The team at Scottish Rugby Blog Towers have been working hard at unpicking Vern Cotter’s extended World Cup squad. As with every Scotland squad announcement since the year dot there were as many surprise call ups as there were ommissions.
In 2011 Andy Robinson’s decision to include David Denton, Ryan Grant, Rob Harley and Jack Cuthbert in his extended squad raised a few eyebrows. None made the final squad although three out of the four have gone on to become familiar names on team sheets post-2011. Cuthbert’s progress was stalled by the emergence of Stuart Hogg.
We’ve gone through each position and player to look at which players are likely to make the final cut and who’s there to make up the numbers.
Mike Cusack (Glasgow Warriors) – fought back brilliantly from illness to be part of Glasgow’s title win, and may well go if Cotter opts for a sixth prop. Limited about the park, but very good in the tight. May just miss out on a place in the squad.
Allan Dell (Edinburgh Rugby) – Almost unheard of until his arrival at Edinburgh a year ago, injury has prevented Dell from playing much this season. Would need an exceptional summer to force his way into the squad
Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby) – A strong season for the former Gloucester & Sale man, who has established himself as Cotter’s first choice loosehead. Will be part of the final 31, barring injury.
Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors) – Has struggled for parts of this season, but expect him to be among Cotter’s final squad. Experience at tighthead against Tonga in November could be crucial.
Willem Nel (Edinburgh Rugby) – Nel’s eligibility will vacate the hole left by Euan Murray’s retirement. The Edinburgh prop has had a quiet campaign, but has improved on his work-rate and set-piece, making him a valuable asset to Cotter’s 31.
Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors) – Barnstorming in the Pro12 final, offers himself in the loose and has proven to be a good scrummager. A shoe in for the final squad.
Jon Welsh (Newcastle Falcons) – The Newcastle-bound Warrior has impressed on the club stage this season, and deserves his chance. Most likely to make the squad as back-up.
Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) – Lineout woes cost him a place in Glasgow’s starting XV for the Pro12 final, and Brown will go as back-up to experienced Ford. In the squad, but game time will be limited.
Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby) – All-but certain to be Cotter’s first choice hooker, experience will be crucial. A third World Cup beckons for the Kelso man.
Stuart McInally (Edinburgh Rugby) – A surprise inclusion over the likes of MacArthur and Cochrane, but ‘Rambo’ offers versatility having played in the back-row. He will travel, but might only see action against the USA and Japan.
Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby) – Still firmly in contention, understandably with Cotter rating his leadership skills. His line out ability and general physicality would make him a useful replacement if he can return to any level of form.
Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors) – Guaranteed to start let alone a place in the squad, the young man is one of Europe’s best, and unlucky not to be Warriors’ player of the year.
Richie Gray (Castres) – Made comeback for Castres as a replacement on final day of season. If he rediscovers his form it will be a much needed boost to the line out and good platform to return to his potential. Likely pick.
Jim Hamilton (Saracens) – The most experienced second row, curious to see if he is brought in as an advisor. Strong line out but indiscipline and lack of go forward has sent him rightly down the pecking order.
Robert Harley (Glasgow Warriors) – His versatility means he’s a certain for a squad place. Needs to develop his carrying, but his ability to be a nuisance at the breakdown and general defensive play cannot be underestimated.
Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors) – Underestimated by many, but his performances for the Warriors deserve some credit. Brings a lot of much needed grunt. Touch and go for a spot in the final 31.
Adam Ashe (Glasgow Warriors) – Young upstart has bullied his way into the Scotland number 8 shirt. Had some injury concerns but seems to have caught coaches eye and likely to make the cut.
John Barclay (Scarlets) – In from the cold. Earned plaudits of late and poaching instincts could prove invaluable. Has been playing at 8 for Scarlets so versatility could see him make final squad if bridges have truely been mended.
Hugh Blake (Glasgow Warriors) – This year’s Denton. Still to convince many after average performances at club level. May benefit from move to Glasgow which may suit style of play. Very unlikely to feature at any stage.
Blair Cowan (London Irish) – Stand out player in this years 6 Nations with high turn over rate. Will compete with Barclay for starting bearth. Can play across back row and in boiler house.
David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby) – Some concern over ongoing concussion issues. Big ball carrier for Scotland and likely to make final squad if concerns about his health are allayed. Can cover 6 & 8.
Josh Strauss (Glasgow Warriors) – Exciting prospect. Step up to international level unlikely to phase him however only becomes eligible once tournament starts so will have to hit ground running. Performances for Glasgow and ability to play 6 & 8 mean likely to make final squad. Touted as possible captain by Cotter.
Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan) – Old war horse likely to be usurped by young upstarts. Useful cover should Harley or Strauss be injured. Unlikely to make final squad otherwise. Experience will prove invaluble in camp.
Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors) – Put in some good performances for Glasgow after returning from suspension. Will only make final squad if Denton fails to recover from concussion concerns. Likely to get run out in warm ups due to Strauss’s ineligibility.
Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby) – Here for experience. Had good season for Edinburgh but hard to see him picked ahead of more versatile Blair and Barclay. May feature from bench in warm up games.
Chris Cusiter (Sale Sharks) – Most experienced in squad but emergence of Hidalgo-Clyne and Pyrgos’s recovery from injury may be too much for former stalwart to overcome. Will only make final squad if others are injured or Laidlaw considered for fly half cover and all four scrum halves selected.
Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh Rugby) – Has shown he can translate Edinburgh form to international stage. Not here to make up the numbers and likely to be pushing for starting bearth. Reliable boot too.
Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester) – Off the boil after an exciting Autumn series. Kicking ability of Hidalgo-Clyne and Russell and other options for captaincy may mean his position as incumbent 9 is under threat. Will make final squad.
Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors) – Back from injury and superb form for Glasgow. Will make final squad and will push Laidlaw and Hidalgo-Clyne for starting spot but only if Russell is entrusted with kicking duties.
Ruaridh Jackson (Wasps) – Started brightly at Wasps before injury. Been out for a long time. Perhaps too long. But Scotland need cover at 10 and no one has put hand up other than those selected in the squad. May lose out if Laidlaw, Horne and/or Tonks considered as cover.
Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors) – Growing in stature with each game. Now reliable kicker under pressure as well. Game management skills improving and now performing stand up and karaoke during matches apparently. Bampot. Nailed on to start.
Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors) – Unlucky with injuries and until emergence of Russell was looking like best option for Scotland at 10. Likely to compete with Jackson for place on bench.
Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors) – Arguably the star of the season, and definitely so in the backs. Likely to go as Cotter’s first-choice outside centre, despite injury concerns.
Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors) – A certain starter if he can get fit, but that’s the biggest question – if he does make a quicker-than-expected recovery, expect him to be in the squad, but it may be just too soon.
Peter Horne (Glasgow Warriors) – A strong end to the season pushes Horne back into contention after a difficult showing at stand-off in the Italian debacle. Offers the option of a second playmaker and versatility may be useful in a squad of just 31.
Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby) – Should go to the World Cup providing he gets over his injury woes of the last 12 months, and a real threat with ball in hand. Scott’s played most of his Edinburgh rugby this season at outside centre, but has never featured there for the national side.
Duncan Taylor (Saracens) – Has come back strongly with Saracens after missing much of the season. Kept Marcelo Bosch out the Premiership final team. Highly-rated by Sarries but yet to shine for Scotland. An outside bet for the squad. Chances may depend on injuries.
Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors) – Offers a hard-carrying option in midfield, and would offer Cotter another option as he can cover number eight. Featured during the last World Cup, but perhaps another outsider this time around. May feature in the warm up games.
Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors) – Looking to build on an impressive Six Nations and Pro 12 run in, his is likely to be one of the first names on the team sheet and will be a key player.
Damien Hoyland (Edinburgh Rugby) – Played just 70 minutes of professional XV’s but is picked ahead of Dougie Fife. An opportunity to build experience but a final squad place seems highly unlikely although Cotter may be tempted to give him a run from the bench in the warm up games.
Rory Hughes (Glasgow Warriors) – Looked decent with his limited domestic opportunities and pips Lee Jones to a place in the sqaud. Finds himself in a similar position to Hoyland. Unlikely to make the cut.
Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors) – The only back three player with World Cup experience. Looking to break the 100 cap barrier. Provides stability and can cover at centre. Solid option from the bench.
Sean Maitland (London Irish) – Returning from long-term injury and needs game time. Will be battling with Lamont for a starting berth and offers decent cover should anything happen to Hogg.
Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors) – In great form for Glasgow, he’s all but guaranteed a final squad place with his strong attacking game favouring Cotter’s tactics.
Greig Tonks (Edinburgh Rugby) – Struggled for form in the latter half of the season but he offers essential versatility and some good performances in the warm up games should see him named in the final squad.
Tim Visser (Harlequins) – Knows his way to the try line but defensive skills remain questionable. Seems likely he’ll sneak into the squad but lack of versatility may see him struggle to even make the bench.
SRB predicted final 31 man squad:
Dickinson, Grant, Nel, Reid, Welsh, Brown, Ford, McInally, Harley, J. Gray, R. Gray, Gilchrist, Ashe, Barclay, Cowan, Denton, Strauss, Hildago-Clyne, Laidlaw, Pyrgos, Russell, Weir, Bennett, Dunbar, Scott, Hogg, Seymour, Maitland, Lamont, Visser, Tonks