Mike Blair column: Scotland squad shaped in Cotter's vision

By Mike BlairFormer Scotland scrum-half
Vern Cotter has named four uncapped players in his Scotland squad for the Six Nations
Vern Cotter has named four uncapped players in his Scotland squad for the Six Nations

There are times when a Six Nations squad is selected and you can see the way in which a team are going to try to play, or particular traits and characteristics that individuals require to be part of that side.

Within Scotland's forward group, there is a leaning towards physicality over ball-playing ability, with Johnnie Beattie appearing to be the biggest casualty of this.

Beattie will carry the ball well, has the hands of a three-quarter and certainly makes his tackles, but it seems that he isn't the style of player that head coach Vern Cotter wants right now.

You get the impression that a hard-nosed Rob Harley or Alasdair Strokosch is more to his taste for the dark arts of international rugby.

I just hope that the balance is there and the team can continue to progress from a very solid autumn series, when the footballing ability of the Gray brothers in particular paid dividends.

The main positives to come from the November tests involved the running game off Greig Laidlaw at scrum-half, but to move the game on, Scotland must become equally comfortable running off 10, which is a very different skill, and hopefully they will have the personnel to do this.

Johnnie Beattie has missed out on selection for the Six Nations
Johnnie Beattie has missed out on selection for the Six Nations

Hamish Watson and Hugh Blake slip into the "bolters" category, having barely figured in any discussion on Six Nations selection outside of the coaches' room. However, both have a lot about them.

Watson has raw pace and looks like a horrible person to tackle - like you'd always bump your head on his knee or get a dead leg when tackling - and has the breakdown skills of a natural open-side to boot. He will play through the contact in attack.

Blake could win his first Scotland cap before his Edinburgh debut, and the public might not know his name, let alone his style, but the fact he's involved this early shows how highly the man from Otago Highlanders is regarded. He's different from Watson in that he has a bit more finesse than just raw athleticism but he's equally efficient in the contact.

The backs are starting to have a fairly settled look about them. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne has been rewarded for his form over the past month. He has speed of thought and a turn of pace to match, but most significantly (due to Finn Russell and fellow scrum-half Laidlaw being the only other front-line kickers), his goal-kicking stats are starting to tickle the 80% mark.

Scotland Six Nations stats- Haven't won their opening Six Nations fixture since 2006- Never finished higher than third since Italy were added to Five Nations in 2000- Aiming to win away to France for first time since 1999- Aiming to win at Twickenham for first time since 1983

Chris Cusiter will feel aggrieved to miss out, but the reality is if Laidlaw were to go down injured before the Six Nations opener against France, then Cusiter would have as good a chance as the others to start that match in Paris.

Duncan Weir's injury opens the door for Greig Tonks, who deserves his inclusion. A big left boot working in tandem with another right-footed option is a wonderful tool to have as it opens up both sides of the pitch. His ability to cover full-back too will give Cotter more options when naming his 23 for match day.

So no real surprises and you'd be fairly confident of picking Cotter's starting team to take the field at the Stade de France on 7 February, but there is certainly enough waiting in the wings to keep the players on their toes.

Cotter has re-affirmed his desire to play to traditional Scottish traits: attacking with ferocity, destabilising the opposition and trying to play smart rugby.

He has a plan and the selection definitely appears to match it.