Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


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

Stuart McInally
Stuart McInally is congratulated by teammates after scoring his second try for Scotland vs Samoa at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

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


This is an interesting one. Darryl Marfo was a superb performer last autumn but has fallen down the pecking order with injuries hampering game time in the second half of the season. He’s barely featured since Christmas for Edinburgh or Scotland.

Gordon Reid filled the jersey well during the Six Nations, while a rejuvenated Allan Dell and Jamie Bhatti shared the duties on the summer tour, with Reid rested.

Four into three at this stage isn’t a bad thing – it allows for peaks and troughs in form and, of course, any dreaded injuries in the year building up to the World Cup.
As it stands, Marfo is the man to miss out but a good season at Edinburgh and he could play himself right back into the squad; while Reid is currently in on merit but his cause won’t be helped by playing for London Irish in the Championship.

Selected: Allan Dell, Gordon Reid, Jamie Bhatti
Unlucky to miss out: Darryl Marfo

Over on the tighthead, Simon Berghan’s Six Nations performances have established his place as a long-term part of the squad, where Zander Fagerson and Willem Nel are the other options.
Nel could do with a good season to re-affirm his position as Scotland’s premier number 3 and he’ll be pushed hard by Murray McCallum, who stepped up to the international arena in the summer and impressed with limited game time.

Selected: Simon Berghan, Willem Nel, Zander Fagerson
Unlucky to miss out: Jon Welsh, Murray McCallum


What a year it’s been for Stuart McInally – he’s established himself as his country’s first choice and is a contender to lead the side these days such is his standing within the squad. George Turner had a remarkable summer tour and has overtaken Ross Ford – not been seen in an Edinburgh jersey, let alone a Scotland one – for many months now. Ford should be back in action this season and may yet shape the debate come the Autumn and beyond.

Fraser Brown provides another excellent option and versatility to cover the back row. At this stage he would be second choice, but Turner is pushing him all the way for that spot.
Grant Stewart will be better for his time in the national set-up while Cammy Fenton is making great strides at Edinburgh.

Selected: Stuart McInally, Fraser Brown, George Turner


Another area where the Scots are well-stocked, but similarly an area that is fairly settled. The first names on the list should both include ‘Gray’ – the brothers are now both seasoned internationalists and Scotland’s first choice for a long time. Not much changed that over the summer despite both being absent. Grant Gilchrist impressed during the Six Nations and led the side well against Canada, so he takes the third slot.

The experiment of playing Tim Swinson at 6 in the loss to the USA is an interesting one and suggested Townsend was considering him as the fourth lock, while also able to cover the back-row.
However, his injury has cast some serious doubt as to his involvement so Ben Toolis takes the fourth locking spot for now.

Again, Townsend will be pleased to have options here coming through: Scott Cummings’ wait for a first cap goes on, but the future looks bright in this department, as proved by the try-scoring debut of Lewis Carmichael against Canada.

Selected: Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Ben Toolis


Like Swinson, injury throws John Barclay’s involvement into some serious doubt, but Hamish Watson and Ryan Wilson – the other parts of the breakaway trio that served Scotland so well during the Six Nations – are ‘nailed on’ to be in Japan. Barclay is certain to be involved if half way fit, as there are fewer ready-made replacements for his experience and versatility so unlike Swinson we’ll keep him in for now. Some big performances in the autumn when he will once again be confined to a watching brief could change that.

David Denton offers much-needed power and ballast with his ball-carrying while in the search for a second openside, the clubless John Hardie could force his way in if he can find somewhere to play – his successor at Edinburgh, Jamie Ritchie, would be the obvious alternative for now.

Cornell Du Preez, Matt Fagerson and Magnus Bradbury will be among those watching Barclay’s recovery with a particularly keen interest, but one of those three could still travel – Du Preez’s experience counts in his favour somewhat, while Fagerson could get the nod to help his international development but for me, following his performance against Argentina, Bradbury could be the man – as he offers cover across all three roles if needed and gives Scotland a ‘Denton-esque’ carrying game.

Selected: David Denton, Hamish Watson, John Barclay, Ryan Wilson, Magnus Bradbury
Unlucky to miss out: John Hardie, Cornell Du Preez, Adam Ashe, Blair Cowan, Luke Hamilton, Matt Fagerson, Rob Harley

Forwards (18):  Allan Dell, Gordon Reid, Jamie Bhatti; Simon Berghan, Willem Nel, Zander Fagerson; Stuart McInally, Fraser Brown, George Turner; Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Ben Toolis; David Denton, Hamish Watson, John Barclay, Ryan Wilson, Matt Fagerson

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.

I’ll take another look at the whole squad following the Autumn tests to see who’s in, and who is out.

13 Responses

  1. Some controversial picks for me out of those selected.

    I think there will be 1 less prop 1 extra backrow.

    1. Allan Dell
    2. Daryll Marfo
    3. Murray Mcallum (1/3)
    4. Simon Berghan
    5. WP Nel
    6. Stuart Mcinally
    7. Fraser Brown (2/7)
    8. Ross Ford
    9. Richie Gray
    10. Grant Gilchrist
    11. Johnny Gray
    12. Ben Toolis
    13. Blade Thompson (lock/6)
    14. John Barclay
    15. Magnus Bradbury
    16. Hamish Watson
    17. Ryan Wilson…
    18. David Denton

    Bolters – Blade Thompson (offers the same as Carmichael with experience.)
    Murray Mcallum – For his Versatility.

    Unlucky to miss out – Jamie Ritchie/Josh Strauss/John Hardie (I would have any of them over Wilson but its not going to happen…)

    1. Much as I like Blade Thompson I don’t see him getting near the squad unless he is head and shoulders above anyone else, or there are a raft of injuries. Nobody should be going to the RWC with fewer than 10 caps – the time for experiments is over.

      1. To be fair, if he’s picked in the autumn and then picked consistently there’s just time for him to get 10 caps if he is that good. There are 4 AIs, 5 6N and 4 RWC warm ups. Can’t see it happening though.

  2. Rory Sutherland I think might be in with a shout to play some part this Autumn. Pre his horror injury he was arguably the best LH in Scotland. I know that’s a bold call as he was up against Dicko at that time, but at the scrum he was as good as Dickinson, but offered far more in the loose.

    This season has been basically about him getting match fit again. After a break in the summer and full preseason I wouldn’t be surprised to see him push for a starting spot in the Scotland squad.

    The biggest blocker for him though is that at club level he’s up against Dell, Marfo, Dickinson (if he ever comes back, which is unlikely but listing him to make my point :-)) and the big south african lad Shoeman. He needs to prove himself worthy of a start ahead of them. If he can do it for club then he’s got to be in with a shout at International level considering Dell & Marfo will be his direct competition.

    With Reid now in the championship (unless he gets a move) I can’t see him making the squad. The step up from club to country would be far too much. I wouldn’t rule out him getting a move to Glasgow, but as things stand I think we need to exclude him.

    1. Got to agree on Reid, as his competitors should all be getting extensive game time in the top leagues/Europe over the next 12 months. If Sutherland and/or Marfo comes strong in the early part of the season, then I think Gordo will get pushed out of the picture entirely.

      I still think there is a case to be made for McCallum though. He offers versatility BUT he needs to prove himself at LH as well as TH. Which might be difficult at Edinburgh, if Dell, Marfo and Sutherland are all fit going into the new season, not forgetting the other additions to the Edinburgh front row.

      1. Can’t see McCallum playing LH anymore, he only played there when young as he was coming through at the same time as Zander, and only played for Edinburgh at LH when injuries forced. He’s going to focus on TH now, which is the right thing to do for him as Nel is 32 and likely will only continue for another year or so at the top level.

  3. I like Wilson as a person, but as a player he has a tendency to go missing too often, but Toonie loves him so he will be in the squad.

    The forwards that Gav has selected would be almost my pick, apart from I would leave out Gordy Reid and Ryan Wilson and bring along Matt Fagerson. and Jamie Ritchie.

    1. Wilson was absolutely dire in Rome. I think Bradbury will be putting a hell of a lot of pressure on Wilson next season.

      Not sure Fagerson is ready for test rugby, Ritchie probably is.

  4. A fair assessment but I am surprised to see Cornell receiving a glimer of hope, it would be a brave Tonnie to give him another short at the belt. Gordon Reid needs a move from LI . He now has the experience at Pro14, AP and the RWC. He will never be first pick but he is dependable and steady as a backup.

  5. Given strength at TH (Nel, Berghan), don’t see why we’d reduce that as weapon and play a lightweight LH, e.g. Dell, Bhatti. Especially with a hooker that will tear it up in the loose, we don’t need an extra ball player. If Marfo, Sutherland aren’t fit then I’d prefer Berghan (if Nel and Fagerson are fit) or Reid. Although Bhatti might continue his upwards trajectory. Currently, ideally, first half – Nel, McInally, Marfo – second half – Berghan, Brown, Sutherland, or any combo, save McInally has to be nailed on to start.

    1. Obvious problem is Marfo and Sutherland have no form to speak of and Marfo doesn’t even really have any pedigree – an awful lot has been spun from a decent AI showing. So long as our scrum is solid Toonie will go for the better players above the better set piece specialists, because there are relatively few scrums in the modern game and far more breakdowns. Reid did well to hold up the scrum in the 6N but when you lookwere d at his stats he was anonymous – someone like Dell hits breakdowns, tackles and carries (perhaps no vunipola but still).

      1. I’d rather not go back to the days (still the days last season at Glasgow; six nations 2017) where it’s an uphill battle against any decent side because we’re decimated come scrum time. There may not be so many (when there is parity), but it’s a guaranteed penalty, the opposition will elect for more, and it’s a slippery slope out of the game.

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