Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Gav’s World Cup Squad: v2.0: the Backs

Finn Russell
Finn Russell - pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

Back in March, I attempted to select a World Cup squad for Japan next year, based on the Six Nations. Now that the summer tour, and the 2017/18 season is at its end, I’ve revisited that squad and there are a few changes – I’ve also cut the squad down to just 31 which, as many people pointed out at the time, was the normal size of a Rugby World Cup squad in 2015.

It is probably fair to say that Greig Laidlaw is still ‘nailed on’ here, but what’s interesting is that there are now potentially two spots up for grabs. Ali Price has lost some of the form that saw him talked of as the heir-apparent to Laidlaw, and George Horne has taken the number nine jersey – with varying degrees of success – for Glasgow.  Horne has electric pace and his link work is second-to-none in the country, and he’s worked on his pass to improve that area but his box-kicking can be somewhat erratic, as Glasgow fans will remember from the Pro14 semi-final.
Sam Hidalgo-Clyne had a great run as his time with Edinburgh drew to a close and he’ll need to build on that with the Scarlets, but for now he’s in great form and comes with the added bonus of being an assured goal kicker. I’d argue that at the moment, in a full-strength XV, he’d be backing up to Laidlaw off the bench.
That leaves it between Horne Junior and Price: Horne’s performance against Argentina alone was outstanding, however dreadful the Pumas were. It’s tough to leave Price out because he’s served Scotland well in the past, but his form since THAT game in Cardiff has been below the levels of last year and for that reason, he narrowly misses out. Unlike Price who will have plenty of opportunity to get back in, Hidalgo-Clyne may also struggle for game time at the Scarlets which could affect this decision when we revisit it in November.
Charlie Shiel is another to have been exposed to the national set-up over the summer. Henry Pyrgos, who captained Scotland at the 2015 World Cup, and Edinburgh’s Nathan Fowles have a lot of ground to make up.
Selected: George Horne, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Greig Laidlaw
Unlucky to miss out: Ali Price
With Finn Russell off to Paris and Racing 92, Adam Hastings was given a run in two of the summer tour matches and while there were no glaring errors, he still has a long way to go before forcing his way into this squad. That said, his game should come on leaps and bounds with regular game-time at Glasgow next season, and he is a natural 10 – something Scotland are crying out for to back-up the mercurial Russell, whose place is in no doubt, barring injury.
Ruaridh Jackson played at 10 against a very limited Canadian side and Scotland cruised home, so he is another option – albeit he would need some games at 10 for Glasgow before he could be considered.
For me, it’s as-you-were, with Peter Horne backing up Finn.
Selected: Finn Russell, Peter Horne
Unlucky to miss out: Adam Hastings


Horne’s inclusion (see above) means that there’s probably only a need for four centres and with a relatively small squad, you’d want versatility.

Ideally Duncan Taylor fills that role as he can play on the wing too, but he badly needs a run of games to play his way into the mix – the Saracen has had a wretched year with injuries and sat out all three summer tour games despite being in the squad. There are also guys like James Lang and Chris Harris to consider who can cover extra positions (standoff, wing respectively).

Alex Dunbar and Huw Jones have been, when fit, the first-choice pairing for Townsend, but there’s always Nick Grigg and Edinburgh’s likely first choices next season, Mark Bennett and the returning Matt Scott to consider.

If we pencil in Dunbar and Jones that leaves probably only one more spot as Horne will largely be used as a centre despite being named here as the back-up 10. Taylor would be favourite if he can get over his injury troubles, but if not, Grigg could be the man to board the plane.

Selected: Alex Dunbar, Huw Jones, Duncan Taylor
Unlucky to miss out: Nick Grigg, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott & Chris Harris


Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland are both British & Irish Lions, and are an integral part of the national squad, so we’re still putting them straight in despite playing no part over the summer.
With Tim Visser having donned the dark blue for the final time and Blair Kinghorn – who did travel – having shown his worth on the wing, there’s arguably only one wing spot left in the 31-man squad.

Lee Jones and Byron McGuigan would be contesting that spot – along with Dougie Fife, who’s had a terrific season for Edinburgh. All three played on tour but Jones went home injured. McGuigan’s record in the Aviva Premiership edges him slightly ahead of his rivals, but good yearl-long campaigns for either Jones or Fife could put them on the plane.

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, Tommy Seymour, Blair Kinghorn
Unlucky to miss out: Lee Jones, Dougie Fife


In March I said in March, 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 – Kinghorn is the man to provide that and now he has some Test experience at 15, albeit limited – he may be better utilised on the wing for now and has been selected there.

Selected: Stuart Hogg
Unlucky to miss out: Ruaridh Jackson

Scotland Backs (13): George Horne, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Greig Laidlaw; Finn Russell, Peter Horne; Alex Dunbar, Duncan Taylor, Huw Jones; Byron McGuigan, Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour; Blair Kinghorn, Stuart Hogg.

Next up tomorrow: the forwards.

55 Responses

  1. You going to do this every couple of months as it’s pretty pointless.

    The justification for SHC selection is bizarre – kind of devalues the rest of what you are trying to say.

  2. Picking Taylor as a nominal back three player instead of McGuigan would allow for another centre or even flyhalf…maybe a resurgent Bennett or Scott, off the back of a good season for Edinburgh.

  3. Anyone picking SHC didn’t watch the tour games. He didn’t stand out in the ‘easy’ game, and whilst he stood out in his cameos from the bench – it was because Horne thoroughly outclassed him in all facets.

    1. Price is still first/second choice. Not least for game time with Russell. But should be a good shoot out at Glasgow next season. And to see how Shiel goes at E.

      1. Price must be traumatised by his absolute humiliation by Wales and the Scarletts. I think he has a mental mountain to climb. SHC was in that place I think but now coming out form under the black cloud. I think this prediction is sound. Price will not be ready for 2019 and is not unlucky but certain to miss out.

        As for his association with Russell, well Finn looked great in the Barbarians game away from his old mates. He really has been coasting since he was purchased. France could be good for him and a new Scrum Half just what he needs in the Scotkand side. I will be watching him very carefully in France , I think he is being dominated at Glasgow and Scotland and his free spirit is just not flowing. Lets watch and see.

      2. SHC and Price both had outstanding break out seasons early in their careers, were tagged with the unhelpful label of great white saviours by Laidlaw haters, and struggled to match their early form suffering second season syndrome.

        The difference is Price is surrounded by good coaches in a good environment to bring the beat out of him. SHC was stuck at Solomon’s Edinburgh where morale and ambition were at a soul-crushing low.

        I expect both will come again to contest the 9 shirt with Horne when Laidlaw retires. If Price gets back his mojo this year he has the best pass from all our options – like Horne and SHC he is painfully short of top class experience and shouldn’t be written off for being forced to learn in the job at Scotland level.

      3. Agreed, FF. Three strong options alongside (behind?) Laidlaw with a season to find/build/maintain form.

  4. I think we have an outstanding first XV when firing on all cylinders. But we lack depth. Hogg and Russell need a real competition for their respective positions.

    I think the selections can’t really be argued much, the summer tour provided a good exposure of the up and comings which need to be included especially those who have proven themselves worthy.

    I think regardless of the team selection we still have the dreaded away game ‘rain cloud’ looming over us. Time will tell if that’s lifting, but beating Argentina and Canada doesn’t shift that feeling.

    I look forward to seeing the forwards predictions.

    1. I think the depth at FH and FB is the best it’s been for years. I’d be happy going into an international against a top team with any of: Russell, Horne, Hastings, Laidlaw, Jackson at 10 providing enough first team choices surround the back up, eg Laidlaw, Hastings, Maitland, Dunbar, Jones, Seymour/Kinghorn, Hogg sounds pretty good. Likewise the depth at fullback is Hogg, Kinghorn, Maitland. What worries me is not getting enough inside centres fit, need one of Dunbar or Taylor or else we really lack in defence and hard running lines.

  5. You would hope that Bennett would return to his best & be nailed on for the squad. Seymour needs a good first 1/2 of next season as he’s been below his best form the whole season. An on form Scott must be close, Scotland lack beef in the backs. Sam Johnson????? I like SHC but is he going to get much game time in Wales?
    McGuigan is like Visser a scorer of tries but hasn’t the best all round game.

  6. Wingers- Kinghorn, Seamour and Maitland aside, Fife/ McGuigan/ Hoyland/ Jones etc just don’t really get the juices going. I’d be interested to see what Jamie Farndale could bring if back in to 15s game. Any other 7 players in with a (long) shot? After all 7s is meant to be a development format, isn’t it?

    1. I think it is time to stop experimenting now and play the deck we have. We are in good shape considering where we were.

      I get the point about the 4th Winger. Fife was a 7’s development player so overlooking him and arguing it is a development opportunity is contradictory.

      McGuigan is average and we are seeing the best of him. I would give it to Fife as he has settled back and is I feel ,capable of more, lt’s hope he gets it on next season.

      1. We have four top, top class back three players in Hogg, Kinghorn, Maitland and Seymour. Any from Fife, McGuigan or Jones are more than adequate back ups and significantly better than the likes of Danielli and Webster who were once mainstays so I wouldn’t worry overly. It’s good times when a constant source of moaning is whether our fourth choice winger is good enough.

      2. Scrummo, you mention Danielli and Webster. I always feel a bit sorry for these players from the last 15+ years as I wonder how they would have performed if they had had better players around them and better coaching. The current 1st XV are clearly a more talented bunch than they were, but the performances of some of the more marginal players today are often improved by the quality around them.

    2. Farndale and Fife came back to Edinburgh from the 7s squad (along with Johnstone). Fife and JJ both stepped up and secured a contract with Edinburgh, Farndale didn’t.

      Not writing him off completely, but if he was capable of stepping up, I have no doubt Cockerill would have kept him at the club.

      1. If we’re after a safe, strong finisher then it’s McGuigan. If it’s a bit more x-factor with suspect defence then it’s Graham, Hoyland. If it’s based on form against NZ then it’s Jones.

  7. Looks like we are assuming we need 6 props in the squad to make it a 18/13 split. If we could get away with 5 (??), then could have an extra back.
    Sticking with 13 for now, tempted to pick a centre who can do a job on the wing & have just 4 for the back three positions:
    – Laidlaw, Price, G Horne
    – Russell, Hastings
    – P Horne, Dunbar, H Jones, Taylor (Bennett also looks like he could be useful to cover wing & has a good boot so would be a back-up choice)
    – Hogg, Kinghorn, Maitland, Seymour

    Would love Scott to really come on at Embra & spend more time at 12 than at Gloucester so we have a heavy-duty back-up option to Dunbar who is sadly a bit injury prone. Also Fife to continue his resurgence & be an option if we can afford 14 backs.
    Think getting the selection in the back line is a lot trickier than picking the forwards.

  8. 1. Greig Laidlaw (9/10)
    2. George Horne
    3. Sam-Hidalgo Clyne (9/10/wing + kicker)
    4. Finn Russell (can play 12)
    5. Adam Hastings
    6. Matt Scott (12/13)
    7. Alex Dunbar (12/13)
    8. Duncan Taylor (13/12/Wing/FB)
    9. Huw Jones (13/12/15)
    10. Blair Kinghorn (Wing/FB/10 ?)
    11. Tommy Seymour (Wing/FB)
    12. Sean Maitland (Wing/FB)
    13. Stuart Hogg (FB/10/13)

    Unlucky player – Peter Horne.
    Bolter – Adam Hastings.

    Versatile Squad to cover all horrible Scenarios. Strong Blend of Experience/Youth/Speed/Power/Superstars

    1. Barring a dramatic drop-off in form this season, I can’t see Peter Horne being dropped from the squad. Versatility and a left-footed kicking/playmaker option at 10 and 12, as well as being a decent goalkicker.

    2. Neil that has to be the most sensible list you’ve put together for ages.
      Personally I’d take Pete Horne instead of Hastings and Bennett over Scott (on current form/fitness/experience). I think Price may battle his way into contention, especially if SHC doesn’t get enough game time at Scarlets.
      However, that’s a pretty strong squad from which to pick an exciting back line.

      1. I like Horne also but for me Hastings is an out and out 10, Pete is a ball playing centre who can play 10 but doesn not have the vision/game management of regular 10’s.

        That and Laidlaw did a fine job in the Six nations when he covered there, SHC Can also do an average job going through the motions.

        We also have kinghorn\Hogg what as unlikely but possible options so i feel Horne versatility may backfire on him.

        I think he should focus fully on mastering being a ball playing 12 should we adopt different game plans during the WC and secure his place on merit as a centre first are foremost over players like Scott/Taylor

  9. What happened to Brandon Thomson who arrived with quite a fanfare for his second Glasgow spell? He has hardly been seen but in his few cameos he looked good. Good hands and feet, eye for a try and a strong tackle. Injured or not good enough?

    1. Pretty sure he’s not Scottish qualified – apparently represented SA u20 in a capture match according to those on the glasgow forum.

      1. I think you’re right about Thomsons SQ status. This also seems to apply to Duhan VDM and Oli Kebble but not Jaco van der Walt.

      2. Chat on other forums is that DVDM and Kebble are ok. Both have spoken about playing for Scotland and Kebble is definitely a project player.

        Normally u20s captured you if your country nominated them as the second senior team and you played against another u20s team that did the same, but for two season I think it also captured you if you played in a U20s RWC. Something like that – Eligibility criteria really is a mess.

  10. Hard to argue with the backs suggested in the article, but a lot will depend on if SHC gets gametime down in Wales. He’s going there as back up, so is likely to only get limited opportunities. He might still go, as backup to Horne Jnr and Laidlaw, but if Price can get the form he showed previously back, then SHC’s place is at risk.

    I would question McGuigan though. He had a great game against Oz, but since then he’s been largely avg – poor. He may still go, but Toonie really likes Lee Jones so he could easily push ahead of McGuigan. Personally I think Fife deserves the nod as he’s had a strong season with Edinburgh and is also capable of covering 15, but as others have mentioned, it’s our 4th choice winger, and all of them have pros and cons.

    1. Really need Seymour to get his form back. Seymour, Maitland and ( probably ) Kinghorn are international quality wingers on top form. But after that there is a real drop off to good pro level only.

  11. Chances of Taylor and Dunbar both being fit very often between now and Japan are pretty much nil unfortunately.

    Also I’d take almost anybody over McGuigan – I’ve not been more underwhelmed by a Scottish player since the dark days of Di Rollo and Southwell, etc. I’d leave him at home and take Hastings and have P. Horne as a centre as inevitable injury cover.

  12. One player that seems to be glossed over is Pyrgos. While, admittedly, he’s dropped behind Horne, I could still make a case for him. Price, Horne and SHC are all very similar players. If Laidlaw was to get injured, then I can’t see I’m being replaced by SHC or Horne in the squad. Pyrgos has more control on a game than the other three plus has the leadership and experience that P,H,SHC don’t have yet.

    The USA game on tour was crying out for Pyrgos or Laidlaw to come on in the second half.

  13. A key aspect had got to be goal kicking surely? After Laidlaw who is a really reliable kicker. Its clearly why he plays as often as he does.

    Russell is not up there for me, nor is Horne. They even had Kinghorn kicking over the summer and he doesn’t do that for Edinburgh as first choice.

    Thats why SHC is likely to go for me as he is probably our second best goal kicker.

  14. The Dunbar of now is not the pre-injuries Dunbar-
    A tricky choice of course but does his noted defensive and breakdown abilities make up for the reduction in his pace-although maybe horses for courses?

    1. Dont think Dunbar has gotten slower, he was the fittest he has been before he got injured again.

      1. Dunbar looked to me early in the 17/18 season that he’d recovered his speed. Then he got injured again and just didn’t play often enough for anyone to judge whether he’d lost or regained pace – so important an asset at the highest level of the game.
        On another 2019 RWC point, some have mentioned the heat and humidity in Japan as a factor. I agree that about Japan June to August, but the October climate reports describe conditions akin to a Northern European late Spring or late Summer. So maybe not the Royal Botanical Gardens tropical house conditions after all?

      2. Yup last time I saw him play for more than a couple of games, he looked faster than he had been pre-injury. Of course, then he got injured again…

  15. Also can’t see McGuigan getting much wing game time with Yarde, Solomona and now Ashton at Sale.

  16. A bit strange that you have Price missing out due to poor form but still have Seymour in the squad despite the fact that he was poor for the entire season. And McGuigan is just not very good.

  17. Difference is that we have genuine in-form, international-calibre options at scrum half whereas we don’t really in the back 3. Also Seymour has played well for about 3 seasons previously and is a Lion. Enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Agreed re McGuigan. Good at running in tries when there’s no one in front of him but not much else to his game. Hopefully we discover a genuine alternative for him this season – maybe Darcy Graham? People keep saying the time for experimentation is over but worth bearing in mind that 2 of our best players at the 2015 WC, Bennett and Hardie, weren’t capped at this point 4 years ago.

    1. I agree with tryhard here but let me make an observation and ask a question. We have some very high calibre players losing their form, Seymour , Price, Bennett never got back to form at Glasgow and Russell has been lack lustre. The loss of form is in the mind , not physical. The common denominator is Glasgow. Is there something at Glasgow that we cannot see. I would say this dip preceeds Dave Rennie. So what and why are these fellows just showing up all of a sudden ? what would cause them to mentally surrender and be so all at sea. When they play naturally they are clealy gifted players.

      We could add that Jonny Gray is a bit jaded however he is not out of sorts , just tired. I suggest that is a different issue.

  18. Indeed. I could be wrong, but I think at this point prior to the 2015 WC, Finn Russell had 1 cap and had only played one season of professional rugby!

    1. Relax, this thread is just keeping the fantasy dream team guys going. They should just get together, pick their best teams and work it over a subuteo tournament.

  19. Some bizarre choices here. SHC is miles away from Horne Jr., Horne Sr. Is not going to be displaced at 12 at this point either so Hastings will probably be our backup 10.
    McGuigan is not good enough and as it stands now, Seymour shouldn’t be picked (hopefully he will sort things out this season).

  20. I would speculate that Seymour was suffering from a post-Lions burnout, Price a ‘second season syndrome’ where his confidence was shot by a very poor display in Cardiff & Bennett from a succession of injuries post WC 2015, moving over to play 7’s & being effectively demoted for Huw Jones in being moved to Edinburgh from Glasgow, (not that we’re not delighted to have him in Edinburgh). I fully expect all 3 to be back on form next season injuries allowing.

    1. Never heard of ‘second season syndrom’ is that a mental or physical condition underwritten by the BMA . Come to think of it I never heard of Lions syndrome either. Seymour was not in the test side as I recall but he did score more tries than any other lion in NZ, if Stuart Hogg had not got injured he would have been put in his place. Bennett lost form immediately after the 7s and then got injured . In his case , I suspect a silver medal in the Olympics was not popular attribute with Glasgow’s queen bee. Ah now , are you thinking the same as me Ben !!!

    1. So they’ve let SHC go and replaced him with “hasn’t closed a game down in the past two years” Pyrgos? Was there no-one else?

      1. Everyone knows SHC (or his agent) were being a little prima-donna-ish and that is why Edinburgh let him go. With Nathan Fowles, Sean Kennedy and Charlie Shiel, Cockers has some good scrum-halves, but not good enough (to compete in Europe, for example). They are certainly not (yet) international class.
        Henry is a proven leader and competitor at international level, so it makes perfect sense, given Price and Horne are the leading contenders at Glasgow.
        Hopefully it will revive and revitalise Pyrgos to get back to challenging for the Scotland #9 jersey. There needs to be competition for each shirt at either end of the M8 for Scotland to progress/compete, with the odd star men playing outside of Scotland (eg RGray, Russell, Laidlaw, SHC, Taylor, Maitland and even Dave Denton).
        If, as EJ said (or was it WG?), you need 3 players competing for every spot then you need one from each of each at Glasgow, Edinburgh and outside Scotland.

  21. Good signing for Edinburgh. Pro-12 winning, experienced, international scrum half. Be good to see if he can finally play himself back into top form following injury.

    1. Yeah a good move from both perspectives. Henry has the credentials of starting 9 for a championship winning team and a fair bit of international experience, which puts him a fair bit of ahead of anyone on Edinburgh’s books. If he comes with the right attitude Cockerill will pick him and I anticipate a reciprocal response in performance from Pyrgos.

  22. Glasgow signed up Nick Frisby Pretty decent signing, but do they really need another Scrum-half ? Horne/Price/Matawalu

    1. Rennie does not appear to see Niko as a scrum half – don’t remember him there even as replacement last season.

      1. It is a real shame as he was very exiting, fun, crazy, and terrified defenses in a way no other 9 on the planet, Rennie is missing a trick not using him there.

  23. A frisbee (also called a flying disc or simply a disc) is a gliding toy or sporting item that is generally plastic and roughly 20 to 25 centimetres (8 to 10 in) in diameter with a lip used recreationally and competitively for throwing and catching, for example, in flying disc games. The shape of the disc, an airfoil in cross-section, allows it to fly by generating lift as it moves through the air while spinning.

    1. I don’t think the lip is used recreationally or competitively. Much as your definition is correct, you need to keep an eye on your grammar. Maybe read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” for a few pointers.

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