GREGOR Townsend’s first Six Nations as Scotland head coach may have just drawn to a close, but attention within Murrayfield will have already turned to the summer tour and, only 18 months away, the World Cup in Japan.
Of course the emergence of the likes of Darryl Marfo and Jamie Bhatti were plus-points from the November campaign, while in the Six Nations, Nick Grigg and Blair Kinghorn put their hands up to show they deserve long-term squad places.
And the Scotland coach has, in certain areas at least, an embarrassment of riches from which to select his match-day 23-man squad from.
The fact that Scotland did without Alastair Dickinson, Ross Ford, John Hardie, Josh Strauss, Matt Scott and Tim Visser (to name just a few) for their entire Six Nations campaign bodes well for the depth being developed at club level and with the national team’s age grade sides.
So with all that in mind, we’ve taken a look at a possible World Cup squad, if Townsend was picking his squad just now. A 36-man squad has been assembled and it’s worth noting, current injuries have been ignored – so we’re presuming everyone is fit and available for selection.
We start with the forwards. . .
On the loosehead, the emergence of Marfo and Bhatti gives ‘Toony’ his first headache – with Gordon Reid occupying the number 1 jersey for the entire Six Nations campaign, you’d imagine the London Irish man would be nailed-on for a spot on the plane. Then there’s Allan Dell to consider, a British Lion thanks to Gatland’s ‘Geography Six’, he was a mainstay of the summer tour success and would also likely be involved.
That, and the fact that should Al Dickinson recover from his injury woes, he’d still be 34, we think it would be one of Marfo or Bhatti for the third loosehead spot – with experience favouring the Edinburgh man as he started all three Tests in November.
Selected: Allan Dell, Darryl Marfo, Gordon Reid
Unlucky to miss out: Al Dickinson, Jamie Bhatti
Meanwhile on the tighthead, Simon Berghan’s Six Nations performances have surely established his place as a long-term part of the squad, where Zander Fagerson and Willem Nel are the other options. Both are first class operators, making this one of Townsend’s easier decisions.
Jon Welsh appears out of favour with the national team despite his club form, while Murray McCallum’s time on the international stage will come.
Selected: Simon Berghan, Willem Nel, Zander Fagerson
Unlucky to miss out: Jon Welsh, Murray McCallum
Injury problems have paved the way for Stuart McInally to cement his place among the squad, and perhaps even as first-choice given his impressive Six Nations displays. Fraser Brown is another quality operator. Ford would be the obvious candidate to take the final hooker berth, but faces competition from George Turner, another handed his international chance by Townsend in November. Ford’s experience could prove crucial and should there be any injuries, his quality at Test level is proven, so he edges this one.
Turner’s time will come, and Cammy Fenton is another making great strides at Edinburgh, while James Malcolm continues to work hard along the M8. Scott Lawson offers more experience, but his Test time seems done, while Edinburgh have signed Dave Cherry for next season, adding to the options.
Selected: Fraser Brown, Ross Ford, Stuart McInally
Unlucky to miss out: George Turner
Another area where the Scots are well-stocked, but similarly an area that is fairly settled. The first names on the list should both include ‘Gray’ – the brothers are now both seasoned internationalists and Scotland’s first choice for a long time. Grant Gilchrist impressed during the Six Nations wins over England and France, and looks close to his best under Richard Cockerill at Edinburgh, so he takes the third slot. The other two positions will be claimed by Tim Swinson and Ben Toolis, who have both proved their worth to the national side of late.
The make-up of the match-day squad will be up for much debate, but these five are fairly settled in their squad places and that shouldn’t change – but the future looks bright with the likes of Scott Cummings, Lewis Carmichael and Callum Hunter-Hill on the scene.
Selected: Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Tim Swinson
John Barclay is Scotland’s captain and Ryan Wilson the vice-captain, so their names are the first on the list in this area. Hamish Watson has fought off John Hardie for club and country and is now Scotland’s first-choice openside, although Hardie offers a top class alternative, so they join the squad. With possibly only two places left, there will be a host of good players who miss out; David Denton, Rob Harley, Magnus Bradbury, Luke Hamilton, Adam Ashe, Cornell Du Preez – they are just some of the names in contention.
Denton’s re-emergence as an impact sub during the Six Nations, coupled with his displays for Worcester that have led to a three-year deal with Leicester get him the fifth place among our six-man back-row. The final spot goes to the man signed by Alan Solomons to replace Denton at Sixways, Du Preez, with Wilson and Barclay’s ability to fill in on the openside, plus the presence of breakdown experts McInally and Brown, allowing for the selection of Du Preez’s usually hard-carrying.
Blair Cowan’s time in dark blue seems to be over although a move to Saracens (where he’s on loan) might change that, while for the likes of Bradbury and his Edinburgh team-mates Jamie Ritchie and Luke Crosbie, and Glasgow’s Matt Fagerson, it would be a huge gamble to blood them internationally at a World Cup.
Selected: Cornell Du Preez, David Denton, Hamish Watson, John Barclay, John Hardie, Ryan Wilson
Unlucky to miss out: Adam Ashe, Blair Cowan, Luke Hamilton, Magnus Bradbury, Rob Harley
Coming tomorrow: a look at the backs. Please keep the discussion in the comments below to forwards only!