Scotland’s Battle for Scrum Half

Published on: 9th September 2015

Filled Under: Analysis, International, World Cup 2015

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The Scrum Half position for Scotland is a hotly contested spot, and this is reflected in their decision to take 3 scrum-halves into the World Cup. Greig Laidlaw is the old-guard, and current captain, followed by, Henry Pyrgos, the Glasgow Warriors scrum-half., Filling the third slot you have the new kid on the block, Pro12 Young Player of the Year, Sam Hildago-Clyne of Edinburgh.

Each scrum half has started at least one of the three warmup games, so in terms of recent game time they’re relatively equal. What can we learn from each of their auditions though, and who – if anyone – is the obvious starter?

 

Sam Hidalgo-Clyne

Sam Hidalgo-Clyne

With a breakout season in 2014-15 Hidalgo-Clyne’smade a name for himself with his pace, darting runs and goal-kicking. He made his full Scotland debut in this years 6 Nations against France, and is now looking to cement his place in the team.

 

Box Kicks:

Sam Hidalgo-Clyne’s (SHC) kicking game is one of his biggest strengths. For the first 20 minutes of their game against Italy, Scotland are under a lot of pressure in their own 22. SHC makes some excellent clearing kicks off his left boot to relieve pressure for Scotland.

This clip demonstrates that he’s also comfortable box kicking with his right boot, a large feather in his cap. This time he kicks from an attacking position, putting in an excellent kick which bounces just near the Italian 5m line:

It’s worth noting that the Italians put next to no pressure on SHC during his kicks in the first half. Giving him plenty of time to make his kicks with confidence. Clearly words were said at half time, and within 40 seconds of the second half, SHC’s box kick is charged down. Luckily for him, the ball is knocked on by an Italian player:

Italy seemed incapable of maintaining this pressure however, and SHC continues to box kick unopposed for the remainder of the game. Very sloppy from the Italians, and definitely something you don’t want to allow to happen – especially against someone who can kick as well as  SHC.

SHC’s box kicking is a great asset when defending. He gets a lot of distance on his kicks, and being able to kick from the base of the ruck, rather than passing it 10m back for the fly-half to clear means that they don’t lose those extra metres passing it back. Being comfortable kicking the ball with both feet is also another feather to his cap.

Focus

In the second half against Italy, SHC’s performance did begin to drop  He flings a pass to no-one, and Scotland lose 15m.

A few phases later, things go from bad to worse. This time with a box kick that goes out on the full. Scotland not only lose 15m, but also possession as a result of his sloppy play.

Whilst his performance overall was good in my opinion for the Italy game, moments like this will need to be reduced. Although considering how much pressure they were under multiple times, he copes extremely well.

Defending:

Coming on for the last 15 minutes against Ireland, SHC was put under more pressure defensively.

When he was brought on for the last 15 minutes against Ireland, SHC found himself under massive  defensive pressure. Around the 67 minute mark, Ireland have an attacking scrum just inside Scotland’s half. Ireland win the ball, and Reddan moves around the back of the scrum as if he was going to go right. SHC begins to move left, creating a gap which Reddan exploits with a pass in the opposite direction. SHC’s speed helps him to cover his mistake, and – whilst they lose 10-15 metres – the defence drifts across and covers it. However if SHC were a little more fatigued, the end result could have been a lot worse for Scotland.

 

Summary:

  • Hasn’t had too many opportunities to show his attacking threat – Scotland were trapped in their own half for most of the games he was involved in.
  • Talented kicker –  made some excellent clearances from kick-offs and when they were in their own 22.
  • As soon as pressure starts to be applied, he begins to wobble a bit.

Henry Pyrgos:

The Glasgow scrum-half has had an injury-plagued season, and missed out on the 6 Nations tournament this year. His performances picked up towards the end of the season however, and he was instrumental in Glasgow’s Pro12 Victory over Munster, where they took the title for the first time in their history.

Pyrgos’ key differentiator is the way he runs his support lines. He has a completely different play style from the 2 other scrum-halves…… Pyrgos has played in all of the 3 warm-up fixtures, starting against Ireland,, and coming off the bench both times against Italy. So he should be completely ready for international duty.

Sloppy play at the start of the Ireland game:

At the start of the Ireland game, Pyrgos has a couple of sloppy moments:

Here, the ref says several times that the Ireland player is coming through the gate. Lack of awareness and urgency means that the ball escapes and results in an Ireland scrum:

Here he tries to organise a box kick by getting players to move over to the blindside of the ruck, but takes too long doing it. Without adequate protection in the ruck, an Irish boot gets onto it and spoils the play. Luckily, a few phases later, he is able to get his box kick off:

Support Lines:

Pyrgos has an obvious talent for getting himself into great positions. When Scotland are breaking, or after he’s passed the ball, he carries on running ahead of the play and remains useful.

We see this initially vs. Ireland, where he’s running the Support line for Peter Horne try, but isn’t needed. He begins running onto it long before the chance is created – see where he’s circled down in the bottom left of the screen:

Fast forward towards the end of the move, he’s worked his way to just behind Peter Horne, who goes on to score.

Here’s another great example of him running the support lines when Scotland are in possession,  coming off the bench vs Italy at Murrayfield. After passing the ball deep into the backline, Pyrgos still goes forward, expecting Scotland to make ground:

Because he runs ahead of play (starts just next to the Scotland 10m line and the last picture shows him well inside the Italy half), he’s still able to get to the ruck to pass the ball when this particular move breaks down:

Here’s the whole move in one:

Even though it doesn’t work out for him this time, if Scotland had managed to make a line break then he would have been instantly available and up to speed to play. It’s one of the big attributes of Pyrgos’ play. He consistently does it throughout games, and it makes him a constant threat.

We see the impact of this support line running in the game vs. Italy in Turin. He upped the intensity with his passing in the game, and made a considerable difference coming on.

Scotland break and Pyrgos is on hand to support and touchdown for Scotland.

Try vs Ireland:

Pyrgos gets slightly lucky here, with his first pass almost ending up being intercepted by Chris Henry. He manages to keep his composure and isolates the space between Mike Ross and Issac Boss, stays low and manages to score for Scotland. 2 tries in his 3 games, not a bad return for a scrum half!

Kicking out of Hand:

A bit of a mixed bag in the warmup games for Pyrgos. He tries a few, one in the closing stages of the away Italy game. The right idea at the time, but slightly overcooks it and the Italian fullback McLean is able to call for the mark:

Pyrgos puts in a good clearance kick here, and manages to get it into the crowd, giving the Scottish team some time to catch their breath after a frantic start vs. Ireland.

Here he box kicks, gives it plenty of height and enough time, but his chasers don’t challenge for the ball and Zebo takes it:

Pyrgos receives the ball here, and decides to chip it through in a good attacking position. He overcooks it, and no-one else was running onto it. Probably would have been better to hold onto it or take it into contact, recycle and then attack again. As a result, Scotland lose the ball and it’s an Irish 22 dropout.

Defending:

A scrum-half not afraid to get his hands dirty, always nice to see! He identifies early on numerous times in the games that the ball may be stolen or not cleared out by the forwards in time, so hits the ruck:

And also makes a last ditch tackle vs. Ireland:

Summary:

  • Much more physical scrum-half, willing to crash ball it and get involved retaining the ball
  • His support play is fantastic, and one of his biggest attributes as a player, and arguably make him the biggest try scoring threat out of the 3 options
  • He goes down the blindside a lot – don’t know whether it’s a tactic they’d identified against Ireland but he did it a lot whenever they were 5m from the touchline

Greig Laidlaw:

Scotland captain since the summer tour of 2013, Laidlaw has established himself as the starting scrum half over the past few years. One of his big strengths, and something that has made him undroppable at times is his goalkicking. Laidlaw has one of the highest success rates for kickers in Europe and worldwide.

 

General Play:

Laidlaw’s overall play and awareness in his game against Italy were pretty good. When there was a chance to speed up the tempo of the game, he took it. He opted several times to take a tap penalty, and at the end of the first half, looked to break from their on 22 from the turnover ball:

On turnover ball again, and Laidlaw identifies that the Italians aren’t organised in defence and he has Hogg and Visser ready and waiting:

He also gives Barclay a helping hand for his try in the Italy game:

Kicking out of Hand:

Laidlaw’s kicking out of hand is mixed. Against both Italy at France he was good at times, and troubling at others.

Here, he plays a chip kick through to the Italian 22, but the bounce means that it resulted in a 22 dropout:

Here he fires a box kick which was far too long for the chasers, and McLean, the Italian fullback is able to make easy metres unopposed.

In the France game, it was more of the same. As we see here ,with the ball being outside of the 22 and not much else on, Laidlaw hoists it up and puts it very close to the touchline. The chase is good, although Visser and co. aren’t able to drag the receiver into touch.

Then we have the not so good, where he puts up a huge kick, giving his chasers absolutely no chance of getting near the ball. This picture shows Spedding just before he catches it, and you can see how much space he has in front of him. Luckily for Scotland, he decides to do an up-and-under which goes straight into the crowd. If he had chosen to go across instead of back into traffic, it could have caused a lot of problems.

Laidlaw also got a rather unusual try assist. His kick, which was presumably aimed for the touchline, didn’t have the legs to reach it. And instead, things worked out slightly better than just gaining some territory:

Defending:

Laidlaw is much more authoritative than the other two scrumhalfs, barking out orders and telling people where to stand. This was key in the France game, where Scotland’s defence was tested for most of the game. If he spots potential danger of a chip kick, he usually is the player to drop back 5-10m. Wasn’t isolated as much as the other 2 were

Summary:

  • Laidlaw’s kicking from hand was a mixed bag, and numerous times picked the wrong option or failed to execute the kick well enough.
  • Looks to increase the tempo of play and counter attack whenever he can.
  • Goal kicking = best of the 3, is that needed if Russell is playing though?
  • Orchestrates the defence from the back of the ruck, or drops back when there is potential danger in behind.

Wrap-up:

Scotland have 3 great scrumhalves, all with their own big strengths. Hidalgo-Clyne is seen as the future, but needs to work on his overall game and game management, he has the talent but it is still his first full season at scrum half, he might not get lots of game time at the World Cup but he’s sure to add to his 7 Scotland caps he’s got.

Pyrgos seems like the biggest challenger to Laidlaw. He’s the biggest threat scoring wise, however is that more suited for him to come off the bench? His game management and awareness are great, and you have to wonder if he’d be starting if Laidlaw wasn’t the captain. Playing week in week out with Finn Russell can only enhance his chances as well.

Laidlaw’s biggest strength as a scrumhalf is allowing others to excel. He speeds up the tempo, and looks to break at any opportunity. His goalkicking is something that was needed in the past, but with the emergence of kickers in the Scotland team, with Russell at 10, Horne, Hogg, and even SHC, is he needed for his goal kicking ability anymore?

NOTE:
This analysis is only taken from their warm-up games. There are a lot of different variables. On most occasions, the teams are completely different, the backline is completely new, and with some players were playing together competitively for the first time., Furthermore the opposition was different, so different tactics will have been identified and used in each match.  SHC was heavily under pressure for most of his game time, while Laidlaw got an armchair ride against Italy in comparison, with the forwards winning him lots of clean ball and winning lots of good territory / position.

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