Loosehead – Reid, Bhatti
Tighthead – Welsh, Berghan, Rae, McCallum
No real surprises here other than the non-selection of Sutherland which is worrying after seeing him leave the field early against Stade Francais, but perhaps he just needs a bit longer on his return from injury. Welsh and Reid will almost certainly join McInally in the front row giving us a front row that is experienced, strong in the scrum and a pretty decent size as well with both props being around the 120kg mark. As long as we stick enough bulk behind them I think it’s time for the worries over our scrum to stop, please.
Rae is a decent player but has had so little game time lately that the intensity of test level may be too much so I’d expect to see Bhatti and McCallum on the bench until Berghan returns from his ban. Bhatti was solid in the scrum against Leinster’s Furlong last weekend and will make a big impact in the loose, so no concerns there. McCallum is rising to every challenge set for him without taking a backward step. Slight concern that with only two looseheads in the squad McCallum may also be covering that side if we have an injury.
McInally, Turner, Lawson
McInally is undoubtedly first choice now and looks the complete modern hooker which is fortunate given Fraser Brown’s head issues. We will miss Brown from the bench but this is a good chance for Turner to step up. There are some question marks over Turner in the set piece and when it comes to his discipline but he’s dynamic in the loose and thumping in defence so if he can answer the question marks then he will be a great impact option on the bench. Listed by Glasgow at 5”11’ and 105kg (McInally is 108kg) he’s not as small as often touted either so no excuses if the scrum goes backwards, this is his chance.
Lawson is probably the biggest surprise selection in the entire squad for me. He’s experienced no doubt with 46 caps, though I’m not sure he was ever that convincing when coming off the bench to replace big Ross Ford. He’s started 4 games for Newcastle in the Aviva Premiership this season with a further 6 appearances from the bench so at least he will be match fit and it leaves the likes of Cochrane and Malcolm with the pro clubs where they are probably best suited to stay.
Toolis, Gilchrist, R.Gray, J.Gray
Now we’re talking. Big Ritchie is back over in France and playing 80 minutes and Gilchrist is returning to something like his best form after a shocking run of injuries. Despite how good both these players are though I think they are battling for the place on the bench. Gray and Toolis look to be striking up the sort of partnership that could hold down the engine room for years to come. Gray is the workhorse and the leader in the pack, he tackles all day long and he runs hard as well. Toolis is the lineout general and is under-rated in the rest of his game as well with his scrummaging and carrying both having come on leaps and bounds in recent seasons. It’s a real shame that Scott Cummings is injured as he really seems to have something about him but it may well have been too early for him anyway given our current options.
Blindside – Barclay, Harley
Openside – Watson
Number 8 – Wilson, Du Preez, Denton, Bradbury, Hamilton
A lot of these guys can play in various positions across the back row so I’d take the categorisation above with a pinch of salt. Barclay and Watson are for me absolutely nailed on at 6 and 7 and rightly so, this leave number 8 as the position up for grabs. Harley will only be playing if Barclay or Watson gets injured which could free up the 6 shirt either through Barclay being ruled out or moving to 7, so I would deem it unlikely we will see him in action. The other five lads are all competing for 8 and with the exception of Wilson who we know brings a different skill set often favoured by the coaches (if not some of the fans) they are all big ball carriers, in fact with Denton, Bradbury, Hamilton and du Preez all in the squad that is a lot of beef Townsend can call upon. I suspect Townsend may go for Wilson if he’s fit but I’d love to see any one of the carriers at 8 with Wilson on the bench which I think would give us great balance.
Price, Laidlaw, Pyrgos, Fowles
Price is first choice. He’s become an essential part of our game plan and along with Russell is the fulcrum around which a lot of our play depends. I can imagine a lot of groaning at the other selected group, none of whom would seem to bring the same level of pace and intensity that Price does and which the younger Horne and even Hidalgo-Clyne might have been more able to do. I think if Laidlaw is fully fit then he goes on to the bench and will be seen as the wise head that can see us over the line, like Pyrgos but better. It’s important to remember that Laidlaw is a supremely talented and accomplished player and also a handy goal kicker even if he may not bring the same zip as Price. Pyrgos has been a reliable servant in the past but does not seem to be enjoying a red hot streak of form at the moment and Fowles only ever seems to be a reliable and solid kind of player. I can’t help but feel that it’s a shame George Horne didn’t make the squad but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him absolutely tear it up for Glasgow whilst Pyrgos and Price are away.
I don’t think there is much to say here. Russell’s emergence has been a key part of Scotland’s return to being counted a competitive force and his place in the side is utterly essential and guaranteed. Horne is as ever his backup and despite being a clearly talented player he has yet to truly convince most that he is a genuine 10 and not a 12. Russell must stay fit. Jackson will provide further backup. It’s also good to see Hastings invited to train with the squad, if there is one position where we need to groom some added depth then it is standoff.
Inside – Dunbar, Taylor
Outside – H. Jones, Bennett, Grigg
What a supremely talented choice of centres we have here. I reckon Huw Jones is nailed on at 13 for now with Bennett only very recently back from injury. Jones hasn’t shone as brightly as hoped at Glasgow but has rarely looked anything less than brilliant for Scotland. Bennett has a big job on his hands to get that 13 shirt back but has the skills and is a ridiculously good backup. I can’t see Grigg getting anytime which again is a great place to be in considering how good he is.
Inside centre for me is one of the biggest selection headaches we have. Matt Scott hasn’t made the squad which again shows the depth we have here and Horne will be Russell’s backup on the bench which leaves Taylor and Dunbar. Dunbar is the defensive lynchpin and provides a big crash ball option as well as a presence at the breakdown, he’s also shown signs of striking up a more-than-useful partnership with Jones. Dunbar-Jones does have a great balance to it and is a proven combination. Why the headache then? Well Duncan Taylor is fit which is a bit of question mark at the moment, but he just brings something different. He’s solid in defence and can open up holes in a way that Dunbar can’t. As much as I would love to see Taylor-Jones I think fitness might mean Taylor starts on the bench at best.
Wing – Harris, L.Jones, Maitland, McGuigan, Seymour
Fullback – Hogg, Jackson, Kinghorn
Again it’s a bit surprising to see Visser miss out given his try-scoring exploits but it seems Townsend just wants more rounded options in his side. To be fair when you look at our backline as a whole we are hardly short of try scorers.
Full back is an easy selection, Hogg if fit starts. He’s world class and must terrify defences like very few players in the Northern hemisphere. If he isn’t fit then Townsend has a big choice to make. Does he go with the seemingly reliable and solid option of Jackson who has been ever present for Glasgow? (As an aside: Jacko was never reliable and solid as a 10, was he?) Or does Townsend pick Kinghorn who is young and raw but utterly electric with ball in hand at fullback for Edinburgh this season.
At wing it would have seemed madness not to have Seymour inked in already not that long ago but his form has gone through the floor. Class is permanent but is that enough with the likes of McGuigan who is in fine try scoring form and impressed on his debut against Australia and Maitland who is supremely assured whenever picked in the squad? Could Kinghorn even be an option on the wing, given his form and ability then he certainly should be in the picture but it may just be too early. There is going to come a point though where both he and Hogg need to be in the team. Harris and Jones round out the squad and for me will provide depth and competition but won’t be troubling the starting 22 barring injury; Harris may also come into contention in the centres.
Scrummo’s 23 for Wales: Hogg, Maitland, H Jones, Dunbar, McGuigan, Russell, Price; Reid, McInally, Welsh, J.Gray, Toolis, Barclay, Watson, du Preez.
Replacements: Bhatti, Turner, McCallum, R.Gray, Wilson, Laidlaw, Horne, Taylor.