Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


The Cotter Cull Begins

Scotland Huddle - pic © Al Ross
Scotland Huddle - pic © Al Ross

Vern Cotter has wasted no time in making cuts to his enlarged training squad following games against Ireland and Italy. Seven players won’t be making it through to the judges houses World Cup squad but the names will come as no surprise to those who’ve been keeping tabs on our running squad predictions. Although Hamish Watson can count himself unlucky to be returning to Edinburgh after a decent appearance from the bench on Saturday.

Scotland have also released Josh Strauss back to Glasgow with a view to getting him some game time before the 31 man squad is announced which gives as strong an indication as any that he’ll make the cut.

Definately awf the bus

Watson returns to Edinburgh with Alan Dell, Dougie Fife, Damien Hoyland and Ben Toolis whilst Mike Cusack and Rory Hughes travel back to Glasgow. Kevin Bryce who was called up as injury cover last week also returns to Scotstoun. So where does that leave the Scottish Rugby Blog predicted final 31 man squad. Remember we’re trying to second guess Big Vern. These are not our personal picks.

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, Jackson, Bennett, Vernon, Dunbar, Horne, Hogg, Seymour, Maitland, Lamont, Visser.

One foot awf the bus

Adam Ashe Didn’t get much of a chance to contribute this weekend. That coupled with a loss of form that saw him dropped for the Pro 12 final means he needs to step up his game. John Barclay has been playing number 8 for Scarlets this season and that versatility could easily see him make the final 31.

Maybes awf the bus

Duncan WeirJust one change in our predicted final 31 man squad this week with Duncan Weir dropping out and Alex Dunbar popping back in. Not a straight swap as such but Cotter has three options at fly half if you include Laidlaw. After all the All Blacks won the last World Cup with a scrum half at 10 so why not. Weir put in a decent shift, especially in defence but wasn’t able to spark the back line into action. Added to this, Weir lacks the versatility of others in the squad which is why he loses out.

Clingin oan tae the bumper

John Barclay Still clinging on but Hardie put in a real performance and Barclay’s cameo against Ireland hardly set the world on fire. However Adam Ashe’s drop in form means there is a chance Barclay could still travel. We may get an inkling as to Cotter’s thinking on this should Barclay appear at the base of the scrum this weekend.

Matt Scott – Vernon’s performance didn’t quite reach the heights of the Ireland game but that may be because of his established relationship with his Glasgow counterparts. Unfortunately it may be the Glasgow connection that does it for Scott’s World Cup chances. Still in with a chance should Cotter decide that Dunbar has not recovered sufficiently.

Greig Tonks – Sure and steady but that doesn’t necessarily fit with the “shock and awe” organized chaos Vern Cotter aspires to. Tonks remains in contention but Jackson’s broken play ability sees him make the cut.

Mike Cusack – Big Vern might have told him to pack his bags but the lack of depth in the Scotland front row remains a huge worry. We’ve seen two front row forwards leave the field with concussion symptoms in the last two games so Cusack may yet be required to plug a gap. The front row has been an an issue since the last World Cup and a solution ought to have been found by now.

Inexplicably still in the mix

Hugh Blake – We were a little surprised to see that Blake was still in the mix as we felt Watson might have just edged it with his performance at the weekend. However we’re not privvy to what goes on at training and Cotter obviously sees a bright future for his compatriot. We’d be very surprised if he made the final squad. Stranger things have happened though.

Jim Hamilton – Back to his old ways and a real liability in giving away penalties. Used to be selected purely because he could call the line out but there are now others who can do that.

Alasdair Strokosch – Did nothing to suggest he will unseat any of those already on the bus.

Ryan Wilson & Chris Cusiter See last week

45 Responses

  1. Big Jim & Stroker are obviously staying with the squad for their leadership and experience. I can see them staying with the squad in advisory roles up to the French game, clubs allowing.
    Would like to see Barclay get a (proper) chance this week, and I feel for Hamish – had a good stint but perhaps too many 7s?

  2. Weir dropped and Dunbar in?? What planet are you on??
    Weir lacks the versatility? Much as I like Dunbar I wouldn’t say he’s overly versatile – even less so coming back from injury!!!
    I would take Barclay over Ashe, both in terms of performance and versatility.
    The only decision is whether to take 4 centres (Matt Scott being the 4th) or 4 wingers (Visser taking the final spot). Visser probably has the edge as Lamont can cover in the short term and, if not in the 31, Dunbar if there is a serious injury.
    Hopefully Vern is reading this and taking notes hahaha!

    1. Agree that Weir is a little out of place, as his style is hardly ‘running rugby’. Jackson and Tomks are morer like Finn Russell in style.

  3. Who might have guessed a fit Matt Scott missing the World Cup squad? Was close to the Lions squad just two years ago!

    1. I’m hoping they’ll pair him with Mark Bennett in the centres for the Italy game and a good performance will see him in the 31.

  4. Very, very harsh on Watson, genuinely did not see that coming. Not sure what Blake brings above him. As for the above predicted squad, I still think Meatball will make the cut. I thought he did alright on Saturday, especially given the paucity of backline around him and SHC having a bit of a mare. Also everyone is going a bit overboard about Jackson’s performance at full back against Ireland. Sure he was good going forward, but defensively he was a bit ropey. For me, Hogg, Maitland and Tonks should be ahead of him at full back, and Russell and Weir at ten, with Horne also able to do a shift there. Jackson’s all round kicking game is far too poor for an international fly half. I also agree that Barclay will probably (hopefully) edge Ashe, who has picked the worst time possible to suffer a loss in form. Hopefully Barclay will start at Murrayfield. I also think Scott will edge Vernon, who was a bit lost on Saturday without Horne beside him. Scott was unspectacular, but the pass for Pyrgos to score on Saturday was of the type that we have been botching up for years. So for me Scott goes, and I’m a Warriors fan. Sorry Ritchie!

    1. Surely we need 4 centres in the squad especially given the lack of rest between the Japan & US game.

    2. I was impressed with that final pass to Pyrgos, under pressure and back from a long lay off , inch perfect. That for me was the moment, the signature of a true artist, though he could do with as much play as possible before the tournament.

  5. My reckonings of who will be cut next week: Cusiter (still listed), Dunbar, Jackson, Visser, Ashe, Blake, Stroker, Wilson, Hamilton.

    Just don’t think Dunbar’ll make it fitness wise, and if he gets fit, chances are he’ll come in later through an injury in the backs.

    I think Jackson and Visser may get bumped for the more solid (but less spectacular) Weir and Tonks as bench options. There are obviously many possible permutations with the back row, and wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Barclay out for Stroker. I’m not sure how BVC is viewing Wilson. It’ll be interesting if he’s in this week’s lineup.

    1. No way Visser will be dropped. We’re stretched as it is at wing, plus Maitland might still not make it. I think Jackson will make it too. Everyone else I agree with.

      1. Fair enough point about wing cover, but if Visser and Jackson are in, who’s out – Weir and Tonks? I’ve not heard much in the way of murmurings about Maitland – is he still a big doubt? Hoped we might see him in the 22 this week.

      2. Don’t think he’s a big doubt, in interviews June/July back he was confident of being involved in at least one of the games but I’ve heard little since. At least the management team have acknowledged that Bennett will play at some point. Expect the worst hope for the best seems the motto when supporting Scotland Lol!! Real shame, with a fit and firing on all cylinders Dunbar, Maitland, Taylor and Bennett we really do have a dangerous backline capable of causing some damage.

      3. Very true. I’d add that Matt Scott has been part of some of our best centre/back line performances of recent years, though he’s not back to his best as yet. Think through the Pro12 final stages, these warm ups and general understanding of backline team mates, Pyrgos is making a really strong claim for the 9 jersey. Need to see Laidlaw now, to show what he can bring to warrant a starting place.

    2. I cannot see what Tonks is bringing? Good all rounder at club level and capable of more perhaps, a tournamnet will prove that , however this is the RWC, no place for emerging talent. Weir is a solid (pardon the pun) if unspectacular option and needs a bit of game time. For me he is an all rounder and on his kicking to hand has been tested at internatiional level. He has lifted us and Glasgow, on occasion with his tenacity and in terms of lifting the heads in the pack, a good positional kick can ease the pressure and give them a breather in an intense match. This is the RWC, how more intense can it get, so if we are going to gamble on anyone , I would gamble on him. Horne and lamont should be our flexible backs, the latter brings experience and puts his body on the line, every time. I need to see Jackson one more time. Now Maitland , Lets get down to it, I see this as a guy who came on, promised much and has leveled off way below the promised potential/ For me , that is one apparent pick that does need debate in here.

  6. I agree with 30/31 of the picks – I still think Scott will go ahead of Vernon. I suspect that Vernon will only go if Dunbar is declared unfit (which is, admittedly, extremely likely).

    4/5ths of the back row picks are surely nailed on now. Strauss, Denton, Hardie & Cowan will go. (On a side note, – and I’m genuinely not a poster that cares about these things – but none have Scottish accents. Sign of the times!)

    This leaves a shootout between Ashe, Barclay or Wilson. I’d love to see a back row this weekend made up of those 3 – could be very handy, all competing for what is perhaps the last spot.

    1. Even if Dunbar is fit, he needs game time. We have enough fit and ready players and he is a gamble too far. It must be in the back of his mind that he will not be ready and that I think is the most dangerous thing, you need to be up for this for the sake of your own physical and mental readiness. Nope we should give him a break and get him back at the 6N.

  7. My previous 31:

    Dickinson, Cusack, Nel, Reid, Welsh, Brown, Ford, McInally, Harley, J. Gray, R. Gray, Gilchrist, Ashe, Hardie, Cowan, Denton, Strauss, Hildago-Clyne, Laidlaw, Pyrgos, Russell, Weir, Bennett, Dunbar(Vernon), Horne, Hogg, Seymour, Maitland, Lamont, Visser, Jackson(Scott)

    My updated 31:

    Dickinson, Grant, Nel, Reid, Welsh, Brown, Ford, McInally, Harley, J. Gray, R. Gray, Gilchrist, Ashe/Barclay/Wilson, Hardie, Cowan, Denton, Strauss, Hildago-Clyne, Laidlaw, Pyrgos, Russell, Jackson, Bennett, Dunbar(Vernon), Horne, Scott, Hogg, Seymour, Maitland, Lamont, Visser,

    Grant ahead of Cusack – slightly surprised as Cusack vs Italy was no worse than Welsh was against Ireland, and thought that Welsh would go as back-up 5th prop covering both sides – looks like Grant might get that role

    Jackson ahead of Weir – not fussed either way tbh, neither fills me with confidence for the game that BVC is trying to have us play, Jacko the less worse choice perhaps

    Ashe on his own has become A/B/W due to an uninspired perf – one of these three needs to be stellar this weekend at home to Italy

  8. On Ashe/Wilson/Barclay
    We don’t need 3 No8’s. If its Ashe that forces VC to play either Strauss or Denton at 6 where they are not so effective.
    Seems to me to more Wilson v Barclay situation for a utility back row role.

  9. Why do we need 3 x hookers? Australia are only taking two
    and will call someone else up if they have an injury.
    The extra spot could be used in the back row or centre, where the attition rate seems higher. For Scotland anyway.
    Looking forward to seeing a new back row option this weekend.
    Ashe, Barclay, Wilson looks like a decent back row to me and I think Wilson might surprise a few people.
    I heard that Parise will be playing this weekend, which will make it more difficult for Ashe. (Denton didn’t have Heaslip to deal with v Ireland when he played well)

    1. It’s tricky as hookers are basically always replaced during matches, which means that those two will be playing in every single game. If one takes a knock in training or isn’t well on the day you ‘re screwed as there’s a 48 hour replacement period (Do we fancy finding out how well Gordie Reid throws in at the lineout mid test match?). So it’s good to have a back rower who can scummage and throw (which is actually what we are doing by taking Brown and McInally – we’re potentially going to the world cup with 8 back rowers if you take RV as well!)

      1. whats this about a replacement window? Do you mean a player outwith the 31 being drafted in as injury replacement? Or are we talking a change to the team which is announced in the week running up to a game? And how does the 48 hour window work? Sorry for the questions, its just this is the first ive heard of it

      2. If a player is injured, there is a 48 hour period before they can be replaced, to prevent dodgy last minute pretend injury subs I guess.

        From the font that is wikipedia: “There is also a stand-down period of 48 hours before the new player is allowed to take the field. Hence, a replacement player called into a squad on the eve of a game will not be permitted to play in that game.”

    2. Australia have a week between each game, so time enough to get a replacement half way round the world. We have a 4 day turnaround followed by a 6 day one. You don’t want your hookers being in the match day squad for every pool match, no matter how fit they are.
      I think we’ll go with 3 hookers, 3 scrumhalves and 5 props for that reason. In which case we need to drop a backrow and a centre/wing. I like the idea of a Wilson/Barclay/Ashe shoot out!!
      Denton – not having Heaslip to deal with – he did outplay O’Brien, which is no mean feat.

      1. I think Australia’s selection is unnecessarily risky. If one hooker pulls up in a pre-game warm up they will have to have another front row fill the spot on the bench (if allowed). That means that their hooker has to play the full game and if he gets injured will either not be replaced, resulting in uncontested scrums, or be replaced by a prop who is unlikely to have the specialists skills required in the scrum or at lineout.

        Scrum half is another matter as Giteau can cover 9 in an emergency – he played 9 for 10 minutes at the end of a rugby championship game and has played a little there in the past.

      2. It’s SODS law. The only time a hooker will get injured is if we only pick 2 of them.
        The point I wss making about Denton is that I don’t really see him as an 8 Merlot. Heaslip and Parisse are two of the best. O Brien for all his trenchant qualities, is an openside shaped like a cannonball. If Denton is playing at 8 I wouldn’t expect to see much passing for example. He’s a big, head down, ball carring unit, but doesn’t have the handling skills for an 8.

      3. FF. the rules state you must have experienced / competent cover on the bench for every pos in the front row. None of the Aus props are experienced / competent at hooker so if the do have someone pull up lame in the warm up they are screwed. Interesting scenario

      4. The Australian scrum coach, Mario Ledesma, has told press that Oz have in fact trained a prop to cover hooker in this situation and that he played a bit of hooker at school. Best guesses are that he means Sio. World Rugby apparently ok with it too.

      5. You’re right it is Scott Sio. For me, training at hooker and playing it in a first class game never mind an international does not provide, in the terms of IRB safety speak, acceptable cover for the position. Smart move would b to give Sio 10 mins at hooker in their warm up v USA

      6. Seems bonkers to me too. You would have thought this is the kind of situation that the rules were specifically designed to avoid.

      7. Interesting that Oz have the hooker /prop combo. Our biggest front row is a hooker. The scrum has changed so much and rarely do we see a true hook , the OZ move is likely to be the blueprint for the future.

      8. Bulldog I don’t see this as any great blueprint for the future but a how do we squeeze another backrower in. Let’s not forget Deans only took one 7 to the last World Cup and it was the reason for their failure v Ireland. I think Argentina have gone to the last 3 world cups with only 2 specialist hookers so Ledesma’s influence is clear. Apparently Sio played hooker at under 20s so it’s looking less loony by the day

        Let’s face it if you have the balls there’s away round every rule

  10. Does the fact that some of those retained have yet to appear signify that they are automatic picks? The extended squad contained quite a number of ‘make weights’. Part of the purpose of the two matches so far has been the evaluation of players on the fringes of the first fifteens (I’m guessing that, given the short turn-around between the matches between Japan & USA, there will be different teams selected) and ‘utility’ players capable of covering a number of positions. While the selections and performances for the next 2 matches will determine who goes to the RWC we may not be any wiser as to who the First XV will be. Would BVC consider a Frankie Haddock and put out a shadow team and put out a weakened team against the Boks, to enhance the odds of beating the other 3 teams? Big risks to his credibilty if he does.

    1. I’m sure he will have considered not using up our big forwards against South Africa in favour of Samoa. What is interesting is that in our group finishing 2nd is actually advantageous for anyone with eyes on the big prize as you avoid NZ until the final and Group A’s 1 & 2 will be basically on the level. If SA thrash everyone on their way to Scotland they may even consider resting their 1st team against us. If they lose they’ll still go through by beating the USA and they’ve got a well rested 1st team for the Quarters etc and an easier draw. Personally, I think tactics like this lead to ruination more often than glory.

      1. I love those kind of long term mind games and planning! Getting me excited for the tournament now!

      2. Of course if Samoa beat South Africa, we’re in all sorts of soapy as both teams will be baying for Scottish blood!

      3. Hello – What is wrong with us beating South Africa? From what I have seen in their Arg results we have a chance to raise our game there and cause the biggest upset in the groups.

  11. For me we will lose front and backrow players against Samoa , so we should look to try and win aginst SA and put the backups out against Samoa. Right now , not too many standout players and a lot of lads showing all round improvement giving a good balance, at the moment.

    1. Samoa is our last game and in all likelihood will determine whether we qualify or not. There is no way we should plan to play anything other than the strongest team available.

      We have a pretty tough schedule – I expect we’ll play our strongest side against Japan, South Africa and Samoa and rest as many key players as possible against USA. Chopping and changing and being too cute with squad management really harmed our efforts in RWC 2011 where we really should have gone through ahead of Argentina after leading them for 70 minutes.

      Inevitably there will be injuries and some risk of taking the USA too lightly (who have a very good back five of the scrum – one reason I would not be happy relying on Harley as our fourth lock) but the RWC is a test of squad strength and other players simply have to step up to the plate for us to do well. Fortunately, with the exception of front row, we should be pretty confident in the ability of our second string.

    2. I’d be seriously p***ed off if we put out a weakened team against the Boks. It’s a statement of where the management think we are in the rugby world, and is a defeatist attitude. Gives out all the wrong signals and is not good for morale. The one time we did it was against NZ at home, and I was enbarassed then. We’ve also beaten the Boks a couple of times in recent memory and if Argentine can beat them, so can we.

  12. Squad for Italy (25?? Presumably 2 will be dropped for the match day. Forwards: John Barclay (Scarlets), Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan (London Irish), David Denton, Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, Grant Gilchrist (all Edinburgh Rugby), Jonny Gray, Robert Harley (both Glasgow Warriors), Stuart McInally, Willem Nel (both Edinburgh Rugby), Ryan Wilson, Gordon Reid (both Glasgow Warriors), Jon Welsh (Newcastle Falcons).
    Backs: Mark Bennett, Stuart Hogg, Peter Horne (all Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (captain, Gloucester), Sean Lamont, Finn Russell, Henry Pyrgos, Tommy Seymour (all Glasgow Warriors), Greig Tonks (Edinburgh Rugby), Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby), Tim Visser (Harlequins).
    Interesting that neither Jackson nor Weir are included – have they done enough? Same with Vernon.
    I’m guessing that Hamilton, Strokosch, Blake and Ashe certainly haven’t done enough and are on their way home, barring injury or shocker.

    1. Travelling squads usually have an additional back and forward so if there is an injury in warm up the bench won’t be left short. No idea if the ‘travelling reserves’ is required by regulations or if it is just convention.

      1. Yes, but if it was an actual regulation to name a squad of 23+2 it would apply to both teams whether home or away. I’ve only ever heard it referred to with the away side though so who knows.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion