The Gray men: Jim Telfer was wrong about Scotland’s second rows

16 April 2019  |  Rich M

Jim Telfer said recently that Scotland have no ‘nasty’ second rows. Nastiness is not a prerequisite to being an international second row: effectiveness is. And on that count Telfer is misguided.

Telfer is an old school, caustic sort of character who knows his rugby. His accusation that Scotland are deficient in the boiler room is understandable – Gray, Toolis and Gilchrist don’t command the rock-star notoriety like AWJ, Itoje or Ryan.

But, unfortunately for Telfer, there is no data to support his viewpoint. Actually, it is very harsh of him to criticise Scotland’s second rows. We looked at the statistics from this year’s Six Nations. Particularly, we wanted to look at how much work the second rows were chewing through. So we selected the following criteria made available by AWS:

  • Carries
  • Gainline successes (GLS)
  • Tackles made
  • Tackles missed
  • Minutes played (* I had to include four Ireland second rows to ensure the minutes played wasn’t too skewed)


What we can see from the match data is that Scotland’s second rows carry more and have comparable gainline successes against their peers. Note: James Ryan’s numbers are insane and skew the Ireland average.


What we see from this data is Scotland’s second rows made more tackles and have higher tackle success than their peers. Jonny Gray particularly.

What is inconclusive is the details on dominant carries and hits. I couldn’t get this but it would add to the debate. To conclude, Scotland’s second rows are workhorses. They don’t do fancy things: they work and they are effective. And on that criteria, they deserve more credit.

DATA SOURCE: Amazon Web Services.