Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Vern’s Six Nations Squad?

Scott Johnson - pic © Al Ross
Scott Johnson - pic © Al Ross

Well, we knew who wouldn’t be in it: Duncan Weir, Duncan Taylor, Chris Fusaro, Tyrone Holmes, Adam Ashe and Grant Gilchrist are all out injured. Some would be missed more than others, while Rob Harley and Stuart Hogg were iffy but probably not long-term wounded and likely to train.

Still, never mind we’ve got Kelly Brown and John Barclay in blinding form, and yes we’re “building for the future” but, well, it is a World Cup year and your contract only lasts till next summer anyway, so no sense in starting anew and not finishing the job without a couple of credible results, right Vern?

Umm, wrong.

Big Vern’s going all out for plucky underdog-hood, with a squad that throws out even more bathwater (Cusiter, Beattie, Lawson, Kellock are absent, although the first two are the only surprises) in favour of blooding yet more unknown quantities.

We’ve grown to love Blair Cowan (some of us) but the rise of flanker Hugh Blake is ludicrously rapid. The next McCaw he may be, but that would make him still a Kiwi given he’s played more rugby there than in even an Edinburgh shirt, reaching the, um, heights of the Highlanders wider training squad.

Rumours of a Killer B/Scott Johnson spat continue to circulate, doing the camp no favours and perhaps diminishing the perception of Cotter as his own man. Hamish Watson, at least will get a real chance to challenge Cowan for the 7 shirt and prove Scotland can produce 7s of our own, while 6 is less clear cut without Brown in the mix and Harley’s fitness a question. Strokosch is the plucky survivor from the old guard who looks likely to earn a few more caps. With Beattie and Ashe both out, Denton looks the clear choice at 8 – in fact the only one, which is dangerously unbalanced considering the way Scotland played in the Autumn with clear momentum from their 8.

Right up front Ryan Grant has also been omitted (along with Ryan Wilson maybe?) leaving Welsh, Cross and Murray fighting to partner in-form Al Dickinson alongside Ford or Fraser Brown.

In the backs lie far fewer surprises with the welcome return of Matt Scott and Mark Bennett giving at least 3 exciting combinations and Pete Horne as cover in the centres, Tonks a welcome choice who can cover 15 or 10 and on the wing Tommy Seymour who will be itching to transfer his form to the international stage.

Possible XV: Hogg, Maitland, Bennett, Dunbar, Seymour, Russell, Laidlaw; Dickinson, Ford, Cross, Gray, Gray, Harley, Cowan, Denton, bench: Reid, Brown, Welsh, Toolis, Strokosch, Pyrgos, Tonks, Scott/Lamont

Can you put together a team from this lot to beat France in Paris, England at Twickers, or Ireland anywhere?


FORWARDS: Hugh Blake (Edinburgh Rugby), Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan, Geoff Cross (both London Irish), David Denton, Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Richie Gray (Castres), Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby), Jim Hamilton (Saracens), Rob Harley, Euan Murray, Gordon Reid (all Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan), Ben Toolis, Hamish Watson (both Edinburgh Rugby), Jon Welsh (Glasgow Warriors).

BACKS: Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh Rugby), Alex Dunbar, (Glasgow Warriors) Dougie Fife (Edinburgh Rugby), Stuart Hogg, Peter Horne (both Glasgow Warriors) Greig Laidlaw CAPTAIN (Gloucester), Sean Lamont, Sean Maitland, Henry Pyrgos, Finn Russell (all Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), Greig Tonks, Tim Visser (both Edinburgh Rugby).

Unavailable through injury: Adam Ashe (neck), Chris Fusaro (ankle), Grant Gilchrist (arm), Tyrone Holmes (face), Ruaridh Jackson (knee), Duncan Taylor (hamstring), Duncan Weir (arm).

41 Responses

  1. The omission of John Barclay is staggering given the form he is in. As a Scarlets fan, I can tell you he is playing out of his skin every week. At only 28 I would have thought he had a few good years left in him. The reasons for his omission cannot be rugby related and I find this disturbing.

    1. I’m not sure I subscribe to this. Blair Cowan’s also been playing brilliantly for us, and offers a lot more in defence (his turnovers against France for instance) than Barclay at present.
      We need to remember that Cotter’s policy is to pick the inform youth players, and you can tell there is the foundation within us. There are certainly cornerstones in that team which will stay for the next 5-7 years: Jonny and Richie Gray, Harley, Ashe (or Denton, although Cotter seems to prefer Ashe), Hidalgo-Clyne, Russell, Bennett, Dunbar, Maitland and Hogg. I’m a huge fan of Zander Fagerson and I will tell you now, he will be some player if he stays fit and keeps to the grind, holding down the #3 spot for possibly the next decade. In my opinion that gives us at least 11 players with the capability to be very good, or the potential to become the best in the northern hemisphere – Jonny, Zander and Hidalgo-Clyne notably.
      We’re not going to get anywhere as a team by continually picking the old guard. We’re now in a period of transition where we are building an ethos and squad capable of competing for future trophies. As much as I miss seeing Kelly Brown in the thistle, I won’t be overly sad when the final members of that squad are gone and I know his lack of inclusion is ultimately for the best. Players like him, Barclay, Beattie, Lamont, De Luca… as good as they were, they’ve peaked for us. We didn’t win anything with them, and sadly we’re not in a position to win anything with them now even in their current form. Building for the future has to take centre stage and moving beyond the “good old days” needs to happen – rip off the bandaid.

  2. Along the same lines as the comment above, I’d like to ask what Roddy Grant has to do in order to earn a Scotland call-up? Is now really the right time to call up Blake when we have Barclay and Grant in good form in the same position and Blake relatively unproven?

  3. Every time I look at that squad another player has disappeared. No Swinson yet Hamilton holds on – I thought we were playing dynamic rugby with lots of ‘go-forward’?

  4. Severe head scratching. I find it very difficult to imagine that one or two of Beattie, Brown, Barclay will not be called in at some point to cover casualties. Then again I know nothing of the rift involving Barclay, other than it may have happened…

    I think your squad is probably spot on. However, if Hogg doesn’t make it Maitland may move to 15 with Visser coming in (FF’s shout), no change on the bench. If Harley doesn’t make it then Stroker comes in to the 15 and Watson or Harley on the bench.

    I think Dunbar is the only one nailed on in the midfield. While I reckon BVC will stick with his guns and 12 Dunbar, 13 Bennett; I wouldn’t be surprised to see 12 Scott, 13 Dunbar (who have, to be fair, generally combined very well at test level) with Bennett on the bench.

    1. I don’t know if there is a place for a centre on the bench. It would usually be SH (Pyrgos), FH (Tonks), Wing/Fullback (Lamont or Visser at a push). Maybe Bennett is quick enough to cover wing as well.

      There is no doubt this spells the end for Brown and Barclay’s career, regrettably.

      Beattie has been included in Cotter’s squad in the past. In the past his workrate has been called into question and he was omitted by Robinson in the last world cup. I can only assume he hasn’t cut it.

      1. Beattie has struggled to even make the bench for Castres who are having a poor season anyway, might explain his absence

    2. Aye indeed, unless Scott is considered cover for 10 (an idea that has not had an airing for a fair while) or as you say Bennett covers wing. It is more likely that whoever’s left out will have to wait for a bad performance or injury. I see the likely bench as Pyrgos, Tonks and Schlong.
      Cotter seems to value work rate and attitude very highly, and I wonder if Beattie has failed on that front. Denton’s work rate and attitude on the other hand are unquestionable.

  5. Fairly baffled by this.

    No Ryan Grant, Pat MacArthur, Dougie Hall, Scott Lawson, Tim Swinson, Al Kellock, Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Roddy Grant, Johnnie Beattie, Ryan Wilson, Ally Hogg or Chris Cusiter.

    I accept some of those omissions – Ryan Grant and Wilson for obvious reasons, and Hall and Lawson are probably past it. Ally Hogg’s return probably wasn’t all that realistic, and Al Kellock is pretty low down the 2nd row pecking order at Glasgow, never minnd Scotland.

    But instead of Scotland’s best blindside flanker since Jason White hung up his boots (granted, Harley may soon take take that crown) – a man who’s in fine form, captaining one of the Aviva Prem’s best sides – we’ve opted for a tacklebot throwing himself about in the French D2.

    Instead of selecting a player who, at one point, was one of the best openside flankers in the Northern Hemisphere and is lighting up Llanelli, we’ve gone for a NZ import who has exactly 0 caps for Edinburgh. He may well turn out to be the next Richie McCaw, but if Vern Cotter claims he’s selecting his squad on form, then surely all integrity goes right out the window. Cowan’s coming along well, but he’s no Barclay. Not yet. Also, what more does Roddy Grant have to do to get in? Asides from perhaps, not playing for his club? The fact that Tyrone Holmes is listed as ‘unavailable through injury’ shows even he is higher up the pecking order than Barclay and Grant. Baffling.

    And instead of one of the most naturally gifted Number 8’s in the world, who – when he fancies playing like it- I would rank up there with the likes of Kieran Read, we’ve persisted with the can’t-pass-won’t-pass David Denton. He’s a fine athlete granted, but as a rugby player will always use his Plan A, as a battering ram. I suspect it is because he has no Plan B. A Number 8 should be a player that you’d be comfortable with at centre – think of the best 8s in the world. For all of his athletic ball carrying, that isn’t Dents. He would still be in my squad, but you’d think that as the only 8 there, VC would have selected another 8 who offers something a bit different. Wilson is not really available, Ashe is injured, Hogg probably wasn’t going to happen, Strauss is ineligible, and Beattie is er… ?

    Other minor gripes – penalty machine Jim Hamilton over Tim Swinson, and Cusiter’s general omission. I saw the Brown/ Barclay omissions coming but not Cus.

    There’s something fishy about the Brown/ Barclay saga. There’s something that Scottish Rugby fans have been kept in the dark about for a year now – these repeated omissions of our best players are absolutely nothing to do with Rugby, and everything to do with SRU politics. Perhaps now their international careers have been put to bed we will hear the whole story. I can only imagine they’ve been quiet for this long because they hoped not to jeopardise their careers any further.

    I’m only speculating, but last year (despite coming 3rd) we played the 6Ns with some odd tactics. Not competing for the ball, not hooking the ball, selecting players widely out of position. I imagine that KB, as captain, and JB as a senior member of the squad, spoke out against Johnson’s tactics and were quickly banished from ever featuring again.

    Who knows. I’d like to know, and the fans would like to know.

    Outside of all the doom and gloom, I’m delighted SHC and Toolis are in – they deserve it based purely on form. The backs look threatening, and if Ford and Laidlaw can continue their newfound form we may be onto something this February. Hamish Watson will benefit massively from being around the squad, as will Tonks.

    FWIW, here’s my squad (if everyone’s fit):

    1. Dickinson
    2. Ford
    3. Cross
    4. J Gray
    5. R Gray
    6. Harley
    7. Cowan
    8. Denton

    9. Laidlaw
    10. Russell
    11. Seymour
    12. Dunbar
    13. Bennett
    14. Lamont
    15. Hogg

    16. Brown
    17. Reid
    18. Murray
    19. Toolis
    20. Watson
    21. SHC
    22. Scott
    23. Tonks

    Apologies about the rant.

    1. Interesting to see you opt for big Sean on the wing, ahead of both Maitland and Visser. I really like Lamont and think he brings a passion that is sometimes missing in others. He also has been playing very well for Glasgow. If everyone is fit though I’d have a back 3 of Seymour, Maitland and Hogg. Hogg is injured so for me Maitland at FB, with Seymour and Visser. Lamont to cover from the bench. Pretty much agree with all your comments especially regarding killer Bs and also Denton. For me a good squad player but hasn’t developed his all round game to be our first choice 8. Not sure Harley is going to be fit either which makes Kelly Browns omission even more baffling.

      1. I’m a big fan of Lamont. He’s not half as quick as he once was, and would get burned in a 100m with Visser/ Maitland, but he makes up for it in raw passion and being a defensive brick. Plus, he offers leadership to a very young backline, and is the only back in the squad to have played in a RWC. He also seems to have developed a (well-needed) offload game under Toony – can’t teach an old dog new tricks…?

        As a Glasgow fan I’m getting a bit frustrated with Maitland. He’s the kind of player that does everything well, but nothing spectacularly – and for all the hype about him and his pace, I’ve never seem him really use it. I get the impression that there’s so much he’s capable of, but he’s not very interested in showing us it. That said, he is a good player and hasn’t actually done anything wrong asides from looking a bit bored. His versatility for wing/FB will be useful for us in the 6N.

        It’s becoming a bit of a cliché but Visser’s defensive frailties are still the thing putting doubt in my mind. He’s a grand finisher – top tryscorer in the Pro12 4 years in a row doesn’t happen by accident – but with North, Zebo, May et al storming towards our tryline, I know who out of Lamont or Visser I’d trust to make the try-saving tackle.

        Realistically I’d have Seymour (first name on the teamsheet for me), Lamont and Maitland. Tonks on the bench covering 10/15 and Matt Scott covering 12/13.

    2. I pretty much agree with all of this Stuart, in particular the omission of Beattie in favour of Denton and the inclusion of Hamilton!

    3. “one of the most naturally gifted Number 8’s in the world…”
      On Johnnie Beattie? What are you smoking?!

  6. Can we please get SJ on a plane back to Australia?! What on earth is going on with this squad? KB and Jb are playing fantastically well and deserve to be in there. Not to mention the omission of our best scrum half, and don’t get me started on Hamiltons inclusion. Someone really needs to explain to the fans what is going on with the killer Bs. Hugh Blake? really?! This has really ruined my day!! Rant over.

  7. Not defending the decision re Brown and Barclay but between them absolutely zero turnovers from them at the weekend. Brown only made 4 tackles in the whole game.

  8. Just had a look at John Barclay’s twitter and he now considers himself a ‘former international’. Either he’s retired himself or been told that he won’t be selected. Personally, I would like to see Barclay in the squad but Vern Cotter has won 71% tests, only losing against the top two nations in the world. Even the massive loss to the Springboks can be forgiven considering it was last man standing in a lot of positions. Scotland have also scored 17 tries in those 7 tests Cotter has been in charge of which I don’t think any Scotland fan can complain about. His selections have worked in the past and I think they’ll work in the 6 nations. 1st or 2nd place, you heard it here first ;)

  9. Can someone remind me who selects the Scotland squad. Is it BVG on his own, or is there some kind of committee which includes Scott Johnston? (Does SJ bring anything to the party? The money would be better spent on 6 x Academy player contracts)
    It still rankles that SJ was promoted after some of the performances of last year.

    Completely agree with Hamish Watson and Toolis promotions which are deserved on form alone. Not sure that SHC has been outplaying Cusiter, but he’s been playing reasonably well.
    Otherwise, some very odd selections and unexplained omissions which do concern me.
    I realise that in the absence of serious rugby reporters, no one asks’why’at the press conferences these days (too scared of potential backlash), but I really wish someone would ask the relevant questions.
    BVG does have some credit in the tank based on 5 wins out of 7, but I didn’t think we’d be using the 6N as an experiment for the world cup.

  10. Last time I had a go at Vern it was to play Ross Ford. It turned out that he played brilliantly. I am not doubting Vern anymore, he knows far more about rugby than I do #backingblue

    1. I have many doubts the same as the rest of us but I think Thistle makes a fair point which should be considered.
      We don’t know whats going on in VC head, he might just want the uncapped players to get a feel for international (travel, mindset, training ect), and valued that above having some old proven players proove themselves again.

      Not sure if it is the right time for these tactics but then again I am not an international coach and my armchair knowledge can only stretch so far.

  11. Roddy Grant and John Barclay who are both playing very well In the pro 12 are out while Hugh Blake who has not played here or in NZ at the top level is in ,BIZARRE
    Denton the only No 8 , decent player but poor passer ,he was woeful in the first leg and good in the second leg of the 1872 ,why no Beattie?
    SHC is a steadily improving 9 but still not in the same class as Cusiter who I think is our best 9.Pick Laidlaw for his kicking , fair enough but Cusiter is better than HP and SHC.
    Brown should be in there also.

    1. SHC, like Pyrgos and Laidlaw can kick so I wonder if this has influenced his inclusion. Presumably he is also seen as the straight third choice, so why not take a young promising player to a World Cup as third choice than someone at the end of his career?

      1. I agree with the sentiment in your argument for SHC and I think his time will come, but Laidlaw, Pyrgos and particularly Cusiter are IMO better scrum halves and should be the 3 going to the WC. I also appreciate that this is just my opinion, but its hard to argue with Cusiter’s class, he’s playing well for Sale and should arguably be first choice. That said I also agree that SHC’s ability to kick off the tee is a major factor in his selection. I’m just not sure his time is now.

    1. Tonks has been keeping Heathcote out of the Edinburgh side recently, which is a shame because Heathcote is very tidy and Tonks doesn’t have the kicking game for a test 10.

    2. Heathcote is a better kicker than anyone else in the Scottish set up. Inclusive of SHC, Finn Russell and Laidlaw.
      Reminds me of Halfpenny in style, and just as metronomic (although not done under pressure as yet).

  12. I’ve calmed down somewhat from this afternoon. A poster on another forum made the point that we did well in the AI’s without Barclay and Brown, plus Cusiter was a sub for the games. So logically its not too odd, although admittedly we didn’t have the injuries we do now. We should trust a little bit in BVC. Blake is baffling, but im (pretty!) sure he’s there for training. Just hope he’s treated better than Heathcote, gifted player given a raw deal by the SRU I feel. Beattie is playing in a poor Castres team, maybe he’s low on confidence and management think he might take it into the 6Ns? As for Denton. He’s a gifted athlete, maybe he plays the way he does because of coaching/game plan? Lets see if Cotter can develop his skill set, if he can Denton could do some serious damage. I could be talking rubbish but i’m a glass half full guy. Lets wait till the 6ns is over before we get the pitchforks out ; )

    1. How has Heathcote been poorly treated? He was rescued from Bath and given a one year deal to make himself Edinburgh’s number 10. I think he is a fine player I’m just trying to work out why it is the SRUs fault he hasn’t nailed down his place for Edinburgh or Scotland.

      It seems like everything that goes wrong in Scottish rugby is automatically the fault of the SRU or SJ. Seems a bit simplistic to me.

      1. Well I think he has been given a rough deal, that’s my opinion, might be wrong but that’s what I think. Im a big believer in what the SRU is doing as ive pointed out in other posts, I think they’re on the right track. But in my OPINION he’s a young player whos development has been mishandled at Edinburgh, would he have been better at Bath? Probably not so I think the move to Edinburgh was the right one. He’s a better 10 than Tonks who I don’t rate, I think Heathcote came on the scene when Jackson and Weir were struggling for form and capped him early to tie him to Scotland. Russell came along, management has seen something in Tonks and now they’ve brought in Te Rure and I think he’s become an afterthought. For Scotland and his own sake I hope he moves in the summer. I’d like to see him at a promoted Bristol under Robinson.

  13. Has John Barclay got a restraining order for that Annmarie woman on twitter yet? She seems to be Scottish rugby’s ultimate stalker

    1. I wish I was important enough to have a stalker. Can one of the readers give me a call and do some heavy breathing down my phone. I know it would only be for a laugh but it would improve my social status.

  14. Hmm, a quick look at the squad positionally:

    FB – Hogg, (Maitland), (Tonks)
    RW – Maitland, Fyfe, (Lamont)
    OC – Dunbar, Bennett, (Scott), (Lamont), (Fyfe)
    IC – Dunbar, Scott, Horne
    LW – Seymour, Visser, (Lamont)

    FH – Russell, (Horne), (Tonks)
    SH – Laidlaw, Pyrgos, Hidalgo-Clyne

    LH – Dickinson, Reid
    H – Ford, Brown
    TH – Cross, Murray, Welsh
    L – Gray, Gray, Hamilton, Toolis
    BF – Harley, Strokosch
    No8 – Denton
    OF – Cowan, Watson, Blake

    [Have (bracketed) players where I suspect it’s their second position, or I’m not sure what their best position actually is]

    I think it’s important what to remember what kind of game it is that BVC seems to want to play – organised chaos – and I believe that may have influenced some selections. For example, Kellybrows has been playing ok for Sarries, in a forward pack that, Munster game aside, hasn’t exactly been tearing up trees in the prem. KB does many things well, but Harley does the things that BVC wants his blindside to do very well – a destructive tackler, all round menace, and a clear third lineout option. Stroks may be viewed (generously imho) as a poor man’s Ginger Bob.

    There are some selections that are less obvious – why the need for 3 opensides? Presumably one of them (Blake) is simply there for the experience? In which case, why not name someone else that could cover No8 and take Blake along anyhew?

    My starting XXIII assuming that all in the squad recover from injuries:




    Scott or Horne

    As to the glaring omissions, clearly Barclay has upset someone, which is disappointing in the extreme – he and Cowan (who has been going well in the prem in a pack that doesn’t often get their own way) could push each other on to greater things. KB, as I suggested above, may not fit what BVC is looking for. Lawson and Kellock have simply been overtaken. Beattie is not in any kind of form. Hogg may simply suffer from having been in the international wilderness too long. Cus is unlucky, but new blood is being brought thru at scrumhalf.

    1. I think Matt Scott will partner Alex Dunbar in centre with Mark Bennett in bench. But when’s the last time we had 3 centres of the calibre of these guys? Scott is a class act but has that bit more experience than Bennett but I think Bennett will be on bench! Also think Lamont will start with maitland on bench as he gives everything every time he wears the shirt and has improved massively over last year. Maitland is a class player but I still think he hasn’t showed us his true potential yet! Think your spot on with pack. It more or less picks itself except tightheard could be any of murray, cross and welsh.
      After being slightly bemused with the squad yesterday, I now think VC is the man who knows best. We have all been crying out for Scotland to compete against the best sides and this is the man to do it. Blake is a surprise but he must have something we don’t know about. Time will tell but I think we can all be optimistic about this year .

  15. I think I could play better than Hamilton. I thought Vern had got rid of the no-hopers such as Barclay but it looks as if there are still one or two in the squad. Please tell me he isnt going to bring back Hugo Southwell. It would be a very interesting exercise to try to name the worst group of 15 players ever to play for Scotland. I would say almost all of them would come from the squads put together from 2005-2013. I wouold also have Scott Johnson as the coach- the worst person to ever coach any team at international (and probably any) level.
    Can anyone answer this question- why does he still have a job?

  16. Whatever, and despite the injuries to some key players, I’m off to Paris next week to watch not exactly in expectation but with more hope than I’ve had about a Scotland side since Stade de France in 1999. Vern seems to have unlocked something really positive in this squad, and he’s been helped by the gradual improvement on the European stage by our two club sides and by the success of some of our individuals playing outside Scotland. I really think we can do some damage this Six Nations.

  17. Ok, it’s only 96 hours till six nations kick off. Can’t wait for it to start and Saturday in Paris. I reckon BVC should go for youth over fear and blood a young team…….

    15 Hogg (sounds like he might be fit)
    14 Maitland
    13 Bennett
    12 Scott
    11 Seymour
    10 Russell
    9 SHC

    1 Dckson
    2 Brown
    3 Cross
    4 J Gray
    5 Toolis
    6 Harley
    8 Beattie
    7 Watson

    That would leave a great bench to come on too! Pack might get squeezed round the park tho….

  18. Maitland is defo injured and I’ve not heard whether Harley will be fit (I really hope so). No way I would leave Ford out on current form and given his undoubted strength.

You might also like these:

Craig is joined by Jonny and Rory to look back at the disappointing end to Edinburgh's season and Glasgow's march towards the semi finals.
Gregor Townsend has named a largely experimental squad for the summer tour of the Americas. It's not a question of who misses out, but rather who is actually going, writes Rory.
Iain is joined by Jonny and John to discuss the penultimate round of URC fixtures as well as the recent Scottish Rugby Writers' Awards
Craig is joined by John on the injured reserve list to have a wee look at the URC action from the weekend.

Scottish Rugby News and Opinion