Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


As the 2016 Autumn Test series draws to a close, we start to look forward to the highlight of 2017 – the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand!

It’s a question that gets discussed a lot – “who would you choose in the Lions team if the game was tomorrow?”

Well we thought we would have a stab at ours (picking only players who were involved in the November internationals) and here it is:

Front Row

A fit WP Nel of Scotland will have something to say about that number 3 jersey, but for the time being, it’s Ireland all the way. The 2 Leinster props Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong have been a brilliant combination for their national side throughout November, reprising their solid partnership from the summer.

In between them sits Rory Best, the Ireland captain who recently won his 100th cap, and is our pick for captain.

The discipline of Ireland in general – with only 3 penalties conceded against Australia – has been incredible, and the front row have been at the very heart of this.

Second Row

Another Irishman in Iain Henderson, but this time joined by Scotland’s Jonny Gray. Gray made 13.4% of all Scotland’s tackles over the autumn – 43 from 322. He didn’t miss a single one. In fact, he hasn’t missed one in his last 750 minutes of Test rugby, 136 successful tackles in a row! Phenomenal. Maro Itoje is one that would probably be in with a shout, but he played no part in England’s series due to injury so is not included.

Back Row

One each from Ireland, Wales and England here. A stunning performance from Justin Tipuric against South Africa puts him in the team before his international captain, Sam Warburton. 18 carries for Big Billy Vunipola against the Boks also included a massive hit on Eben Etzebeth which forced the second row to miss the rest of the game. A huge presence in any side.

CJ Stander only made his Ireland debut in February, but has recently been named Irish Rugby Writers player of the year for 2016 and was outstanding through November.

Scrum Half

Quick ball is key, and the Irish number 9 Conor Murray has shown time and time again that he’s one of the best at this.

Fly Half

A position where all 4 nations have a shout, but England’s George Ford gets the nod due to his impressive partnership with Owen Farrell at 12. He also showed tremendous game management against the Springboks, and capitalised on holes in the defence as the game went on.

Finn Russell, Dan Biggar and Jonathan Sexton will all hope to get on the flight to New Zealand, but will need to perform in the upcoming Six Nations.


Owen Farrell – a 10 at his club, but centre for his country – is joined by Scotland’s newcomer Huw Jones, who scored 2 tries on his Murrayfield debut, and created the equaliser against Argentina in the next match.

Outside Backs

Jonny May has been better on the wing than as a flanker, as he demonstrated against Argentina! Mako Vunipola certainly wasn’t impressed with his attempts to hold onto his leg at scrum time.

Stuart Hogg brings the X factor to Scotland’s play, something he showed when he gathered his own kick over the top against Georgia, then raced the rest of the way to the try line to scored his first of 2 tries in that match.

Liam Williams is off to Saracens next season, so the 2017 Six Nations could be the last chance he gets to impress in a Wales jersey as he will be relying on a wild card to play for his country.


First XV is a Canterbury principal partner for the British & Irish Lions, and stock a complete range of Lions replica kit and training gear for the 2017 tour to New Zealand

44 Responses

  1. Pretty harsh on England IMO, only 4 players. Ireland have been severely over-hyped since their win over the AB’s, they are playing brilliantly as a unit and have motivation, but their individual players are not particularly dazzling.

    1. It’s the Irish coaches who should take the credit (or the blame as the case may be) for persuading their players to redline themselves game after game. They put more effort in than any other team in rugby

  2. Having reviewed a number of autumn international lions xv’s online my worry is that we are, despite the improvement on where we were not very long ago, still pretty poorly represented. Worse still, we seem to have fewer players mentioned or included than the Welsh who seemed to be poor for much of their games.

    Does this mean that, assuming that Wales are getting better from an awful start, we’re still expected to struggle against them in the 6N? With England and Ireland playing well in the autumn and France apparently having some good games, are we doomed to have another 6N where we play some exceptional rugby but still manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and end up in a sluggfest with Italy for the spoon? I’m not sure I could take it if it happens again!!

    As for the Lions, most people have Hogg at 15 but other than Jonny Gray we struggle to get any players even mentioned let alone included in the team. And second row is possibly one of the most contested positions in the squad (especially assuming that AWJ is going no matter what!) with Itoje to come back. Even Nel’s almost certain status now seems under threat with the rise of the Irish props.

    I’ve been surprised at how little mention Seymour has received as he is a quality winger – let’s hope he has an amazing 6N and gets himself on the plane! Who else? For me Watson was a revelation as an international 7 and our strength at centre is phenomenal, surely we’re going to get more than 2 in the squad…

  3. My XV would be:

    1- Vunipola, 2- Best, 3- Nel, 4- Itoji, 5- J Gray, 6- Stander, 7- Tipuric, 8- Vunipola
    9- Murray, 10- Farrell, 11- Seymour, 12- Henshaw, 13- Jones, 14- Williams, 15- Hogg

  4. While individual and team performance has improved, so has that of other Six Nations rivals (with the exception of Wales). Based on their intensity and the results, James makes good points. in the game of BL selection top trumps, a victory over Australia, South Africa or especially the All Blacks beats a narrow win against Argentina or beating a second tier nation.
    The matches in 2017 will provide a measure where individuals stand vis-a-vis their peers. Getting 5 players in the original outgoing party would be a major achievement. So far J Gray & Hogg have made very strong cases. For others, victories against Ireland and/or Wales would be essential. A number of names touted are promising players but inexperienced and unproven internationally.

  5. Pointless trying to guess who’s on the plane now because injuries and 6N form are going to be main determinants. Obviously, we are starting from some way back as other nations have have players with Lions experience or playing in outstanding teams, but ultimately team success and individual form is what it comes down to. Wales’ representation in the last tour came at the expense of many Engkihs players expected to tour, like Robshaw, because they crushed them 30-3 in Cardiff. That means Scotland have to put up or shut up, every side except Wales has good reasons to be optimistic this 6N so it is time for Scotland to deliver and take our rivals down a peg or two. A win at Twickenham would be nothing short of a miracle but would guarantee more than Hogg, Nel and Gray are heading to NZ.

  6. But it is fun FF…………………… here is my team
    Hogg, Williams, Henshaw, Farrell, Watson, Ford, Murray
    Vunipola, O’Brien, Stander, Itoge, AW Jones, Nel, Best, McGrath.

    Seymour, Maitland, H.Jones, Dunbar, Hardie, J.Gray, Dickinson NEED a big 6N

  7. we won’t have a strong representation, and quite rightly so, until we start winning big games. This 6N is the time for this squad to deliver all the promise. I hope they can do it!

  8. Like FF said, it is pointless trying to pick a team at this early stage, it’s just for a bit of fun, but based on the AI’s I would go for:

    McGrath, Best, Furlong, Gray, Gray, Stander, Tipuric, Barclay (Vunipola is injured), Murray, Ford, Seymour, Farrell, Jones, Williams, Hogg.

    I would love to think that Hogg is nailed on as starter, but with Gatland as coach I reckon than even if Hogg has another barnstorming 6N it’ll still be Halfpenny or Williams at 15, in fact I’m considering looking for a bookmaker who’ll take that action as I’m that sure of it.

    I think Gray should be good enough for a bench spot, but again I fully expect Alun Wyn Jones to be on the bench, and despite the hype around Furlong I reckon Nel will be starting (injury and form permitting).

    Of course if we get the Grand Slam then all bets are off!

  9. I think most people are underestimating the number of English players who’ll be Lions test starters. Basically the whole pack are in contention (Vunipola, Hartley, Itoje, Vunipola are likely starters I think), Ford, Farrell, Joseph, Watson are all as likely to start as their rivals too.

    1. Assuming England win the 6N you’re probably looking at a starting England XV, then any replacements in each position have to justify inclusion over the English starter. That would be one way to do it if you weren’t Warren Gatland.

  10. England look capable of turning out on their own, Ireland have just beaten the All Blacks . Wales are not performing but they seem to beat us year in year out with a positive attitude.

  11. Did anyone see Maitland’s try at the weekend for Saracens? Great acceleration/thrust from almost a standing start and good power to get over the line. Was really good to see as he’s always seemed like a smart, fluid player, but we’ve generally felt that he’s lacked that burst of pace needed in addition to his lines of running and positional play.

    1. I mention this because, with a good 6 Nations, he might be in with a shout of selection along with Tommy Seymour, given that he’s a) been on a Lions tour selected by Gatland; b) a Kiwi.

      1. I always get the feeling that Maitland is holding something back when playing for Scotland, perhaps through a lack of self-confidence or a worry that he does not want to take the wrong option and spoil the move for the team. In my books he is one of the smartest rugby players we have in the squad so if he start putting the head down and going for the corners when the chance arises as well as continuing with his smart positioning (Argentina try from the AI aside) then he could well be in with a shout… although as FF states I think there are at least three England wingers (Watson, May, Nowell) in there ahead of him at the moment as well as Seymour, Williams and North. Maitland probably falls in the back-up/bolters category with Zebo, Earls, Trimble and Ashton for me.

  12. I cannot see Jones being picked over either Jonathan at the moment (Joseph or Davies) and with Gatland even Henshaw would be above him. Bit optimistic IMO.
    On the other hand the wing spots are both up for grabs for either Seymour (form) or Maitland (experience).
    We have to have a stormer of a 6N to get more than 2/3 on the plane. Even then Jonny Gray, Hogg and Nel have to perform.

    1. Joseph is nailed on but Davies isn’t looking particularly impressive. Personally I think Gatland will be pretty ruthless and isn’t going to take passengers just because they’re Welsh. Henshaw as likely to be considered as a 12 as 13 so there is definitely a chance for Jones/Taylor/Bennett if they put in a few eye-catching displays.

    2. I’d happily pick Bennett, Dunbar, Taylor, Jones or Scott ahead of any other centre but Gatland won’t.

      Slightly off topic but we are always highlighting our lack of depth as a result of only having two pro sides but we can actually pick almost a full 15 from players based outside Scotland….almost!

      Maitland, Taylor, Jones, Scott, Visser, Jackson, Laidlaw, Barclay, Denton, A Hogg, Gray, Cramond, Welsh and Low with only a hooker missing (can’t name one!). Another pro side and we’re finally looking at having some real depth and competition with the academies providing the raw materials!

      1. Johnnie Beattie, Nick De Luca & Kelly Brown, unless I am mistaken are still technically available for selection. I suppose though unlikely so is Alex Toolis. Add in Cowan, Heathcote, Tonks, Hastings, Nairn, Ollie Atkins, Eastgate (at Wasps), T. Holmes, A. Davidson, Dawson (scrum half) as well.

        Also if you want a really left field potential addition what about Lachlan Coote of the NQ Cowboys, Matty Russell of the Warrington Wolves or Lewis Tierney of Wigan across the backline and even Luke Douglas of the old Coast Titans for the back row?

        Considering the success of Alan Tait, its a bit of a surprise that we haven’t explored this angle more???

  13. How on earth is Joseph not in the team on current form. His defence is immense and he is finishing like a boss as well. Jones did really well and might with a good 6 nations travel, but to overlook Joseph defies belief ! Hate to say but Robshaw was better than Stander over the piece as well, and if we are getting to the nitty gritty Lawes was far more effective than Henderson who wasn’t even the standout Irish lock during the series.

    Based on the series alone

    McGrath, Hartley (though I actually think JG is the best in the UK & I), Furlong, J Gray, Lawes, Robshaw, Barclay & Vunipola

    Youngs (just), Ford, Henshaw, Joseph, May, Maitland & Hogg

    Don’t think the team will be anything like this come match day (injuries, Warrenball & need for established combinations) – In fact I would not at all be surprised if only Hogg travels. The schedule is so brutal that they need to hit the ground running and with no Scottish coaches or absolutely nailed on combinations, you can really see a case where the pack is English / Irish + Warburton & Falateu. 9,10,12 will Irish & English combinations. With Joseph nailed on for 13 the other outside centre could very well be shoot out between Davies, Tuilagi and Taylor. Back 3, Hogg, Kearney, Williams, May, Watson & North.

    The truth is this actually plays in to Townsends hands as he has the time with the majority of his squad and the siege mentality motivation !

  14. Aye Scott Lawson, Add Eadie & Traynor (Bristol), Hutchinson (Northampton), McGuigan (Sale) , The London Scottish boys.

  15. Anyone watch the program on the Lions on Sky Sports last night? Gatland implying the SRU have been difficult to deal with and hinting that there will be a handful of Scots in the squad and the other 3 nations will be pretty even. Based on this I can see the squad being something like.

    Forwards (21)
    M Vunipola, McGrath, Healy/Marler
    Best, Hartley, Owens
    Furlong, Nel, Cole/Francis
    Itoje, A-W Jones
    J Gray, Toner/Henderson/Kruis
    Stander, Robshaw, O’Mahoney
    Warburton, O’Brien, Tipuric/Hardie
    B Vunipola, Faletau

    Backs (17)
    Murray, Youngs, Webb/Davies/Laidlaw/Care
    Sexton, Farrell, Biggar
    North, May/Seymour
    Henshaw, Roberts
    Joseph, Davies
    Watson, Zebo/Nowell
    Hogg, Williams, Kearney/Brown/Halfpenny

    3 definites and 3 possibles

      1. Disappointed Gregor didn’t take the role but alluding that it wasn’t Gregor’s decision, then following it up with “most of the home unions have been good to deal with”. Hinting very strongly IMO that the SRU blocked toonie from joining the Lions and have been obstructive. I can see Galtand responding in kind by making any marginal selection calls for the squad not in the Scottish players favour.

      2. SRU are well within their rights to tell Toonie he can have the head coach role or the Lions role but not both. Cotter was allowed to apply for the job when it was assumed he’d be staying with Scotland, but if Toonie and his backers had organised a palace coup and than gone on a grand tour it wouldn’t have sat well with anyone.

    1. And yet, despite that, your squad still looks very optimistic to me! I don’t think that any of your 3 ‘definites’ are definite and I think your possibles are very very improbable in the case of Laidlaw and Hardie (perhaps about right with Seymour). I can see 3/4 Scots in total.

    2. Gatland sounds like the pain the rear…not the SRU.
      The SRU have just hired Gregor and he needs to games as our national coach under his belt and time to create and bond his own team.
      Garland just always sounds like he holds petulant grudges as a coach. F him royally.

  16. I think Hamish Watson could be the dark (navy blue) horse in the open side selection deliberations for the Lions. Much depends on how the side gets on in the 6N and on how much game time he gets (imho he’s ahead of Hardie at this time) but he’s made a great start at Test level and could well be judged as the kind of Neil Back type figure that can flourish against SH sides, in particular the All Blacks.

  17. What about the dirttrackers?
    Focus has rightly been on the test XV, but what about the mid-week XV? Good performances iń the Tuesday/Wednesday games lifts group morale. A need for a blend of grizzled veterans, journeymen and players with no real expectation of making the test side, but who are bursting with pride just being on tour. And are one injury away from playing on Saturday if they stand out. Donal Lenihan perfect example from history.
    Here’s a place for Greg Laidlaw: I would have him captain the midweek team and know that he would kick the goals. So, how about:
    Halfpenny, Yarde, Davies, Roberts, Zebo, Russell, Laidlaw; Jenkins, Hartley, Lee, R Gray, Parling, Moriarty, Warburton, Heaslip.

  18. I would have loved to have seen Joe Schmidt as Lions coach but, alas, we’re stuck with Gatland and his one-dimensional crash ball style of rugby!

    As soon as he was appointed I let out a groan, and I feel that even if we win the Grand Slam in the 6N, scoring tries for fun and defending like demons, we still wont get a decent share of the touring party.

    I reckon that all Gatland sees when it comes to Scotland is years of frankly poor rugby with a dearth of quality players, and I feel he lets this cloud his judgement of the current crop.

    I reckon that Hogg, Nel and J Gray will definitely tour, and IMO R Gray, Laidlaw, Seymour, Jones and Dunbar should also tour but barring injury probably wont.

    Based on a 38 man squad and based on form of teams rather than players then the squad composition should look something like: England 14 players, Ireland 12 players, Wales 7 players, Scotland 5 players. However with Gatland in charge it’ll probably be made up of: England 14 players, Wales 11 players, Ireland 10 players, Scotland 3 players. I get that a coach will be more comfortable with players he is familiar with, but Wales have been on a downward trajectory for a while – yes they do have some quality players such as A-W Jones, Faletau, Biggar, and L Williams, but they also have some massively overrated players like Warburton, Webb, Tipuric, and Lee.

    1. tipuric overrated??
      he doesn’t get a run of games to show his class. if wales go down the expansive game route he’ll be worth far more than warburton, a linking 7 much like martyn williams.

  19. After round 3 in Europe my new XV would be:

    Vunipola, Best, Nel, Itoji, J Gray, Stander, Tipuric, Vunipola
    Murray, Russell, Seymour/Maitland, Farrell, Jones/Joseph, Williams, Hogg

      1. Apologies for not making it clearer, it wasn’t a team of the round it was the team I would pick based from past performances as well as at the weekend. So Nel merits a place for his performance in the 2016 6N.

  20. A heretical suggestion: not mine, but here it is: would Scottish Rugby’s interests be better served if Gatland ignored Scotland players altogether? Then they could go on tour with GT and spend the tour establishing the type of rugby we want to develop going into 2018 and beyond, rather than be buggered around by Gatland who won’t give them game time in the Saturday team anyway?

    1. Fair point. I think a group of our key players would be well served by a Lions your as well as the confidence they were at or above the level of their 6N opponents – guys like Hogg, Gray etc. can only grow from being in competitive intense environments. Their absence would also give GT a great opportunity to add to squad depth by giving chances to guys like Kinghorn or Toolis with less pressure on the result. What we’ll probably get is a midway point that does nothing for us – only 2/3 will tour which will do little to add to the experience in the squad but still disrupt our preparations by taking out figures from the leadership group. Ideally we’d have 6/7 touring and we can treat it more as an A-tour IMO. GT knows Scotland’s players well and 2/3 group know how he likes his teams to play.

    2. Not heretical. As the tour is so brutal with no real time for the players to gel, it is likely that Gatland will have to pick combinations and as such it is eminently possible that only a handful of Scots tour because of marginal calls. The upshot may be that some players don’t get experience of that environment, but they do get to go away with Scotland and their new coach(es) with the siege mentality abut not being ‘rated’ driving them on.

      On balance I think it wouldn’t be the worst thing if less Scots toured with the Lions

  21. I think that the Lions tour will work out well for Scotland whatever happens. The players that are most likely to tour – Hogg, J Gray, Nel, Seymour, and (if he continues his great form) Russell – are from the areas that Scotland need to develop a bit more depth. If the aforementioned players tour with the Lions, then I reckon we may see Kinghorn tried at FB, Hastings at FH, Hoyland on the wing, the further development of Fagerson, and maybe a place for Scott Cummings at lock.

  22. I’m surpised people are still including Halfpenny- he is definately not the speed he was and the game has moved on from his style.With Farrell he’s not needed and he offers zero in attack these days. None of my Welsh mates would have him anywhere near the team- if you watched the way he was completely dismantled against Sarries- the FB has to be between Hogg and Williams. And I’m sure the way maitland is currently playing he has to be in the party- he is scoring from the most unlikely situations- the tour is going to be a bit of a crazy shambles anyway because of the short time after the Euro final.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion