A week from today Andy Robinson will announce his first squad of the 2012 Summer Tour, to face Australia in Newcastle on the 5th June. It won’t be a full strength Australia side due to the fact that there is still Super 15 rugby ongoing and the real powder will be kept dry for the test series against Wales, despite the usual lip service being paid to Scotland. You can still bet there will be some talented footballers in the team that is eventually picked though.
Lining up against them will be a Scotland team without a defence coach – new man Matt Taylor is still coaching many of the Reds who will be harvested to play Scotland and will not join the tour till later, if at all – and an attack coach they have worked with for a week at the most.
So they’ll have to hit the ground running, and things will strangely enough (going by world rankings) probably get tougher on tour as we move on from Aussie B to full strength South Sea Island teams in their own back yard.
First up though it’s the pesky Aussies. Tim Visser won’t play as he only become eligible on the 12th, so who else might make the team?
For the first time in recent memory there is an actual choice at loosehead, and neither of those choices is Chunk. Welsh may well have the edge as the most recent holder of the shirt but it could well come down to who is training the best. Grant started the Rabo semi, so in terms of club form he could be the man. The hooker will be Ford who must be expected to lead and start, but any hiccups in form could be punished as sometime match assassin Scott Lawson has had a fine season in the cherry and white of Gloucester. At tighthead it could well be Euan Murray but Cross has done little wrong for Scotland and puts in a lot more work in the loose. Particularly as this tour is not taking in any of the scrummaging heartlands of the rugby world.
The second row will most likely be Gray and Kellock, but Ryder has performed well enough to suggest a bench spot. That, and the lack of other options unless Harley is adopted into the boilerhouse.
With the likelihood of a youthful back division Robinson may want the experience in his pack so probably Kellock; probably also Strokosch at the expense of Harley, this time out anyway and only just. Rennie should start at 7, but the big question in the back row with Denton absent is at Number 8. Vernon is the only real number 8 there, and the hard pitches will suit his pace but Robinson is an undoubted fan of Barclay and the grunt he adds, and he may feel John can fit in there if required. Vernon is also a versatile bench weapon and could prove especially useful in the later tests where fitness may play more of a role.
To be honest I wouldn’t have a problem with Barclay at 8 or Harley at 6; I think all the players we have can do a job especially those who have a point to prove and plenty of challengers for their place in the squad let alone their shirt.
In the backline things get tricky indeed, with the need for experience butting up against the vigour of youth. There’s also something to be said for providing a hastily prepared Aussie team with a few unknown elements running at them.
Hogg at fullback and a midfield pairing of Scott and Ansbro would be great although I suspect Robinson may go for something a little more conservative such as Grove/Ansbro or Grove/Nick De Luca. Joe Ansbro’s back injury before the Six Nations should not be underestimated as his power and pace were missed, and it started off all the backline shuffling of Evans and Lamont (and probably delayed first caps for Scott and Hogg in the process). Still, with finally plenty of decent centres on tour we are unlikely to see Lamont in the midfield and I think I he should be given a chance to defend his shirt against the hulking Dutchman lurking in the wings. His optimum position may well be coming off the bench angry though where he would have more of an impact than Evans, but there may be a need for a bit of heft in the back three somewhere. Interesting to see what influence Scott Johnson may have on selection, when Robbo’s instinct may be to go for Hogg/Evans/Lamont.
On the other wing it is tricky but Brown has the pace to cause Australia trouble – him and Hogg at full tilt would be something to behold, and almost interchangeable. Flexibility, pace and heads-up rugby are important against Australia, and that’s why Laidlaw and Blair would be my starters – they’ve been doing that all season. Weir on the bench allows you a different option tactically if you need to close up a game, and you could even shift Greig to 9 rather than bringing on Cusiter.
Rory’s Potential Scotland XV to face Australia: Hogg, Brown, Ansbro, Scott, Lamont, Laidlaw, Blair; Welsh, Ford (capt), Cross, Gray, Kellock, Strokosch, Rennie, Vernon
Replacements: Grant, Lawson, Ryder, Barclay, Cusiter, Weir, Evans
And just to be contrary, here is a squad that might be more along the lines of what we will see picked:
More Likely Scotland XV to face Australia: Hogg, Evans, De Luca, Grove, Lamont, Laidlaw, Blair; Welsh, Ford (capt), Murray, Gray, Kellock, Strokosch, Rennie, Barclay
Replacements: Cross, Lawson, Ryder, Vernon, Cusiter, Weir, Ansbro
The team announcement is tentatively scheduled for next Saturday (2nd). Who would you pick?