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