Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland captaincy choices uncertain as November looms

Gregor Townsend
Gregor Townsend - pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

News in from France this week: Greig Laidlaw is injured, with a fractured ankle.

The scrum-half is expected to be out for 10-12 weeks which should put him in line for a return before the Six Nations, but the time he spends on the sidelines will be only slightly less game time than he is getting at the moment via the Clermont bench.

If you are Ali Price you’ll be thinking, excellent: a chance to play the finest the Pacific Islands have to offer. Either that or you just filled your pants at the prospect, but Price is probably gallus enough not to worry about that sort of thing.

With the news from the Scarlets that most recent Scotland captain John Barclay is struggling in his recovery from a head knock under HIA return-to-play protocols, for everyone else things are starting to look a little worrying on the leadership front. November isn’t that far away, and Scotland aren’t just swimming in leadership figures for three potentially very difficult fixtures against Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.

When he announces his squad on Monday, head coach Gregor Townsend would be within his rights to say: “look, my two top guys are injured so this will be on a game by game basis and don’t read too much into it”. He may not name a captain for all three games, especially if Barclay is touch and go – he saw a specialist this week and is reportedly back in training.

Where might Toony turn next?

Stuart Hogg – he’s almost guaranteed to be on the team sheet even though he plays his first game of the season against Leinster. History shows Gavin Hastings can lead from fullback and Hogg doesn’t even really need to worry about kicking his goals, as most of them are long range Hail-Mary types. Hogg tends to lead by example with his swashbuckling runs and is now one of the senior figures in the team both for Glasgow and Scotland, with a sackful of caps and two Lions tours (one and a bit anyway) under his belt. His issue will be form – he’ll need all the precious moments he can find to get back to top form if we’re to have a chance. He could be captain, but with just a handful of games left to get match sharp, now is perhaps not the time to put more on his plate.

Johnny Gray – if I were a bookie he’d be my favourite. Toolis showed enough on the summer tour to mean he’s now a genuine test player, and Gray’s slow start to the season might make Jonny no longer the automatic pick if, say, Gilchrist hits a hot streak. But with Richie out that’s a lot of hypothetical to worry about. He’s almost certain to be in the team and if Barclay isn’t fit he’ll be there or thereabouts.

Ryan Wilson – Wilson always shows plenty of grit but is still not guaranteed a spot in the backrow. Clubmates Rob Harley, Adam Ashe and Jamie Ritchie of Edinburgh are playing well enough to be in the squad discussion for who plays 6 or 8 but Wilson’s chances do improve if John Barclay’s condition doesn’t. There is also the possibility of a bolter like Northampton’s Mitch Eadie making the squad or Josh Strauss returning which increases the odds further. The news yesterday that John Hardie has been suspended for unknown reasons does reduce the competition a little, with Magnus Bradbury another backrow challenger likely to sit this one out. Captain Wilson wouldn’t be universally popular out here in the world even if he seems to be winning round Dave Rennie and the Warrior Nation. If he can keep the head and not drift out of games as he has done on occasion at international level – but rarely does now for Glasgow – then he would do a decent job.

Ross Ford – another controversial figure at SRBlog Towers, Fordy has massive experience and has captained Scotland before. The form hooker Fraser Brown has been dogged by injury so far and  is now out for 8 weeks with a knee injury so the hooker shirt is all but Fordy’s which at least means he’ll be on the park. Never one to react well to complacency or a lack of challenge, if you want a lead by example kind of guy is quiet Ross really the man for the job?

Grant Gilchrist – the Edinburgh second row was a Vern Cotter favourite although injury denied him a chance to repay that faith. He was anointed as leadership material by big Vern but will be battling hard with Toolis for the other second row shirt. Like Gray, he was a co-captain last season but not under the new coaching regime.

Henry Pyrgos – also leadership material and has plenty of experience but he’s some distance behind Price at the moment. Hank could well have to fill the Laidlaw closer role from the bench.

Finn Russell – only joking. Finn has enough fizzing round his head.

My choice? I’d go with Gray, or Hogg if he breezes through the Leinster game.

Or we could #prayforbarcs.

UPDATE: Following Glasgow’s loss to Leinster, the squad announcement has been delayed until Tuesday to account for injuries.

30 Responses

  1. He’ll go with Gray, he was his man at Glasgow. I’m not a fan of backs as Captain, certainly not outside backs anyway. The modern game needs a referee manager and to do that you need to be in the thick of it, i.e. in the pack or scrum half. Leave Price, Russell and Hogg to run around doing mad things and leave the adults in charge.

    Hopefully Glasgow can put on a good show today and a few put their hands up.

    Anyone know what Hardie did? Doesn’t sound good.

    1. To answer my own question, its all over the papers now, he supposedly took Cocaine. If it’s true he’s a very silly boy, although I have to say I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often, cocaine use is becoming endemic in the well heeled 20-something age group.

  2. Tough pool.

    Positives – Hogg looking great.

    Scrum actually did not go backwards which was great to see against such strong opposition.

    negatives – rolling maul defense we got brutalised and put us on back foot defensively.

    Composure in attack – we have imo the best back 3 to punch holes with in europe but to many offloads at the wrong time.

    Still have halanukonaka and kebble to come in/back which would hopefully help combat the maul and bolster the scrum more.

    and dunbar and jones to make the midfield which will give them more options and improved skillset. i think jones and the nuke will be here latest 10 days more.

    also i think losing wilson had a big effect on the team so early , i rate harley and he is made for this type of game but not what wilson offers atm.

    would of been nice to see if matawalu could of sparked somthing from bench.

  3. Also id have wilson as captain for the internationals with strauss and watson.

    try ritchie for the samoa game.

  4. mabey with the cash glasgow get for russell of montpellier they can sign strauss and nakarawa back, id like to see russell stay another season as i feel they would seriously challenge europe with him next one but i wouldnt complain if hastings comes good and glasgow get a monster pack.

    also … could glasgow sign denton ? at worcester now i think so mabey his value is down, we do need some major ball carriers.

    1. Glasgow won’t get any cash from Montpellier he’ll be out of contract. We got cash for Nakarawa because Racing had to buy out a year of his contract.

  5. Word on the street is that [LET’S NOT POST THINGS LIKE THAT PLEASE]. I’m shocked if that’s true, he seemed a solid guy and a good pro. Total clown IF it’s true. Really hope he’s cleared as he’s probably got no future in Scotland otherwise, and maybe anywhere else playing rugby.

  6. Even if Barcs is fully fit, I struggle to see him starting all three games next month. In fact, I can see only two players possibly starting all three: Finn and Hoggy. Even if Barcs does start all three, he certainly couldn’t play 240 minutes of test match rugby over three consecutive weekends. Therefore, there will need to be another captain at some point. While I would love to see Gray rise to the occasion, I can’t look beyond Wilson at the moment. He’s doing a great job by all accounts with Glasgow, so it’s the natural next step. If I’d said that two years ago, I’d have been questioning my own sanity!

    Looking ahead to the squad announcement, I had a go at some potential selections with regard to current form and fitness. Some possible bolters, depending on fitness are in brackets – some are more likely than others.

    Hooker: Ford, McInally, Turner (Brown)

    LHP: Dell, Bhatti, Allan (McCallum or Sutherland)

    THP: Fagerson, Nel, Rae (Berghan)

    Lock: Gray, Swinson, Toolis, Cummings, Gilchrist (Bresler)

    Back row: Barclay, Wilson, Watson, Strauss, Ritchie, Harley (Fagerson or Eadie)

    Scrum half: Price, Pyrgos, SHC

    Fly half: Russell, Horne

    Centre: Jones, Grigg, Taylor, Burleigh (Dean)

    Back 3: Hogg, Seymour, Visser, Jones, Jackson, Maitland (Tonks)

    That’s a squad of 35. Doing this exercise, I became concerned about the lack of depth at 12/13 that we might be taking into the AIs. Taylor might now be counted out after being injured on Saturday and Grigg was unconvincing against Fiji. Scott and Dunbar both seem unlikely to be fit, and I’m not particularly excited by the thought of Phil Burleigh in a Scotland shirt. All of that, in my view, simply increases the chances of Horne playing 12 and Jackson taking a bench spot.

    1. This is going to be a really tough AIs – three matches in three weekends is a serious test and one that will necessitate squad rotation. With the ABs match last, there also isn’t the option to see who is still fit come the last game and play them versus the weakest opposition, which would have been a strategy is previous years. We will have to decide to rest some players matchweek one, which is troublesome given many of the peripheral players are now being considered possible starters due to the number of injuries in the squad.

      If we assume we need to keep the first picks fresh for the following two weeks, a 15 vs Samoa might look like:

      Dell; McInally; Fagerson
      Toolis; Gilchrist
      Ritchie; CdP; Harley

      Horne; Pyrgos
      Burleigh; Dean
      Tonks; Hoyland; Visser

      That side would seriously worry me going into any international test.

      1. It’s a delicate balance and I just don’t think it would be wise to pick a 2nd XV for the Samoa game. We need our first pick combinations to be up and running to face the ABs. However, we also need to blood a few of those who might be called upon if injuries strike, now or in the 6N, e.g. Ritchie or Turner. One of the curious things is that, if my memory serves me correctly, our pattern of AIs recently have usually involved playing the weakest team last.

        Against Samoa, I would probably go with:

        1. Bhatti
        2. McInally
        3. Nel
        4. Gray
        5. Toolis
        6. Barclay
        7. Ritchie
        8. Wilson
        9. Price
        10. Russell
        11. Jones
        12. Horne
        13. Jones
        14. Seymour
        15. Hogg

      2. See test dates in sidebar – ABs is in the middle, Aus is last.

        Picking a developmental side vs Samoa would leave your first choices not having played together before facing the ABs. Probably not wise!

      3. As Rory says, the team need to be familiar with each other and for that reason I think your likely to see much the same team selected for all 3 tests. These guys are professionals and 3 tests in 3 weeks shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

        Personally I would use the Samoa game to give Ritchie a start and leave Barclay at Scarlets to get some game time. Maybe give Kinghorn a spot on the bench as well.

        So the team vs Samoa would be:

        Hogg, Seymour, Jones, Taylor, Visser, Russell, Price, Dell, Ford, Fagerson, Toolis, Gray, Wilson, Ritchie, Strauss

        Bench: McInally, Reid, Nel, Gilchrist, Watson, Pyrgos, Horne, Kinghorn

        Then vs NZ bring in Nel, Watson and Barclay to the starting lineup with Wilson dropping to the bench and Maitland (assuming fit) coming in for Kinghorn.

        This allows us to gauge whether the new combinations (Taylor/Jones) works and to blood Ritchie/Kinghorn amongst a suitable amount of experience.

      4. I’m no doctor but Taylors injury didn’t look good at the weekend. We shall see tmw. Maybe that Burleigh gets called up although would prefer Dean.

      5. I read an article on Sarries Nick Tompkins (I think in the Independent) and the way it was talking, he’d get a decent length of time to try and usurp Taylor in the Saracens midfield which doesn’t suggest Super Dunc will be in the squad today.

      6. Must admit to being a bit puzzled about folk saying that Kinghorn should get a chance in the AIs. He is maddeningly inconsistent and Jackson’s form for Glasgow shows that we are in no desperate rush for him to come into the squad as cover for Hogg. While he shows signs of having the potential to develop the same game-breaking ability as Hoggy, he is way behind where Hogg was in defensive capabilities at the same age.

      7. Would personally like to see kinghorn in the training squad this autumn but not in he playing squad. He has improved and has the potential to win many caps but his spot needs to be earned and he has to realise he needs more consistency in his game than he delivers just now. Also good that Jackson has really stepped up for Glasgow and he deserves to be the reserve 15 on form. Most of the backs pick themselves for a first choice side, Hogg, Seymour, jones, Taylor, visser, russell, price is probably our strongest backline with everyone fit anyway. I do hope toonie gives a chance to SHC at least once off the bench (if he picks him in the squad at all). He has really stepped up of late and looks a much more confident player again, he has time to develop into a good SH yet. Time to call time on pyrgos I’m afraid though.

        The forwards are an on going concern. Several people seem to have Nel in their starting line up and whilst he has had a habit of upping his level for the big games, it can’t go unnoticed that he has been largely anonymous for ER this season. Simon Berghan has Improved significantly, one of the most improved players this year for me. More mobile and his scrummaging has definitely been superior to Nels. I’d also have Jon Welsh in there who has benn performing well for a while now and deserves another crack.

    2. Squad is to be 36 according to a recent tweet. Realised I forgot about Adam Ashe in my attempt at a squad, though it could easily be one of the bolters as well.

  7. I would add Jon welsh and bryon mcguigan to that squad and possibly Cornell du preez for harley to add abit more versatility.

    Pray Jones and Taylor stay injury free and one of dunbar or scott can come back soon.

  8. id like to see blair kinghorn be selected in the overall camp but not be selected , just to put him around some really good backs and continue to develop his skillset.

  9. Bhatti should not be called up to Scotland yet. He is too wet behind the ears in terms of professional caps and would get completely outplayed at international level. Some of the criticism of Grigg and his one cap is a bit unfair. It is pretty hard to judge someone who only touched the ball maybe 4 to 5 times in that game. Especially when our main playmaker was away carrying tackle bags for the lions. McGuigan should also get a call up for centre. He has been fantastic this season so should be knocking on the door for a call up and maybe even a cap.

    1. Seriously – McGuigan for centre ? Or a typo ?
      We can’t ignore Scottish qualified players holding down starting places in the AP, so he certainly comes into the wing selection equation, but not in the wrong position.

  10. I’d like to see this team against Samoa.

    1- Dell
    2- Turner
    3- Nel
    4- Gray
    5- Cummings
    6- Ritchie
    7- Watson
    8- Ashe
    9- Price
    10- Russell
    11- Seymour
    12- Jones
    13- Dean
    14- Maitland
    15- Kinghorn

    16- Ford
    17- Bhatti
    18- Fagerson
    19- Swinson
    20- Strauss
    21- Hidalgo-Clyne
    22- Horne
    23- Hogg

  11. I’d like to see both Denton and Strauss in the squad. I don’t care how / how often they are playing at club level. They are the only ball carriers proven in tournaments against good international opposition and I’m sick of seeing Glasgow / Scotland bullied. You could make a case for them both starting in the same side against NZ with Watson, Gray and Toolis.

  12. My team:


    I think this will be our strongest scrummaging front row and all are on form and not unuseful in the loose.


    Blend of bulk and athleticism.


    Ball carrying and bulk to match up to the big Samoans.


    No explanation needed.


    Jones at 13 of course and Horne likely the best fit at 12.


    Our best back three.

    Fagerson, Turner, Dell, Swinson, Ritchie, SHC, Jackson, Kinghorn.

    Bench there to add impact, energy and mobility late on.

  13. Incidentally is this the best depth we’ve had in the front row for years?

    TH- Nel, Fagerson, Berghan, Rae

    All four can hold a scrum up and are competing for the TH shirt at their clubs.

    HK – Brown, McInally, Ford

    Yes I know Ford is getting on a bit but two genuine options that aren’t Lawrie and Hall?!

    LH – Dickinson, Sutherland, Dell, Reid.

    OK there are some fitness issues here but all good players.

    There is also big Jon Welsh although I don’t know which side he’s currently playing.

  14. Some left-field choices there but a goid chance to lock in some talent with not much risk. Don’t get Burleigh…not young, poor mans Pete Horne…do we really need a second second 5/8…must be a young 10 somewhere (Eastgate?). Fowles should be behind G Horne I think but I suppose glasgow need at least 1 SH left behind.

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