Looking Back at 2022
2022 got off to the best possible start as far as Scotland fans are concerned, with an opening day Six Nations victory against England. It’s a feat they will be looking to repeat on Saturday for a third year in a row come kick-off at Twickenham, as both sides go head to head for the Calcutta Cup.
However, while they always looked like a team ready to burst into life at any moment, they failed to string two wins in a row together last year, an inconsistency head coach Gregor Townsend will be looking for his side to put right in 2023.
Although it wasn’t a vintage year for Scottish rugby, they signed off their Autumn Nations Series campaign with a battling display against New Zealand and a comprehensive 52-29 victory against Argentina in a bad-tempered clash at Murrayfield, a pair of results which will give the camp a certain sense of cautious optimism of finishing higher than the fourth place they’ve attained in each of their last three Six Nations campaigns.
Gregor Townsend was always regarded as an expansive, creative player during his playing days and it’s an ethos he’s passed on to this current Scotland side. They moved the ball wide from a greater percentage of their rucks than any other Six Nations side in Test rugby in 2022 (10.4%), with Japan the only Tier 1 side to do so more frequently than the Scots last year (14.0%).
They’re also a side who like to counter when they win the ball, with Italy (6.5) the only Six Nations side to launch more counter attacks per game than Scotland (6.1) in Test rugby in 2022. Crucially though, they executed their counter attacks with surgical precision, being one of just three Tier 1 sides to score from over 10% of their counters last year, using the electric pace of players in their backline such as Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe to leave their opponents flatfooted.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Scotland are equally impressive in both attack and defence, having beaten the most opposition defenders per game of any Tier 1 side in Test rugby in 2022 (24.3) and being the only team to register a tackle success rate of 90% or better last year (90%). The Scots made 4.9 line breaks per game in 2022, with Ireland (5.2) the only Six Nations side to average more. Crucially though, Scotland were also ruthless when they broke the line – 46% of those breaks resulted in a try, also the second-best rate of any Six Nations side in 2022 (France, 53%).
However, while their backs soared last year, their pack flattered to deceive at times, recording both the second-lowest scrum (91%) and ruck (94%) success rates of any side in last year’s Guinness Six Nations. They also suffered from a lack of discipline, conceding at least five more penalties than any other side in the Championship in 2022 (61) in addition to winning the fewest penalties themselves (44).
Should they shore up their breakdown and discipline, they have the necessary attacking talent to take the game to any side.
A back three containing Duhan van der Merwe, Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg is among the strongest on paper in Test rugby, although that trio will be disrupted in 2023, with Darcy Graham currently sidelined due to injury. It is a blow to Scotland, as they’ve also proven to be one of the most effective trios on the pitch as well, with Graham (43) and van der Merwe (36) each beating more defenders than any other player in Tier 1 Test rugby in 2022. Hogg, for his part, gained the most metres per 80 minutes of any player (83, min. 300 minutes played).
Hogg and van der Merwe can also rely on quality service from the likes of fly-half Finn Russell, who provided the joint-most try assists per 80 minutes of any player last year (1.22, tied with Ben Youngs, min. 300 minutes). Full-back Blair Kinghorn was also one of just two other players to average over one assist per 80 (1.17).
Far from only being good with the ball in hand though, van der Merwe also won the joint-second most turnovers of any back three player in Tier 1 Test rugby in 2022 (four, level with Marika Koroibete); only the injured Graham won more last year (5). And speaking of stellar defenders, Hamish Watson (98.4%) and Grant Gilchrist (98.2%) had the two highest success rates of any players to make 50+ tackles in 2022.
Scotland’s Six Nations 2023 Fixtures:
4 February: England v Scotland, Twickenham, London
11 February: Scotland v Wales, Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
26 February: France v Scotland, Stade de France, Paris
12 March: Scotland v Ireland, Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
18 March: Scotland v Italy, Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
Scotland Six Nations 2023 Squad (as of 17 Jan):
Forwards: Ewan Ashman (Sale), Josh Bayliss (Bath), Simon Berghan, Jamie Bhatti, Fraser Brown (all Glasgow), Dave Cherry (Edinburgh), Andy Christie (Saracens), Luke Crosbie (Edinburgh), Jack Dempsey, Matt Fagerson, Zander Fagerson (all Glasgow), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Exeter), Richie Gray (Glasgow), Cameron Henderson (Leicester), WP Nel, Jamie Ritchie, Pierre Schoeman (all Edinburgh), Javan Sebastian (Scarlets), Sam Skinner (Edinburgh), Rory Sutherland (Ulster), George Turner (Glasgow), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh)
Backs: Chris Harris (Gloucester), Ben Healy (Munster), Stuart Hogg (Exeter), George Horne, Huw Jones (both Glasgow), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Sean Maitland (Saracens), Ruaridh McConnochie (Bath) Stafford McDowell, Ali Price (both Glasgow), Cameron Redpath (Bath), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Ollie Smith, Kyle Steyn, Sione Tuipulotu (all Glasgow), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh), Ben White (London Irish)
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