We may not wish it were so, but the Scotland team pretty much picks itself based on a mix of form and who is available. A few big names may miss out through injury but in most cases they are those players pushing for a starting spot rather than those holding the shirt so all it does it hurt depth off the bench – and on the plus side make things easier to guess.
With a squad announcement due soon – Italy and France already have their 30+ training squads out – what shape will the Scotland squad take for the Six Nations?
Up front the trend looks set for Dickinson, Ford and Nel to continue their trio in the scrum with only Fraser Brown mounting any serious sort of challenge by showing up more than Ford in the loose. The rash penalty in the 1872 Cup that cost himself a try may count against him, as may the abject lineout performances all round. Might Neil Cochrane or Scott Lawson be in line for a surprise call up as a backup? Cochrane wouldn’t let anyone down, even in line for a first cap age 32. The emergence of Zander Fagerson, Alex Allan and Rory Sutherland has been heartening but there are still few fit younger candidates at hooker. Honourable mention also to Moray Low (Exeter) and Jon Welsh (Newcastle), our props in exile.
With Rob Harley out and Strauss and Ashe rotating at Edinburgh, the back row looks like John Hardie plus any two of Cowan, Denton, Strauss or Ashe, with most of them likely to make the squad. Chris Fusaro’s keen form in the 1872 Cup perhaps might earn him a slot ahead of the injured Hamish Watson but I’d expect John Barclay to be overlooked once again.
The starting locks should be the two Gray brothers, with backup coming from Ben Toolis and Tim Swinson who is undergoing return-to-play protocols following concussion, in the continued absence of Grant Gilchrist. If Swinson fails, the cupboard looks quite bare unless they coax big Jim out of retirement…
At half back there is still paper-thin depth in the absence of Henry Pyrgos which is worrying unless Finn Russell can find some form against Dan Carter in the coming weeks. None of the backup scrum-halves have been convincing of late so we’re still looking at Greig Laidlaw as the incumbent and likely captain, with chances for Grayson Hart to earn a full cap if Sam Hidalgo-Clyne fails to step up. Outside him, expect Weir to deputise as he did during the World Cup although Ruaridh Jackson has played well for Wasps when given the chance and should make the squad as a more natural swap for Finn.
At centre the riches are greater but Dunbar is still a minor injury worry and while impressive on his recent return, is still short of game time – and injured again. Still, the tournament should give us a chance to see which combination of Scott, Bennett and Dunbar gels the best, with Duncan Taylor of Saracens likely to see a recall on form ahead of Richie Vernon and Pete Horne probably included for utility and cover at 10.
In the back three it is likely to be more of the same with Maitland, Hogg and Seymour the first choices but struggling for form. Tom Brown has been going well for Edinburgh as has Tim Visser at Harlequins but the latter picked up an injury that will see him sit out the opening half of the tournament while Brown’s shoulder suffered some giant-Fijian-shaped contact and there is no word on how serious that could be. They may be included for training but it could give a chance for old-stager Sean Lamont to sneak back into the reckoning.
The makeup of the squad could all change (ahead of the announcement during the week starting the 18th Jan) if the coming weeks of European action for both pro sides causes any further injury worries, but it does give our lads a chance to battle harden their minds against some players they may face again.
The main worry for Vern is that he has a fairly settled squad, but not many are in anything like their best form, aside perhaps from Jonny Gray who seems to be building again after the World Cup, and John Hardie – who may be some sort of (insane) cyborg sent from the future to save us. There’s a definite chance of an upset against England under new man Eddie Jones, but only if Scotland hit it hard from the get go.
And we’re not great at that….
Possible Expanded Scotland Training Squad
Al Dickinson*, Rory Sutherland, WP Nel (Edinburgh), Gordon Reid, Jon Welsh, Zander Fagerson (Glasgow)
Ross Ford, Neil Cochrane (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown, (Glasgow)
Richie Gray (Castres), Jonny Gray, Tim Swinson* (Glasgow), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh)
Blair Cowan (London Irish), John Hardie (Edinburgh), David Denton (Bath), Chris Fusaro, Josh Strauss, Adam Ashe (Glasgow)
Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh), Grayson Hart (Glasgow)
Finn Russell, Duncan Weir (Glasgow), Ruaridh Jackson (Wasps)
Pete Horne, Mark Bennett (Glasgow), Matt Scott (Edinburgh), Duncan Taylor (Saracens)
Sean Maitland (London Irish), Tommy Seymour, Stuart Hogg, Sean Lamont (Glasgow)
(plus Tom Brown*, Alex Dunbar*, Tim Visser* to train)
* currently injured
The current pro team injury list as of last week looks like this:
Kevin Bryce (shoulder), Mike Cusack (ribs), Alex Dunbar (groin), Rob Harley (thumb), Pat MacArthur (jaw), Henry Pyrgos (wrist), Tim Swinson (concussion), Richie Vernon (shoulder), Tom Brown (shoulder), Alasdair Dickinson (calf), Grant Gilchrist (groin), Stuart McInally (neck), Fraser McKenzie (neck), Hamish Watson (knee).
So who would you call up, any surprises?