Five uncapped players have been named today in a 41-strong Scotland squad for a training camp in Glasgow next week ahead of the viagogo Autumn Tests.
The quintet are Glasgow Warriors’ Mark Bennett, Jonny Gray and Chris Fusaro and the London Irish back-row pair of Kieran Low and Blair Cowan. While the London Irish pair may come a little out of left field, the Glasgow trio are rewarded for consistent displays this season. Fusaro’s return in particular is welcome news for those of us who yearned for a proper openside in Scotland colours last season, as is the return of John Barclay now playing at the Scarlets.
Another experienced campaigner to return is Chris Cusiter who has been used sparingly by Glasgow this season but looked impressive when he has played. Old hands Ross Ford, Max Evans and Nick De Luca return to the squad having been rested or injured in the summer.
All are in contention for Scotland’s matches against Japan (9 November), South Africa (17 November) and Australia (23 November).
The squad comprises 18 Glasgow Warriors players, 13 Exiles and ten from Edinburgh Rugby. The SRU was at pains to point out that twenty of the squad attended state school in Scotland, six went to private school in Scotland and 15 were educated outwith Scotland.
Scotland head coach Scott Johnson said: “This squad is about getting the job right for our upcoming Test matches but it’s also about the next 24 months as we build towards Rugby World Cup 2015.
“As I said during the tour we need and want to expand our playing pool and within that we have to be clear on which of our long-experienced players will make the journey to the World Cup.
“We have to make sure, too, that our young players, who have the ability to play international footy, get the mileage on the clock ahead of the World Cup.”
Which begs the question as to whether we might see more of a development XV for the Japan game with a more familiar side thrown straight in against the South Africans. Or if the mileage begins and ends with the training squad, at least until the A team reconvenes in the spring.
“This is the start of our A programme too and Shade Munro, who will coach the A team against England Saxons again when they come to Scotstoun in the New Year, will be at the training camp.”
Johnson described Bennett and Gray, both former Scotland under-20 captains as “quality athletes” and then explained the choice of the London Irish back-row players, 22-year-old Kieran Low and 27-year-old Blair Cowan.
“Low is a good, young player who is athletic and big enough to play at lock or blindside and we don’t have many players who can do that.
“One of the lessons from the South African tour, and especially given the attritional nature of the position, is that we must increase our back-row depth and compare the skills set of the players there.
“We know Ross Rennie is coming back to fitness and Chris Fusaro is an out and out 7. Cowan is a good, tough, energetic player who can play in every back-row position.”
Cowan qualifies for Scotland through his Dunoon-born mother, Joan, who is a keen triathlete in New Zealand. According to the London Irish website, the New Zealand born player is 6’2′ and weighs over 16 stones and is now EQP through residency. Woopsie, England.
Of his decision to opt for Scotland, Cowan said: “The Scottish side has always been a strong part of my family, my career really kicked off in Great Britain and Scotland’s always been the country, in my mind, that I wanted to represent.”
Low’s eligibility rests with a paternal grandfather, Wilfred Henry Low, who was born in Dingwall. Both players have had first team experience this season and scored a few tries too. Low has represented England at U18 and U20 level, making 31 appearances for London Irish including 22 appearances last season.
Mark Bennett, a product of St Joseph’s Academy in Cumnock, Cumnock RFC and Ayr RFC, before he became a professional, said: “It’s an honour to be selected for the squad. What I have to do now is work even harder on my game with Glasgow Warriors and with the Scotland coaches in camp next week to have the chance to play for my country.”
If he continues to impress and cut nice lines scoring tries and with no real standout candidate for the 13 shirt, it could be a question of when not if he gets that chance.
Scotland squad for training camp in Glasgow (27-30 October) in preparation for viagogo Autumn Tests:
Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors) Age 20 Uncapped
Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors) Age 31 Caps 62
Nick De Luca (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 29 Caps 38
Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors) Age 23 Caps 3
Max Evans (Castres) Age 30 Caps 35
Tom Heathcote (Bath Rugby) Age 21 Caps 3
Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors) Age 25 Caps 21
Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors) Age 32 Caps 79
Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 28 Caps 21
Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors) Age 25 Caps 5
Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors) Age 24 Caps 9
Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 23 Caps 15
Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors) Age 25 Caps 2
Duncan Taylor (Saracens) Age 24 Caps 3
Greig Tonks (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 24 Caps 1
Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 26 Caps 12
Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors) Age 22 Caps 5
John Barclay (Scarlets) Age 27 Caps 41
John Beattie (Montpellier) Age 27 Caps 24
Kelly Brown (Saracens) Age 31 Caps 58
Blair Cowan (London Irish) Age 27 Uncapped
Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 30 Caps 22
David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 23 Caps 14
Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 30 Caps 27
Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 29 Caps 68
Chris Fusaro (Glasgow Warriors) Age 24 Uncapped
Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 23 Caps 3
Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors) Age 28 Caps 10
Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors) Age 19 Uncapped
Richie Gray (Castres) Age 24 Caps 31
Jim Hamilton (Montpellier) Age 30 Caps 48
Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors) Age 23 Caps 5
Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors) Age 32 Caps 55
Scott Lawson (Newcastle Falcons) Age 32 Caps 38
Kieran Low (London Irish) Age 22 Uncapped
Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors) Age 28 Caps 21
Pat MacArthur (Glasgow Warriors) Age 26 Cap 1
Euan Murray (Worcester Warriors) Age 33 Caps 56
Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan) Age 30 Caps 35
Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors) Age 26 Caps 2
Jon Welsh (Glasgow Warriors) Age 27 Caps 2
Invited to train with squad: Stuart McInally and Ross Rennie (both Edinburgh Rugby)
Injured: Stuart Hogg, Peter Horne, Peter Murchie and Ryan Wilson (all Glasgow Warriors) and Steve Lawrie (Edinburgh Rugby)