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.