Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


2016 Scotland Squad – Will There Be Any Surprises?

The Gray brothers - pic © Al Ross
The Gray brothers - pic © Al Ross

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?

33 Responses

  1. Peter Horne didn’t look in good shape. Hopefully Gordon Reid is ok too. I’m actually a tad more interested in seeing how the under 20s go this year, Pack should be threatening with Fagerson, Ritchie and Cummings all having recent pro games, Kinghorn as well. They improved in last 6n and New Zealand aside had a decent JWC. Can we push on?

    1. I believe that Ritchie, Fagerson and Kinghorn were all unavailable
      to the squad to be available to their pro teams.Fagerson might even be in the senior team, as I hear he showed up well against Racing’s international front row…I too am
      Looking forward to seeing the u20s to see if the new conferences have made an impact-although may have to wait to next year for that.

  2. If we can keep our first choice team fit (particularly Nel, Hardie, Russell and Laidlaw) we could actually do something this 6N. I can’t see us managing to lose to Italy this time and we’ve got a chance against a rebuilding France and England. I’m most worried about the front row – if Nel gets injured we’ve probably had it.

  3. Alex Toolis performed admirably for Edinburgh so is probably in line for a call up.

    Duncan Taylor is lighting up for Sarries so he’ll be pushing hard for a start too I’d imagine.

    Also at scrum half what about Steele and McKibbin at London Irish?

    I don’t think we’ll do well this year. I thought after the World Cup we turned a corner but the form of the Glasgow boys is awful. Russell, Hogg, Seymour, Strauss haven’t played well at all lately. I expect another Groundhog Day in March.

    1. I agree, this won’t be the season we were hoping for after RWC. Think this should be about building on the RWC and showing a bit more savvy and nerve. Beat Italy and Nick a result against someone else and for everyone to but in a solid and consistent shift and I’d be very happy with that.

    2. Pretty sure McKibbin isn’t eligible. He was on the bench for the Wallabies v Wales back in 2012 I believe.

    3. That’s right Deans pulled him in to exclude him from Scottish eligibility in the same way Cheika sat Naravoyavoyavoya?? (spelling lol) on the bench v USA pre world cup even though he wasn’t even in the World Cup squad

      1. Yes McKibbin was named on the bench, but he never actually came on so technically he hasn’t won a cap yet for Australia. However, he is 30 now and from the London Irish games I’ve seen, he’s not been too special. Probably unlikely that he will be selected I’d imagine. As for Scott Steele, he just needs a bit more time to develop. Was lucky to start most of the time last year but opportunities have been more limited so he could do with a bit more game time. Certainly promising for the future though…

      2. This came up in a discussion a wee while ago as to what constituted being capped and my understanding from that is if you are in the match day squad (on the bench), even if you don’t go on, you are still considered to be bound to that country

  4. Think 2 wins (Italy and one home, France I guess) is par for this tournament. Much more injuries and we are struggling.

    We were all hoping for something special after the RWC but I think for that we need 3 things: about half that injury list to return and get game time, no more injuries, and key men to up the ante in coming weeks and perform/stay fit throughout the tourney. I’m talking Laidlaw, Russell, Hogg (he is so hot and cold!) and Ritchie Gray by that. I’m taking it as read that Hardie, Nel, Jonny and Bennet should continue to be bulletproof tanks – touchwood.

    A tough ask, but that and a bit of extra luck and victory against all but Ireland is an outside chance (optimism now, it’ll go by minute 5 of the England game no doubt).

    Thoughts on Alex Toolis or Scott Cummings as cover for the locks if Swinson doesn’t make it?

    As for centres, Horne is no Dunbar/Bennett, but he has shown some class for Glasgow and Scotland since last years debut under unfortunate circumstances and I’d have no issues with him lining up at 12.

  5. First game is crucial. Beat England and all pressure will be off the squad for the rest of the tournament and I could see us beating France and Italy. Lose and we’re straight into wooden spoon dog fight. Hard to say how good England will be but as we haven’ beaten them in years I think we’ have to say a win would be an upset and a tremendous result.

    1. Fully agree, the first game is crucial. I would add that the team need to do more than just beat England but they need show form and perform well from outset. A real demonstration to the fans of the next stage of team development after the world cup performances. Scotland needs to remove the unbelief ‘it was a flash in the pan’ from all the doubters.

  6. I think the team we will send out against the auld enemy will be the same team that went against the Aussie’s in the RWC barring injury’s and we should expect a little out of form with players with clubs after a RWC high but I am sure they snap out of it and come right for the 6 nations has where still a young international team and still learning the future is looking good for rugby #asone

  7. Off topic, but does anyone know if the James Marshall that’s just signed for London Irish is Scottish Qualified? I remember reading about potential 10s that Edinburgh could sign and there were two in New Zealand who were able to play for Scotland, one around 28 (so James Marshall’s age) and the other around 22. And i don’t mean Robbie Robinson, I’m sure he’s playing in Japan for now, getting over his injury problems. But I can’t remember if it was on here or on another forum that I read about these two kiwis. And not that i expect James Marshall to be amazing and to get straight into the Scotland squad if he is qualified, I was just curious!

    1. Again, sorry that was off-topic!
      Back on topic though, and in terms of the Scotland squad, I was bursting with optimism about a month ago, maybe 6 weeks that we would be real contenders going into the 6 Nations. Now I’m less confident, but I feel we will still make waves. Like others have said, a lot of players need to find some form, and a lot of players need to find some fitness and game time. In saying that though, i think that the key players that we have are playing extremely well: Nel will ensure that we have at least parity with anyone we play in the scrum, Gray will almost always be in contention for MOTM awards, Hardie will never give less than 100% and will lay his body on the line for the jersey, and Bennett seems to not have a drop off in form, he just plays his game and does it with style and efficiency. Matt Scott and Duncan Taylor are both playing superbly well at the moment and will mean that the loss of Dunbar won’t be felt as much. I think if Laidlaw can find any of his form from the World Cup, combined with a pack which can be as effective in securing ball as we saw at the World Cup will make a hell of a difference to Russell’s form. I feel this because in my opinion, Russell seems to play better when the 9 is making the majority of the decisions, when to pass, when to kick, when to get a backline moving, and this is definitely one of Laidlaw’s strengths. So maybe it’s blind optimism, but i expect the Laidlaw-Russell combination to be just as good as the World Cup IF the pack can play like it did.
      Finally, on the selection, I think the above is mostly correct, although some players I expect to be involved in some capacity are: Alex Toolis (he’s been playing very well recently and with Swinson’s injury he should be involved); Chris Cusiter (people seem to have forgotten about him a little bit, but with Pyrgos injured, Cusiter surely will be drafted in instead of Hart? I think he’s very poor and doesn’t suit playing alongside Russell); the London Irish scrum halves?
      My wildcard picks will be the Worcester duo: Alex Grove and Tom Heathcote. Both have been playing very well and with some short comings in those positions, centre mostly, they could be outside bets for a call up.

  8. Sorry lads for the off topic question but…..just seen the squad selection for Glasgow v racin and Finn has been put at 12. I’m disappointed cause I wanted to see him square up against Carter. Can anyone provide a logical explanation as to why Toonie would do this?

    Back to topic…No worries boys, both clubs showed decent form before last years 6 nations and that didn’t benefit us. This year the form has been poor so obviously we are going to take the title!!!

    1. To a large extent, the selection was always going to be a bit off the wall due to injuries – Sam Johnson hasn’t shown that he’s ready for the step up, then you’ve also got the Tonnie Factor which means you should expect the unexpected. On the bright side, this isn’t likely to be a line-up that Racing will have prepared for.

      Weir and Russell have played as 10/12 together before though, and we won both games so it’s not completely out of the blue, although i remember seeing Hogg playing in Centre against Munster and he scored 3 tries that day i think, so would love to see him get another crack.

      Key against Racing will be territory – keep knocking the ball back over the heads of those big lumps in the pack – having 2 fly halfs plus hoggy’s boot should help with that.

  9. I think Chris Fusaro performed brilliantly against England 2 years ago. He frustrated them on the floor and howked the ball away from them over and over again-nothing glamourous but VERY effective. When a brace of Englishmen sized up to him at the end, that was evidence of the frustration he caused them. Give him another go at them.

    1. We have completely different memories of that game. All I remember was Chris Robshaw blasting wee Chris out of every breakdown and the England centres smashing him backwards in the tackle. Fusaro would be my 5th choice 7 behind Hardie, Barclay, Watson and Cowan

      1. Don’t think he missed a tackle that game to be fair and got stuck in as best he could. Agree with Andy, 5th, at best. Good Pro 12 level player though. Does anyone know how Andrew Cramonds getting on at Toulon and Chalmers at Bordeaux?

  10. In terms of surprises how about Damian Hoyland (playing really well at Edinburgh) and lock Ollie Atkins (ex Edinburgh playing at Exeter who qualifies for Scotland). Also I’m sure Stuart Mcinally and Duncam Weir will be included.

  11. Another bit off topic remark, but can someone please explain to me why Sam Hidalgo-Clyne seems unable to fire a pass which reaches an opponent above the waist?

    This has been evident since at least the Munster match from what I have seen (been at first leg v Glasgow and the game against Treviso last night and watched them on the box whenever they have been on this season). Surely that is something that is easily identified and worked on? Very frustrating as he has clear talent.

  12. Injury Updates: Jon Welsh has just had an op, Mark Bennett picked up a knock while Pete Horne is expected to recover from his reasonably quickly, but on the other hand MacArthur and McInally returned to play this weekend past.

    1. Maitland out with a hamstring injury as well, although he indicated might only need a couple of weeks – which might work in our favour if it means he’s well rested come 6 nations

  13. Looking forward to the squad announcement and agree with JK that Ollie Atkins would be a good option at lock alongside Gray/Gray & Toolis. I would definitely include Fagerson after a powerful set piece against Racing92. Our backline injuries could be disastrous though and with Glasgow facing 3 tough games leading up to the 6N I’m trying not to panic over the selections that Toonie will need to make

  14. Any idea when the squad is announced? Or is it as we are, with the group who visited Nicola at Bute House?

  15. I am pretty confident we are going to see Duncan Taylor either starting or on the bench this 6 nations. His form has been pretty awesome for Saracens and he has a real physical presence as well as good hands. When is the last time we had centres of such quality in Dunbar, Bennett, Taylor and Scott? Is there any news on Bennetts injury? Dunbar went really well yesterday.

    1. Good shout for a bolter but I’m undecided if I think it would be better for him to keep getting games at Glasgow.

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