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Six Nations preview - Scotland

Last Updated: 01/02/14 9:58am

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The Six Nations will be Scott Johnson's final task as Scotland head coach before handing over to Vern Cotter in order to concentrate on his other role as the Scottish Rugby Union's director of rugby.

Expectations are modest for a squad shorn by injury of three likely starters in Alastair Kellock, Euan Murray and Tim Visser for the entire tournament.

Recent form offers little encouragement; since beating Ireland in round three of last year's Six Nations, Scotland have won two of eight Tests - against Italy and Japan - and failed to score a try during autumn defeats to South Africa (28-0) and Australia (21-15) at Murrayfield.

A major strength is the back row with competition for places so fierce that captain Kelly Brown is far from assured of a place in the team, particularly given the excellent club form of Chris Fusaro.

The back division remains more of a work in progress. Greig Laidlaw is established as the first-choice scrum-half but there is little continuity in the fly-half and inside centre roles and the lack of creativity from those areas during the autumn defeats to Australia and South Africa meant the outside strike runners had little chance to shine.

Scotland have only two home games in this year's tournament but that is probably for the best given the state of the Murrayfield pitch due to a roundworm problem.

Scotland

Last season: 3rd
Head coach: Scott Johnson: "If we're consistent we have a good chance. The game is split up into a 60-minute game and an 80-minute game. If we're into the competition at 60 minutes the scoreboard pressure suits us. If we keep being there and knocking on the door, the door will open. We're not far from a couple of big scalps here."
Captain: Kelly Brown: "We finished third last year, the highest in a number of years, and we are improving as a team. If we can keep on improving and play at our best then we will put all the sides under pressure."
Ground: Murrayfield
Sky Bet odds:
Fixtures: Feb 2 v Ireland (a), Feb 8 v England (h), Feb 22 v Italy (a), Mar 8 v France (h), Mar 15 v Wales (a)

Key man: Greig Laidlaw: The latest in a fine tradition of Scottish scrum-halves that includes his uncle Roy, part of the 1984 Grand Slam-winning team. The Edinburgh skipper was finally given an extended run in the No 9 shirt last year after spending 2012 as Scotland's preferred stand-off. At 5ft 9in and 80kgs, Laidlaw is small by the standards of international rugby but has proved a good fit at scrum-half under Johnson, who made him vice-captain. His excellent kicking game is complemented by impressive decision-making and leadership, evident in the way he marshals the pack and knows the right time to move the ball wide. Laidlaw, who qualified as a joiner before turning professional, also shoulders place-kicking duties and much depends on him if Scotland are to improve on last year's third place Six Nations finish.

Squad:
Forwards (21): J Beattie (Montpellier), K Brown (Saracens), G Cross (Edinburgh Rugby), D Denton (Edinburgh Rugby), A Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby), R Ford (Edinburgh Rugby), C Fusaro (Glasgow Warriors), G Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby), R Grant (Glasgow Warriors), J Gray (Glasgow Warriors), R Gray (Castres), J Hamilton (Montpellier), R Harley (Glasgow Warriors), S Lawson (Newcastle Falcons), K Low (London Irish), M Low (Glasgow Warriors), P MacArthur (Glasgow Warriors), R Rennie (Edinburgh Rugby), A Strokosch (Perpignan), T Swinson (Glasgow Warriors), R Wilson (Glasgow Warriors)
Backs (15): C Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors), N De Luca (Edinburgh Rugby), A Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), M Evans (Castres), D Fife (Edinburgh Rugby), S Hogg (Glasgow Warriors), R Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), S Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), G Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby), S Maitland (Glasgow Warriors), M Scott (Edinburgh Rugby), T Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), D Taylor (Saracens), G Tonks (Edinburgh Rugby), D Weir (Glasgow Warriors)

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