland XV

1 Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh) 2 Ross Ford (Edinburgh) 3 WP Nel (Edinburgh) 4 Richie Gray (Toulouse) 5 Jonny Gray (Glasgow) 6 John Barclay (Scarlets) 7 John Hardie (Edinburgh) 8 Josh Strauss (Glasgow)

9 Greig Laidlaw (Captain, Gloucester) 10 Finn Russell (Glasgow) 11 Sean Maitland (Saracens) 12 Duncan Taylor (Saracens) 13 Huw Jones (Stormers) 14 Tommy Seymour (Glasgow) 15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow)

West Bromwich Albion Preview

Manager: Tony Pulis
Stadium: The Hawthorns
Captain: Darren Fletcher
Top Scorer: Saido Berahino (20)

West Bromwich Albion have for a long time now not achieved much but the club now have a chance to go for Europe with a good manager and some excellent individuals this team have the quality ti make the top 8 it remains to be seen if they can execute that.

West Bromwich Albion had a horrible start to the season stuttering and unable to really make any sort of mark bar a 4-0 win over newcomers Burnley at home. They looked like a team void of direction, void of ideas with only striker Berahino showing any real signs of life as he scorched the turf with his pace and whipped balls past numerous flailing keepers as if creating a piece of art. With no real spark or creative intuition behind him the chances were few and far between. The club have a really solid defensive unit when the defenders are playing at their best. Lescott and Dawson are past their best yet still accomplished defenders but games like the 3-2 loss to QPR and the 3-1 loss to Manchester City proved that this team was not firing and that meant that the Baggies could only notch 4 wins before the new year which led to the inevitable sacking of Alan Irvine on the 29th December after a 2-0 loss to Stoke the day before which left them in 16th place. Pulls was appointed his successor as early as 1st January.

Tony Pulis was happy to be appointed manager after Irvine failed to get results.

Tony Pulis was happy to be appointed manager after Irvine failed to get results.

The second half of the season was much improved as they would only lose 6 games before the end of the season some of these were tough games as well. Such as Manchester City and Tottenham. Saido Berhaino’s rate slowed but the team added to his haul with success and the team looked alive again. They recored huge wins over Chelsea 3-0 in what was 1 of the most incredible displays I have seen Berahino the chief architect as well as Fabregas having been sent off. They also beat Manchester United 1-0 in a game which always looked like it was going the underdogs way. This run of games and goals saw them climb as high as 13th which is where the club would finish. Respectable considering they were being touted to go down pre-Christmas.

West Bromwich Albion are currently under construction and will be for the nest 3 or 4 months as Pulis builds his squad and tries to identify his midfield anchor whether it be the Scotch captain Fletcher or someone different like vice-captain Brunt or new recruit McLean. This seemed a key part of his plan at Stoke which saw them flying high under Pulis. His long ball game was also a large part of his tenure at the Brittannia Stadium. Berahino will also be key as long as he can keep hold of the prolific frontman.

The key player for the Baggies last season has to be Berahino, he was majestic for West Brom, always could be relied upon to change a game or turn the tide a game changer. He will always be a threat for the Birmingham based club. His raw pace make him a handful enough add to that his venomous right boot and you have a striker that even the best clubs would be jealous of and clubs have been chasing his signature but as yet the hefty price tag has seen potential suitors look elsewhere for affordable alternatives. I have no doubt if he can continue his form the clubs will come knocking again every team could do with a prolific finisher.

Saido Berahino celebrates 1 of his 20 goals last season.

Saido Berahino celebrates 1 of his 20 goals last season.

Transfer business has been very low profile at the Hawthorns despite some interesting captures. Lambert arrives fresh from his ill fated time at Liverpool, his goal scoring nous could come in handy even if it just is from the bench. Lambert also suits Pulis’ long ball style that served his past club Stoke so well. James Chester is a huge signing for Pulis, he could sure up a weakness at the back and if he can will certainly be worth the rather hefty price tag Hull commanded for their defender. Chester is a good buy though and will be an asset for West Bromwich Albion. Rondón is also a huge signing, they paid a premium for the forward the south American forward could be a hugely important signature and could well add some thrust to the strike force already in place at the Hawthorns as they look for a top half finish.

Rickie Lambert celebrates scoring for England.

Rickie Lambert celebrates scoring for England.

Some long time players leave the club. Graham Dorrans departs for the new boys Norwich, he was an exciting player and a servant to the club he may well be missed by the club. Mulumbu is also off to pastures new, he had been a rock at times for the Premier League side and many will be sad to see him leave. Baird another player who has been at the club for a relatively long time leaves as Pulis has a clear out trying to build his vision.

IN: Rickie Lambert (Liverpool, £3 million)
James Chester (Hull City, £8 milllion)
James McLean (Wigan Athletic, £1.5 million)
José Salomón Rondón (Zenit, £12 million)

OUT: Graham Dorrans (Norwich City, £3 million)
Youssuf Mulumbu (Norwich City, Free)
Chris Baird (Derby County, Free)
Wes Atkinson (Notts County, Free)
Bradley Garmston (Gillingham, Free)
Donervon Daniels (Wigan Athletic, Undisclosed)
Georgios Samaras (Free Agents, Free)

West Brom look in good health and may well surprise a few this season however the whole field is getting stronger, there still a way off the top half.

My West Bromwich Albion XI (4-3-2-1): 1 B.Foster; 25 C.Dawson 6 J.Lescott 4 J.Chester 3 J.Olsson; 19 C,McManaman 24 D.Fletcher (C) 11 C.Brunt; 29 S.Sességnon 33 S.Rondón; 18 S.Berahino

Bench: 13 B.Myhill 20 L.O’Neill 23 G,McAuley 31 S.Gnabry 14 J.McLean 10 V.Anichebe 17 R.Lambert

Last Season: 13th
Prediction: 15th