Ali Price: Scotland Starting Position in Jeopardy?

Ali Price
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Ali Price has been a familiar face in the Scotland squad since making his debut in November 2016 against Georgia but with a poor start to this year’s Guinness Six Nations tournament, his regular starting spot at scrum-half could be in jeopardy.

Various Scottish scrum-halves have put their hands up and shown their worth in recent months, giving coach Gregor Townsend a lot to think about with regards to his starting scrumhalf. So, should Ali Price’s starting jersey be worn by someone else or not?

Time for a change

Although a regular starter for Scotland under Townsend, Price has had very few impactful performances at scrum-half for the men in blue recently. In this year’s opening two games of the Six Nations especially, he has looked shaky in both his distribution and his decision making. His box-kicking, in particular, is something that has certainly angered many Scottish fans around the world. Multiple charge downs from Maro Itoje in the first game against England, and the decision to box kick rather than keep the ball in hand when one point down with three minutes to go against Wales, are just some examples of Price losing his touch with the boot. Many also argue his ability to control the tempo of the game has somewhat dropped off too. Taking too long to distribute the ball, allowing the defence to get set, as well as taking too many steps before passing, killing the space for others to take advantage of.

However, it is not only Price’s own game that could see him lose the starting spot at the BT Murrayfield side. Various other 9s have been playing well and are raring to take his place.

Scotland’s other options

Sam Hidalgo-Clyne made his debut for Scotland in 2015 but has struggled to hold down a place in the squad since, making just 12 appearances to date. With that said, however, since his move to Exeter Chiefs in February 2020, Hidalgo-Clyne has found some great form. Making appearances in both the Champions Cup final and the Premiership final, in which he received a winners medal for both, showing just how much he has matured and how he has nailed his game as a scrum-half.

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Another 9 that has recently put together a good run of performances is Harlequins 27-year-old Scott Steele. Aside from Price, Steele is the only other scrumhalf in the Scotland squad this year and despite only making two appearances for his national side so far, both from the bench, he has shown us just what he is capable of. Steele controls the game well, provides quick ball and is solid in defence. He is also very vocal on the pitch, commanding the forwards and setting the back-line well, making him a useful asset to the players around him. Steele may be inexperienced at international level but under the watch of Townsend has the ability to break into the first team and possibly stay there for seasons to come.

Scotland supporters were disappointed to hear of the injury that George Horne sustained while training with Scotland before the start of the Six Nations. The 25-year-old has been turning heads at Glasgow Warriors and fans were excited to see Horne feature for his country more and more. He made his debut in 2018 and has played 10 games, scoring 32 points. Horne plays with a pace and precision that other Scottish scrum-halves neglect to do. He works tirelessly to put the opposition on the back foot, always looking to snipe around the corner and create gaps in the defence. Horne plays differently from how Townsend has set the team tactics up but it might just be exactly what Scotland need to reach the next level. Having just signed a new contract at Glasgow, Townsend will look to keep a close eye on the talented 9.

Finally, a mention must go to young up-and-coming scrum-half Jamie Dobie. Also at the Warriors, Dobie has come on leaps and bounds under the influence of Price and Horne. He is another that looks to play with pace and is lethal when given space around the breakdown. At just 19-years-old, Dobie has a very exciting career ahead of him.

Give him time

With everything in life, there are always two sides to the story. Price may have had a few disappointing performances but there is still a strong case for why he should remain as Scotland’s starting scrum-half.

Firstly, his experience. Price has had a solid spot in the squad since Gregor Townsend took the Head Coach role in 2017, meaning the two have a good relationship and Townsend trusts in his ability. It also means that Price has been able to build friendships with every player that has been in the squad in the last five years. Price may have under 40 caps for Scotland but is certainly a senior player in terms of time served in camp. Additionally, Price has a very good relationship with Scotland fly-half Finn Russell, which is vital for a 9-10 partnership to have. The two spent five years together at Glasgow and were regular roommates for away trips and international training camps.

Despite his flaws, Ali Price still has many strong qualities in his game. His fitness is incredible, playing almost every minute of every game for Scotland in recent years. He controls the forwards well, always making sure there are multiple waves of attack available. In defence, he is energetic and animated, keeping the focus and intensity of the team alive. Furthermore, and maybe most importantly, when Price is on his game he has the skill to change the game. Last weekend, against Wales, he sculpted a try from nothing with a deft chip over the top of the defence to set up a try for Darcy Graham and completely open up the game. He may not always get it right but it must be said that his vision is impressive and is never afraid to give something a shot. Sometimes it backfires, and for that, he receives a lot of criticism, but he is one of the few that has the self-belief to give it a go and try influence the game. 

Ultimately, why try to fix something that isn’t broken? Scotland this year have beaten England at Twickenham and fell just short against Wales after losing by just a point at Murrayfield. In both games, Scotland played some fantastic rugby and in both games, Ali Price was the starting scrum-half. With a tough game away in Paris next time out, Scotland hope to keep the momentum they have built in the opening two games, so maybe nothing at all should change if they stand a chance of coming away with a result. 

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