Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Rory’s World Cup Squad v4.0: the Backs

[Edinburgh, UK. February 04, 2017] Stuart Hogg is congratulated by teammates after scoring his second try for Scotland vs Ireland in the RBS Six Nations Championship at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. (c) ALASTAIR ROSS | Novantae Photography Photo Credit: Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

This is the latest in a series of articles started way back with a prospective Scotland World Cup squad. I took it over updating it after the autumn and it’s now time for a revision based on a decidedly mixed Six Nations from Scotland. Some new clarity has been provided though.

It’s a 17/14 squad split as in 2015. As before this is picked based largely on the Six Nations but includes availability following the European quarter finals. There will definitely be some revisions ahead of the Summer warm-ups against France and Georgia, the last chance for our forlorn Legends of InjuryTM like Duncan Taylor to make the trip.


This still looks like a pretty easy pick for the three to travel. There isn’t yet a certainty who should replace Greig Laidlaw from the bench based on George Horne’s limited international game time, or indeed if Laidlaw should even start. Ali Price has, for the moment, secured the 9 shirt for Glasgow and this form meant he was given a much bigger role in the Six Nations. Young Hornito is only just back from injury though, and will continue to make his case during the run-in to the league playoffs, where Glasgow still have a great position.

Ali Price
Ali Price – pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

If Edinburgh’s European defeat to Munster showed anything, it’s that their style of rugby currently isn’t going to give Henry Pyrgos much chance of a seat on the plane, but could fill a Greig role of “controller” aka The Guy who Played Slow Too Much if there was an injury. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne continues to linger in the wilderness, having gone from Scarlets to Harlequins on loan in search of game time (while of those who stayed Nathan Fowles has signed for Ealing Trailfinders and Sean Kennedy is also MIA at Edinburgh – Sam should fire his agent).

Oft-touted names like Finlay Christie (should he come north at the end of this season) or Ben Vellacott may get a chance in the next RWC cycle especially if Greig retires to the south of France, but certainly in Vellacott’s case I’m not sure that right now he’d be a better choice than the three we have.

Selected: Greig Laidlaw, Ali Price, George Horne
Unlucky to miss out:Henry Pyrgos, Sam Hidalgo Clyne,

Finn Russell
Finn Russell – pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography


Finn showed during the England game what we had pretty much guessed, that the current style of rugby means the tactical approach should revolve around him. He is indispensable to ChaosRugbyTM and the first name on the team sheet.

Despite not featuring much at 10 during the Six Nations tournament, Adam Hastings still looks like the closest backup to Finn in terms of style (and talent). He also unveiled a new layer to his game with a couple of stints at fullback where he looked quite at home. This versatility alone all but secures him a spot.

Pete Horne did play at 10 against France when Russell was injured but the experience was not invigorating. Horne stays in consideration as a centre and once again is likely to feature in the squad due to versatility. Greig can also cover 10, so no-one outside the current group would be considered.

Selected: Finn Russell, Adam Hastings
Unlucky to miss out: no-one really, sorry Dunc.

Huw Jones
Huw Jones – pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography


I said back in the distant mists of, er, late 2018:

“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.”

Things have changed a bit since then and it is still the trickiest group to pick.

Australian-born but now fully adopted Scotsman Sam Johnson did more than enough during the Six Nations to get him straight on the plane. Which makes things harder for some of our old favourites, especially with the further complication of former U20 Rory Hutchinson’s blinding form at Northampton – he’s yet to feature in a Scotland squad but is Most Likely Bolter. Huw Jones being injured (and so unavailable) and Alex Dunbar’s form and fitness falling off a Northumbrian cliff recently muddy the waters further.

Nick Grigg partnered Johnson well to a point, earning the plaudits from legendary 13 Brian O’Driscoll (see below) but there was a lack of threat from his channel which keeps Finn better marked closer in. In any case Grigg recently underwent surgery, so he’s out injured.

The good news is that both Matt Scott and Mark Bennett are back fit and will perhaps be playing together soon for Edinburgh, but with no real idea of their form it’s a risk. They have to get past Chris Dean and James Johnstone too, Cockerill’s current go-to pairing.

Pete Horne is versatile and a Townsend stalwart, so he goes alongside Johnson and Hutchinson and for now Chris Harris would probably take the final spot over teammate Alex Dunbar who is working his way back to fitness. I fully expect Dunbar, Jones, Taylor, Scott, Bennett (and possibly Stafford McDowall) to be part of the conversation ahead of the final squad this summer. Hutchinson is still young, but if his form doesn’t drop it could make him very hard to ignore even if he will have more chances in future.

Selected: Pete Horne, Chris Harris, Rory Hutchinson, Sam Johnson.
Unlucky to miss out: Alex Dunbar, Matt Scott, Mark Bennett, Chris Dean, James Johnstone, Stafford McDowall, Nick Grigg (inj), Huw Jones (inj), Duncan Taylor (inj).


I was looking for Darcy Graham to shake this list up last time and he’s duly done that despite only a handful of international appearances. His raw talent and pace – not to mention tenacity for a wee guy – mean he’s now all but nailed on for a squad place and should be starting the Ireland game. Sean Maitland’s versatility will help him but the remaining two spots are wide open for Byron McGuigan, Tommy Seymour and Kinghorn to battle over, with Lee Jones an outside bet.

Seymour*, Kinghorn and Jones are all currently injured so if the squad travelled today there would be some fishing around to be done from a pool including Dougie Fife, Rory Hughes, Damien Hoyland or Glasgow’s Kyle Steyn. Steyn featured most recently in a Townsend squad and has impressed for Glasgow so I’ll give him the unlikely nod.

*Tommy Seymour was pronounced fit to play for Glasgow just after this article was originally posted.

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

Darcy Graham takes evasive actionALASTAIR ROSS | Novantae Photography Photo Credit: Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography


Stuart Hogg has been nailed on in every one of these we’ve written and this continues even after a Six Nations where he only played one full game. Cover will come from Maitland, Hastings or Graham.

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

Scotland Backs (14): George Horne, Ali Price, Greig Laidlaw; Finn Russell, Adam Hastings; Pete Horne, Chris Harris, Rory Hutchinson, Sam Johnson; Darcy Graham, Sean Maitland, Byron McGuigan, Kyle Steyn, Stuart Hogg.

How it looks: injuries once again mean there are a few too many bolters in the selection although Darcy Graham is here on merit. Hutchinson would be an interesting call, as one of the form centres in the British Isles currently and we could see him get a run in the warm-up games if for no other reason to tie him in. Overall we need some experience back in the shape of say an in-form Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones or Alex Dunbar- but there may not be room for them all.

How it could look: George Horne, Ali Price, Greig Laidlaw; Finn Russell, Adam Hastings; Pete Horne, Duncan Taylor, Sam Johnson, Huw Jones; Darcy Graham, Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, Blair Kinghorn, Stuart Hogg.

Next week: the forwards.

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

39 Responses

  1. Pyrgos is responsible for much of the turgid stuff Embra are serving up.

    He’s as unlucky as me at missing the plane to Japan.

    1. Pyrgos plays to the plan Cockerill gives him. Not his best game against Munster but been great for Edinburgh otherwise

      1. No, Pyrgos has always been like this – he was just a bit more effective when younger.

      2. Stu2 – No, he hasn’t. Go back and watch some of Glasgow circa 2015. He’s never been nippy in the George Horne mould but to say he’s always been like this is cr@p. It’s clearly a plan between him and the coaching staff.

    1. I have just seen the fantastical line:

      “as one of the form centres in the British Isles currently”

      Is Rory’s maw writing this?

      1. As Gallagher Premiership player of the month, surely one has to accept that he is one of the form centres (even players) in the British Isles currently. Whether this can be translated into the long term is another matter. Hard to debate he is one of the form centres at the moment though

      2. He got this award during the 6Ns when fewer Prem games were played against weaker opposition.

  2. Rory Hutchinson a great attacking talent but needs to shore up his defence. If he does then he’s a prospect.

  3. Hyldalgo-Clyne is lucky he has an agent, the agent isn’t the reason got kicked out of Scarlets and Edinburgh were happy to let him go

    1. I think the problem was his agent was negotiating for him with respect to wages and went for too much. He’s taken a likely increase..but without game time that increase looks very short term and also hampers his Scotland chances.

      Pyrgos may be doing what Cockerill has told him but he isn’t as good as Hidalgo-Clyne…the game plan this season screams of a coach who does not have confidence in the ability of certain players to be creative, play fast or be an attacking threat in general. That’s why the gameplan is so limited/conservative…he limits the role’s of the scrum-half and our centres because he doesn’t have faith in them to execute that style. If we had kept Hidalgo-Clyne and Scott/Bennett stayed fit i’d say the gameplan would look quite different.

      1. Sam knew what was being asked for and what was being offered, don’t blame the agent.
        From your comment it seems you have the same problem he had – thinking he is much much better than he is. he got no game time for Scarlets for the same reason – replaced by a couple of academy players and reduced to playing Welsh league.
        A wasted talent who didn’t learn the first time that hard work and modesty pay off. Suspect he’ll be in the English Championship next season, if he is lucky

      2. You’re saying I have the same problem he had when i just said he/his agent was asking for too much. I don’t exactly blame Edinburgh letting him go if that was the case…I’m not placing all the blame on this agent as he is an adult who can make his own choices…but we cant dismiss one individual having an influence on another individuals choices.

        We don’t know what offers were put on the table but i’d wager that he over estimated his worth…but i still think he is better than Pyrgos.

      3. same problem as in thinking Hidalgo clyne is better than he is. word is that is his problem.

        Pyrgos has been a first pick all season by cockerill, joined at special request. Same Cockerill who has revitalised edinburgh.
        Clyne was recently warming benches in the Welsh Premiership.
        So yea, he’s better.

  4. I think if you’re taking Hastings as a fly-half (rightly so) and Taylor as a centre (again, his proper position), then do you really need five wingers/full-backs?
    Given Tommy’s current form, I’d rather take an extra centre.

    1. What’s the point in taking five centres? Extra forward surely (usually 6 props instead of 5).

  5. My 14 would be:

    1. Starting backline

      9. Horne
      10. Russell
      11. Maitland
      12. Johnson
      13. Taylor
      14. Graham
      15. Hogg

    2. Good picks but I reckon he’ll probably take 13 backs and 18 forwards so would probably drop McDowall. If Hutchinson can continue to prove himself between now and the WC I’d be tempted to take him instead of Scott and take Taylor as a 12 as well.

  6. I can’t decide whether it says more about our strength in depth or the extent of the injuries that have beset Scotland internationals this season which is the cause, but selecting two uncapped and unproven players (although both have potential) out of 14 backs in an overall squad of 31 is quite a stretch. If these circumstances were to be replicated in September, then I can’t see even Toony taking a risk of that magnitude. Scott or Bennett would be ahead of Hutchinson if that was the case.

    1. You’re right, I probably should have picked Dougie Fife. Or waited till the Glasgow team announcement I could have had Seymour in there!

  7. I very much doubt Taylor will be going. I’d be content to see him play again next season. Seymour will be going

  8. How can Scotland counter Ireland’s subtle cheating tactics in the first game? Whether it’s invisible bastardry late hits on key players or simulation to win crucial penalties. There’s no doubt in my mind that Ireland are the sort of team that will resort to whatever it takes to win regardless of the laws. Is there a meeting with the officials the day before the game to air such things? I would prefer not to see our players resort to the same thing and win fair and square.

    1. Hope for either Whitehouse and hope he refs them like he did Leinster 2nds against edinburgh the other week (he wouldn’t).Actually applied most of the laws, a situation Leinster hadn’t planned for and couldn’t cope with. Or the Kiwi Wales Ireland ref (Gardner?) who was better than most.

      The officials will all be briefed on what to look out for, it won’t include tackler getting up and running between ruck and scrum half, hands on ball, launching over rucks with no bind and no attempt to stay on feet, judo throws masquerading as ruck clearance. I could go on.

  9. Just on the whole ref thing, should there perhaps be bonuses of some kind to the referee based on his/her performance, or perhaps pay referees based on performance per game, this might encourage refs to actively look to improve there game in all aspects.

    It would hopefully mean the likes of a clancy etc stop being rubbish & we might get more refs of the quality of Owens/Barnes

    Just some thoughts. i actively try to avoid critising individual referees but the overall standard is pretty poor.

  10. Scotland and Edinburgh have suffered badly from poor officiating of late. No TMO review of the O’Mahony hit on Hogg (which to add insult to injury also led to a try), no yellow cards for Wales in their own 22 and no action for Murray’s bodyslam on Pyrgos or a TMO review of Beirne’s simulation. All of these very costly and down to cheating and poor officiating. Defeats are very hard to swallow when it boils down to one such incident. I’m getting fed up of the so called bigger/higher ranked teams getting away with murder.

    In fairness to England, they seem to play hard and fair but the Irish are the worst by some distance.

  11. IF players are fit and playing to the best of their ability, the below are my 14:

    Ali Price, Greig Laidlaw, George Horne; Finn Russell, Adam Hastings; Sam Johnson, [Taylor/Dunbar/Scott]; Huw Jones, Bennett; Darcy Graham, Sean Maitland, Seymour, Kinghorn, Stuart Hogg.

    If one of Taylor, Dunbar or even Scott are fit and firing, then the emergence of Johnson (with Hastings and Laidlaw covering FH) mean Pete Horne is surplus to requirements, as need a second 13 (granted Johnson can play there), so Bennett is my bolter.

    Don’t want any passengers and every player to be a real danger; Laidlaw is the exception. I like Hoyland as a player, hope he comes into contention. Too soon for McDowell and others.

  12. This would be my squad:

    Fraser Brown, Stuart McInally, George Turner, Simon Berghan, Allan Dell, Zander Fagerson, WP Nel, Gordon Reid, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Sam Skinner, John Barclay, Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson

    George Horne, Greig Laidlaw, Ali Price, Adam Hastings, Finn Russell, Mark Bennett, Sam Johnson, Huw Jones, Duncan Taylor, Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn, Sean Maitland, Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour

    Jamie Bhatti and Ben Toolis were close to selection.

  13. Hutchinson showing up really well even in a comfortably beaten Saints side this afternoon

  14. Update to this post will be coming later in the week. Been working on the forwards and we’ll need a 18/13 split without any props to cover both sides so Kyle Steyn will be getting unpicked!

  15. I do think Kyle Steyn is the most likely bolter for the squad (in both meanings of the phrase). He has the advantage that he covers outside centre and wing. He also has the advantage of familiarity with the rest of the Glasgow backs. If he and Johnson play the remaining Pro14 games together and they make it to the finall I think he’ll get a full cap in the summer and be on the plane. I can also foresee Jones struggling to get his shirt back at Glasgow if Steyn continues on current trajectory.

    1. I really like Steyn’s direct running – not seen much in the way of handling – but his defence also looks sound.

  16. It’s a good position following the injury crisis at centre that we have McDowell, Steyn and Hutchinson all uncapped and showing some good form and high potential.

  17. I really like the look of Steyn too. Some good options but I’d still go with experience and the guys already capped for the WC. To that end we should take Horne, Johnson, Burleigh and Jones. Hutchinson then Steyn as back up along with Bennett, Dunbar, Grigg, Taylor, Scott, Dean, McDowall and Johnstone should anyone else get injured.

  18. Yes Phil Burleigh, he’s been different gravy in Super Rugby. Hasn’t put a foot wrong in a Scotland jersey either and there must’ve been a reason for Townsend to get him capped. Always looked a good footballer at 10/12 at Edinburgh too I thought, he’s rock solid and now has inside knowledge of Japan, its players and its culture/customs.

    1. I’d pick Taylor before him – especially as the centres you’ve picked are unbalanced between 12 and 13, and Taylor can play both. I haven’t forgotten Burleigh, though – he’s still on my Mega Depth Chart™.

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