With the Six Nations now done and dusted and the Vern Cotter era at its conclusion, attention turns to the summer, where there are tour places to be won.
All eyes will be on the announcement of the British and Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand on April 19, with a handful of Scots set to make the squad after an much-improved Six Nations – the calamity at Twickenham aside.
However, for new Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, there is the small matter of a tour Down Under to contend with this summer, which begins against the Wallabies on June 17.
A week later, Townsend’s side face Fiji, while there are also plans for a repeat of Cotter’s finale to round off the tour against Italy. It’s a “quadrangular tournament” similar to the one played in South Africa in 2013, also a Lions Summer.
With a number of front-line stars out injured, and others set to be involved with the Lions, the tour may represent an opportunity for those on the fringes of the international squad to stake their claims.
Here’s how it breaks down.
Props – we’re unlikely to be hindered here; and may even have Al Dickinson and WP Nel back available, so maybe it’s a chance to look after 21-year-old tighthead Zander Fagerson, who’s played a lot of rugby over the last 12 months. On the other hand more exposure may help the Warriors prop develop further still. Jon Welsh was unlucky throughout the Six Nations, and should go as he can play on both sides.
In my squad: Gordy Reid, Al Dickinson, Allan Dell, WP Nel, Jon Welsh, Simon Berghan
Hooker – This may be a good time to rest Ross Ford – he’s 33 next month and Edinburgh have identified his long-term replacement in Stuart McInally, who should benefit from more international exposure as Fraser Brown’s back-up. We could see Pat MacArthur given another chance at Test level but behind him it’s starting to look a bit thin.
In my squad: Fraser Brown, Stuart McInally, Pat MacArthur
Lock – The Lions may help themselves to both doses of Gray, which would leave Townsend a touch short of locking options. Anton Bresler doesn’t qualify until later in the summer, so Scott Cummings could force his way onto the plane if he continues his current good form at Glasgow. We already know Toony is a fan. Gilchrist would perhaps fill Jonny Gray’s vice-captaincy, although Toony may not rate him as highly as Vern did.
In my squad: Tim Swinson, Grant Gilchrist, Ben Toolis, Scott Cummings
Back-row – John Hardie’s leg injury might keep him out of action; in any case it might be pertinent to rest the hard-hitting Edinburgh back-row. Josh Strauss and Dave Denton should return to bolster the breakaway contingent that performed so well during the Six Nations.
Expect Hamish Watson to come into Lions consideration, but miss out to more experienced campaigners, while Barclay may also be overlooked in favour of bigger/more powerful options. Should Scotland lose a back row to the Lions or to injury – Strauss for example may be rested – former U20s Number 8 Mitch Eadie of Bristol may be worth a look. He’s signed for Northampton Saints next season.
In my squad: David Denton, Ryan Wilson, John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Josh Strauss, Cornell Du Preez
Scrum-half – Greig Laidlaw should be fit by the summer, but his absence during most of the Six Nations may see him miss out on a Lions place. The skipper should, therefore, return to don the dark blue, with regular deputies Price and Pyrgos also included. If Laidlaw is given time off, a chance could arise for Sam Hidlago-Clyne to discover his form but that would be quite a gamble.
In my squad: Greig Laidlaw, Ali Price, Henry Pyrgos
Stand-off – We’ve real problems finding a deputy to Finn Russell, who may be on Warren Gatland’s radar for the midweek squad, so Duncan Weir could be thrust into the limelight once more. Other experienced options come through Ruaridh Jackson and Peter Horne….with Laidlaw able to provide some cover.
Adam Hastings’ time will come but he’s a little unproven to throw him into a test against Australia.
In my squad: Duncan Weir, Ruaridh Jackson, Peter Horne
Centres – Huw Jones would have been relishing this tour. Fully fit after the Super Rugby season and on hard tracks, the Stormers centre could have been a revelation but news came this week that the hamstring injury sustained against Italy will keep him out for 4-5 months after surgery. Mark Bennett is also out injured and may not recover form in time. Alex Dunbar may still be in with an outside bet of making the Lions squad, if Gatland overlooks the Twickenham blip; that is unlikely.
Expect some degree of continuity here then, with whoever is left of the Six Nations group to return & Horne an extra option. With any luck Duncan Taylor will be back fit again and keen to show there’s still a place for him in the new coach’s plans. If Bennett doesn’t make it, Warriors centre Nick Grigg is the next cab off the rank.
In my squad: Alex Dunbar, Matt Scott, Duncan Taylor, Nick Grigg
Back-three – I’d expect probably two from Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour to be involved with Warren Gatland’s tour of New Zealand, so Townsend may need to look at other options Down Under. There is experience at Test level from Maitland and Visser, with an opportunity for one of Hughes, Hoyland or the in-form Lee Jones to join them in the starting back three.
Taylor could also force his way in as a winger if he can get a run of games at Saracens, and Blair Kinghorn should get a spot as full-back cover: but that will likely depend on Jackson’s involvement.
In my squad: Tim Visser, Rory Hughes, Damien Hoyland, Lee Jones, Sean Maitland/Tommy Seymour, Blair Kinghorn
My squad in full….
Backs (17): Greig Laidlaw, Ali Price, Henry Pyrgos, Duncan Weir, Ruaridh Jackson, Peter Horne, Alex Dunbar, Matt Scott, Duncan Taylor, Nick Grigg, Tim Visser, Damien Hoyland, Rory Hughes, Lee Jones, Sean Maitland/Tommy Seymour, Blair Kinghorn
Forwards (19): Gordy Reid, Al Dickinson, Allan Dell, Fraser Brown, Stuart McInally, Pat MacArthur, WP Nel, Jon Welsh, Simon Berghan, Tim Swinson, Grant Gilchrist, Ben Toolis, Scott Cummings, David Denton, Ryan Wilson, John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Josh Strauss, Cornell Du Preez