With Grant Gilchrist putting in a performance against Ireland at the weekend Vern Cotter has wasted no time in restoring him to the captaincy he was destined to take before injury struck.
Scotland have named the squad that will travel to Italy which features 11 changes with Adam Ashe, John Hardie, Alasdair Strokosch and Hamish Watson coming in for Barclay, Blake, Cowan and Denton. It will be interesting to see if Cotter continues to press ahead with playing two opensides. Playing two opensides is, afterall, the new black in international rugby.
The five remaining changes up front sees Kevin Bryce, Alasdair Dickinson, Richie Gray, Stuart McInally and Willem Nel come in for Fraser Brown (hamstring), Allan Dell, Ryan Grant (ankle, not broken), Rob Harley, and Jon Welsh (concussion). Conversely, the backs are relatively unchanged, with uncapped duo Damien Hoyland and Rory Hughes joining the group in place of Dougie Fife and Tim Visser.
Scotland squad (sponsor BT) to face Italy at the Stadio Olimpico, Turin, this Saturday 22 August (kick-off 7pm BST) – live on BT Sport.
Backs: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh Rugby), Peter Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Damien Hoyland (Edinburgh Rugby), Rory Hughes (Glasgow Warriors), Ruaridh Jackson (Wasps), Sean Lamont, Henry Pyrgos (both Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott, Greig Tonks (both Edinburgh Rugby), Richie Vernon, Duncan Weir (both Glasgow Warriors),
Forwards: Adam Ashe, Kevin Bryce, Mike Cusack (all Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, Grant Gilchrist CAPTAIN (all Edinburgh Rugby), Richie Gray (Castres), Jim Hamilton (Saracens), John Hardie (unattached), Stuart McInally, Willem Nel (both Edinburgh Rugby), Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Strokosch (Perpigan), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby).
Scotland have to name the final 31-man squad for Rugby World Cup 2015 before the warm up game against France in Paris on Saturday 5 September. Based on our previous predictions, the game against Ireland and this week’s squad we’ve tried to predict who might make the final 31. We should stress that we are trying to predict Vern Cotter’s final squad rather than our dream team.
Scottish Rugby Blog predicted final 31 man squad (changes in bold):
Dickinson, Grant, Nel, Reid, Welsh, Brown, Ford, McInally, Harley, J. Gray, R. Gray, Gilchrist, Ashe, Hardie, Cowan, Denton, Strauss, Hildago-Clyne, Laidlaw, Pyrgos, Russell, Weir, Bennett, Vernon , Horne, Hogg, Seymour, Maitland, Lamont, Visser, Jackson
Awf the bus
John Barclay – Barclay did nothing wrong against Ireland and came into the wider squad off the back of a terrific season in the Pro 12. However since drawing up our predicted final 31 man squad Big Vern threw a curveball and called up John Hardie. Our feeling is that Hardie could be Cotter’s wildcard and may well edge Barclay out of a squad bursting with decent openside prospects. That said Barclay remains just an injury or drop in form away from the starting XV such is the depth of talent Scotland have in this area.
Matt Scott – Came through a 12 minute cameo without doing an awful lot. Scott made our original predicted squad over Peter Horne due the latter’s struggles against Italy in the Six Nations. However Horne put in a blistering performance against Ireland and his versatility and kicking skills see him take Scott’s seat on the bus. Scott may have another chance to impress this weekend having been named in the squad that will travel to Italy.
Alex Dunbar – Bear with us here. Richie Vernon put in an outstanding performance on Saturday and whilst Dunbar remains hopeful of regaining fitness in time for the World Cup it may be too late in Vern Cotter’s eye. Whilst not known for his conservatism, Cotter may decide to pick a player in rare form over one who is just returning from a long layoff.
Greig Tonks – As with the others coming off the bus, Tonks’ omission from the final squad has nothing to do with his performance and everything to do with the performance of another. We originally discounted Ruaridh Jackson due to his long layoff with injury. However his performance on Saturday put any fears regarding fitness to bed and he put in an assured performance at full back putting him on a par with Tonks in terms of versatility. However Jackson edges ahead in terms of his ability to spot a gap and break forward. Whilst that may have frustrated those around him in years gone by it now fits with the style of rugby Scotland are trying to play.
Still clinging oan
Hugh Blake – We originally had Blake pinned as a complete no hoper for the final squad thanks to the lack of game time in the Pro 12. There is no doubt that he struggled at times with the pace of the game in the early stages but his tackling rate was as good as any around him and he showed a keen attacking sense. Scotland are not lacking in the back row but based on Saturday we can’t rule out the possibility that Vern Cotter might name his young compatriot in the final squad.
Mike Cusack – Injuries to Grant and Welsh showed just how fragile the Scottish front row is in terms of depth although neither injury was as severe as first thought. Whilst Cusack hardly set the world on fire on his debut Scotland have a further three warm up games to get through between now and the World Cup. It seems almost inevitable that Cusack will make the final 31 due to the misfortune of another.
Kevin Bryce – Called up to cover for Fraser Brown who has “mild hamstring discomfort”. Scotland struggled with the line out so this may hand Bryce an opportunity to force his way in as third hooker. Stuart McInally was due to start against Ireland before being hit by a stomach bug and Ross Ford has been named in this week’s squad too. Bryce is unlikely to get an opportunity this weekend but is in a better position than other late call ups.
Watchin on the (council) tele
Allan Dell – Only an injury crisis in the front row will improve the untested Dell’s chances of making the World Cup.
Jim Hamilton – Nowhere near the tackling rate of Gilchrist on Saturday and well down the pecking order in terms of other options which include the versatile Harley and Cowan. Named in the squad that will travel to Italy but you get the impression this will be his last chance to show he has something to contribute.
Tim Swinson – Injured and not expected to return in time for World Cup.
Ben Toolis – A replacement for Tim Swinson and as such not profiled in our original run down of the wider training squad. Has shown promise at club level but Gilchrist’s return to form and the mere existence of the Grays mean he’s not a contender this time around.
Alasdair Strokosch – Sadly the sun has set on Strokosch’s time in a Scotland shirt. Seems unlikely to pass younger models. Named in this weekend’s squad but it’s hard to see him breaking into the final 31.
Ryan Wilson – Denton’s recovery from the long term effects of a concussion as well as his performance against Ireland pushes Wilson out of contention. May well come back should injury befall another and is likely to feature in the warm ups if only to fill in until Strauss is eligibile.
Hamish Watson – Will be frustrated to see former team mate Blake getting a starting berth despite a lack of game time. However Blake’s performance and Hardie’s addition to the squad push Watson out of contention. Named in this weekend’s squad but will need a blistering performance to force his way into contention.
Chris Cusiter – Not currently training with the squad at his own request but still waiting in the wings. Seems to have accepted that his time has come although still not a bad proposition should injury strike those ahead of him.
Duncan Taylor – Injured and not expected to return in time for World Cup.
Damien Hoyland & Rory Hughes – Named in the squad for this weekend but it would take a monumental performance or significant injury for either to surpass the incumbents.
Dougie Fife – Not profiled in our original piece on the wider squad as he was a late addition to cover for Duncan Taylor. Didn’t feature against Ireland despite travelling with the squad. Hoyland and Hughes make this week’s squad ahead of him so he’s likely to struggle to make the final 31.