Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Rory’s World Cup Squad v3.0: the Backs

Huw Jones celebrates
Huw Jones celebrates scoring for Scotland vs Australia at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh - pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

Back in July after the summer tour, Gav revised a prospective Scotland World Cup squad he’d drawn up based on his previous musings in that area. Now that the big man has moved on to pastures new as editor of SCRUM Magazine (the boy done good and we wish him well) this particular chalice falls to me to sip from going forward into 2019. Here is my current thinking, leaving out long-term injured and based on recent performances and selections. I’m also adjusting the balance to a 17/14 split as in 2015.


Despite the endless debate he generates on these pages, Greig Laidlaw remains nailed on for a squad place after an autumn as captain, but there are still potentially two spots up for grabs.

Gregor Townsend picked 4 scrum-halves to train in the autumn with Henry Pyrgos having refound his form at Edinburgh. It’s no coincidence this is due to game-time, that perennially Scottish issue affecting player development. However based on who was selected to play the tests, it still looks like a pretty easy pick for the three to travel. There isn’t yet a certainty who should replace Laidlaw from the bench based on Horne’s limited international game time, or indeed if Laidlaw should even start. A strong winter for Hornito – Man of the Match in the recent win in Lyon was a good start – could give him a chance to state his case in the Six Nations, and it will be an interesting contest at Glasgow with Price. Will Rennie and Townsend agree on who the best out of those two is?
Selected: George Horne, Greig Laidlaw, Ali Price
Unlucky to miss out: Sam Hidalgo Clyne, Henry Pyrgos
Change has finally come to this section! After a few caps, Adam Hastings is now clearly the back up to Finn Russell with Pete Horne moving back into consideration as a centre. The Hastings + Russell experiment wasn’t a huge success and seems to deprive the Scottish attack of Russell’s mercurial skills on the ball, but it’s there in case of emergency. Hastings still has work to do and lessons to learn but has shown he’s not lacking confidence at this level. Russell had a quiet autumn by his standards of showmanship but is back tearing it up for Racing92 as Paris burns around him. Duncan Weir was also a late call-up to the training squad but it would seem only an injury to someone else gets him on the plane.
However, this is a World Cup squad and his appearance may come down to whether or not Laidlaw and Horne can cover 10 between them in favour of an extra winger. For me that is risky, so for now, he’s in. But a dip in form and he could be shuffled right back out again for…
Selected: Finn Russell, Adam Hastings
Unlucky to miss out: Duncan Weir


Despite arguments over the best starting pair, all three of Huw Jones, Pete Horne and Alex Dunbar are almost certain to travel. Which leaves Duncan Taylor (if he can get fit), Mark Bennett, James Lang, Chris Harris, Matt Scott and Nick Grigg fighting over one spot and it’s a lottery as to who would (or should) take it.

If he was fit, Taylor would be my first choice but I’m basing it on a squad if it was picked now, so it would look like Toony would probably take Chris Harris, who has the added versatility of playing on the wing (as could Jones). Mark Bennett could potentially do a job there but like Taylor will need to find form and fitness by then. Lang’s ability to cover standoff is less likely to be needed since the emergence of Adam Hastings, but it is the Toony Tombola after all… Nick Grigg is perhaps the next choice and back going well for the Warriors but (currently concussed) Matt Scott has done well since returning to Edinburgh and could yet make an appearance if his upswing in form continues.

Selected: Pete Horne, Alex Dunbar, Huw Jones, Chris Harris
Unlucky to miss out: Nick Grigg, Matt Scott, James Lang, Mark Bennett (inj) Duncan Taylor (inj).


Tommy Seymour, Sean Maitland and Blair Kinghorn remain the front runners; pick 2 from 3 in your XV and you’d be okay, although Kinghorn still needs a run of games at this level to justify a pick in the crunch games. It’s a shame as he is so good at fullback for Edinburgh, who also have plenty of wingers so he’s unlikely to get tried out of position as a favour to Toony.

One name we have added to the mix given his club form and a November squad call-up is Darcy Graham and he puts pressure on Lee Jones and Byron McGuigan for the remaining back three spot. Based on the pretty limited evidence of the autumn it would be McGuigan who goes over Jones, but the next time we look at this I’d hope Graham was truly in the mix.

Selected: Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, Blair Kinghorn, Byron McGuigan
Unlucky to miss out: Lee Jones, Darcy Graham, Dougie Fife


In March and in July Stuart Hogg was a dead cert and this continues even after an Autumn where we thought his ankle injury would be a problem. He recovered from that in record time to play in all three home games and looked back to his lively best against South Africa. Long term-cover is still an issue (Kinghorn the most probably) but will likely come from one of the wingers, all of whom have played at the back.

Selected: Stuart Hogg
Unlucky to miss out: no-one, really.

Scotland Backs (14): George Horne, Ali Price, Greig Laidlaw; Finn Russell, Adam Hastings; Alex Dunbar, Pete Horne, Huw Jones, Chris Harris; Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, Blair Kinghorn, Byron McGuigan, Stuart Hogg.

Next week: the forwards.

If you can, keep discussions to the backs selection please on this post – Ed.

27 Responses

  1. Looks pretty good assessment. I’d like to add Sam Johnson as a possible centre. Hopefully gets some game time in 6 nations. Would love to see Hornito getting some starts for Scotland. We know what Laidlaw can do so give the fella the chance from the off. Dunbar position also under pressure. Couple of centre positions up for grabs depending on form and injuries. 4th winger spot up for grabs. Graham must be itching to do his best. Exciting chance for the young man to sneak it.

  2. Please ignore the troll that is weary warrior. Let’s keep it on the subject. Hopefully they get bored and move on.

  3. Leaving aside how we play our game with Captain Slow at the helm, pretty fair summary.
    Haven’t really got what Harris brings but clearly he is liked by Toonie – could be the defensive solidity Jones and Grigg lack, but at the expense of serial line breaks by either of those.
    I would not be unhappy to see Graham involved, he could have a bit of x factor. Also Johnson as mentioned at Glasgow if he can get fit is very impressive. and the other possible bolter is Stafford McDowell.
    An old favourite of mine but I don’t think Dougie Fife would be unlucky to miss out, if its current form (before today at least!) he would be nowhere near the squad

    1. Think McDowall is too callow for the 6N and World Cup. He didn’t have a great game yesterday under the pressure of the weather and a fiery Lyon team. Definitely a huge prospect but needs to develop at Glasgow before being in the Scotland mix.

      You’d think Sam Johnson is probably next in line from the Glasgow 12s.

      Dunbar seems to have been cast into the wilderness- wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he is the centre moving on. Anyone got any thought/inside track on this? He is very injury prone- who will take the risk?

      1. Dunbar has a a series of bad injuries, some folk think he is noticeably slower these days, not so sure myself. Johnson has also had a bad time at Glasgow with a couple of fairly serious injuries. Both need to stay fit enough to get a series of games pre RWC. Same goes for Matt Scott. All 3 would probably go before McDowell but either or both are injured and if we want the option big lad in the Dunbar mould at 12, he is next of the taxi rank. with better hands.
        And he was fine yesterday.

      2. I think Dunbar is suffering because he’s had a few injuries and a loss of form. Then as he comes back this season he’s trying to force his way into the centres with Jones, Horne, Grigg and Johnson for competition, then to top it off McDowell has emerged who is just as big and with a more expansive skillset.

        Still think he’s a quality player though and it may benefit both him and Scotland if he moves away from Glasgow.

  4. More or less agree, and the starting line pretty much picks itself at the moment.

    When picking a squad rather than a match team, you have to allow for injuries/rotation and your choices for that may not be the same as picking a subs bench for a specific game to do a specific job or give different options.

    Thoughts on a few positions

    9 Price just isn’t up to speed at the moment, watching the game yesterday he was slow and didn’t add a lot, lots of crabbing and no zip at the breakdown. He made 1 good break. Horne surely must be second choice now. However, I suspect Horne on the bench, but Price to start if Laidlaw was injured/rested.

    10 Nothing much to say here, Hastings is backup to Russell. I do think Hastings must be on the bench as not having a specialist 10 is crazy in big games and I do think using Russell as cover for 12 will happen again – even if just in case of injury – as it makes it easier to pick our subs.

    12/13 Jones is nailed on to start at 13, likely with Horne at 12 which suits our game better than Dunbar who is a bit off form at the moment. Second choice 13 is probably our weakest position in the backs – I really don’t rate Harris, even though Townsend seems to. Assuming Taylor isn’t fit and doesn’t get a decent run of games, I can see Grigg sneaking in as an outsider on current form. I suspect it’s too late for Sam Johnson at this stage.

    11/14/15 Agree with all of this, McGuigan didn’t get game time in the autumn so may be out of favour. Graham would be an option if he continues to play well the rest of the season and would like to see an attacking player rather than just a safe pair of hands as backup here.

    Assuming our first choice backline is Laidlaw, Russell, P.Horne, H.Jones, Maitland, Seymour, Hogg – and a 5/3 subs split, I think a bench of G.Horne, Hastings and Kinghorn is our strongest option, but leaves a hole at 13 if Jones isn’t playing well or gets injured. Other option is leave Hastings out and Dunbar on the bench.

  5. 9. George Horne
    10. Finn Russell
    11. Tommy Seymour
    12. Matt Scott
    13. Huw Jones
    14. Sean Maitland
    15. Stuart Hogg
    21. Greig Laidlaw
    22. Peter Horne
    23. Blair Kinghorn

    Reserve backs
    24. SHC (Can play wing)
    25. Adam Hastings
    26. Alex Dunbar
    27. Darcy Graham (Bolter)

    1. I would pick:

      9. Greig Laidlaw
      10. Finn Russell
      11. Tommy Seymour
      12. Pete Horne
      13. Huw Jones
      14. Sean Maitland
      15. Stuart Hogg
      21. George Horne
      22. Adam Hastings
      23. Blair Kinghorn

      Reserve backs
      24. Ali Price
      25. Stafford McDowell
      26. Alex Dunbar
      27. Darcy Graham

      I really like McDowell and he’s also really versatile having played stand off and fullback which is helpful as ive no doubt he could cover the wing also.

      1. I posted a long post which is awaiting moderation – or possibly has disappeared….

        Anyway, my game lineup was exactly the same – the question is who covers 13 well enough? You don’t really want Hastings-Russell-Horne I wouldn’t think. Maitland would be an option I suppose but still a bit of a gap in the team, and an injury to Jones early on would be a concern.

        Reserves I think McDowell probably isn’t likely – I would take Grigg as he is on very good form and a known quantity, even if not quite at the top level.

  6. I know Rennie sees McDowell as a 12 and he seems to have the necessary skills (when his hands are warm) but I would give him a few months as understudy to Hogg. Glasgow are going to need someone to replace him when he leaves. I think we’ve seen peak Jackson and he’s the wrong side of 30 now. I know some of the wingers can do a job there but I think Glasgow should pick someone and give them a go.

  7. For me the main learning in the AIs was that Peter Horne is more important than we thought. With other inside centres injured he played with confidence and maturity. Maybe after 30+caps he has finally found his international feet. Jones is locked in but questions remain over Dunbar and Harris…and AIs didn’t help. It is not great that 2 of toonies ideal slots should probably be filled by players currently injured…. for me hopefully Sam Johnson will be fit for 6 Nations and take the Dunbar slot and Taylor can play the utility centre/wing Harris slot… if not Scott and Bennett in that order can play those roles, great theoretical options but not great place to be with 9 months to go

  8. Horne, Jones
    Dunbar, Taylor
    Johnson, Harris
    Scott, Bennett
    Lang, Grigg
    Dean, Johnston

    Depth at centre isn’t bad…I don’t think it was too long ago that Dean and Johnston would have been contenders to start.

  9. Harris out (still brings nothing to set him apart) Grigg is consistent and fits with the squad, he can penetrate the opposition lines. McGuigan out , I have yet to see anything in McGuigan that sets him apart , lets wait and see who the in form winger is after the 6N.

    Autumn learnings , Russell was outstanding prior to the AI’s and is back in France playing outstanding rugby. What holds him back , is there something corrosive in the navy jersey! Hastings or Horne, depends in the game , It is coming a year too early for Hastings.

    Huw Jones is better than the unfair criticism, even in defense. He is our most potent attack. We have overlooked shirkers in defense for years. 19 games , 10 tries. , says it all.

    Laidlaw, I say we need that maturity. Ali Price, I think we have seen the best of Ali, he is stuck in 3rd Gear, needs a lot of work to regain confidence. Horne from the bench energises the side as Matawalu does at Glasgow , it might be boring, but it is laidlaw and Horn all day long.

    1. Ben i agree but i think George Horne needs to start and tire the opposition out with laidlaws experience to handle the situation afterwards, we saw in the autumn Toony did not have faith in horne to close a game out… So start him.

      1. You got me thinking however I feel the it is Laidlaw/ Horne in that order . The big plus for Horne is the energy he brings when our lads need a lift and their side are feeling the effects. So we are lifted and the opposition feel that power surge. I can not see Laidlaw bringing that same energy to restore momentum.

      2. All stand-offs require quick ball to shine. That’s a combination of forward dominance, quick ball presentation and a fast scrum half. At Racing Russell gets all three and looks world class. In the autumn there wasn’t many times our forwards dominated, rucking was relatively messy for a Scotland team and service was steady medium meaning defenses were on him before he could hit the accelerator. That in turn make him try to force things which aren’t on.

        His best recent performance for Scotland was when England for some bizarre reason took an hour to start seriously competing for ruck ball and as a result the presentation and service was quick enough to create mayhem off.

  10. Not much to add other than think Grigg might be the better option at 13 based on current form and availability than Harris. Scott has played a lot of time in both centre positions – Gloucester saw him as a 13 for most of his time there – so feel he would be a really useful option if fit. Seems to be taking a while getting back from concussion at the moment – is there any more news on his recovery? Taylor has previously shown versatility but just doesn’t seem to get a decent stretch of injury-free time. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see him back at international level.
    4th wing slot currently a shoot out between Graham & McGuigan – interesting to read that Graham was apparently tearing up Hardie size trees this weekend. Would be good to show faith in a long term prospect going into RWC.
    Looking forward to the forwards article – just a bit more contentious me thinks!

    1. I’m sure the commentary team on Sunday said he only just missed the squad for that match and that he should be back in contention for the 1872.

      I also might have made that up though – does anybody else remember that being said?

    2. I know with fitness, form and aging and all that, 18 months is a long, long time in a pro career. But if anything could capture just how valuable Scott was and could still be to the Test team, have a look at the YouTube clips of the build up to our sensational third try against the Wallabies in June last year.

  11. Hard to argue with most of this.

    Centre is the most intriguing position as we have got loads of class in this area. Personally, I would take Horne, Jones & Scott. the final position for me has to go to Taylor if fit. Dunbar is out of the equation on his recent outings, he even ended up playing for Ayr, and lost, the other week. if Taylor can’t get fit I’d go with Johnson.

    On the wing, I’d take Graham before Seymour.

    Either way, its nice to have choices.

      1. No, Seymour been too average over the last 18 months. Graham been immense every time he has been on the park recently. Another 6 months game time and a run out against Italy then he is a contender.

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