Six Nations 2018: Jon Welsh can solve Scotland's 'Achilles heel', says Ally Hogg

Jon Welsh, Scott Lawson and Chris Harris in action for Newcastle Falcons
Jon Welsh, Scott Lawson and Chris Harris form the Newcastle contingent in the Scotland match-day 23
Six Nations Championship: Wales v Scotland
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday, 3 February Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, Red Button, Connected TVs, BBC Sport website and mobile app. Listen on BBC Radio Wales, Radio Scotland, BBC Radio 5 live, 5 live sports extra, BBC Sport website and app. Live text coverage on BBC Sport website and app.

Jon Welsh will be "worth his weight in gold" to Scotland in the Six Nations if he cures their "Achilles heel" - the scrum - believes club-mate Ally Hogg.

The Newcastle prop earns his first cap since 2015 at tight-head in Saturday's opener against Wales in Cardiff.

Back-row Hogg, 35, won 48 Scotland caps between 2004 and 2009, and packs down with Welsh domestically for Falcons.

"In international rugby, it doesn't matter how fancy you are," Hogg told BBC Scotland.

"If you don't get your set-piece right, you'll be struggling. No matter how much attacking and off-loading you can do, teams will wear you down.

"Jon's got a big role there to play. If he can hold them strong and get that scrum dominance, he'll be worth his weight in gold."

Head coach Gregor Townsend is without nine front-row players through injury and suspension, with Welsh, 31, recalled alongside 36-year-old Falcons team-mate Scott Lawson, whose last Test came in November 2014.

"Jon's a big cornerstone of the scrum," Hogg said. "Before, we [Newcastle] were really struggling there, and he has really solidified our scrum.

Jon Welsh holds his hands up in frustration during Scotland's 2015 World Cup quarter-final defeat by Australia
Jon Welsh has not played for Scotland since the 2015 Rugby World Cup loss to Australia

"That's the Achilles heel I can see going into the Six Nations - the front row. That's why Scotty Lawson has been brought in, for that experience.

"They've got a lot of people around him that don't have that experience and knowledge, that he can hopefully pass on and problem-solve on the pitch. The starting front row is very light on international experience."

Gordon Reid, with eight starts in his 27 caps, starts at loose-head, with injuries ruling out Darryl Marfo, Allan Dell and Al Dickinson.

Hooker Stuart McInally has only started six Tests in his 12 caps but excelled in the autumn with Fraser Brown and Ross Ford unavailable. They remain sidelined, as is back-up George Turner.

Welsh, who will start only his fourth Test on the occasion of his 12th cap, is ignoring those concerned at how Scotland might cope without leading tight-heads WP Nel and Zander Fagerson, and the banned Simon Berghan.

"I have my own job to do and focus on," Welsh said. "I am confident, I have played with Gordon Reid for years, played against and with Rambo (McInally) for years as well.

"You talk about the front row as a 'weakened position', but you have [Glasgow's] D'arcy Rae there (in the wider Scotland squad) who has worked a lot under [forwards coach] Dan McFarland and [Glasgow's forwards coach] Jon Humphreys, you have Murray McCallum [on the bench on Saturday] who I think has been thrown into the deep end at Edinburgh and done brilliantly, and it could have easily been him starting.

"When you come in there is a demand to perform and train well, and if you're not, you will definitely get told about it."

'That centre partnership can last for a while'

A third Newcastle player, Chris Harris, makes his first international start in Cardiff, having featured in all 13 of Newcastle's Premiership outings this season.

Chris Harris in Scotland training
Chris Harris made his Scotland debut in November

Eight of those matches have ended in victory, with the Falcons sitting sixth in England's top-flight.

Townsend said the 27-year-old centre's defence and consistency were the chief factors in his selection.

Hogg believes Harris has the attributes to keep rivals Alex Dunbar, Duncan Taylor, Nick Grigg and Mark Bennett on the sidelines.

"He's been one of the stand-out players for us this season, especially defensively," said Hogg, who made his Scotland debut in Cardiff in 2004.

Ally Hogg's 'try' for Scotland against France is disallowed
Ally Hogg won 48 caps for Scotland, and has been at Newcastle since 2010

"He reads the game very well and has a very good defensive mindset. He's been one of the reasons we've been so successful this season.

"He's got Huw Jones inside him who is a vey good attacking threat. That's not to say Chris isn't a good attacking threat - he's got pace, he's very powerful as well - but his main strength is his defence and ability to read the game.

"They'll both hopefully complement each other. Jones has scored plenty tries in his last internationals. If he breaks the line, Chris will get on his shoulder and get some good support lines.

"If the two of them can forge a good partnership I can see that lasting for a while.

"He's got the skills to keep them (the other centres) out. He's got the opportunity to perform, and if he does, he will keep them out."

Huw Jones scores for Scotland against Australia
Harris partners Huw Jones, who has scored seven tries in 11 Tests

'The Scottish boys lack a little bit of support'

Hogg is out of contract at Newcastle in the summer, and is "making plans for the end of the road", should his playing career come to an end.

This is his eighth season with Falcons, having moved south from Edinburgh in 2010.

He has been impressed by the work of England's Rugby Players Association, particularly their initiatives to prepare players for life after rugby.

Ally Hogg in action for Newcastle Falcons
Ally Hogg has made five league appearances for Falcons this season - all from the bench

Scotland is rugby's only Tier One nation with no such players' body - a point of some concern for the game's global player representatives.

"When I was in Scotland we tried to set it up, around 2005-2006, and the SRU didn't want anything to do with it, which was a real shame," Hogg said.

"We saw what the RPA did for English boys, and since coming down here, you appreciate how much support and guidance they can give you.

"They got me into a uni course, they've got boys into training courses, different gambling and drug awareness, mental wellbeing. They are very good at that.

"I think what the Scottish boys are lacking is that little bit of support in the latter stages of their rugby careers.

"It's about getting things in place and giving people succession plans and allowing them to develop as a person, not just a rugby player."

While Scottish Rugby is finalising a support programme, 'Rugby for Life', which will help players "achieve a healthy sport/life balance as they transition into or out of professional rugby", there are currently no plans on the table for a Scottish players' union.

When he hangs up his boots, Hogg says he would be happy to head up such a body.

"Time will tell, but certainly it's something I would be interested in, because I think it's important the players do have a collective voice when issues arise, and it's not just one person going up against a big organisation."

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