Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has announced his summer touring squad for the annual foreign mish-mash of one-off tests – this time it is USA, Canada and Argentina – and as is usual during the development spell there are a few new names on board.
There are also, of course, two stalwarts of Scottish rugby who definitely aren’t going. Former Edinburgh and now Newcastle back row Ally Hogg is retiring from rugby of all sorts this season, while winger Tim Visser has merely announced his retirement from international rugby. Hogg, 35, hasn’t been involved with the Scotland set-up in quite some time and it seems criminal that he’s retiring on just 48 caps given our struggles in the back row, perhaps not recently but certainly during the Huw Blake/Blair Cowan days of Scott Johnson’s reign. Dutch-born Visser’s impact was brighter and shorter with 14 tries in 33 appearances but he clearly wishes to concentrate on his club and young family. We wish both all the best for the future.
And so to the squad.
With Matt Fagerson not listed in Brian Redpath’s U20s squad for the Junior World Champs it was always a safe bet he would travel, especially with the reports earlier in the week that several key names like John Barclay, Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell and Jonny Gray would be rested ahead of a busy World Cup season for 2018-2019. These reports turn out to be true along with Ryan Wilson, Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland also resting and injuries or surgery for WP Nel, Huw Jones, Hamish Watson and John Hardie giving them a summer off.
Some who make the “unlucky to miss out” list might include Matt Scott, Edinburgh’s Darryl Marfo, Chris Dean and Mark Bennett, and Glasgow’s Henry Pyrgos. Other names from the Six Nations absent this time round include Nathan Fowles, Gordon Reid, Rob Harley and Cornell du Preez.
All of which leaves the squad looking slightly inexperienced in some areas such as wing, standoff and openside.
It does of course give Townsend the chance to blood some of the rising talent like George Horne, Adam Hastings and Murray McCallum all of whom will tour. Other names from previous Scotland squads like Luke Hamilton, Chris Harris and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne are also back in the fold. If we look at it optimistically, with a possible return to proper tours for Scotland following 2019 there might not be as much chance for as much experimentation or development over the coming years given the depth we would need to mount a serious challenge over 2 or 3 tests against one of the SANZAR lot.
The presence of Pete Horne and Hastings junior (and Ruaridh Jackson too) goes some way to answering the question about what you do when Finn isn’t available, as does the call up of new name James Lang of Harlequins (age 23), the fly-half/centre who it has to be said wasn’t on many radars. Lang has been making regular appearances for Quins this season both starting and from the bench, and re-signed with the club for next season following his 2 year academy deal. Be warned, the Welsh may claim him (though he did at least turn out for our U18s).
Oh, and welcome back SuperDunc Taylor!
There is also the question of who fills the leadership hole that group will leave in the squad, and the answer is Stuart McInally, who will captain his country at the end of his finest season to date. There are also other experienced figures like Stuart Hogg, Fraser Brown and Richie Gray peppered throughout the squad. Richie misses out on a tour with his brother but the brothers Horne and Fagerson will both be in full effect.
One final quandary is in the back row – neither Hamish Watson, John Hardie nor John Barclay will travel, so who packs down at openside will be an interesting puzzle for the Scotland coaching group. There isn’t an out and out ferret in the team, but plenty of 6.5s like Jamie Ritchie or Luke Hamilton.
Here’s a bash at a match day squad that is likely to be the strongest possible say for Argentina, but I would expect to see a bit more experimentation on this tour in the earlier games. Picking a back row that looks balanced was quite tricky…
Possible Scotland XV: Stuart Hogg, Blair Kinghorn, Duncan Taylor, Alex Dunbar, Byron McGuigan, Pete Horne, George Horne; Jamie Bhatti, Stuart McInally (capt), Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis, Richie Gray, Matt Fagerson, Luke Hamilton, David Denton.
Replacements: Fraser Brown, Allan Dell, Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist, Magnus Bradbury, Ali Price, Adam Hastings, Nick Grigg.
Simon Berghan (Edinburgh Rugby) – 8 caps
Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors) – 8 caps
Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh Rugby) – 2 caps
Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) – 31 caps
Lewis Carmichael (Edinburgh Rugby) – uncapped
Allan Dell (Edinburgh Rugby) – 10 caps
David Denton (Worcester Warriors) – 39 caps
Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) – uncapped
Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) – 16 caps
Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby) – 22 caps
Richie Gray (Toulouse) – 65 caps
Luke Hamilton (Leicester Tigers) – 1 cap
Murray McCallum (Edinburgh Rugby) – 1 cap
Stuart McInally CAPTAIN (Edinburgh Rugby) – 17 caps
Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh Rugby) – uncapped
Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors) – 36 caps
George Turner (Glasgow Warriors) – 2 caps
Ben Toolis (Edinburgh Rugby) – 9 caps
Nick Grigg (Glasgow Warriors) – 4 caps
Chris Harris (Newcastle Falcons) – 2 caps
Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors) – uncapped
Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh Rugby) – 9 caps
Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors) – 28 caps
Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors) – 60 caps
George Horne (Glasgow Warriors) – uncapped
Pete Horne (Glasgow Warriors) – 33 caps
Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors) – 32 caps
Lee Jones (Glasgow Warriors) – 8 caps
Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby) – 2 caps
James Lang (Harlequins) – uncapped
Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks) – 3 caps
Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) – 16 caps
Duncan Taylor (Saracens) – 21 caps
Unavailable through injury: Luke Crosbie (knee), John Hardie (back), Huw Jones (wrist surgery scheduled), Willem Nel (knee assessment / rehabilitation), Hamish Watson (shoulder).
2018 Summer Tour
Saturday 9 June: Canada v Scotland; Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton (kick-off 7.10pm local)
Saturday 16 June: USA v Scotland; BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston (kick-off 7pm local)
Weekend of 22 June: Argentina v Scotland; Estadio Centenario (kick-off 4.40pm local)