Tomorrow Andy Robinson will announce his extended training squad for this year’s Six Nations (starting a month from now with a match against England), and as Alan pointed out in his earlier piece there are very few players guaranteed a spot in the starting team, so picking a captain will be hard.
What about the fringe players making a claim for a spot – who might get the call up?
This will likely be an expanded squad of around 35 (last year’s was 34) and initial meetings will be more about confirming an ethos and team-bonding to make sure everyone is pointing the same way – even if a bunch of them then get shunted back to their clubs.
A few faces will be absent from the 30 he took to New Zealand – Nathan Hines and Chris Paterson have retired. Without them, the last squad would look like this:
Full-backs/wings: Simon Danielli , Max Evans, Rory Lamont, Sean Lamont.
Centres: Joe Ansbro, Nick De Luca, Graeme Morrison.
Fly-halves: Ruaridh Jackson, Dan Parks.
Scrum-halves: Mike Blair, Chris Cusiter, Rory Lawson.
Props: Geoff Cross, Alasdair Dickinson, Allan Jacobsen, Moray Low, Euan Murray.
Hookers: Ross Ford, Dougie Hall, Scott Lawson.
Locks: Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton, Alastair Kellock.
Back-rows: John Barclay, Kelly Brown, Ross Rennie, Alasdair Strokosch, Richie Vernon.
So who might get added to the mix – or even removed? (assuming another 6 places up for grabs to get up to 2011 squad size, the second figure in brackets above)
It would be tempting to add both Weir and Laidlaw in, and they are almost certain to get a training call-up given their form – Laidlaw got the call in 2011 for an injured Cusiter. But if you also ditch Parks as I am sure some of you are thinking, that makes Laidlaw the best kicker in the squad, but unlikely to start at either 9 or 10. Whether Robinson is willing to risk Laidlaw at 10 is also questionable, although I would like nothing more than to see him thrown in there. It is as far out from a World Cup as you can get, and if there is ever a time to blood some young talent with half an eye on the future then this is it. Although I am sure Stephen Jones would disagree, given his love of test match “animals”.
With no Mossy and no Nikki Walker, we could also use another wing. Visser will be the obvious choice come June but for now Lee Jones might just sneak in, ahead of say Jack Cuthbert or Colin Shaw.
I’m not convinced Hogg is quite ready for the step up although he has been great in patches, but I think his versatility will help him here – a centre cum fullback could be useful in the squad environment but might hurt him come selection time. After the World Cup you could easily argue De Luca should be dropped but his form since that ill-fated tournament has been nothing short of brilliant and I’d like to see him and Ansbro (who has been scoring tries for London Irish) starting, however crazy that sounds. I also think we might see the return of an old favourite (sorry Dave) in the form of Wasps’ fullback Hugo Southwell.
Greig Laidlaw (for Mike Blair), Duncan Weir, Stuart Hogg, Hugo Southwell, Lee Jones
The key spot here is most likely the fourth second row berth. Based on form, it looks like Fraser McKenzie should get the nod ahead of Grant Gilchrist. With the top front row performers now pretty much clear cut (Chunk, Ford and either Murray or Cross), it’s the backup slots up for grabs. Last year Jon Welsh got in as Dickinson was injured, and again it’s probably the diminutive prop now playing at Sale who could be under threat.
It is also possible some of our favourites such as Vernon or the Big Stroker might get shunted in favour of a young tyro such as David Denton or Rob Harley, both of whom have done enough this season to merit a place. Johnnie Beattie is also back in the mix now too, having shown a bit of form of late.
Fraser McKenzie, David Denton, Johnnie Beattie (for Vernon)
If I could have an extra slot to make it 35 I’d keep Vernon. So, you know, we get more tour diaries.
Pretty simple eh? Who would you take as your 4 extra backs and 2 extra forwards? If you want to shift the balance a bit, up to you! Let us know in the comments.
We’ll see what Andy Robinson has to say tomorrow.