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.
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.