Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Townsend calls up 6 to Scotland Squad

Duncan Weir - pic © Al Ross
Duncan Weir - pic © Al Ross

After a brutal few weeks including the loss of three of Scotland’s primary attacking threats in Stuart Hogg (shoulder) Huw Jones (knee) and Finn Russell (HIA), Gregor Townsend has moved quickly to bolster his squad.

In-form Worcester Warriors stand-off Duncan “Meatball” Weir is joined by Magnus Bradbury, Dougie Fife and James Johnstone, and front-row forwards Zander Fagerson and George Turner.

Fagerson’s return is likely to be on to the bench with WP Nel still injured but Magnus Bradbury could well be in line to start in the back row given the injury list and his form against the Dragons at the weekend. Bradbury (23) and Jamie Ritchie (22) were touted as future fixtures in the Scotland back row but they’ve got a pretty good opportunity to become important right now. Who would you put ahead of them that is fit?

The new group – somewhat indirectly – replaces injured Glasgow Warriors pair George Horne (shoulder) and Stafford McDowall (ankle), as well as another less-experienced group of David Cherry, Murray McCallum and Jake Kerr who are returned to their clubs

Finn Russell sustained a head injury during Racing 92’s TOP 14 clash with Toulouse in Paris yesterday and was withdrawn from play at half time. He is now subject to further monitoring and the graduated return to play protocol.

(Update 9/2/19) He did not satisfy the requirements of day two’s component of these protocols meaning there is insufficient time for him to be considered for this weekend’s action. He will now return to the care of his club’s medical team.

This leaves Scotland with a pretty big creative hole to fill in the midfield.

With Jones out, a Horne/Johnson partnership was likely but having guided Glasgow to victory against Cardiff at 10, now Horne the elder may have to focus on standoff, leaving the 13 shirt vacant.

James Johnstone might have seemed unlikely to fill it a few months ago, but he is in the form of his life and only unfamiliarity with the systems and other (Glasgow) players would be markers against him.

Stuart Hogg is not being considered for this Saturday’s game against France, following the shoulder injury he sustained against Ireland. That makes Blair Kinghorn the most likely to play 15, but whether Darcy Graham can unseat either Maitland or Seymour – or whether indeed he will be usurped for a bench spot by Dougie Fife – remains to be seen.

One thing is certain, the team that faces France will look very different indeed.

69 Responses

  1. Let’s go for broke: Price, Horne, Maitland, Johnson, Johnstone, Graham, Kinghorn. Dell, McInally (c), Berghan, Gilchrist, Gray, Bradbury, Ritchie, Strauss. Johnstone might not be Glasgow, but he’s a GT style player and could have Kinghorn, Graham and Maitland outside him.

    1. Johnstone had a class game against the Dragons this weekend, as did Bradbury. That being said I reckon Toonie will stick to his old glesga bois and pull in Grigg and Ashe ahead of them

  2. FFS – it’s one step forward and two steps back with the come-backs and injuries respectively. Suddenly our hopes (expectations?) of the first away win in Paris for 20 years seem more like dreams.
    Meatball is in fine form, agreed – and deserves his call-up. But I think it’s nothing more than for training and cover purposes. Same for Johnstone, at the moment.
    I think after Saturday’s performance, Horne gets the nod at 10. In order to help with settling in I’d also start with Price, giving McInally the captaincy.
    McInally (c)
    The replacements?
    I prefer Grigg to any of the others, due to experience, attacking threat, and playing with Glasgow men around him. Rennie’s comments after the match (“his work AFTER the tackle is phenomenal”) rang a chord. Whether in defence or attack.
    I can’t see any reason to change the pack from Ireland, other than the injury to Wilson. Bradbury’s form at the weekend, along with French pack size, nicks it. Ritchie can play 6/7, Bradbury 6/8 so back row is covered.
    Turner or Brown? Happy with either (finally we have a choice of 3!)

  3. Anyone noticed the TMO for Saturday is Rowan Kitt? The same guy that didn’t think the POM “tackle” on Hogg worth reviewing? Thought I’d get the excuses, anger and indignation in early!!

  4. Was Richie Gray not called up or was he already in squad? Seems strange for me. Like to see Graham given a go at least on bench. Weir on bench is a much better bet than the form of Hastings at present. We now have a bit more depth in some areas a lot less depth in others with latest injuries. I wouldn’t call Russell out just yet.

    1. He was certainly listed as unavailable through injury as the initial squad announcement. I thought it certain he would have been added as well, though I have not seen his two come back games to see what his form was like.

    2. Ritchie Gray has played 1.5 games in something like 18 months. He’s not going to be ready for an international game at this point.

      Maybe against England in the final game he’ll be fit enough to bench but don’t see the point in risking it. He’s gone through a lot of injuries and is still coming back, why overload him with games now. We have enough locks to cover us for the 6n (kiss of death), let him get back gradually and see what he’s like in the pre WC games.

      1. Agreed, but still think he might have been called into the squad as the start of re-integration. If nothing else he would have the low down on the opposition !

      2. It is fair that he is given time to get himself back match fit…and confident in his fitness. I’ve no doubt GT sees him as a starter for the RWC if fit. He has already been quoted as saying that he sees R Gray as ideal type of lock for his brand of rugby.

        Id really like to see R Gray and S Skinner combo.

        Id be surprised if he isn’t called into the squad to train before the 6N is done so he can at least re-integrate before the RWC.

        The lineout hasn’t functioned that great in his absence…and he is a far more dynamic lock than anyone else we have…definately missed.

  5. I presume everyone declaring Weir’s wonderful form for the team second bottom of the league with 4 wins has in fact been watching him.

    1. Think advocates of Weir in the 23 are very few on the blog, Stu. Agree with Merlot that Weir’s inclusion is more than likely for training and cover in extremis.

    2. Yup, been a stand out in a team that’s a wee bit under powered up front, but has some talented backs. Not much front foot ball to play with, so his territory game has been key. He’s also got his mojo back off the kicking tee and is shouldering a lot of the harder running responsibilities to try and create faster ball. Weir should be a no brainer, but unfortunately I suspect Toonie will bite of his nose to spite his face and stick Laidlaw at 10 if Rusell isn’t fit.

  6. Russell reported back ‘presenting no adverse signs’ of the HIA. If that stays the same through til Saturday he’ll play. Until then he will likely do no contact and will only run through the structures they want to employ on Saturday.

    Id say its 60:40 Russell will play.

  7. Word on the BBC website is that if Russell remains symptom free (as he apparently was today) then he can still play on Saturday.
    Surprised, as I thought it was a 6 day ruling. Does this mean he can’t do contact training this week though?
    We all know he’s a pivotal player and otherwise match fit, but his long term health comes first – he had a serious head injury against Munster at the end of 16/17. Without him we are much weaker though, no doubt about it.

  8. So, who on here is going to Paris then?
    Four of us rocked up at SdF in 1999 with no tickets.
    Managed somehow to get tickets from a tout about 15 minutes before kick off, and took our places high above the posts at the end where we scored five first-half tries.
    Been back there for every single 6N since that glorious day, with no joy.
    Weather forecast for Saturday in Paris is exactly as it was in April 1999. And our tickets are for the same area we were in in 1999.
    What could possibly go wrong?

    1. I was there in the same place that day. Mid way , up. But I will not be going , so it was either you or me that made it happen.

      1. Sorry, Rory, no knowledge. Our group of nine is sorted. I think one of my brothers has one spare ticket that we will try to sell at face value in Paris. Hope you find a nice home for those four spares!

  9. Stu have you watched Weir, yourself ? The implication of your post is that you have ! so you will recognise the following.

    While I do not advocate Weir , there are other options., but let’s give credit where due. I watched him live at Kingsholm this season , he was good , not great that day . He is respected at Sixways , has been in form regardless of the quality of the opposition making the absolute best of what limited ball he does receive and that alone is a positive attribute. He has been at the heart of Worcester’s high points , such as they are. The word ‘effective’ comes to mind.

    I see no reason not to have him in the squad and believe his kicking game could pin them back when they will be flagging second half. I would not be overly concerend if he got a bench spot, let’s be realistic , we have injury problems and he has more game time under his belt that Hastings and Horne this last few months. His call is justified and is a credible option.

    As we both know , his face or style (lack off) doesnt fit with Townsend , so iit is unlkely he will be there, but then again , it is Townsend !!!!!!!

    1. Is see no reason to not have him in the squad either, but he is very much a last resort. He’s not suited to our game now and he’s only going to play if we have literally run out of players.

  10. At this rate, I’m expecting to see a tweet from Scottish Rugby saying something like ”Townsend calls up Sir Chris Hoy, Leigh Griffiths and the Hound from Game of Thrones into the Six Nations camp as injury cover.”

    1. The Hound is Scottish? Forget Bradbury get him in at blindside. Like some sort of Nathan Hines and Jim Hamilton love child with all the most aggressive traits.

  11. We’re so limited in options now (assuming Dunbar is not available) that I assume we go with a 10/12/13 of Horne/Johnson/Harris, but who knows what GT thinks?!
    We have to stay positive against a French team in flux (though not disarray). Lose this and it’s a very disappointing looking 6N.
    We’re by no means a one man team, I still think we have the depth and belief to come through with an away win.
    There’s then a two week gap before Wales at home, when some of the wounded may be back (Hogg, Russell, Fagerson, Dunbar, R Gray).

    1. Whilst a loss is not a freebie for the side, there are definitely mitigating factors here.

      Beat Wales and I think we can be mildly happy with the tournament.

      Hopefully this is all the garbage luck out the was before the RWC.

    2. DUNBAR !!!!! Sorry have we went back in time to 2014?

      I would love him to rediscover his form but what he needs is gametime at Newcastle and hopefully he can be back in the reckoning for the World Cup. But lets be clear he was at least the 6th choice centre for Glasgow and needed to move on

      1. I just found an interview from the start of autumn internationals and he was the one put up to media as he was a certain start. So although his form has dropped it wasn’t so long ago (agreed Rennie doesn’t seem to like him) that he was still seen as vital to Scotland. That wasn’t 2014.

  12. I personally do not think Horne or Hastings will be looking forward to playing with Laidlaw as all the defence’s attention will be on whoever gets picked. Price has rediscovered his mojo and will take a lot of the heat off the stand off if he plays. However, I do not think there is a chance of this. Greig obviously knows a lot of the french team and their ways and, with his good place kicking, will get the start. It is just a shame that playing Greig is a compromise in terms of how Scotland can play. Keeping up a high pace will help Scotland win this one in the second half. Assuming Price is on the bench I hope we bring him on with a decent amount of time left to help run the French ragged towards the end, rather than tokenistically at 71 minutes.
    There is a lot of nonsense put on bbc hys and other sites regarding Russell – Scottish players still struggle to get respect relative to the other home nations. One or two more 6N with significantly improved results before this is dissipated. Unfortunately this year’s injuries have flatlined this campaign somewhat.

      1. I do not hate Laidlaw – that is a bit ridiculous, language wise. I just think we would be better establishing G Horne or A Price as number 1 – this is very unlikely until after the world cup, I am realistic enough to recognise.

      2. I think we need to eliminate the word hatred and in that spirit let me say, on current form I would favour Laidlaw over Price. In time my opinion might change and while Price has a bit of pace to build on ,he is naive. This is International rugby, a place where big dogs roam and I would prefer an old dog in the jersey right now, lippy and terrier like as he is .

        While I might change my opinion it is unlikely I will see past George Horne who may come of age faster than Price. We have had a few false dawns on the Laidlaw replacement incuding SHL , who is off radar right now. Time will tell.

    1. Laidlaw has some issues with his speed of play, but he more than makes up for it in his organisation and game management. with the lose of Russell and Hogg, he is arguably the most important cog in our backline for Saturday

      1. To be honest I’m getting a wee bit bored with the “great game management” tag for laidlaw. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a fantastic player and a pretty good captain. However, how often have we heard the cry “Take the points!” recently. The ‘clever’ penalty move against Ireland was a case in point. That was under his captaincy and not, in my opinion, the way to go in an international that was likely to be close at best.

  13. French line up is interesting – they will be deadly on counter attack and if the game gets loose and unstructured but their pack isn’t particularly big and scary like usual. Think we need to be very careful with loose kicks or giving away cheap turnovers and we’ll profit from a direct approach at the 10/12 channel. I don’t think harum scarum rugby will be our friend, we want a fats but controlled game.

  14. I see France have also gone le bonkers and picked a 19 year old centre at stand-off. It does seem like France are there for the taking more than any time I can recall. They looked wretched against England.

    Sadly we are having to call up guys off the no 11 bus. If only we had more fit players, if only…..

    I suppose now is the time to find out who Russells understudy is for Japan. I know Hastings had a shocking December (about which I was very happy at the time) but either he is the next cab on the rank or not. I’d play him. Then watch through my fingers.

    Weir to come on second half to kick instead of Laidlaw with Price coming on at the same time to change the dynamic.

    Bradbury for Wilson seems as like for like as its possible to get. I think Bradbury could be a fantastic player for us over the next 5-10 years if he can stay fit. Hardie on the bench.

    1. I do wonder if that will influence Toony’s choice at 10. He might figure Hastings is less of a risk if his opponent is inexperienced too, or he might prefer Horne to try and gain an edge there?

      1. I am not Horne’s biggest fan – but I thought he was really good last Sat against Cardiff.

        We need him more at 10 as Johnson is in fine form.

        I think the bigger question is who do we play at 13.

  15. Didn’t see the incident, did the French nobble Russell deliberately?Great that the SRU have followed the protocols no matter how important the player is, sounds like they could easily have fudged Russell’s tests to make sure he’s available. Player welfare trumps all, and also it helps my bet on France. Hastings in please.

    1. No blame to anyone other than Russell himself. Put his head in totally the wrong place for a tackle and took a thump.

  16. How about Weir at 10 and P Horne at 12, shifting Johnson out to 13 ? Gives us a cracking tactical pairing with Weirs kicks and Hornes nous. Has Johnson played 13 much / at all ?

    Its the kind of mad shuffle Toony might throw in !

  17. stu2….. hmmmm, I reckon if we don’t manage to win against this French team in disarray, then beating Wales the next week (even at home) is going to look like a distant dream….

    Of course, it might depend on how Wales/England goes. if it’s a convincing win for England, Wales might be stunned and short on confidence heading to Murrayfield. If Wales win, (or play well but lose narrowly) they’ll be coming to Scotland sensing blood.

  18. In real danger of going backwards in this game and this tournament. Need to avoid any daft picks, i.e the club pros who would get nowhere near the other nations’ starting backlines and would disrupt attack and be a liability in defence. Should play Horne or Hastings at 10 – on form it is Horne. Either way, should keep Johnson preferably at 12 – that’s a well drilled club combo. For that reason, I’d prefer Price at 9, but don’t see GT looking past Laidlaw. The big issue after GT’s picked the right 10 is 13 – would love to see Johnstone, but not Grigg or Harris (neither would be a surprise). Think GT will go Laidlaw, Hastings, Horne, Maitland, Johnson, Seymour, Kinghorn and could live with that. Funny how the pack feels less of a problem now Dell has stepped up and, injury-enforced, we’ve decided to start playing a number 8. Time for McInally as captain and Bradbury at 6.

    1. For the ‘one’😳 match Finn is likely to miss, and given a 19 yo centre is at fly half for France, I prefer Laidlaw/Horne. Failing that, perhaps a call for Weirs kicking game. Experience and not being a chook on legs counts. Keep Price/Hastings for another day…

      1. I prefer Laidlaw, Horne, Johnson, Johnstone, but think we might get Grigg or Harris.

    2. I take it you’ve ordered them 9-10-12-11-13-14-15 rather than playing Horne on the wing and Maitland at centre! Has Johnson played much at 13? It seems a shame to move him when he seems to be getting into his stride at 12.

    3. I could also live with that. I do think we need Porne to start this one due to the lack of other key backs. Hastings at 10 in this particular scenario might not be too much of a give in the head to head. Has he ever played outside Laidlaw? Maitland, Seymour, Kinghorn provide plenty of firepower in the back three. Ritchie has impressed me hugely in this season and tournament. Strauss i feel has also been good to v-good. I have high hopes for Bradbury as filling a power forward role, but Magnus has yet to prove himself at this level. If he’s picked i hope this will be his time.
      Odds are defo against, so best case scenario for me is a one point win with a super-sub Duncy drop goal.

  19. I could be a minority of 1 but I think Adam Hastings is the natural replacement for Russell.
    Also the outside centre is between Grigg and Harris.
    I like Horne, but he’s a skilful footballing inside centre who can job for Glasgow at fly half, whereas Hastings is an out-and-out attacking 10.
    If Horne’s on the bench you can always bring him on.

    1. Hastings is out of form. His confidence isn’t great. I can see the whole day falling apart should it not go for him early. He can do all the stuff that Russell does but not as effective yet. The kicking against Wales wasn’t executed although game plan could have worked. I darent risk him. He’s in no shape to take on this one.

      1. It’s not entirely true that he’s off form.
        He was not off form against Saracens.
        We are now so shredded by injuries that this needs to be seen as experience.
        Hastings is the heir apparent. Stick with him.

    2. I agree, Hastings is by far the most likely to start.
      Horne on the bench to cover 10 and centre and can always come on if Hastings is struggling.
      Laidlaw must start to give a bit of experience in the back line and take the kicks.

      I’m putting my money on this being a breakthrough game for Hastings.

  20. Looks like Laidlaw, P.Horne, Maitland, Johnson, Harris, Seymour, Kinghorn – Graham must be close to getting in the team, IMO Grigg isn’t quite good enough (& too wee), can’t see Johnson & Horne as a centre partnership.

  21. With the likes of Wilson and Hogg out we are missing 2 vice captains and on field organisers so there is no way Tooney will start with anyone other than Laidlaw at 9. He is the captain and goal kicker so is not going to be left out. Glasgow started with Horne at 10 at the weekend with Hastings on the bench and he had a pretty decent game so expect him to start at 10. Don’t see any merit in moving Sam Johnson from 12 and think he will go with Maitland and Seymour on the wings to support Kinghorn.
    Big question is who plays 13? Harris has been about the squad the most and has had a fair bit of game time so you would expect him to play otherwise what’s the point of him being there! I like Grigg as a player but think he is a bit wee for international rugby – he would be giving away about 10 stone to Bastareaud who I’m sure would quite like to run over the top of him all day.
    Would love to see Darcy Graham in the 23 as think he would really offer a threat of the bench and he works really hard to get involved.
    I have probably got that all completely wrong but will see what the Tombola turns up!

    1. Ocht are we blinkered by Griggs size though? He’s regularly one of Glasgow’s most influencial players. Bastardeau may want to run through him all day, but Grigg may also find the opportunity to run rings around the big lump.
      It’s a tricky selection for Toony this one. France are fielding very inexperienced half backs, but a well-capped and fairly chunky centre combo.
      Which combos from our last men standing capitalise on that?
      Keep going through the various permutations, but can’t settle on it.

  22. Mark Bennett is back in training, could he be airlifted back in to the squad in time for Paris? Amazing to think that not long ago we were talking about our strength in midfield with Scott, Dunbar, Taylor, Bennett, Jones and Horne and for one reason or another none of them are really available to play this weekend assuming Horne must play at 10, Hastings won’t be exposed to this. Thankfully Johnstone has emerged as a classy 12 while I’d go with Johnson at 13 this weekend – has been class for Edinburgh – but I think Townsend will pick Harris. Greggs doesn’t look test match quality to me, not bright enough.

    1. Bennett has been out for 6 months with a hamstring injury and you want to throw him into a 6Ns test match.

      1. Mark Bennett is fit and is a class above the other centres stu, Dan Parks is around toon and so i suggest bringing him into the mix.

  23. Shame Williams wasnt big enough either:
    5ft 7Iin
    87 caps (Cymru), 4 lions caps,
    60 test tries,
    3rd top in the world test tries table.
    You may need Nick Grigg’s guts and tenacity for the 9th March. Size is not everything apparently.

    Cymru am Byth.

      1. The occasions Nick Grigg has played for Scotland he has looked out of his depth… similar to Harris.
        Id rather see what Johnstone can do…we won’t be winning the 6N…so give him a go. Sam Johnson has slotted seamlessly into test rugby….as has Ritchie and Kinghorn. Im not, therefore, buying the ‘ it takes 10 test matches to adapt’ myth.

  24. “It” wouldn’t accept my contributions yesterday afternoon

    Busy Little Bee – Bennett was sensational, I truly hope he returns to his potential top form, however 3 bad lower limb injuries (I think) doesn’y help his quest.

    Daihard – size is less of a consideration when you’re a genius.

    RuggersB – agree

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion