Six Nations: Getting Scotland over the line

By Jim MasonBBC Scotland rugby reporter
Scotland winger Lee Jones warming up at Murrayfield
Jones will make his Scotland debut on the wing against England at Murrayfield

Can the new blood in the Scotland team solve what has long been a problem with getting points on the board?

Lee Jones will make his Scotland debut against England in the opening game of the Six Nations. Those who watch Edinburgh regularly will be delighted.

The 23-year-old and his fellow winger, Tim Visser, have been instrumental in the club's successful Heineken Cup campaign.

Both are finishers - and boy do Scotland need finishers.

They have gone three matches without a try, failing to cross the line against Georgia, Argentina and England at the World Cup.

With Max Evans on the other flank, it is a back line that promises much. The wingers are diminutive, but to disregard them because of their stature would be foolish. Both are fleet of foot and possess a creative streak that can mean that the pre-ordained playbook becomes redundant.

Like all good modern wingers, they also go looking for work with a hunger that can see them turn up in unexpected places.

Nick De Luca at 13 should provide Jones and Evans with decent ball and the use of Sean Lamont as a decoy could give them breathing space.

It's a Glasgow reunion at half-back, with Dan Parks winning his 66th cap and Chris Cusiter his 56th.

Parks won three-man-of-the-match awards in the 2010 championship, a feat he partly puts down to the presence of Cusiter at scrum-half.

The number 10 also knows that he has a responsibility to bring the players outside him into the game. His ability to control a game with the boot is unquestioned; his ability to act as playmaker would return a verdict of not proven from many Scotland fans.

The received wisdom that the front five picks itself is unfair to the likes of Geoff Cross and Alastair Kellock. Both have been star performers for their clubs, but for this one they lose out to the undoubted quality of both Euan Murray and Jim Hamilton.

In the back row, the pace and flair of Ross Rennie and David Denton is complemented by the steely presence of Gloucester's Alasdair Strokosch.

Edinburgh duo Rennie and Denton will be getting their first experience of the Six Nations.

Both scored spectacular tries against Racing Metro in their recent Heineken Cup match. Denton's try in particular saw the fair-haired flanker race in from just under halfway, a distance that will no doubt increase in the telling.

Their presence could be the key to success for Scotland. Frustratingly, Scotland have had no shortage of line breaks in the last few years, but they have failed to capitalise. Denton and Rennie, whether as instigators or finishers, may have the answer.

While the starting XVs will set the tone for the Calcutta Cup clash, those on the bench may have the last say and Scotland certainly have options.

Cross and Scott Lawson provide front-row cover, while Kellock brings tremendous application and leadership should he appear alongside Gray or Hamilton.

The Glasgow pairing of John Barclay and Graeme Morrison are also on hand to contribute at open side and inside centre respectively.

But it's the half-back replacements, where Edinburgh's Mike Blair and Greig Laidlaw are listed, that catch the eye.

Their introduction into the game, should it happen, will be fascinating. They have masterminded Edinburgh's European success and could bring that same degree of execution to Scotland's game.

Parks and Cusiter are likely to start in contained and disciplined fashion, leaving head coach Andy Robinson with the option of taking a radical change of tack.

Laidlaw is yet to start an international or feature in the Six Nations, but he and Blair, who can both break with speed and panache, could be the men to exploit the situation should the game open up in the later stages.