Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Gav’s Rugby World Cup squad pt II: backs

Duncan Taylor - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography
Duncan Taylor - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography

After yesterday’s look at the make up of the forward group Gregor Townsend might take to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, attention turns now to the backs.


All the pre-Six Nations speculation over Greig Laidlaw’s long-term worth has rightly gone away. He is, and should remain until after the World Cup, first choice at nine and as goal-kicker. Ali Price provides a more than able deputy, while there’s a host of players battling for that third spot: Henry Pyrgos has been the man chiefly given that role of late, but Nathan Fowles has been in Townsend’s last two squads while George Horne continues to catch the eye for Glasgow. Chuck Sam Hidalgo-Clyne in the mix and it’s an interesting one, but on this occasion, we’ve gone for the promise of Horne, who is a certainty to feature in the dark blue in the not-too-distant future.

Horne brings a similar style to Price, while Pyrgos could be called upon if a serious injury or illness struck down Laidlaw.

Selected: Ali Price, George Horne, Greig Laidlaw

Unlucky to miss out: Henry Pyrgos, Nathan Fowles, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne


A problem remains if Finn Russell gets injured and its an area Townsend needs to address in the months before the World Cup. Duncan Weir has been let go by Edinburgh, Tom Heathcote hasn’t played much since moving back to Worcester and while Adam Hastings continues to develop, he’s not ready yet for the international stage. Is a combination of Laidlaw/Horne covering still our best bet? I’d say so at the moment.

For that reason, we’ll list Horne here, but he’s also in the squad as a centre.

Selected: Finn Russell, Peter Horne


With Horne already in the squad as stand-off cover, there’s possibly another opening for a midfield player to make the squad. Alex Dunbar and Huw Jones have been, when fit, the first-choice pair, so pencil their names in, and add to that Duncan Taylor, whose injury woes have robbed him of adding to his cap tally but has too much class and versatility to be ignored in our fantasy world where everyone is fit to play! Nick Grigg has shown promise in his caps to date, while Newcastle’s Chris Harris has struggled – particularly on his Six Nations debut in Wales.

By our maths, that leaves Mark Bennett to battle with his soon-to-be Edinburgh colleague Matt Scott for the final spot. The quartet already named are all happy in either jersey, so we’re going for Bennett, who perhaps offers more X-Factor than Scott.

Selected: Alex Dunbar, Duncan Taylor, Huw Jones, Mark Bennett, Nick Grigg

Unlucky to miss out: Chris Harris, Matt Scott


Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland are both British and Irish Lions, and are an integral part of the national squad, so we’re putting them straight in, and Tim Visser also makes this squad – he’s found himself unable to get in squads as of late, but the Dutch-born wing is a fine finisher and has added several strings to his bow since moving to Harlequins.

With those three places gone, that leaves another spot, for which the likes of Lee Jones and Byron McGuigan would be contesting. Both have performed well recently for the national side, but for us, McGuigan’s record in the Aviva Premiership edges him slightly ahead of the Glasgow man.

There’s plenty of firepower in reserve here too – Rory Hughes, Damien Hoyland and Darcy Graham are all still young and developing their games, but are yet to reach the heights of the selected quartet.

Selected: Byron McGuigan, Sean Maitland, Tim Visser, Tommy Seymour

Unlucky to miss out: Lee Jones


Stuart Hogg is nailed-on here, and rightly so. He’s probably the first name on the team sheet, but he does need some competition. Blair Kinghorn will provide that, and his Six Nations showings prove his international time is now.

Capable of slotting in on the wing, or indeed at 10 – although that would be a huge ask on the Test stage – he’s super-talented and a handy guy to have in this type of squad. He, like Horne, would benefit massively from the experience of going to a World Cup, although his game-time may be somewhat limited to the ‘dirt trackers’.

Kinghorn’s selection comes at the expense of Ruaridh Jackson, for whom the Edinburgh man’s arrival could be bad news long-term.

Selected: Blair Kinghorn, Stuart Hogg

Unlucky to miss out: Ruaridh Jackson

The squad in full:

FORWARDS (20): Allan Dell, Darryl Marfo, Gordon Reid, Simon Berghan, Willem Nel, Zander Fagerson; Fraser Brown, Ross Ford, Stuart McInally;  Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Tim Swinson; Cornell Du Preez, David Denton, Hamish Watson, John Barclay, John Hardie, Ryan Wilson

BACKS (16): Ali Price, George Horne, Greig Laidlaw; Finn Russell; Peter Horne, Alex Dunbar, Duncan Taylor, Huw Jones, Mark Bennett, Nick Grigg; Byron McGuigan, Sean Maitland, Tim Visser, Tommy Seymour; Blair Kinghorn, Stuart Hogg

46 Responses

  1. If it’s a 31 man squad as per last time then you are looking at a 14/17 split, unless you take the view that Peter Horne covers both 10 and 12.

    For what it’s worth, if everyone was fit and playing well….

    Back Three Hogg, Kinghorn, Seymour, Maitland, Taylor
    Centres Jones, Dunbar, Horne, Bennett/Grigg
    Stand Off Russell
    Scrum Halves Laidlaw, Price, Horne

    Props Dickinson, Dell, Nel, Fagerson, Berghan/McCallum*
    Hookers McInally, Brown, Ford
    Locks J Gray, R Gray, Gilchrist, Toolis,
    Back Five Barclay, Watson, Hardie, Wilson, Bradbury, Denton

    With five props, you need someone who can cover both sides…I’d imagine only Murray McCallum and Jon Welsh really fit that bill, although Al Dickinson did in former times, of course. Hard on Simon Berghan if he was to miss out. I accept that Jamie Bhatti would be unlucky but if Dickinson and Dell come back to full form and fitness then I believe they edge all the rest. The competition for the Edinburgh No.1 shirt next year will certainly be interesting.

    With a 31 man squad versatility is everything. Makes the likes of Duncan Taylor and Blair Kinghorn so useful. (Horne and Kinghorn would back up Finn Russell). Makes for a case for a Rob Harley/Tim Swinson (covering 6) as well. Certainly no more than 4 outright specialist locks will get taken.

    We now have more players of a certain standard than ever before, hence a lot of marginal calls..the competition between Mark Bennett/Matt Scott/Nick Grigg should be very interesting next year, for example.

    A lightweight pack, still lacking in powerful ball carriers…but with two highly mobile hookers and real depth at 7, perhaps the right sort of pack for the heat of Japan?

  2. After thinking about it properly this would be my 31 man squad;










    Laidlaw (Finlay Christie gets into the squad if he decides he wants to represent Scotland)


    Finn Russell
    Adam Hastings


    Duncan Taylor
    Huw Jones

    Back 3


    1. You have a lot of “green” in your squad, despite the fact that the most successful sides in the RWC are the most experienced.
      Your props have a total of 58 caps between them, which is woefully inexperienced for a World Cup campaign. Even in the next 18 months that is unlikely to go up beyond 100.
      You’ve also picked 3 players yet to play for Scotland, let alone have proved themselves as International class. And you want Christie, who can’t even get on the bench for the Hurricanes, to replace our most experienced scrum half? The man that consistently gets us over the line in tight games?

      1. Finlay Christie is injured at the minute. He played 9 times for the Chiefs last season and was one of the best players on the pitch against the British and Irish Lions and completely outperformed his opposite number Greig Laidlaw. Only reason he has not played for Hurricanes yet is due to getting injured before the start of the season.

        Also feel being number 2 to two of the three best scrum-halfs in the world (Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara) over the past two seasons will give him all the knowledge and skill to be a top top scrum half

      2. Scottish rugby has a long history of holding back on the introduction of promising players in favour of some who have lots of experience of losing. Brutal perhaps, but experience is most useful when it starts early.

  3. I’d make room for Jackson, partly as utility, but mainly because he’s currently at least the third best 10 we have ( it was his original pre-injuries position when AP clubs were signing him ), and if he played there more often he might well be second in line.
    He’s done really well at Glasgow at full back, but it’s probably done his international career no favours. Maybe more chances at 10 when Russell has gone.
    If pushed I’d drop McGuigan from the list. Taylor or Kinghorn can play wing if need be

    1. Ah – but if you’re only allowed 14 backs, as is probable, which 3 would you drop in order to make room for Jackson?

  4. Again Gav, I think you’re being disingenuous to suggest we can take a 36 man squad. If, like previous world cups, the squad size is limited to 31, we can take 14 backs at most.
    That being said, I agree with all your selections (on current form if not fitness). Which means we have to de-select two. I think those will be Nick Grigg and Byron McGuigan. The other options have more flexibility.
    Perhaps you should have put a huge caveat at the start of each article stating that you are assuming you can have a 36 man squad and your are picking solely on current form, not on what might happen over the next 18 months. Great piece though.

  5. Thanks for all the feedback on the squad & its size. While I wrote this realising full well the squad was 31 at the 2015 RWC, injuries/suspensions meant Vern Cotter added to that.
    It’s merely my views on a potential squad & I fully appreciate the numbers may not be an accurate representation – but I’m not being ‘disingenuous’ as has been suggested here. Glad to see the piece has sparked healthy debate

  6. Don’t think Henry Pyrgos, Nathan Fowles, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Lee Jones and Chris Harris are that unlucky to miss out to be honest

  7. I think Hastings will be in this squad, probably at the expense of Nick Grigg and have Pete Horne in as a 12 primarily. Hastings will tour this Summer and sit on the bench a bit in the Autumn. He has so much potential that he can’t be ignored for much longer. If we are talking about George Horne going then Hastings belongs in the same conversation. He turns 23 during the world cup so we can’t talk about him being a ‘prospect’ by then.

    Tim Visser won’t play for Scotland with Townsend in charge as long as Seymour, Maitland, Jones, McGuigan are all fit. He might score a lot of tries but doesn’t work as per the Townsend style. Oh and he is defensively incompetent!

    My 14, yes 14, backs would be

    SH – Price, Horne & Laidlaw
    FH – Russell & Hastings
    CT – Dunbar, Horne, Taylor, Jones & Bennett
    B3 – Maitland, McGuigan, Hogg & Kinghorn

    Taylor & Bennett can cover the back 3, Hastings can play Fullback too.

    1. I doubt we will see McGuigan again if Seymour, Maitland and Kinghorn are fit and available and in a crunch I would would personally chose Lee Jones ahead of him as well. Look at Jones vs ABs and compare to McGuigan’s two starts. Dougie Fife could also well be ahead of him soon.

      Picking McGuigan over Maitland is one of the worst choices any Scotland coach has made in recent memory.

      1. Personally I would pick Jones too if the RWC was now but he will be 31 come June 2019. Can only really play on the wing, scrum half too but I’ve already selected 3 of them.
        McGuigan can cover centre & wing from the bench against a Romania side and rest our stars for the bigger games.

        He is also playing really well at club level and with a bit more international exposure could be a good option in 18 months time.

  8. Scotland
    On 1 September, Scotland announced their 31-man squad.

    On 14 September, Kevin Bryce replaced Stuart McInally in the squad following injury.

    1 On 29 September, Blair Cowan replaced Grant Gilchrist in the squad following injury.

    2 On 17 October, Rory Sutherland replaced Ryan Grant in the squad following injury.

    Head coach: New Zealand Vern Cotter

    Player Position Date of Birth (Age) Caps Club/province
    Fraser Brown Hooker 20 June 1989 (aged 26) 10 Scotland Glasgow Warriors
    Kevin Bryce Hooker 7 September 1988 (aged 27) 2 Scotland Glasgow Warriors
    Ross Ford Hooker 23 April 1984 (aged 31) 89 Scotland Edinburgh
    Alasdair Dickinson Prop 11 September 1983 (aged 32) 47 Scotland Edinburgh
    Ryan Grant(2) Prop 8 October 1985 (aged 29) 23 Scotland Glasgow Warriors
    WP Nel Prop 30 April 1986 (aged 29) 3 Scotland Edinburgh
    Gordon Reid Prop 4 March 1987 (aged 28) 12 Scotland Glasgow Warriors
    Rory Sutherland (2) Prop 24 August 1992 (aged 23) 0 Scotland Edinburgh
    Jon Welsh Prop 13 October 1986 (aged 28) 7 England Newcastle Falcons
    Grant Gilchrist (1) Lock 9 August 1990 (aged 25) 10 Scotland Edinburgh
    Jonny Gray Lock 14 March 1994 (aged 21) 15 Scotland Glasgow Warriors
    Richie Gray Lock 24 August 1989 (aged 26) 46 France Castres
    Tim Swinson Lock 17 February 1987 (aged 28) 13 Scotland Glasgow Warriors
    Blair Cowan (1) Flanker 21 April 1986 (aged 29) 13 England London Irish
    John Hardie Flanker 27 July 1988 (aged 27) 2 Unattached
    Alasdair Strokosch Flanker 21 February 1983 (aged 32) 46 France Perpignan
    Ryan Wilson Flanker 18 May 1989 (aged 26) 11 Scotland Glasgow Warriors
    David Denton Number 8 5 February 1990 (aged 25) 28 Scotland Edinburgh
    Josh Strauss Number 8 23 October 1986 (aged 28) 0 Scotland Glasgow Warriors

  9. I think Townsend will be looking for Matt Scott and Sam Johnstone to solve his problems in the 12 shirt. Taylor is obviously the class act in contention and Dunbar is perfect for an arm wrestle with the Irish but neither can be relied upon to be available for selection. Johnstone has been great this season and is eligible in the Autumn. Scott has obviously fell away but has the chance coming back to Edinburgh to state his case in the Pro14 and especially the Champions Cup (finger crossed).

    My main concerns are Laidlaw and Barclay. Laidlaw was exposed against Conor Murray and that is only going to be a bigger problem in 18 months time. Barclay looked weak in contact this 6 Nations and is going to be 33 by Japan. Both are well worth their place in the squad for their leadership and skills but would you want them starting in a high intensity Tier One World Cup match?

      1. That’s the Anglo version and we can’t have an international player sharing a name with the Doctor famous for his hatred of Scots.

        So I propose that after three years residency it evolves into Johnstone which is a good Borders name.

  10. My 16 backs:
    Hogg, Kinghorn, Seymour, Maitland, McGuigan, L. Jones
    Dunbar, Taylor, H.Jones, Bennett, Scott
    Russell, P. Horne
    Laidlaw, Price, G. Horne

    If the final squad is down to 14, I would leave out Lee Jones and Matt Scott. I’m not a fan of Visser, I don’t think Townsend is either, and I think Matt Scott has a more rounded game than Grigg.

  11. Biggest worry in the backs has to be the confidence, form and fitness of Russell after a long season of getting smashed every weekend by big French forwards. We really need a robust plan B at stand-off which is going to have to include international game time for the pretenders. On the upside Weir has shown he can really close out a match when given an opportunity recently and Hastings has been very good in his last couple of games.

  12. My 16 Backs and i wont reduce it because some commenters are up in arms.

    Scrum Half -Horne, SHC

    10 – Hastings, Russell

    Inside Centre – Johnson, Dean

    Outside Centre – Jones, Bennett

    Wings – Maitland, Fife, Graham

    Fullback – Hogg, Kinghorn

    Utility players – Laidlaw, P.Horne, Taylor

    I have went for more speed and less strength due to conditions we will be playing in.

    At Scrum-half i predict Horne will usurp Price at glasgow and this will result in him dropping slightly, SHC offers a strong running game when allowed to play it and i believe his one weakness in passing will improve at Bristol in the Aviva.
    Laidlaw covers 9/10 from the bench.

    at flyhalf – Russell goes and Hastings is getting better and better so should be test quality by the time the world cup comes round. We again have Laidlaw but also P.Horne as backup.

    Inside Centre i have went for Johnson and Dean, 2 powerful yet agile centre who have a good all round game. Dunbar unlucky but not the conditions i want him in. Scott has abit to prove to convince me yet.

    Outside Centre – No brainer Jones and Bennett with Taylor able to cover both spots on bench. Grigg does not have any passing game.

    Wings, Maitland is the only clear starter, Fife is improving alot and Seymour in on the decline, Graham is my wildcard in the backs and i think the conditions work for him and will scare the life out of defenders with 20 to go.

    Fullback- 2 Quality players, Nuff Said.

    1st choice backline.

    9. Horne
    10. Russell
    11. Maitland
    12. Johnson
    13. Jones
    14. Kinghorn
    15. Hogg
    21. Laidlaw
    22. Horne
    23. Taylor

  13. I started with who I would want to start against Ireland in 18 months’ time:
    Bhatti, McInally, Nel; Gray, Gray; Barclay, Watson, Wilson;
    Price, Russell; Maitland, Dunbar, Jones, Kinghorn; Hogg.
    Then the replacements:
    Brown, Dell, Fagerson, Gilchrist, Denton; Laidlaw, Horne, Taylor.
    So that’s the 23, so the additional 8 (to make a squad of 31):
    McCallum (can cover both sides of the scrum);
    Ross (his experience may well prove invaluable);
    Toolis (his form didn’t warrant being dropped, and offers something different);
    Hardie (Watson will need a rest at some point);
    Horne (the most obvious challenger to Price and Laidlaw atm);
    Bennett (can play 12, 13 and 15, and has an X factor);
    Seymour (possibly out of the 23 for now, but will regain his form);
    Visser (my choice, possibly not Townsend’s. An out-an-out winger, in form, which is more than can be said for some I have already picked, never mind missed out).

  14. Merlot Your props have a total of 57 caps between them, which is woefully inexperienced for a World Cup campaign. You’ve also selected two players who have never played for Scotland and another who has had just a 10 minute stint against Wales. Your squad is clearly lacking a bit of green ;)

  15. Luke Hamilton appears to be joining Edinburgh to increase his international chances which seems strange considering their depth, there is talk of Crosbie joining Glasgow though to try get regular game time.

    1. It’s crazy how many back-row players Edinburgh have signed for next season. Barclay, Watson and Mata will likely be their starting back-row next season leaving Bradburry, Crosbie, Ritchie and possibly Hamilton in reserve.

      Of course Barclay and even Watson will be well looked after by the SRU so their will be plenty of opportunities but you’d imagine at least one or 2 of Bradburry, Ritchie, Crosbie or Hamilton would suffer.

      Hamilton going to Glasgow would make more sense. Although with a best starting back-row of Matt Fagerson, Callum Gibbens and Ryan Wilson their back-row looks far stronger than what it was they suffer with a lack of depth in this department so Hamilton would surely get more game time at Glasgow without affecting Ashe and Smith’s game time too much.

    2. Cockerill connection. The SRU are certainly making an effort to bring Edinburgh up to scratch. They need to sort out the stadium situation ASAP or it will lead nowhere.

      Crosbie looks a great prospect and would give the Glasgow back row some extra muscle which they are badly lacking.

    3. Edinburgh currently have only 7 back rows for next year – a couple of injuries and then during the international windows they’d have no-one left.

  16. 18 months out from RWC 19, these articles on forwards and backs selections are mildly interesting and if they have any value at this time at all they at least stimulate discussion about the growing strength in depth in Scottish rugby. Other than that, they’re pretty worthless at this point with a summer tour, Autumn Internationals and 6N 19 still to come.
    Shorter term, I’d like to see more focus on Glasgow and Edinburgh as they approach their PRO 14/Euro Challenge Cup run ins.
    Looking forward to mixing it in a RWC debate – when the time is right.

  17. On current club form Weir is in at 10 for me.

    If Russell is having a Wales, France or Italy and Laidlaw comes on at 10, why not bring on Price and Weir, or if you want keep Laidlaw at 9 and have them both.

    With fast ball he plays fine so Price and Weir could be a good combination.

    Weir is a better version of what Laidlaw moving to 10 is. Great kicking stats, can slot a drop goal, excellent touch finders, faster and more physical than Laidlaw and Russell.

    He has experience and are we forgetting about his run against South Africa?

  18. Agree on Weir. The folk who rubbish him are those judging high solely on last season at Edinburgh where he was part of a shambolic set-up. He was getting Test caps as recently as 13 months ago, you don’t get as many caps as he has without being an outstanding player and it annoys me people saying he’s a club level player etc. I was calling for his recall before his recent heroics with Edinburgh. He’s got the lot.

    McGuigan, no thanks. He’s not good enough. His try count this season means little as he’s just finishing off team moves. Lee Jones is a better player. I’d pick Jackson as well as Kinghorn, he’s good cover at 10 and 15.

    G.Horne is in a different class to Pyrgos/Fowles and the gap will only be bigger in 12 months. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s first choice in 18 months actually.

    1. Not long ago nobody wanted Weir near the team again. Shows how quickly some opinions change based on a 20 minute performance.

      1. If you look at how Scotland are happy to use a 10 who plays deep and can kick when Laidlaw moves to 10 why not pick Weir?

  19. The good news regarding back up 10 is that:

    Hopefully Hastings will have had a full pro14 season as Glasgow’s starting 10 to push his case. Even if he has to rotate with Horne he will likely have had more gametime than this season.

    If Rennie does see Horne as his 10 then a full season there will see him come on in the position.

    Weir has shone a few glimpses that he hasn’t lost it and assuming he gets a decent contract somewhere and stays fit and gets games he’ll be a good option.

    We could picking our world cup squad with Russell and 2 or 3 good backup options at 10 available.

  20. Weir has divided opinion since he was a teenager.

    For every Connacht performance there is a Yoann Huget try intercept. Even against Connacht there was a trademark silly penalty conceded for going off his feet at a ruck. (I’ve never seen a 10 get involved in so many rucks in my life).

    Seems like successive coaches have decided that he doesn’t control a game well enough. It will be a long road back for him at international level, but I wish him well.

    1. Carter threw an intercept to Seymour. Doesn’t make you a bad player. Could say the same of Horne. Weir at his best is not as good as Russell at his best but at the same time his worst isn’t as bad as Russells either. I think we’ll see him in Scotland shirt again.

    14 backs
    Hogg, Kinghorn, Maitland, Seymour
    Taylor, Jones, Bennett, Dunbar, P.Horne
    Russell, Hastings
    Price, G.Horne, Laidlaw
    17 forwards
    Bradbury, Barclay, Watson, Hardie, Denton
    J.Gray, R.Gray, Toolis, Cummings
    McInally, Brown, Ford
    Berghan, Fagerson, Bhatti, Sutherland, McCallum, Reid

    M.Fagerson, T.Swinson, L.Crosbie, A.Ashe, R.Wilson, S.Johnson, B.McGuigan, M.Scott, H.Pygros, WP Nel, L.Hamilton are worthy of consideration hopes too

    1. You’ve got 32 here – 18 forwards.

      I like your picks though, very similar to mine. Would probably only swap out Denton and McCallum for Wilson and Nel. Maybe Hardie for Ritchie in the interest of versatility as well. And then Hastings probably drops out to make it 31

  22. Well spotted sir, Bradbury oot………maybe Marfo sneaks in in front of Reid too

    Like Ritchie but Hardie is brilliant. Wilson seems “jack of all trades master of none”

    10 is our big problem, Russell is brilliant but sometimes………… the uncertainty/suitability surrounding Hastings, Horne, Laidlaw made me mention in hushed tones re Hogg @ 10 in a previous post……………….. I was subsequently treated like a ginger step child. :-)

  23. Just announced that Ihaia West is joining La Rochelle. As a SQ fly half (who seems to be quality from what I hear), it will be interesting whether he might appear in upcoming squads with a view to the World Cup

    1. From what I know he was highly thought of when he came on to the scene, however he has failed to deliver and at 26 he is now considered a running joke to many New Zealanders. Quite similar to the Gareth Anscombe situation of a few years ago.

      1. It will be interesting to keep an eye on him in the NH. Evidently has talent, whether he can find it again consistently is another question. But nice to have an additional FH in our pool

      2. West had a number of seasons in super rif you, Anscombe was there for a much shorter period and seems to have made an early positive choice to play for Wales, the country of his mother’s birth. As far as I can see West’s Scottishness is only rumoured and he has moved to France for big bucks after failing to hit the big time in NZ. If he is SQ and good then happy days but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

      3. It does seem to be more a rumour than anything (mainly based on his ginger hair), although has been going on a while so I guess we will see.

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