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Five pointers for the Six Nations from Glasgow Warriors’ 1872 Cup victory

Glasgow won the 1872 Cup with victories in both legs.
Glasgow won the 1872 Cup with victories in both legs.

Glasgow Warriors swept the 1872 Cup matches – somewhat surprisingly – with comfort over the festive period, leaving Gregor Townsend with a few pointers towards his 2023 Six Nations campaign.

The head coach usually has his own ideas and “credit in the bank” under his watch at the training ground at Oriam and on the international field counts for most.

But the usual head-to-heads in the 1872 gave a fair indication of a few marginal calls for the head coach when he makes his squad choices later this month.

Here’s the main pointers from the two games this festive season:

The pack questions

Jack Dempsey had a strong showing in both 1872 Cup matches.

Jack Dempsey didn’t seem to have an outstanding Autumn in his first appearances for Scotland. There was one glaring error that led to an Argentina try when Scotland had a two man advantage. But in the shakedown of that game, it didn’t really do any harm.

The post campaign stats showed him in a better light, with more productive carries than any other Scot. “The unseen hard yards” is the operative cliche.

Dempsey was outstanding in his first leg of the 1872 and after a quietish first half at Murrayfield played exceptionally in the second.

With Hamish Watson doubtful for the Six Nations, I’d be okay with a back row of Matt Fagerson at 6, Jamie Ritchie at 7 and Dempsey at 8. On the evidence of the last month, it’s the best formation available.

In other news, Richie Gray is an absolute certainty for the Six Nations team. His remarkable renaissance since returning to Scotland after the injury-strewn spell in France has been a proper good news story.

Sione Tuipulotu – an apology

There may be some evidence in The Breakdown files that we didn’t quite rate the Glasgow centre too highly for much of his time in Scotland.

Guilty as charged, m’lud. There were a couple of blatant missed tackles in his first Scotland appearances, and like many of the SQ imports, he looked to be really good against the Zebres and Dragons of UFC and less so against the rest.

But during the Autumn tests and for Glasgow this season – with a little timber shed at the behest of Franco Smith – Tuipulotu has been exceptional. It’s clear that in the first half of 2022 he was just finding his feet.

This Six Nations will be a more proper test than recent games. But It looks as if Sione could be a fixture in Scotland teams this year.

A competition at scrum-half?

George Horne got just 15 minutes of action in the Autumn Tests, despite being, by common consent, the best 9 in Scotland this season.

On Friday night he noticeably lifted the tempo of the team when introduced with 25 minutes to go (and Glasgow still behind).

Ali Price had had his struggles when he was on – a couple of routine fumbles and a charged-down exit kick which led to a try. To be fair to him, Horne came on to a tiring defence and a game breaking up. In that sense Franco Smith played it perfectly tactically.

But despite being Smith’s clear first choice when all are available, George is still third in the depth chart for Scotland behind Price and Ben White.

Price is one of those with credit in Townsend’s bank, and plenty of it, not least due his understanding with Finn Russell.

But White’s performances (just one start and eight replacement appearances) and Horne’s form suggests that there should be proper competition for the 9 jersey in the Six Nations.

Edinburgh’s big fade – attitude or leadership?

Like the Munster game at the beginning of the month, on Friday Edinburgh worked a comfortable scoreboard position – then folded alarmingly.

Yes, Munster and Glasgow are decent sides, but not of the very top order. And anyway, whatever happened to “staying in the fight” like Richard Cockerill said so often when he was coach?

How could this reflect in the national side? Well, Edinburgh’s primary leaders and co-captains are Jamie Ritchie and Grant Gilchrist, who are also the last two captains of Scotland.

It’s a different environment, of course. But Scotland lost a lot of games they maybe should have won in the final quarter in 2022 as well.

Blair’s growing pains?

It’s been a rough few months for Blair Kinghorn. Whatever you thought of the machinations of the summer and November, it would require a player with indestructible self-assurance not have suffered a dip in confidence after what happened.

Friday’s display was partly a tactical issue. Mike Blair said the gameplan was to kick deep, and tactical kicking is still not one of Kinghorn’s strengths. His kicks were often too long and uncontestable.

Furthermore, what must Kinghorn think of rumours that Murrayfield is again courting Scottish-qualified Ben Healy of Munster?

Yes, he would be cover when Kinghorn is on international duty, but word is they see the 23-year-old – currently third choice 10 at Munster – as a possible Scotland player.

All this doesn’t matter if Finn Russell is fit and firing? Well, that’s never a certainty to start with, and they must be planning for life beyond Finn, who will be 31 this year.

As we noted last week, he might even be inclined to step away from international rugby soon. Kinghorn might not be everyone’s idea of a rounded 10, but this time next year he could be the best option we have.