Scotland Look Toward Australia, Redux

With both Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour away with the British and Irish Lions, Scotland will miss a huge chunk of the creativity that led them to three Six Nations wins. As he begins his tenure as Scotland coach on the forthcoming summer tour, Gregor Townsend will need to rely fairly heavily on Finn Russell to pull the strings from stand-off.

With fewer Lions than expected and a logjam of forgotten Englishmen (Joe Launchbury, Dylan Hartley) in the reserves queue, expect Townsend to pick all the front-line players available to him, so Tim Visser is likely to be joined in the back-three by Sean Maitland, at full-back, and one of Rory Hughes, Damien Hoyland or the in-form Lee Jones on the other flank.

Duncan Taylor has come back in good form with Saracens, and will push for the number 13 jersey in the absence of both Huw Jones and Mark Bennett – Alex Dunbar will have to go some to give up the number 12 jersey, but expect Matt Scott and Pete Horne to provide cover. Things will get interesting again in the Autumn if everyone is fit (apart from Bennett who faces a long layoff).

Speaking of Horne, he is likely to also provide back-up to Russell at stand-off, while Greig Laidlaw looks like he’ll be back playing in time to return to the number nine jersey, with Ali Price and Henry Pyrgos again his deputies.

Up front, expect little change in the front row, barring what we hope will be the l0ng-awaited return of WP Nel to the dark blue jersey, while both Gray brothers will be out to prove Gatland wrong after they missed out on a place in his squad – Ian Henderson and George Kruis preferred and Launchbury the most likely first port of call if an injury occurs.

John Barclay produced a stellar Six Nations, and is another perhaps slightly unlucky to have been overlooked, as is Hamish Watson, and that pair will be readying themselves for a battle at the breakdown with Michael Hooper when the Wallabies are Scotland’s opponents in Sydney. With Laidlaw ready to resume the leadership role, Barclay will likely resume as the Vice-Captain.

There are always injury-enforced call-ups to Lions squads, and with Scotland only just across the Tasman, I would expect Warren Gatland and his coaches to be keeping an eye on the performances of the Gray brothers, Laidlaw, Fraser Brown, Nel, Russell and Watson with any bumps or knocks in mind.

Townsend will be, on one hand, disappointed not more of his charges have earned Lions recognition, but I expect he is also thrilled he will have most of his first-choice stable available and firing on all cylinders when they head for Singapore to take on Italy. This will be his chance to get the squad moving in the direction he wants, which shouldn’t be too different to the one Vern Cotter had them going in.

There is a down side, though – the likes of  Magnus Bradbury (currently injured) and Scott Cummings, who I had previously tipped to tour, are now unlikely to make the plane as there are fewer empty seats, but Townsend’s building process could still see a less experienced hooker join Brown and Stuart McInally. That would allow Ross Ford – himself a Lions injury replacement, in 2009 – some time off and give Townsend a look at, most likely, Pat MacArthur, who hasn’t played for Scotland since the win over Argentina in Cordoba three years ago.

The immediate disappointment of only two Scotsmen earning Lions calls should not be the over-riding feeling looking ahead to the summer, as Townsend’s full-strength side should be targeting three wins over a faltering Italy, an Australia side at the start of their international season, and Fiji.

Here’s a look at the Scotland side I believe will take on Australia:

15 Sean Maitland, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain); 1 Gordon Reid, 2 Fraser Brown, 3 WP Nel, 4 Richie Gray, 5 Jonny Gray, 6 John Barclay (vice-captain), 7 Hamish Watson, 8 Ryan Wilson

Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 David Denton, 21 Ali Price, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Matt Scott

Jones gets the nod over Hoyland and Hughes due to his recent good form, but another school of thought says Matt Scott could play at 13 with Taylor deployed on the wing or indeed fullback. The rest of the backs really pick themselves.

Into the pack, and the front-row, where Reid and Dell are retained as the first choice looseheads as Dickinson needs time to get back to 100%, even if he’s overcome that long-term foot problem. WP Nel is likely to be back, and would take the tighthead berth from young Zander Fagerson who suddenly makes the bench look a lot stronger.

The second row would see the Brothers Gray reunite, with Tim Swinson providing cover from the bench and Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis likely to join them on the tour.

Into the back-row, it seems unlikely John Hardie or Josh Strauss will play before the season’s end, so I’d expect little change from the end of the Six Nations. David Denton gets onto my bench due to Cornell Du Preez’s indifferent recent form and injury troubles, but expect the Edinburgh man to travel and earn more caps.

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41 comments on “Scotland Look Toward Australia, Redux

  1. CC on

    Well looking towards the Oz tour, I think we should be aiming to win all three games. In terms of the team we pick for each game I would like to see:

    Vs Italy
    1-Sutherland, 2-Brown, 3-Fagerson, 4-R Gray, 5-Toolis, 6-Bradbury, 7- Wilson, 8- Denton
    9-Price, 10-Russell, 11-Visser, 12-Taylor, 13-Grigg, 14-Hoyland, 15- Maitland

    16-Ford, 17- Dickinson, 18-Nel, 19-Swinson, 20-Watson, 21-Pyrgos, 22-Horne,23- Dunbar

    Vs Australia
    1-Dickinson, 2-Brown, 3-Nel, 4-R Gray, 5-J Gray, 6-Denton, 7-Watson, 8-Strauss
    9-Price, 10-Russell, 11-Visser, 12-Horne, 13-Dunbar, 14-Taylor, 15-Maitland

    16-Ford, 17-Sutherland, 18-Fagerson, 19-Toolis, 20-Wilson, 21-Laidlaw, 22-Scott, 23-Hoyland

    Vs Fiji
    1-Dickinson, 2-Ford, 3-Berghan, 4-Cummings, 5-Swinson, 6-Bradbury, 7-Wilson, 8-Du Preez
    9- Laidlaw, 10-Horne, 11-Hughes, 12- Scott, 13-Grigg, 14-Hoyland, 15-Maitland

    16-Brown, 17-Dell, 18-Rae, 19-Toolis, 20-Watson, 21-Price, 22-Russell, 23-Kinghorn

      • MS on

        Denton moved to Bath, then Bath continued to sign two other back rows including Faletau. Really unfortunate for him as I’m sure he was signed on false promises.

  2. john martin on

    V Australia


    Hughes, Dunbar, Pygros, Wilson, Swinson, Fagarson, Brown, Dell

    Take Graham, Hastings.
    Nel, Hardie, J Gray, Sutherland, Laidlaw not considered rest/injured.

    • TeamCam on

      I’d swap Wilson for Barclay, and I presume you mean Adam Hastings, but otherwise I like the look of your squad. Assuming Denton gets back to or near to RWC standard. If not, I’d tag in Strauss.

  3. Ade on

    This is a real opportunity for GT to stamp his mark on the Scotland squad, although, as you rightly point out Gav, he will be following the core of Cotters blueprint in terms of developing leaders throughout the squad and encouraging players to react to what they see on the pitch.

    Given the turmoil that Italian rugby is in following the 6N it is tempting to give some youngsters their head in Singapore – the likes of Cummings, Kinghorn, Grigg. They have all shown, in patches, good form, and this could be a great chance of development. I’d hope to see at least a couple of players like this involved in either the Italy or Fiji game, depending on injuries to others. With that in mind you have to hope that Dickinson, Nel, Strauss, Hardie, Bradbury will all be available for consideration even if they don’t get their bums on a seat on the plane. I know that Jones and Bennett are definitely out, but what are the expected return dates of the others, anyone know?

    Australia has to be the strongest 23 available and I like the look of your picks. If Dickinson is fit then have him in the mix, and I’d look elsewhere rather than Denton – Adam Ashe perhaps, but injuries may dictate otherwise. And that includes injuries across the Tasman, which may lead to a depletion of the squad by this point.

    Whatever happens I expect Townsend to take a squad based on the 6N group, with a couple of youngsters there for development as he has been very good at bringing on younger players at Glasgow. Wins against Italy and Fiji should be achieved (although Fiji in Suva will be hell of a tough game). Australia could go either way.

    Looking forward to it, and I hope that the games are on TV!

  4. Rory Baldwin on

    I’d like to see Nick Grigg and Mitch Eadie go on tour. With travel and potential injuries and players possibly being called away (we hope) Toony should take a decent sized squad. Resting players isn’t out of the question but putting out a full strength team against Australia would be a statement of intent.

    • TheSmidge on

      Grigg has to go on tour, particularly given the injuries in the centre. Must confess to scratching my head at Eadie, but have familiarised myself now with his pedigree! If Bradbury was fit then I don’t think he would be in the equation.

      This tour is an opportunity to try Taylor at 15, and I suspect that will come against Italy. Maitland is surely a certainty to play there against Australia.

  5. Cubic pear on

    I fancy seeing what Taylor can do at 15-as he can play both wing & centre, you feel he must have the skills and footballing nous to excell at 15; I’d also like to see Scott & Dunbar in the centre (varying who is at inside/outside depending on the play).

    With the Lions taking Hogg and Seymour, it’s a great opportunity for us to develop some depth in the back 3 and at 15 in particular.

    • pragmatic optomist on

      Duncan Weir has certainly lost form and confidence at Edinburgh. GT does know him well, but Ruaridh Jackson is a much better running 10 and has done well at 15 when tried.

  6. Scot95 on

    Scott is also injured at the moment and I’m not sure Townsend will have Wilson at 8. His Glasgow sides have usually had a big ball carrier at 8, a proper 7 and then an abrasive tackling 6 so I think he might go for Du Preez/Bradbury or even Ashe at 8 and then Wilson at 6 if you also switch Nick Grigg in for Scott then the rest of your 23 would be the same as mine

  7. FF on

    I really don’t want to see too much experimentation – I want to see wins and big wins if possible. Exception might be where we have specific weaknesses in depth but Fiji is a banana skin and any loss except a narrow one to Oz will hit confidence and morale hard after the Lions snub. GT needs to get to grips with his new squad and address the obvious issues – our 6N pack (and Glasgow’s pack in the euro QF) was not mean and nasty enough. Now that was obviously not helped by injuries to Nel, Dickinson, Sutherland, Denton, Strauss, and Hardie in particular but to win in Dublin and Cardiff next year we need a pack that won’t be bullied and will get us possession and front foot ball. If that happens we have a better back line than either Ireland or Wales. I want young players coming into a squad that expects to win away games, not given cheap caps where we struggle to beat worse teams in stifling heat.

    • 1.8T on

      I agree, winning strongly while the Lions are getting gubbed would really rub in the fact that they should have taken a fair number of Scots on the tour. It will be interesting in the backs to see how we get on without Hogg’s creativity and Seymour’s ability to just score tries when we need him to. There’s still a lot of good players to chose from, if Russell get’s called for the Lions it could be interesting though, not that I think he will be.

      Nel back with Fagerson on the bench is a strong proposition for tighthead. What’s the prognosis on Dickinson?

    • James Brotherston on

      I totally agree on the nastiness front. Other teams seem to have a physicality that we lack for some reason. It is infuriating to watch a team as skillful as Glasgow struggle against the brute force of Munster season after season. And it is the same with Scotland.

      My worry is that Glasgow have struggled on this front under Townsend and Scotland will continue to struggle under him as well.

  8. Martin on

    Figure a squad of 28/29

    Reid, Dell, Dickinson, Nel, Fagerson (I think Dell can cover TH if needed)
    Brown, Ford, McInally
    JG, RG, Swinson, Harley
    Barclay, Wilson, Strauss, Watson, Denton
    Price, Laidlaw
    Russell, Horne
    Scott, Grigg, Dunbar, Taylor
    Maitland, Hughes, Visser, L Jones

    Assuming Strauss is fit and Hardie is not

    I don’t deviate too much from most people’s XV’s though I think my preference for Back row would be Wilson, Watson, Strauss/Denton – We need more punch in there to get over the gain line and to reduce the carries needed by the Gray’s – On a rambling deviation I actually think the selfless work they each did in the go forward and fringe defence counted against Lions selection – someone like Lawes does half the work of each of Richie and Johnny but ‘shows up’ better because of it whereas all round I think the bros are better, fitter, give away less penalties and have a defiant never say die character (despite the claim from Rowntree that his squad has the right characters – we’ll see how much work Lawes and Itoje put in when they are getting beasted by Retallick, Whitelock and co !!!)

    • James Brotherston on

      We know what Itojie will do, cheap shots and high tackles! Although he may find he ends up on the receiving end of worse (but more subtle) from the ABs.

  9. Frazer on

    Is there a date for when the squad is announced?

    I agree we must take our strongest possible squad, but would like to see a couple of youngsters in there- Graham and Kinghorn possibly.

  10. CC on

    As a squad I would take: (*If fit)
    LHP- Dickinson*, Sutherland*, Reid, Dell
    HKR- Brown, Ford, McInally
    THP- Nel*, Fagerson, Berghan, Rae
    LK- R Gray, J Gray, Swinson, Toolis, Cummings
    FL- Watson, Wilson, Barcley, Bradbury*, Du Preez
    NO 8- Strauss*, Denton, Eadie,
    SCH- Price, Laidlaw, Pyrgos
    FLY- Russell, Weir
    CEN- Dunbar, Taylor,Horne, Grigg, Scott*
    B3- Maitland, Visser, Hoyland, Hughes, Jones, Kinghorn

    Looking at the injuries we have has actually made me realise what a potentially cracking team we could have for NZ in Autumn.
    Potential 23 to take on the All Blacks:
    1- Sutherland, 2- Brown, 3- Nel, 4- R Gray, 5- J Gray, 6- Hardie (hopefully fully fit and firing), 7- Watson, 8- Strauss
    9- Price, 10- Russell, 11- Maitland, 12- Taylor, 13- Jones, 14- Seymour, 15- Hogg

    16- Ford, 17- Dickinson, 18- Fagerson, 19- Swinson, 20- Denton, 21- Laidlaw, 22- Horne, 23- Dunbar

    A dream scenario would be the Lions getting destroyed by NZ in the summer (fairly likely) and then Scotland beating NZ in Autumn (unlikely)

    • James Brotherston on

      I’ve got Russell to kick the winning drop goal in the 3rd Lions test after a lineout won by one of the Grays after a turnover penalty won by Hamish Watson to end the tour on a high after being hammered in the first two tests!

  11. john martin on

    Interesting cc – couple of wee thoughts

    A fit Dunbar is almost 1st name on the team sheet

    Weir isn’t good enough / doesn’t suit Scotland – Adam Hastings & / or Pete Horne as back up 10.

    McInally @ hooker has failed, better take Malcolm

    What has Jon Welsh done to be forgotten, he is 20st & a Falcons regular?

    Not sure 2 7s can start.

    Grant Gilchrist has to tour

    Rory Hutchinson………..

    Sam Hyldago-Clyne…………… (let GT have a go at getting his mojo back)

    • Rory Baldwin on

      Hutchinson is a good shout, as is Bassett. Tie these guys down! Got to agree though my starting centres would probably be Taylor and Jones, but Dunbar maybe offers less from the bench than Taylor I suppose.

    • CC on

      John, I agree with you about Weir, Horne would be the no.1 backup but it is way too early for Hastings (and Hutchinson) so for this tour Weir would have to be the 3rd ten.
      Whilst McInally has been poor recently, Malcolm hasn’t done enough yet to justify his selction. Overall hooker is a weakness for us hopefully players like Cammy Fenton and Malcom can start putting their hands up.

      In hindsight I would include Gilchrist and Hidalgo-clyne (who is younger than Ali Price), Hutchinson and Welsh (only 30), I was wary of not taking too many players hence their initial exclusion.

      Compiling this team I noticed how we are no longer just filling a squad but that there is genuinely competition for places.

      In terms of the two 7’s debate, we can all agree Watson has to play such is his quality. However we were all saying the same about Hardie 15 months ago. I think Hardie could do with a rest and proper preseason to return to full fitness and form. But once he is fit I think a backrow with Watson and Hardie would be very impactful (against certain teams). However with the likes of England and France a backrow of Denton, Watson and Strauss might be more suitable.

  12. NeilyB on

    What about Josh Bassett from Wasps? Would be great to capture him relatively early on, especially as competition for England wingers is hot right now.

    Bit harsh on McInally, I’ve always thought he’s done himself a decent service when he’s played for Scotland. I’d say Grant Gilchrist has had plenty of chance though, pre and after injury. I just don’t understand the plaudits – Cummings is and will be a better option.

    Hastings I’d rather see get some games under his belt with Glasgow in the Autumn then feature in some capacity in the 6Ns or as injury backup in the Autumn. This said Ashe was a revelation two summer tours ago…

    Would be nice to see Hugh Blake involved to be honest.

  13. john martin on

    Aye Bassett – good shout.

    McInally rarely starts for a piss poor Edinburgh

    Re Gilchrist Cotter had him his captain – that’s good enough for me.

    At the very least Adam Hastings has great genes…….

    Aye I’d like Blake involved too but is he hard/good enough

  14. Sean on

    Does anyone know how close nel and Dickinson are to fitness? Also Sutherland? Assuming not fit we still have prop problems. Any of the younger guys at Ed or Gla likely to do a Fagerson and become a squad member any time soon?

    I think Grigg should tour and get game time.

    Whilst I agree we need to win the games and well, if possible, we still need to get more guys with test experience. Can only really talk from a Glasgow perspective but I think taking Grigg and Cummings is a good idea. Assume JG and RG start and Swinson on bench, is there much point taking Gilchrist and Toolis?

    • Ade on

      Toolis has been the other player in Edinburgh colours, along with Watson, who has managed to come out of a trainwreck of a season with some credit. He has tackled to Gray-like levels and carried well. He deserves a shot on tour, possibly with Cummings and Swinson as back up to the Gray’s.

  15. JP on

    Loving that team to play NZ in Autumn CC!

    In the Summer I definitely think Toonie should take a big squad. What’s stopping him taking 35-40 players for bonding, unity, commonality of message etc. and playing some younger players against Italy, the big guns for Oz and a mix against Fiji?

    And does anyone have the prognosis on Jones (Huw), Hardie, Nel, Dicko, Sutherland, Scott and Strauss? But even if they’re not fit they should tour! This feels like Scotland Phase 2 and the shared experiences will stand the group in good stead… the summer tour should be the next step, the Autumn ints. the following step and smashing Wales and Ireland away in the 6N the final (but then create a new target, refocus, repeat…).

    And I sincerely hope Toonie, Cockers and Rennie get together ASAP and start planning for Ed, Glasgow and Scotland’s collective success. It really feels like the SRU are funding the next stage (although I do wish Vern hadn’t gone) so all three managers need to get together and align….

    Huge 12 months for Scottish rugby! We really need to build on 3 6N wins and 5th in the world… going backwards should not be an option!

    • JohnMc on

      Great post, JP. You’ve reminded me to get my head up and look to the future for Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Test team rather than continue to obsess about this shocking Lions injustice.
      As you say, Toony will have a hopefully clear run (Lions attrition surely bound to take a few away from the Scotland group?) with a big squad at the summer tournament and the AIs in prep for next year’s 6N.
      For me, as an Embra fan, it’s really crucial that Cockerill turns us round so that we can be better in the Pro 12 and make more of a contribution to the the Test side.
      Gatland and his team may have written us off – but we haven’t!

    • James Brotherston on

      Cracking comment. But let’s aim for doing what the Lions fail to do and taking out the ABs in the autumn before smashing Wales and Ireland away!

      Next aim is a win at “Twickers”!

  16. TeamCam on

    I think Denton should move to Glasgow – they need a big 6/8 and Denton could do with getting his form back. A back row of Bradbury, Watson and Denton could do some damage. Or Bradbury, Watson and Strauss, to be fair.

    • FF on

      I think we have a lot of good back rows that are either test class or will emerge as test class. The problem is getting the balance and having guys who are excelling and hit just coping at test level. Personally, I think the two 7s experiment has run its course and Cotter had moved away from it before injuries forced his hand. We need ball carrying ability and a bit of edge. Watson or Barclay give is great jackling options, Hardie something different, and all three have proven themselves. 6/8 is a much tougher proposition – Wilson has played well over the last year or two but needs a more forceful player alongside him. Strauss was emerging as the player we all hoped he’d be this spring before his injury. We really need Ashe, Du Preez, Denton and Bradbury to show they can bring the muscle too and give us options. We basically know our best players in all the key combinations. Back row is the puzzle GT needs to solve to help us take the next step.

  17. Matto on

    Thanks for the distraction from seething over Lions articles Gavin. I’m looking forward to this tour and it’ll be interesting to see how GT approaches it. Like others above I would like a focus on our best team and good wins. Happy to see young players tour for the experience, but want to see the best for each game. Having Taylor back will be a major boost, particularly in the absence of Bennett and Jones. I would possibly put him in the back 3 with Maitland and Visser with Scott and Dunbar in the midfield. I am a fan of Lee Jones, but i think a backline of Laidlaw/Price, Russell, Visser, Dunbar, Scott, Taylor, Maitland looks fairly compelling. Bench of Laidlaw/Price, Horne (no question for me) and Jones/Hoyland (respectable strike rate in very poorly performing edinburgh team) looks decent too.

  18. Arran king on

    2- Ford
    3-wp nel
    4-R. Gray
    5-J. Gray

    Fraser Brown,
    Tim Swindon
    Zander fagerson
    Allan dell
    Cornell de prez
    Sam hidalgo clyne
    Magnus Bradbury
    Duncan Taylor
    Duncan weir

  19. Arran king on

    Give less experienced a run

  20. Arran king on

    Give less experienced a chance
    J gray

  21. MK on

    Lets leave Nel to get over a serious neck injury. I’d call up Darcy Rae, only 22 but has had some decent performances for Glasgow this season, I think he deserves a call up.


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