Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Townsend Announces Big Six Nations Squad

Mark Bennett
Mark Bennett -pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

So, the Six Nations.

The most wonderful time of the year. Unless you really, really love Christmas.

Italy have their squad out, Wales announce theirs later today and Gregor Townsend has also announced the group of players he hopes will continue the upward trend of recent years in this tournament. Any rampant optimism should be tempered by the knowledge that the upward trend has taken us from perennial wooden spoon contenders to challenging for third – and ending up fourth. We have not yet been seen as, or indeed played like, tournament contenders.

That may have changed in an autumn series where we found our way out of a hole against Samoa, came closest to toppling the All Blacks, and dished out a glorious spanking to 14-man Australia. Suddenly, there were whispers.

But we’ve been here before.

Usually Scotland fans are buzzing with dreams of Grand Slams and trophy wins up until about the first ten minutes of the opening fixture when realism tends to kick in. To win the opener against Ireland last year was something new, although the team later came unstuck away to France and England.

This year, we’re already a little gloomy given injuries that have been well documented on these pages which at least means the rollercoaster will not be as extreme should the wheels come off the cart. But we were also gloomy ahead of the autumn when the situation was similar and the team played to Townsend’s gameplan well despite the loss of big names.

The 40-man squad Townsend has announced is a little different to the one we guessed at earlier in the month but the core is the same. He had an extra 4 players, for starters. He’s clearly not as ruthless as the team at SRBlog Towers…

There are no unheard-of bolters from the exiles, but a surprise recall for Newcastle’s Scott Lawson as cover at hooker is probably the “no one saw that coming” pick. He hasn’t featured in a Scotland shirt since 2014. Jon Welsh and Gordon Reid also return to the fold, as does David Denton while Ryan Wilson can’t be too seriously injured.

The old stagers won’t be enough, so Murray McCallum and D’arcy Rae join Berghan (who misses the first game through suspension) and Bhatti in the front row ranks. John Barclay will lead the team.

Perhaps unexpected is the quick assimilation of Mark Bennett into the squad following his return from injury. Players currently battling fitness issues like Stuart Hogg and Duncan Taylor have been included; class is permanent and all that.

Newcastle’s Chris Harris who picked up his first cap in the autumn also returns. Arguably the form back in Scotland at the moment, Blair Kinghorn deserves his call-up on form, but other names we looked at including Matt Scott, George Horne and Ben Vellacott are omitted – there are 4 scrum-halves in Greig Laidlaw, Price, Pyrgos and Fowles who are included.

Even with a squad this size there are a few names who may feel unlucky to miss out: Josh Strauss and Jamie Ritchie remain out of the picture, and Rory Sutherland is a relatively experienced prop not picked presumably to continue his injury comeback with Edinburgh. As suspected, Tim Visser will also have to watch from the couch while Sam Hidalgo-Clyne once again loses out to Nathan Fowles.

In addition to the squad, three players who are very much for the future have been invited to train with the group: Luke Crosbie, Darcy Graham and Adam Hastings.

If they get the players all fit and pin sharp, there are the makings of a very strong team and a backline that will worry any other side in the tournament.

The front row problems will, however, keep Scotland fans honest until that first game in Cardiff on the 3rd of February.


BACKS (19)

Mark Bennett (Edinburgh Rugby) – 20 caps
Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors) – 28 caps
Nick Grigg (Glasgow Warriors) – 1 cap
Chris Harris (Newcastle Falcons) – 1 cap
Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors) – 55 caps
Pete Horne (Glasgow Warriors) – 28 caps
Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors) – 32 caps
Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors) – 11 caps
Lee Jones (Glasgow Warriors) – 7 caps
Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby) – uncapped
Greig Laidlaw (ASM Clermont Auvergne) – 58 caps
Sean Maitland (Saracens) – 29 caps
Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks) – 2 caps
Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) – 11 caps
Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors) – 27 caps
Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors) – 32 caps
Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors) – 39 caps
Duncan Taylor (Saracens) – 21 caps
Nathan Fowles (Edinburgh Rugby) – uncapped


John Barclay CAPTAIN (Scarlets) – 66 caps
Simon Berghan (Edinburgh Rugby) – 5 caps
Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors) – 3 caps
Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh Rugby) – 2 caps
David Denton (Worcester Warriors) – 35 caps
Cornell Du Preez (Edinburgh Rugby) – 5 caps
Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby) – 18 caps
Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors) – 38 caps
Richie Gray (Toulouse) – 64 caps
Luke Hamilton (Leicester Tigers) – 1 cap
Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors) – 20 caps
Scott Lawson (Newcastle Falcons) – 46 caps
Murray McCallum (Edinburgh Rugby) – uncapped
Stuart McInally (Edinburgh Rugby) – 12 caps
Gordon Reid (London Irish) – 27 caps
D’arcy Rae (Glasgow Warriors) – uncapped
Ben Toolis (Edinburgh Rugby) – 7 caps
George Turner (Glasgow Warriors) – 2 caps
Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby) – 15 caps
Jon Welsh (Newcastle Falcons) – 11 caps
Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors) – 32 caps

60 Responses

  1. No Visser, No SHC and including Pyrgos are the wrong shouts in my mind.

    Forwards basically picked themselves given injuries. Who starts will be interesting.

  2. Only two looseheads? McCallum covering both sides then, hopefully Sytherland not injured.

    Lawson!? Can only think this is the SRU ensuring that our third choice hooker who won’t get on the field doesn’t weaken the pro sides any further…

    Plenty of back row carriers called up!

  3. No Sutherland, so appears that McCallum has been picked as a loosehead.

    Lawson is the big surprise, over Cochrane and Macarthur. Smells a bit like ensuring that Edinburgh and Glasgow have at least 1 experienced hooker each for their games during the 6N.

    Delighted that Bennett and Kinghorn are in.

    Wondering if Rob Harley has been picked to hold the coats, put the cones out or something. With the rest of the make-up of the squad, he isn’t getting anywhere near the 23.

    1. Observed elsewhere – backs in alphabetical order except Fowlis, in a position which is where v for vellacott would have appeared – did the Gloucester man say no?

  4. Scott Lawson is a surprise but his experience and bulk may be what is needed in the 6N (in the absence of Ross Ford).
    Nathan Fowles AND Henry Pyrgos, over SHC? Not sure about that.
    Visser is unlucky again, but I’m not surprised given we have Lee Jones and Mcguigan on form, and Seymour and Maitland both class players, albeit not on form.
    Delighted for Nick Grigg – a real terrier of a centre who plays with his heart on his sleeve.

    1. Agreed, SHC is playing better for Edinburgh at the moment and Fowles would get more game time I’d have thought if SHC were to be called up which would then benefit Toonie’s vision? Pyrgos just doesn’t fit with the gameplay at the moment, either domestically or at a national level.

      Visser did really well defensively against Wales last year, so I am really surprised that he’s been left out of the squad.

      1. Surprised at that too. Possibly another choice made to preserve Edinburgh’s fragile momentum. Can’t see why else SHC be left out.

  5. I really don’t get Pyrgos. What is the story there? No G.Horne and SHC but Pyrgos and to a lesser extent Fowles are in. I’m desperate for Laidlaw to be fully fit at this point otherwise Pyrgos will get pitch time yet again.
    Also Visser, his exclusion is totally unjust on the face of it. What’s the beef between him and Townsend?

    Delighted to see Kinghorn and Bennett in.

    But still, the Pyrgos thing though.

    1. Maybe he has some incriminating pictures of Townsend hidden away somewhere. It’s the only viable excuse I can think of…

      1. Not an expert in extortion??? Unless you are assuming that he is extorting to not be in the squad?

        I think Tom English did a piece which highlighted the real defensive deficiency in his game. If TV was given a go away and work on – and he hasn’t improved then by rights he isn’t ready to come back in the squad. Obviously all guess work, but i would assume that its at least a more ‘viable excuse’?

      2. I meant maybe Pyrgos has some pictures Martin to somehow repeatedly wangle his way into another squad and probably a bench spot too, probably didn’t make myself clear.
        Tim Visser couldn’t tackle a fish supper most of the time. How many tries have we seen scored against us where he just holds a hand out or just flails over. As you said if he’s been given things to go away and work on and hasn’t done them then his exclusion doesn’t surprise me

    2. Yep got you – thought I must have got it wrong !!!! In all seriousness about Pyrgos got to remember that Toonie made him co-captain last year so he seriously rates the guy.

      If its a split decision (Lions anyone !) is it a surprise he picks the guy he trusts and knows what he is trying to achieve. Anyway I would say that he is unlikely, injury aside, to get much if any game time.

  6. Why why why why why why has Pyrgos been included in the squad? Answers on a postcard for anything decent he has done in Glasgow or Scotland shirt this season. Although I’m not Laidlaw’s biggest fan as I think his time has been and gone I still think we could have afforded to have G Horne in the squad if not least to give us the option of some speed off the bench or learn off Laidlaw around the squad a bit. Fowles is barely starting for Edinburgh so SHC can consider himself very unlucky too.
    Good to see some ball carriers selected in the squad with CDP and Denton probably fighting it out for the 8 shirt. I would have liked to have seen Ritchie in there as Harley just isn’t up to the level or pace of the international game.
    Can only assume that Rory Sutherland is injured although it wouldn’t surprise me to see him and a couple of others called up into the squad as some of the squad are still injured/ haven’t played a come back game yet (Laidlaw, Wilson etc for Horne and Ritchie )

    From that squad team I’d like to see vs the Taffs
    1. Reid
    2. MCInally
    3. Welsh
    4. Gray
    5. R Gray ( I think they will start Toolis in the first game at least)
    6. Barclay
    7. Watson
    8. Hamilton (would like to see what he’s like as he looked quite good on his debut but suspect CDP will start
    9. Price
    10. Russell
    11. McGuigan
    12. Dunbar (if he can go more than 10 mins without getting injured. Would love to see a Taylor / Jones combo though)
    13. Jones
    14. Maitland ( I know he’s got his critics but Seymour is so off form we can’t afford that risk in the 6 Nations)
    15. Hogg (pray to god he’s fit)

    16. Bhatti
    17. Turner
    18. Rae
    19. Toolis
    20. Denton
    21. Laidlaw (fitness depending, anyone but Pyrgos really)
    22. Taylor (covers back 5 nicely)
    23. Jackson (more there as 10/15 back up as really don’t want to see P Horne at 10)

    1. Can’t really argue with any of your points – or your selection.
      I’d love to see Lawson, Reid and Jon Welsh come off the bench after 55 minutes. 350kg of prime scottish beef – all matured for over 30 years!
      Is Jim Hamilton still available?

      1. Lawson and Turner in the same squad – the match assassins. Brain farts aplenty.

        Can McInally play for the full 80?

    2. Toolis has to start for me, his lineout, maul defence and workrate are key. At this stage given he’s not long back from injury Gray would be better as an impact sub.

      1. Ben has to start. Been the form lock internationally and probably domestically for the past 9 months. The question is whether Young Jonny’s workrate is better for starting than Big Richie’s dynamisn. With you, based on injuries and incumbent performance, I’d go with the ‘young team’ !

  7. Looks like Visser’s Scotand career has unjustly come to an end. If he can’t get into a training squad of 40 then where can he get back in? Anyone know his stats this year at Quins. From what I’ve seen he seems to be doing more than a job down there.

      1. It’s not the tries he scores that worry you about Visser. It’s the ones he costs you, look at his defensive stats as well.

        McGuigan and Seymour know their way to the try line as well but are generally much more solid in the other facets of their game. Jones is a good all rounder, though unlikely to play baring injuries and Maitland remains an enigma. He is loved by the coaches, yet baffles the fans who wonder what he is doing all game.

        You wonder if he might bench Kinghorn at some stage, who has the pace to play on the wing as well as at Full Back. It is a question of when, not if his Scotland career gets going.

      2. He’s also missed 13 of 40 tackles. Even allowing for the fact that tackling on the wing is a lot more difficult than around the fringes, that’s not a good stat.
        That being said, I’d have still had him in the squad, possibly instead of Seymour (buck your ideas up lad!).

      3. Visser gets pelters for his defence but Seymour’s defence can be shocking at times. McGuigan missed 3 tackles in 10mins against Aus.

  8. Just a thought for those guys who haven’t been picked (even in a 40-man squad), for one reason or another:
    Dell, Brown, Fagerson;
    Cummings, Swinson;
    Hardie, Strauss, Ashe;
    SHC, Weir;
    Fife, Burleigh, Scott, Visser;
    Bench: Ford, Dickinson, Nel, Carmichael, Ritchie, G.Horne, Hastings, Hoyland.
    Now I know that’s not the strongest side but they would do a job.

  9. Great to see Kinghorn, Bennett, Denton, Bradbury and Welsh in there, and to see Graham called up to train with the squad. Less great to see Pyrgos, Fowles and Harley in there, and not to see Strauss, Ritchie, George Horne, SHC or Visser in there.

    Interesting that despite having one more player in our squad than the Welsh do in theirs, we have about 300 fewer caps! 7 fewer per player on average, nearly 10 fewer in the backs and 6 fewer in the forwards. No doubt that won’t stop people talking about how inexperienced the Welsh squad is again… They’ve called up Davies, too, presumably to try and out-Watson Watson. Never happen!

    I’d like to see the following 23 against Wales:

    1. Reid
    2. McInally
    3. Welsh
    4. Toolis
    5. J Gray
    6. Barclay
    7. Watson
    8. CdP
    9. Price
    10. Russell
    11. Seymour
    12. Dunbar
    13. Jones
    14. Maitland
    15. Hogg
    16. Turner
    17. Bhatti
    18. Rae/Berghan/whoever’s still standing…
    19. R Gray
    20. Denton
    21. Laidlaw
    22. Taylor
    23. Kinghorn

    That’d be entertaining.

    1. Don’t think your far off with that line up but think Tonnie will have macallam on bench and p Horne on bench personally I’d be happier with kinghorn he is more in form ps surprised Sutherland and visser and g Horne not in squad.

  10. Would want Strauss over Wilson if both are fit in time, what has Strauss done to get dropped completely?! Agree with all comments on Pyrgos, not good enough this season at all and SHC should be in ahead of Fowles. Wee bit harsh on Visser but McGuigan and and Maitland are better I think. Toolis has to start, been class all year. We can definitely pick a team good enough to beat Wales, think it will come down to mental attitude which I think Toonie is changing to a ‘will win’ not ‘could win’. Bring on Cardiff!

  11. All eyes on whether Gary Graham now ends up in the England squad. I suspect Vellacott is gone – even if they don’t pick him for this tournament, he’ll tour in the summer

    1. If it wasn’t for the fact that we might lose him for the future, I dont think Vellacott has done enough to be included in our squad. Baring in mind Horne and SHC are not there, i’d say that behind Price (at the mo) they 2 are the future – I also believe there is a chance in 2019 that Finlay Christie of the Hurricanes will be brought over. Gary Graham – I’m sure his old man would be delighted if he was capped for Scotland, but I genuinely think he has a better chance of getting game time as an England Flanker than Scottish these days. Watson is reaching his prime, Hardie (current issues aside), Barclay, Wilson and Hamilton seem to now be established with the young guns (Ritchie, Smith, Eadie, Wynne) up and coming. I also think Bradbury and Fagerson could pack down at 6 as well.

      1. re: Vellacott – if he did reject then that’s great news. Don’t want anyone who doesn’t want to play for us, and if he feels English then its right he should attempt to play for them – Keeps the door open for Horne and SHC and possibly Christie in a year and a half’s time.

  12. Toonie must be reasonably re-assured about Wilson, Laidlaw and Taylor to have included them at this stage. Even if they don’t make the first game, they will be up to speed should they need to slot in later on.

  13. Biggest concern for me is the back up SH’s to Ali Price. There is no doubt he is the best 9 we have but the other 3 have a different style of game. G. Horne should at least be training with the squad as Price’s apprentice, he plays the closest style of game that Price does and The other 3 might compromise that.

    Laidlaw fine but what has Fowles and Pyrgos done to merit inclusion over Sam Hidalgo-Clyne? Even Sean Kennedy now he is fit would have been a better option than those 2.

    Upfront, why is Rory Sutherland not included? Scott Lawson is a liability! Harley is lucky to be still under a pro contract never mind an international squad inclusion. Much better (younger) options both at lock and 6.
    Lewis Carmichael, Kiron McDonald,
    Jamie Ritchie, Matt Smith, Adam Ashe, M. Fagerson

    1. As I said above, I just don’t understand the merit of picking Harley, when he is going to be nowhere near the 23 unless there is a catastrophic series of further injuries. The only possible reason is to provide additional (and flexible) cover in the 2nd row, with Swinson and Cummings both injured, but Carmichael would’ve been a more developmental selection in that respect.

      1. Smidge – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Rob Harley is a nightmare…to play against. His work rate and ability to disrupt the opposition rucks/mauls is second to none in this squad.
        Nobody picks their 6N squad for “development”. But every coach wants to pick “horses for courses”. I wouldn’t be surprised if Toonie picked Harley to start against France to wind up and frustrate their forwards.

      2. I just don’t see the benefit on picking a player like Harley for one particular attribute, when the competitors for back-row selection are better in every way I can think of. But that’s just my opinion of course!

      3. Both Watson and Barclay are a nightmare to play against at the breakdown, and Toolis and the Grays are at least as good at disrupting mauls. I don’t get his inclusion, either. Certainly not based on form.

  14. Pleased to see Crosbie, Hastings and Darcy Graham are going to be training with the squad.

    Not sure what Jamie Ritchie or George Horne have done wrong not to get the same invite. Ritchie was called up to the full squad pre AIs, does that preclude him from holding the tackle bags ?

    1. I so agree that Gregor has missed a trick with overlooking Ritchie and Horne. However, perhaps he thinks the squad is already too youthful/inexperienced with all the injuries.
      There are only 812 caps between the 40. Given that Lawson, Reid and Welsh are last-minute/3rd choices (84 caps), and Wilson, Laidlaw, R.Gray and Hogg are just coming back from injury (210 caps), it means the rest of the 33-man squad have an average of about 15 caps each.

  15. Pretty inexperienced squad (second fewest caps per player in Scottish 6N history, after the 2013 tourney when there were 9 deubtants), and it’s hard to know how to feel given how good a full strength side could have been this year.

    The backs look like they’ll be close to full strength and won’t fear anyone. But I’m fearful of a few scrum-penalty-kick-to-the-corner-driving-maul-penalty-try-yellow-card sequences: feels like from a punishment persepective, there’s never been a worse time to be underpowered up front.

    God, Wales is crucial.

  16. Sutherland


    Allan, Fenton, Bryce, Hunter-Hill, Fagerson, Hidalgo-Clyne, Eastgate, Dean

    Best 23 I can make with fit players who didn’t make the squad. I think it’s fair to say Townsend didn’t miss many out with the exceptions of Horne, Sutherland and Ritchie maybe.

    1. Possible that Sutherland hasn’t been picked due to fitness concerns, as he limped off on Friday night. Burleigh is also currently injured.

      1. Christ. Well that’s Dean in for Burleigh and Johnstone on to the bench and Traynor in for Sutherland if he’s out too.

  17. I think the bolter for the starting XV will be Mark Bennett.
    With his injury synchronous with the emergence of Huw Jones we’ve forgotten what a class player he is, but he’s almost unplayable at his best.
    Let’s see.

    1. Its a good shout. Jones has yet to set the heather alight at Glasgow. There’s no doubt he’s top class but he’s still finding his form since heading north.

  18. Quite happy with that squad. Hopefully some of the props come back later in the tournament. People have said that Visser has been treated unfairly but he doesn’t fit Townsend’s style and anyone who shirks defensive work has no place in test rugby.

    Harley and Pyrgos are unlikely to feature and Townsend might have included them because he’s more comfortable working with them as squad fillers and using them to mimic opponents than the younger options. Bradbury and Kinghorn didn’t make the AI squad then upped their game and have been included. Jamie Ritchie and George Horne’s time will come in the summer.

    1. Could you please let us know where Visser shirked his defensive work? He wouldn’t have been picked by coaches like Cotter amongst others if that was the case.

      We’re 1 injury away from Pyrgos being possibly a starter. A shambolic state of affairs. There’s talk of some players getting frozen out for the Fiji performance, Visser included, but Pyrgos was utterly dreadful once again in that match. His box kicks were going straight out on the full. Nobody on here seems to think he’s a better option than wee Horne or SHC.

      Pyrgos…Harley….it’s jobs for the boys.

      1. The most recent Calcutta Cup match. The bold Tim hyped up the English with media comments in the run up and then during the game while his team mates were being brutalised he didn’t tackle or carry the ball in the first half.

        Hardie and Strauss aren’t in the squad but i’d say they are more likely to start a match then Harley. I agree with you about Pyrgos but I can see Townsend may think it’s too soon for Horne (he hasn’t started 10 pro games yet). Hopefully Price and Laidlaw make it through the entire championship.

  19. Only 4 players above 50 caps. It’s scary just how much inexperience still exits in this squad internationally compared to the other 6N big hitters. That’s why we need Laidlaw and Lawson in there for the camp, not necessarily just for game day. Where’s the Al Kellock style character that helped drag Glasgow’s raw players through to success. Always need that experience to compete now and in the build up to RWC 19 before dump Ireland out in that opening game.

  20. Rob Harley should not of been picked…. he is a ginger and about 35 and gets bumped off by lil scrum halfs.

  21. Is Gregor Townsend a Racist ? Not selecting Good South African and Dutchman and favouring Glasgow out of forms over Edinburgh In Forms.

    Ritchie for last 2 Season over Harley
    Prygos over SHC
    Horne because he is jells he unable to make him play like his is naow ?! ?

    Seymour -> Visser ? Rly ?! based on this season ?! nuh uh nuh uh!!.

    What is the message beein send wen they pick ze blobby Lawson ………….. WHY NOT BRING IN CHUNK AND GIRTH Tooo ?

  22. One thing that struck me from the introduction is the number of caps. In the backs only Laidlaw and Hogg have over 50. In the forwards its only Barclay and Ritchie Gray with more than 50. This is still a young team. Hogg with 55 caps is still just 25. I’m hoping this team will peak at the world cup. This years 6 nations might just be a bit early for them but lets keep hoping.

  23. Visser out , Pyrgos in ….he must have mucky pictures of someone.

    Dont really get Visser being frozen out, is it personal! Great strike rate, brings other qualities and we put up with tackling that is every bit as poor or competent, depending how you look at it.

    Has got a raw deal, or maybe he decided he was not prepared to put himslef through it again and extracted himself.

    For all there is not a lot of caps , a lot of the squad have been around the for a while.

  24. See from this mornings coverage both Bellacott and Graham turned down Toonie. And far fro letting Vellacott slip through the net the SRU tried to bring him to Glasgow and had been in contact with him about his allegiance for years. Win some lose some I guess.

  25. * EDIT: moved to a Scotland post
    I know this is an article on the Warriors, but I must say I was very disappointed by our Summer 2018 international opposition.

    Canada, USA, and Argentina?

    When will we be at the top table?

  26. Following the articles in the press in the last week from Nick de Luca regarding the mental health of players, and how abuse on social media lead to him not sleeping at the night before playing a Test match, it is heartening to see that Greig Laidlaw is not getting the pelters he was before his injury…… :o)

    Sadly, they appear to be aimed at Henry Pyrgos instead. :o(

    If a player is asked to a squad session, or asked to pull on the jersey on match day they are not going to turn around and say, “Sorry Toonie, don’t pick me, pick the other bloke, everyone knows he is better” are they?

    Would you?

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