Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland Squad for Autumn Tests

Damien Hoyland - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography
Damien Hoyland - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography

Vern Cotter announced his last squad for a November International series amidst mixed European results for the pro-teams, a raft of injuries and a spat between English Premiership Rugby and several Tier 1.5 unions (Tonga, Samoa, Italy and Scotland) over player injury compensation.

As expected, several English based players were named in the squad with the SRU left to haggle out a solution in time so that they can play, most in the backs. So Moray Low, Sean Maitland, Duncan Taylor, Tim Visser and captain Greig Laidlaw could be said to have question marks next to them…

The squad features four additions and five replacements to the group that secured back-to-back test wins over Japan in June. Zander Fagerson was on U20s duty while Mark Bennett was at the Olympics, but neither of their call ups could be considered a surprise.

The big shock was the absence of tighthead prop WP Nel (neck), who along with Rory Sutherland (groin) will sit this one out through injury. It gives a great opportunity to Edinburgh prop Alan Dell (qualifies through a Scottish grandmother) who impressed in the win over Harlequins. But it does mean Scotland could struggle to repeat the scrum demolition Nel handed Australia in the 2015 World Cup.

Other names left out include Sean Lamont and centre Matt Scott, who has been in good form for Gloucester and who might have been less of a risk than the currently injured Duncan Taylor – who must be closer to return than we thought. It does mean we get another look at Huw Jones though.

There’s also no call up for Edinburgh’s Cornell du Preez who has qualified on residency but hasn’t had as much game time at Edinburgh now that Nasi Manu is fit and Magnus Bradbury is going so well. Speaking of Bradbury, he will train with the squad along with a few others to make up the numbers and gain useful experience, although Blair Kinghorn could count himself unlucky not to be in the additional group.

There’s a welcome call up for Damien Hoyland who was in blistering form over the last two European weekends; all of the wing candidates have scored plenty of tries so far this season so even if Seymour – the standout candidate – hasn’t recovered in time, the back division should still be a useful one.

Edinburgh’s standout player of the last few seasons, Hamish Watson, also gets another chance and with his power massively increased – and often on display as he stands up 2 or 3 would-be tacklers – you hope he will get a chance to put to bed and worries over his size. The only slight drawback, as with Edinburgh, is that the dynamically-crazed openside is pretty much a like for like with John Hardie so we’re unlikely to see them both in the same team.

It’s a good squad on paper but there are one or two names short of fitness or game time (Taylor, Hardie, Horne, Seymour, Dickinson, Dunbar), while the Aussies and Argentinians have been warming up by playing the Best Team Ever™.

It should be an interesting November.


Props: Allan Dell, Alasdair Dickinson, Zander Fagerson, Moray Low, Gordon Reid
Hooker: Ross Ford, Fraser Brown, Stuart McInally
Second Row: Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Tim Swinson
Back Row: John Barclay, John Hardie, Rob Harley, Josh Strauss, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson


Scrum Half: Greig Laidlaw (Capt), Henry Pyrgos
Stand-off: Finn Russell, Pete Horne
Centre: Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Huw Jones, Duncan Taylor
Wing: Damien Hoyland, Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, Tim Visser
Fullback: Stuart Hogg

A further four players have been invited to train with the squad: Magnus Bradbury, Nick Grigg, Rory Hughes, Ali Price

Not considered through injury: Adam Ashe (foot), Kevin Bryce (shoulder), David Denton (hamstring), Ryan Grant (back), Willem Nel (neck), Rory Sutherland (groin), Duncan Weir (jaw).

2016 Autumn Tests:

Saturday 12 November: Scotland v Australia, BT Murrayfield (kick-off 2.30pm)
Saturday 19 November: Scotland v Argentina, BT Murrayfield (kick-off 5pm)
Saturday 26 November: Scotland v Georgia, Rugby Park (kick- 2.30pm)

58 Responses

  1. Well, didn’t have to wait too long to find out. No Bradbury or Kinghorn even in the training squad is disappointing. I guess he/they does not want to strip the clubs unnecessarily.For me Bradbury, along with Watson, has been our best performing back row across the board though.
    I am also very surprised at the omission of Matt Scott. He is playing very well for Gloucester. I rate all of the others, but Taylor has not been playing, and neither Dunbar nor Bennett are at their best.
    Last, but most importantly – no Wullie Nel!

  2. Bit of a worry we are facing three very good scrummaging teams missing our first choice TH and second choice LH, but it’s a massive opportunity for young Zander. Dickinson back is a boost but he will be missing match sharpness. Big ask for the pack.

    The backs look fantastic. Incredible strength in depth (for us) in general, which will only continue to be the case as the academies’ products begin to be integrated in the seasons to come.

  3. Agree with the posters above.

    Strong in many areas, particularly in the backs. Very surprised to see Taylor, although only because as said above I think hasn’t played for Sarries at all this season. Wonder what that nice Mr McCall will say ?

    The stand out problem is the prop situation. Only five named, one of whom – Dickinson – has no recent game time. Who will be covering both TH and LH ?
    And at PRO12 level, do Edinburgh have any props left standing for this period ?

  4. Nel will be a big loss but its an opportunity for others to prove their worth in an area we are a bit shallow in depth. Rest of the squad looks as strong as it ever has, I hope Watson gets a fair crack at the whip as he has been outstanding for Edinburgh recently. Backs look great on paper but I don’t think Dunbar, Bennett or Taylor are at the top of their game/fitness. For the backline I can see the starting three being Hogg, Seymour and Visser / Hoyland with Maitland covering all 3 from the bench.

    We are in with a shout of winning all 3 matches, although none of them will be easy. I don’t know why we keep shooting ourselves in the foot playing the “lesser” team at a narrow football ground, the type of game we (try) to play is expansive and fast, not something suited to a tight bash em up type of pitch, bash em up is a game we have struggled with recently. Australia don’t appear to be in great form at the moment but they have class players who are more than capable of a decent performance. Argentina are a bit like France, you don’t know what is going to turn up, we are capable of hammering them one day and they would be capable of hammering us the next day. Georgia are all about the grunt which as I mentioned is something we have not dealt well with in recent times but as long as we deny them the ball and play in their half of the pitch points will come especially as they tire out.

    Looking forward to this, although to finish on a tone of pessimism we’ve all been here before…

  5. In agreement with the above – look light up front with Nel and Sutherland missing, but happy that Fagerson will get a chance to step up again. Also do think that Bradbury should be there instead of Barclay. Not convinced he did enough in the six nations and has been part of an under performing Scarlets pack this season, whilst Bradbury (along with Ashe when back fit) should be bled now so they are at their peak for Japan – not only is it forward looking its probably just about deserved on form as well.

    Also would have been happier to have seen Bennett or Taylor sit out to bring Kinghorn in (still think there would have been sufficient coverage across all the backs with that change)- Or if not sitting either of them 2 down, just supplementing his inclusion to whats already there.

    Finally, and admittedly knee-jerk, I think there have to be consequences. And the consequence of Swinson’s meek performance on Saturday, is that he does not get near the test arena. Beyond Toolis, I don’t know who else could have realistically been chosen, but I look at our locks and beyond JG I don’t see anyone performing really well and I don’t see that horrible b*stard toughness and Swinson especially disappointed.

    1. Swinson has been on excellent form this season and completely deserves his place in the squad, and in my opinion as the starting lock beside JG – I don’t think we should be too quick to judge any of the players involved in Saturdays game – it was a one off situation, the likes of which we’re unlikely to ever see again I hope.

      1. It was hostile, it was manic, it was full of raw emotion and it had all the intensity of a massive test match – in fact it was the one true barometer of what awaits and only JG stepped up for Glasgow. Its far far too easy to give the players an out about how unique the occasion was – unfortunately it looked like too many took the out.

      2. I have to echo Andy N’s thoughts here. I’ve not been a huge fan of Swinson in past seasons, and feel he is probaly too small for the international stage at 2nd row, but he’s been one of Glasgow’s best players so far this season and so deserves another crack. Could he potentially switch to 6? Gilchrist really needs to step up now as I’ve never really been impressed by him, although Cotter seems to love the guy. Toolis can’t be far off the squad.

      3. Swinston will be best used as an impact player with Richie Gray grinding them down early on. He can be a menace in the opposition 22, give him a gap and he will take it.

        Barclay, well, I dont get it, on his last outing he gave away ruck penalties like giving out Sunday School Soiree tickets. However I will be happy if he proves me wrong. As for the front row, we will never progress without backup and these 3 games are not the worst sides we could be playing.

        It is a concern we are naming injured players. Feels wrong, If they are not match fit we will simply send them back to their clubs to spend more time injured. Feels wrong , feels desperate and sends the wrong message to the squad.

      4. Of any of the Glasgow players who stood his ground it was Harley. Made the only hits that won the contact, only player to routinely slow Munster ruck ball (not that it mattered in the end) and only player that carried and went to ground in a way that Glasgow retained the ball.

      5. I think Gilchrist will be the man beside J Gray.

        Like many others, I wasn’t sure what it was that people saw in him but watching him closer, he brings real aggression, leadership and a hard nosed intelligence to his game.

        I love the Gray brothers but I don’t feel that either is aggressive enough at times. Having Gilchrist in to be the bruising destroyer is possible the extra oomph we need up front.

  6. Front row is a big cause of concern. Backs exciting and can’t see three tests being played without Bradbury being called up as injury cover.

    How on earth can English clubs withold players during international windows anyway. SRU should tell them to do one and instruct players to report for training as normal – sounds like a typical PRL shakedown.

    1. That is the PRL’s prerogative so fair play to them. Blame should be placed at the door of World Rugby imo, how can they sanction that rule? Keep up stuff like that and international rugby will end up like international football.

      1. World Rugby’s rule doesn’t require PRL to hold players international careers to ransom to settle insurance disputes. They have no interest in rugby outside their own little circle and want to diminish the test game for their own benefit. They are in a power struggle with unions and they intend to subdue us. They could end professional rugby in Scotland ultimately.

      2. FF, spot on, PRL are solely interested in PRL to the exclusion of everything else. When they have the ‘right teams’ in PRL they want to pull up the drawbridge and ring fence it for ever and a day. Unfortunately the RFU are so spineless they let them get away with it.

  7. First of all, I hadn’t realised that this was BVC’s first press conference since the Toony announcement. I still worry we’ve jumped the gun on this and rushed Toony into the role far too soon – if he had to leave Glasgow, I would have preferred to see him work abroad for a couple of years to continue to develop his coaching CV – it was only a few short years ago afterall that he was toxic as a coach, in charge of a Scotland backline that couldn’t buy a try. BVC’s reaction today was very cold when questioned about his departure, and it’s clear he felt he still had work to do and value to add – seems mental that we took the pain of waiting in limbo for a year to get him, yet now seem keen to rush him out of the door just because Toony fancies the Scotland job…..this will come back to haunt us.

    As for the EPR and the English based players – I agree with FF on this one – tell EPR to do one! This happens every year between all unions and players contracted outside of the union – it’s a well worn path and always behind closed doors. The fact EPR have randomly decided this year to go public is nowt but a stunt. i don’t know if they’re worried that after a couple of poor European weekends, their ‘Product’ is maybe not quite as hot as they thought it was – whatever the reason, whilst we all previously suspected that the EPR were a bunch of hyped up, self obsessed buffoons, they’ve now removed all doubt.

    Surprised that Edinburgh played Nel last week when he was a known injury concern, and the psychological boost that Aussie scrum will get from not having to face him again could be a factor, but I’m very much looking forward to see Ragnar the Terrible thundering into them.

    Du Preez being injured is crappy timing – but if he can get a run of games under his belt before 6 Nations, then I’d expect to see him come into the reckoning. Like many others, hugely impressed by Bradbury, but there’s no rush for him. He’s got the brawn, just needs time to develop some of the smarts required to operate at the top level – he’ll benefit hugely from continuity of selection for Edinburgh and getting exposed to the national squad sessions – but don’t expect to see him in national team until next year, unless injuries force our hand. Watson is fantastic – absolutely love his attitude – a real mongrel of a 7 and I think he’ll do really well in the AI’s if BVC gives him a chance.

    1. Completely agree that Toonie could have further developed his CV and the treatment of Cotter was poor. The hope must be that Toonie is one for the long term.

      IMHO, Nel is consistently overplayed. I’ve said this before. Poor guy.

      The EPR has just suffered injuries at the hands of Eddie Jones, which they swallowed. Presumably just trying to protect their assets with other Unions.

    2. GT is not unlike anyone else with a career. His choices might be limited by his mobility, kids at school, wife’s preferences , wider family concerns etc. I have no doubt GT will go overseas , eventually. (France I suspect).

      I would like to have seen Cotter being given longer.

  8. I’ve got to say that I’m a bit hacked off at this squad. Cotter had gone for the safe options in terms of selection by picking Taylor (no game time this year), Horne (injured), Gray R (benched last weekend by Toulouse), Barclay (had two bites at the cherry and looks done at test level) rather than picking Scott (scoring tries for fun), Kinghorn and Bradbury (red hot at the mo) and Toolis who in my opinion looks more aggressive and harder working that either Gilchrist or Gray R have done.

    Apart from that, there is some talent in that squad. Can cotter get the best out of it? Japan has left me concerned about that…

    From that squad, i would pick to start:

    Reid, Brown, Fagerson, J Gray, Swinson, Wilson, Strauss, Hardie, Pyrgos, Russell, Seymour, Bennett, Dunbar, Hoyland, Hogg

    If they’re all fit and in form, that is…

    1. I’m not sure about that. The Glasgow tight 5 have struggled against big pro units, and I would not be confident about that unit at test level. If fit enough, I think Dicko has proven to be a better scrummager than Reid in recent times. Although I really like Fraser Brown, I think we need Ford and Gray senior for the ballast if nothing else. If we get humped at scrum time everything else is going to be tough.
      Fair enough to want to try Pyrgos, but we would suffer without Laidlaw’s leadership, game management, and kicking. Obviously we will need to find an answer before too long, but we are short on leaders.

      1. Glasgow scrum hadn’t conceded a single penalty this season until the game in Munster on Saturday – largely because they lock out rather than try to compete at scrum time, seeing the scrum merely as a way of getting the ball back into play as quickly as possible – this is a model Scotland need to follow.

        I don’t buy that Ford in his current form adds anything to the team that Brown or McInally can’t bring – he is no bigger, he seems to have some flexability issue that prevents him from lifting his leg to hook a ball when under pressure and his darts are all over the place just now.

        Outside of the scrum, on paper he should be a strong ball carrier, but in truth he’s pretty tame – seems to be far too static when taking ball and often gets knocked back in contact.

      2. Fair enough Andy, I did not know that. I certainly hope that they will be able to replicate that at test level if selected.

  9. If BVC likes playing 2 7s (which Hardie & Barclay’s inclusion has confirmed) why not go
    Hogg, Visser, Jones, Dunbar, Seymour, Russell, Laidlaw, Strauss, Watson, Hardie, Gray, Gray, Fagerson, Brown, Reid

    Maitland, Bennett, Pygros, Wilson, Swinson, Low, Dell, Ford

    PS – Jon Welsh should’ve been in the squad, big test for young Fagerson…..

  10. It has all kind of been said and argued one way or the other on this and other threads so I’m not going to add to it but instead ask; which Scottish players are people looking forward to seeing/hoping to see step up for Edinburgh and Glasgow during the AIs?

    Lot of talk about Bradbury, Toolis and Kinghorn at Edinburgh but who’s going to be the Edinburgh front row and who will play 7?

    With Jonny and Tim away can Cummings keep the Glasgow engine room ticking over? And who will be 10, 12 & 13 for Glasgow?

      1. Yes, Cummings is long term out.

        Clegg at 10, 12 & 13 plenty to choose from. Not a problem spot.

  11. If all else fails, ask LS to borrow Robbie Fergusson for a week or two. He has played out of his socks this year.

  12. Utter madness to pick players’ player of the year Duncan Taylor of reigning Premiership and European Champions. Who wants a winner eh?

    Folly to pick world break through player of the year nominee and Olympic silver medalist Mark Bennett.

    Cos Matt Scott has played a few decent games for Gloucester, I think, and that young Blair Kinghorn looks like such a nice lad he’s worth a shot.

    Most daft of all is to appoint Pro-12 winning manager GT well in advance of the World Cup. To work with the players who know him. Why go in on he crest of a wave when he could have spent a few years earning big bucks in the sun and come back after this generation has passed. He’d have come back from France wouldn’t he?

    1. Dont get it. If the RWC was the goal in appointing this early , he would be in the seat now, would he not ?

      As it is , It will be in the hands of a departing coach to maintain Scotland’s top 8 position which will give GT the best chances of success at the RWC. (What a good idea that is, allow someone else to set you up for success or otherwise)

      Maybe Cotter has a KPI to maintain top 8 ? Which is all well , unless he gets a job offer before the season is out, and then it will be all about the money ? Good enough motivation ? (You sure?)

      If he is intending to do it with ‘this generation’ of Glasgow players (because he has not worked with the other ones in the squad) , he would be better placed staying and taking them through the European Cup which is likely to get him noticed and avoid coping with the frustrations of the Scotland role.

      GT has been connected with French sides in the past however you are correct , as he never went anywhere other than the Scotland and Glasgow posts , thankfully, that speculation is unfounded .

      1. There were widespread rumours of Cotter being poached by rich French clubs from even before the RWC. I think the SRU may have partly acted to avoid the nightmare scenario o losing Townshend and Cotter. Gregor had leverage, believes he can make Scotland successful and is Scottish. He is an asset that is important to Scottish rugby. Cotter has done well but let’s not forget his record is very much mixed. The RWC is fondly remembered as it fits Scotland’s love of a romantic tragedy but we almost got dumped out by Samoa (indeed, Laidlaw dragged us across the line), beat noone ranked above is and failed to scalp Australia when we had a golden chance despite bing ourscored 5-3 on tries (from memory…) Can Cotter deliver better than 2 wins in the 6N? Can he beat Georgia + 1 this november? We’ll find out this season if the SRU’s decision was rash or not I suppose.

      2. Pure bit of speculation here. But… maybe Montpellier were coming for one of GT or VC, knowing they could tempt one. GT being an ex player, whose son was born there, who says of it “I went away from France and then went back again in 2004, to Montpellier. A really good club, really good people. It was an idyllic lifestyle. A house overlooking a vineyard. One of our sons was born while we were there.”

        Maybe it was GT’s choice to make Montpellier or the national job and VC picked up what was left…

    2. As I said on my other piece about centres (and possibly despite everyone here’s love of a Dunbar/Bennett combo) Taylor’s the third name down on the team sheet after Nel and Hogg, but is he fit right now?

      1. Taylor is excellent, but not sure if he would pip J Gray and Seymour in my team sheet order. Splitting hairs though. I’m surprised at his inclusion ahead of Scott purely on the fact that he has played very little rugby of late. Fit – possibly; but test match ready?…

      2. Exactly! It’s probably the squad you’d want to pick (aside from Nel), then you look at the semi-injured list and how many of them are test-match fit…

    3. To Not Rocket Science:
      Sarcasm is difficult to identify on a blog. Assuming you were indeed trying sarcasm, then I agree with all your points.
      However, I think it would have been good for Kinghorn to at least train with the squad. Especially as we have only one full-back. I know Maitland and Horne can both play there, but I wouldn’t pick either of them (to start at FB).
      Terrible for us that Nel and Sutherland are both out, but we have to give all our props game time at international level in order to build strength in depth. Would rather not be forced to especially with the ranking points being key, but every cloud…

      1. Bit unfortunate that this November we’ll play two of the strongest scrums in the world. Even Australia will give us little respite. If Fagerson makes it through with pride intact it will really herald his arrival in the test scene. Not sure what to expect really so I’ll stick with fearful.

      2. Agree real shame Nel is out! First name on team sheet. But what an opportunity for Fagerson. He did the business against Leicester. If Dickinson comes back from injury in the same form he left, then I’m hopeful.

        As always, hooker seems to be a problem position. Fraser Brown is improving, but I’ve not seen enough of McInally this season to say who should get the nod?? If Nel was playing I’d say why break up a club front three and probably offers more going forward. Not Ross Ford though.

    4. So to get back to the point, it feels like we are moving away from the speculation that the RWC was the reason for appointing GT to the Scotland role a year earlier?

      I Can not say if the perm any one from 2 speculation has truth however, interesting theory , good conspiracy, in the absence of any other might have gravitas.

      I assume the SRU have Cotter on a bonus and has some cash at risk with the perfect job secure. GT has the success of his next role at risk. Either way GT must have a lot of trust in Cotter.

      Time will tell.

      1. I think it was one of those horrible catastrophes otherwise known as a “compromise”. Not enough time for Gregor to get his feet under the desk and take over before the AIs and, with speculation rife, too much time wasted if left until after the 6N.
        Also, although the AIs are important for rankings (and therefore the seedings in RWC) the seedings are not done until after the 6N. With Wales, France and Ireland all within striking distance even if we lose to Argentina.
        In any event I think Cotter is a true professional and cannot see him giving less just because he’s off to Montpellier in the New Year.

      2. Thanks, read that now. I have no doubt Cotter will not want to answer questions in his future career if he does not hold the top 8 for RWC selection, which as discussed in earlier blogs, is still a challenge.

      3. Ultimately, Cotter probably has ambitions for the NZ job after the 2019 RWC. For him to be a credible candidate I think he needs a decent placing in the 6N, 3rd at a minimum, although losing the Scotland job may have torpedoed his chances anyway.

  13. How the front row and scrums go seems to depend more on the experience and skills of the referee than the players these days. Glasgow front row taken apart for the first time against Munster. Munster props driving in and then up and penalty to Munster. Nel for Edinburgh taken apart in the first half of his first season, now he is one of the props who wins (drives in and then up as much as any other). The difference has been how the referee dealt with the situation. Scotland front row will match the others if the referee does his job. Who will the refs for each match, anyone know?

    1. John Lacey: the only ref that makes you think we’d rather have Joubert back… Hopefully that will jinx him into a nuanced refereeing performance.

      The other two are pretty inexperienced at test level, O’Keeffe is a Kiwi and Carley is English.

      1. Think O’Keefe did the 2 Japan tests in the summer ? On a limited viewing I’ve seen far worse than him – Lacey being one of them !

    2. I’m not normally one to immediately get down-heartened by such unimportant things as referee allocation but I really, really don’t have the inclination to watch the John Lacey show.

  14. Slightly off topic but just saw the Glasgow team for tomorrow – anyone got an idea why there are so many shoulder injuries at Glasgow? Is it the new pitch?

    Clegg, Cummings, Peterson, Uanivi, Sarto and Vernon all have shoulder injuries. Uanivi and Peterson were both injured during the Ulster game from memory.

  15. Too soon to be calling that maybe? Is the number of shoulders just chance? Edinburgh’s injury list is exactly the same length, though they do have more of a mixed bag. But by the rationale you would have to also say that the new pitch reduces the risk of e.g. neck and groin injuries. If it turns out to be a long term trend then maybe, but you would have to also separate out other factors, like the focus on tackling hard.

  16. Just been on the SRU ticketing website and there is a disappointing amount of vacant seats for both Murrayfield matches, particularly Argentina. Get buying people! This is the best team we’ve had since 1999. We have a genuine chance of winning both, playing attractive rugby to boot!

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