Head coach Vern Cotter today named Edinburgh Rugby lock Grant Gilchrist as captain of a 33-man Scotland squad selected for the 2014 viagogo Autumn Tests.
The honour represents a return for the 24-year-old product of Alloa and Stirling County rugby clubs, who led Scotland twice during the summer tour, including a 21-19 victory over Argentina in Cordoba.
He will return to the role against the same opposition when the Tests get underway at BT Murrayfield next month, when Scotland face the Pumas on Saturday 8 November (kick-off 5.30pm), before facing Rugby Championship winners New Zealand, at the same venue (15 November), followed by Tonga at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock (22 November).
Scotland head coach, Vern Cotter, said: “The most important thing for us, other than showing improvements in key areas, is developing an attack that will give us opportunities to score tries or earn points through teams being forced to infringe.
“We want to develop, and impose, our style, will, and strategy on our opposition.
“We want to play well, and enjoy playing in front of our home crowd.”
SCOTLAND 2014 VIAGOGO AUTUMN TEST SQUAD
Front Rows: Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Geoff Cross (both London Irish), Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford (both Edinburgh Rugby), Scott Lawson (Newcastle Falcons), Euan Murray, Gordon Reid (both Glasgow Warriors). Invited to train: Allan Dell (Edinburgh Rugby), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors).
No spots for Moray Low, Jon Welsh or Ryan Grant, although only Low is uninjured. A fair cross section of the usual suspects, although the absence of Pat MacArthur is notable. Fraser Brown swaps out for Kevin Bryce, and although he has impressed in the loose it looks like the traditional trade-off between Ford and Lawson. Reid and Dickinson offer different things to the loosehead berth and Murray’s decent form for Glasgow may push him back equal or ahead of Geoff Cross who all but made the tighthead berth his own last year.
Second Rows: Grant Gilchrist CAPTAIN (Edinburgh Rugby), Jonny Gray (both Glasgow Warriors), Richie Gray (Castres), Kieran Low (London Irish), Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors).
With Big Jim still battling for fitness and Al Kellock possibly having unofficially passed on his mantle to Gray Jr, it’s an interesting mix especially when you consider that Gilchrist has been anointed the captain despite few appearances for Edinburgh this season. Leaving aside the notion of the captaincy, the Gray brothers could well line up together. Taking the captaincy into consideration, do we really want to throw him in rusty against the All Blacks?
Back Rows: Adam Ashe (Glasgow Warriors), Johnnie Beattie (Castres), Blair Cowan (London Irish), Chris Fusaro, Robert Harley (both Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan). Invited to train: Hamish Watson
The big miss from this list is Kelly Brown, not on the injury list. The good news is it may put paid to the idea of shoehorning him in at openside. The bad news is that Scotland will miss one of its key leaders in the pack as well as a cornerstone of the defence. Kieran Low is also a possibility for inclusion in this group. Considering that, it looks like straight shootouts between Harley/Strokosch, Cowan/Fusaro and Ashe/Beattie for the 6, 7 and 8 shirts. With Denton out injured it’s a clear chance for Beattie to cement his place, or perhaps for Ashe to continue a rapid rise. Speaking of which, an injury to one of the sevens could see a chance for Edinburgh’s heavily in form Hamish Watson, currently only present for training experience.
Scrum Halves: Chris Cusiter (Sale Sharks), Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester), Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors).
The club names may be different but the suspects are the usual ones. If Cusiter has maintained his form of last season he should be starting, but word reaches us that Laidlaw is in fine form for Gloucester and has sped up the pace and accuracy of his service to the men outside him. Pyrgos, previously a fill-in were either of the older men injured, showed last weekend for Glasgow that he should now be taken seriously as an option at international level.
Fly Halves: Tom Heathcote (Edinburgh Rugby), Finn Russell, Duncan Weir (both Glasgow Warriors).
The one factor stopping Russell from being anointed the saviour of Scottish rugby is ironically Gregor Townsend’s selection policy, responsible for his rise in the first place. He hasn’t featured as much as he might have liked at ten yet this season, although he has had game time. Heathcote is finally getting more time in front of Scottish fans and selectors and has looked good for Edinburgh but is fighting with some non-Scots for a place in his club team. Weir may well be viewed as the incumbent just by way of playing more at ten than the other two – he is less versatile in that regard – but there will be a clamour for Russell to play from many quarters, especially should Weir slip up, even facing the best team in the world.
Centres: Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Duncan Taylor (Saracens).
The lack of numbers in this group suggests that either Russell or Lamont may be asked to fill in at centre. 21-year-old outside-centre Mark Bennett, who scored twice in Glasgow Warriors’ five-try win over Bath in the European Rugby Champions Cup on Saturday, is the only uncapped player in the squad but is closer than ever to a first cap. The big miss from this group is Matt Scott, with Saracens Taylor in decent enough form to suggest he could be a useful understudy. Sean Lamont may also be under consideration. The most inspiring looking partnership would be to shift Dunbar in to 12 and pair him with Bennett.
Outside Backs: Dougie Fife, (Edinburgh Rugby), Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors), Sean Lamont, Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour (all Glasgow Warriors), Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby).
With the Glasgow back three of Seymour, Maitland and Hogg on tremendous form, it seems almost pointless to split them up. Visser’s continual try scoring even in a fairly dismal Edinburgh side means he’s always worthy of consideration. But Maitland and Seymour now seem to have shored up their defensive issues – ones Visser still has. Lamont will likely feature somewhere, if only for the attitude that held the squad together through last years cruddy Six Nations campaign.
So, who makes your team?
Not considered through injury: David Denton (returning from injury, Edinburgh Rugby), Ryan Grant (returning from injury, Glasgow Warriors), Ruaridh Jackson (knee, London Wasps), Ross Rennie (knee, Bristol Rugby), Matt Scott (shoulder, Edinburgh Rugby), Jon Welsh, Ryan Wilson (both returning from injury, Glasgow Warriors).
VIAGOGO AUTUMN TESTS
Saturday 8 November: Scotland v Argentina, BT Murrayfield Stadium, kick-off 5.30pm
Saturday 15 November: Scotland v New Zealand, BT Murrayfield Stadium, kick-off 5.30pm
Saturday 22 November: Scotland v Tonga, Rugby Park, kick-off 2.30pm