In hindsight it’s perhaps not all that surprising that Scotland have named ten uncapped players for their upcoming Autumn Internationals squad.
Gregor Townsend and the Toony Tombola™ style of selection has taken the leap from domestic rugby to international, while Scotland’s PR team went into overdrive this week with talk of digging up every rock from Aberystwyth to Zennor in the search for Scottish qualified players.
Townsend even acknowledged this when during the selection press conference he said: “Come on then, let’s hear how many of you had those names in your squad!”
So, without further ado, in the immortal words of Cilla Black: “Number one, what’s your name and where do you come from?”
A call-up for the stocky young loosehead is well deserved given the amount of faith that new Glasgow Warriors coach Dave Rennie has shown in him, and the performances that he has put in in that time. There aren’t many loosehead options in Scotland at the moment but Bhatti has taken his opportunity in both hands and the 24-year-old will hopefully learn a lot in the Scotland camp. He featured solely for Melrose over the last two seasons (bar six games for Glasgow last year during the international windows) and only signed pro-terms over the summer but has played in every Glasgow game this season, starting most of them.
It’s hard to think that 31-year-old Burleigh would have been selected for the squad if all of Scotland’s available centres were fit and if Adam Hastings had been given more game time, but the Edinburgh playmaker is not without his merits. Any player that plays consistently in an Alan Solomon’s squad deserves a look at and if Pete Horne or any of the starting centres become crocked he could find himself in the matchday squad. He qualified on residency during the summer after joining from Highlanders in 2014 and could become our latest Kilted Kiwi.
Another player that has grasped with both hands the regular rugby that Dave Rennie has given him; Cummings definitely deserves to be in the squad. With Jonny Gray out injured earlier this season, Rennie has given 20-year-old EDP graduate Cummings chance after chance and he looks like a veteran on the pitch. A hard-running, soft-handed modern lock, Cummings has the attributes needed for the international stage and Townsend may well be tempted to put him on the bench for the Samoa match. If not, the experience of training with Scotland will do him the world of good.
A curious one, given Edinburgh’s inconsistency this year and the fact coach Richard Cockerill still seems unsure as to who his first choice scrum-half is. Toony said that “although Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Ben Vellacott (Scottish-qualified) and Scott Steele (Dumfries-born) have all impressed us in recent weeks, Nathan’s passing accuracy is something we look for in our nines and means he is more suited to the rugby we aspire to play”. A former England U20 player, Fowles has featured sporadically for the capital side since an initial three-month loan from Sale Sharks in 2015 led to a full contract. He qualifies for Scotland through a Scottish-born grandparent.
Surprisingly the Wales Online website did not have a full-on meltdown when the former Wales U20 player was selected, with many people actually being quite gracious and wishing that Warren Gatland had looked at him. Which worries me. Nevertheless, the Leicester Tigers back row has had a storming start to the season after spending two years hardening his nose in France with Agen. Powerful with ball-in-hand and in defence, 25-year-old Hamilton can play anywhere in the back row and Townsend may well cap him to ensure he qualifies solely for Scotland (his father is from Stirling) until his dying day. Despite being born in Pembrokeshire and playing for Wales U20s, this was pre-Steven Shingler madness so the fact that he didn’t play against France U20s means that he’s not tied to Wales.
A product of the Newcastle Falcons academy, Toony stated that he was tempted to take him on tour over the summer but decided against it. Injuries may well have forced his hand now and the centre/wing could get a chance without a clear choice to partner Huw Jones if Dunbar isn’t fit. The fast, rangy centre has been critical to a Newcastle side that has been improving steadily for a couple of seasons now, playing a brand of rugby similar to Scotland’s. He qualifies through a Scottish grandparent and may be another player that Toony caps in case Eddie Jones is sniffing around.
Allan Dell, Alasdair Dickinson and Gordy Reid are injured, Allan Jacobsen refuses to come out of retirement, and seemingly nobody likes Ryan Grant anymore, so Scotland have called up Edinburgh prop Darryl Marfo. The loosehead has started just three league games this season and his inclusion may have raised a few eyebrows, although they may have dropped again once people realised Scotland’s prop injury list is longer than the list of people who don’t like Andy Robinson. The 27-year-old Londoner signed for Edinburgh in the summer on a one-year deal after spells with Bath, London Welsh and Harlequins, and has an Ayrshire-born mother.
Having failed to make the grade at Glasgow when younger, and injury-hit while at Exeter Chiefs, Namibian-born McGuigan is finally showing the promise that many top coaches have seen in him now that he is at Sale Sharks. The winger is the top scorer in the English Premiership and even Scott Johnson would have been hard-pressed to ignore his form. With Tommy Seymour almost guaranteed on one wing, his clinical finishing may see him rise above Dougie Fife in the pecking order but behind Lee Jones, who has history with Toony. He has Scotland Sevens and Scotland A experience and qualified for them through his Glaswegian mother.
While all the talk may be on the new Scottish-qualified players, it is nice to see people like Ritchie come through the Edinburgh ranks and into the international fold. The 21-year-old back row has continually impressed since making his debut three years ago and it has always been a case of when, not if, he will be selected by Scotland. He is one of the first names on Cockerill’s team sheet and has played every match this season, bar two, alongside King Magnus and Cornell du Preez in an abrasive backrow. Like Hamilton, he’s played across the back row and could be useful from the bench.
Another of Rennie’s young tight-five renegades, Turner joined Glasgow on a one-year loan this summer after making just one start in four infuriating seasons at Edinburgh and spending a short amount of time at London Scottish. His doggedness and modern style of play is something that obviously impresses Townsend who took him on the summer tour, although didn’t play him. The 25-year-old Stewart’s Melvillian has flourished thanks to regular rugby and with Ross Ford surely coming to the end of his 103-year stint as hooker, could get a chance to impress against Samoa, either off the bench or coming on for Stuart McInally.