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

The back selections largely take care of themselves once you take injuries into account but there is still a fair bit to chew over in the pack. The Six Nations was bad and good in equal measure, but the way that the pack got Finn Russell on the front foot in the second half at Twickenham showed the way.

As before this is picked based largely on the Six Nations but includes availability and form up to the European quarter-finals.

Props

Picking a group of 17 forwards is harder than it was in 2015, when Vern Cotter had the bonus of a couple of versatile props as well as a centre who could play Number 8. I’ve arrived at this section and realised I’m going to need an extra forward and drop a back. Unless Murray McCallum suddenly rises like a phoenix from the flames.

Much to my relief, Allan Dell has pinned down the loosehead shirt, finally. Despite not getting many starts for Edinburgh he’s done enough during the Six Nations to make this an easy choice and his scrummaging is far less of a concern than it has been.

It’s less clear who his backups are, and it looked like Alex Allan and Jamie Bhatti until Gordon Reid got the nod for the final game of the Championship which sneaks him on the plane.

I’m hoping for a late-season charge by Alex Allan, but it will depend on gametime for Glasgow.

Selected: Allan Dell, Gordon Reid, Jamie Bhatti
Unlucky to miss out: Alex Allan, Rory Sutherland

At tighthead WP Nel has once again reclaimed the Number 3 shirt from Simon Berghan who is just holding off Zander Fagerson. Once Fagerson – not long back from injury – recovers fully, things could get interesting in terms of matchday selection but again it’s an easy three to pick.

Selected: Willem Nel, Simon Berghan, Zander Fagerson
Unlucky to miss out: Murray McCallum D’Arcy Rae

Hooker

Last time out both Fraser Brown and George Turner had picked up injuries and we were stretched pretty thin behind Stuart McInally. With Turner sitting out the rest of the season to recover from concussion, that’s still the case here, so we’re taking Ross Ford for Turner. Fraser Brown is back which is great news for the depth and he slots straight in.

Selected: Stuart McInally, Fraser Brown, Ross Ford
Unlucky to miss out: Jake Kerr, George Turner (inj)

Lock

Last time out, I wrote: “I am hopeful that this selection will be trickier in March”.

Okay, so it is April as I type this, but things are definitely trickier.

Sam Skinner did enough at 6 to suggest he’s become a Toony favourite and will be in the mix. It’s difficult to know if that’s in the locks or the back row but it seems likely he would travel ahead of Tim Swinson who has filled that sort of role in the past.

Richie Gray has finally reappeared for Toulouse and was a key part of their 14-man comeback over Finn Russell’s Racing92 in their Heineken Cup Quarter-Final. As Scotland’s most dynamic lock he has to go if he’s fit.

There are young locks like Scott Cummings and Callum Hunter-Hill coming through but they are short on opportunities until the next international window lifts the roadblocks to gametime back out of their path. I had hoped Cummings would have pushed through a bit more by now but perhaps his time is yet to come.

Which brings us to the big question – which two out of Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist or Jonny Gray do you take? The previously undroppable Gray Jnr’s form hasn’t been great for a while now and while the second rows in ChaosRugbyTM are often restricted to a set piece and tackling brief – a role he does very well – the difference it makes when Toolis and Gilchrist actually do some carrying is huge for Edinburgh and Scotland. Unfortunately for my sanity, Jonny had a huge performance for Glasgow at the weekend so he has sneaked back in, just. This is the only draft of this piece where I’ve picked him: another U-Turn!

Selected: Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Sam Skinner
Unlucky to miss out: Ben Toolis, Scott Cummings, Tim Swinson

Back-row

I was looking for star-making performances and while we didn’t see anything on Bill Mata’s level of back row play from our lads during the Six Nations, both of his Edinburgh teammates Magnus Bradbury (vs England) and Jamie Ritchie (most of the other games) had some very good moments.

Although he played no part in the Six Nations, John Barclay is now back and looking sharp for Edinburgh so he eases the worries a little especially with Ryan Wilson still out (as are David Denton, Blade Thomson and Luke Hamilton). He’s the outstanding candidate for skipper too.

Adam Ashe and John Hardie are fit and playing and were selected last time, but didn’t get a look in during the Six Nations. Matt Fagerson is another one who is close to selection but the extra weight Bradbury put on during his injury recovery really has turned him into a solid customer and he looks to have nudged ahead. Like Jonny Gray, Fagerson was another who had a strong showing for Glasgow but I’m sticking to my guns this time.

In the end the last place comes down to a 50/50 between Gary Graham and Josh Strauss but with Sam Skinner also in the squad a Number 8 is more needed than a 6. Josh Strauss did get some Six Nations game time and was pretty decent in patches so he’s on the plane, making it a very different back-row group to last time.

Later in the year it is highly likely Ryan Wilson will take this spot though (regardless of his merits as a Number 8) or indeed Skinner could travel as a back row if another lock was needed (or Ben Toolis fans explode).

Selected: Hamish Watson, John Barclay, Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Josh Strauss.
Unlucky to miss out: Ryan Wilson (inj), Blade Thomson (inj), Luke Hamilton (inj), Adam Ashe, Gary Graham.

So here is my complete squad based on who’s available and dropping a back from part I through necessity, sorry Kyle:

Backs (14 13): 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.

Forwards (18): Allan Dell, Gordon Reid, Jamie Bhatti; WP Nel, Simon Berghan, Zander Fagerson; Stuart McInally, Fraser Brown, Ross Ford; Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Sam Skinner; Hamish Watson, John Barclay (capt), Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury, Josh Strauss.

How it looks (forwards): Pretty healthy, I’d say. With 18 spots to fill there is really only debate in my mind over one loosehead spot and that final back row spot, although Jonny Gray is lucky.

If Townsend goes for a 17/14 split as Vern did then he’d tie himself in knots without any props who can cover both sides. Blade Thomson may come into Townsend’s thinking but might it come too late for him to slot into the systems ahead of say squad stalwart Ryan Wilson?

How it could look: I can only really see a change in that final back row slot. Could be Blade Thomson, more likely to be Ryan Wilson.

As usual I am sure there will be healthy debate below.

Depending on when the final squad is announced, I’ll take another look at the whole group at the end of the season.

104 comments on “Rory’s World Cup Squad v4.0: the Forwards

  1. Rich on

    Not sure if this would be better suited to the backs thread, but as they are also listed here and I can’t be bothered clicking somewhere else, I wonder if Seymour can keep the performance up from the Ulster game, and if so, would that nudge him ahead of McGuigan?

    Seymour has generally been a Toonie favourite, even when clearly not in form. However against Ulster, much like J.Gray he had a stormer, and if he can show something approaching that form for the rest of the season I suspect he’ll go to Japan. I expect McGuigan would be the man to drop out to accommodate.

    Reply
      • FF on

        Wilson will be in instead of Strauss. Toonie will avoid excluding his senior players.

        Can’t see Thomson having time to make a serious run. Fagerson does but needs some hugely impressive performances.

      • Scrummo on

        Fagerson is too small. Bradbury who is probably the guy he’s competing with is 15 kilos heavier.

      • FF on

        I’d pick Fagerson ahead if Strauss. He can play 6 so is a little more flexible and Strauss blows hot and cold. For every performance he looks like the answer to our prayers there is a performance he looks slow and a bit lazy.

  2. Nick on

    Glasgow’s performance against Ulster was very impressive. As I watched the game I wondered – how much are we seeing an increased quality of performance due to playing one of Europe’s best sides earlier in the week?

    Reply
  3. The Chiel on

    I’d take Cherry if fit instead of Ford. Much more dynamic, and much faster round the field. Darts as good if not better.

    Reply
    • sceptic 9 on

      I can’t believe anyone thinks Ford should go. we need an extra openside at hooker for the gameplan, not an over the hill extra tighthead prop who is currently the 4th best hooker at Edinburgh.

      Picking Ford, “for his experience” no doubt, is picking on nostalgia or on reputation. There is no room for that.

      Reply
  4. Merlot on

    I think we can only pick a 23 at the moment – the other spots are up for grabs.
    Dell, McInally, Nel, J Gray, Gilchrist, Bradbury, Watson, Strauss, Price, Russell, Maitland, Horne, Johnson, Graham, Hogg.
    Brown, Bhatti, Berghan, Toolis, Barclay, Laidlaw, Hastings, G Horne.
    I’d be surprised if these 23 aren’t on the plane to Japan, injuries excepted.

    Much as I like Skinner, I’m not sure he’s doing/done enough to warrant an automatic place over Toolis – he’s not starting for Exeter at the moment. Similarly Richie Gray needs game time to cement a spot.
    I wouldn’t even try and pick the three-quarters yet. There are so many permutations. Those I have picked are almost certainly on the plane, with the remaining 3/4 spots to be filled.

    Reply
    • Neil on

      Based on whats available atm & form/fitness if i was picking a 23 for WC tomorrow it would be:

      Dell, McInally, Nel
      Gilchrist, Toolis
      Ritchie, Bradbury, Watson Horne, Russell
      Scott, Johnson
      Graham, Hogg, Maitland

      Bhatti, Brown, Fagerson, R.Gray, Barclay, Laidlaw, Mcdowall, Hastings

      Unlucky to miss out – Allan, Berghan, Skinner, J.Gray, Strauss, Price, P.Horne, Dunbar, Hutchison, Seymour

      Reply
      • Merlot on

        Not much wrong with that 23, Neil. The only weakness is there aren’t many leaders with experience, and to be successful at the WC you need those guys up front. For that reason I’d start Barclay over Bradbury. And as you often comment, Bradbury coming off the bench always makes an impact!
        The centre partnership is probably the most contentious selection (along with the second row!). We’ll all be arguing over that for the next few months. For my money Pete Horne at 12 is a natural playmaker who will take pressure off Finn and give him options.

    • Stu2 on

      Skinner had a foot knock last weekend – otherwise he starts for Exeter.

      I dont think there is any doubt Skinner will go – his versatility makes it inevitable – quite apart from the fact he’s an excellent player.

      Reply
  5. Stu2 on

    Jonny Gray isn’t lucky – he’s done enough over this season to merit selection, never mind his past endeavours.

    Gilchrist has lots of media buddies, but few people really analyse his performances IMO – for example last Sat he was completely anonymous, apart from his red scrum cap – he drifts in and out of games and doesn’t IMO do enough work hitting rucks – carrying can be ineffective as he’s not aggressive enough too – he’s also a pen machine at times and he’s not smart enough to cheat undetected (especially with the daft red cap on).

    He and Toolis have had fine seasons, but Scotland’s best lock partnership are the Gray brothers – I have no doubt J Gray will find his mojo again, he was excellent last Friday for example – his best performances far outstrips anything Gilchrist and Toolis are capable of.

    Hopefully R Gray will come through the long French season unscathed – playing until June will do him no harm in view of his lack of gametime over the last couple of years.

    Reply
    • Neil on

      Thats quite the statement about Gilchrist, do you have any stats to back that up ? personally i think he has been in the form of his life & he would not be getting selected as first choice for Edinburgh and Scotland if what you are saying is the case i would of thought.

      I think Gilchrist/Toolis is the best lock combo currently on form

      The Grays have the potential to be a better combo, but they have not played with each other in years, One has just returned from a long list of injuries & the other is not having a good season for various reasons.

      Reply
      • Horace on

        Grays are show ponies and not rated outside of Scotland though the elder may begin to change this over in France.

    • sceptic 9 on

      Gilchrist is a very good player, he and Toolis the best pair over the season so far.
      But J Gray was immense v Ulster – finish the season like that and he’s first on the place never mind first pick lock.
      Nel had another meh day, Bergham better by far this week. Z Fagerson hits more rucks, makes more tackles and carries better than either, and his scrummaging is as least as good as Berghan’s.
      Nel will go probably and probably deservedly as first pick, but he has to deal better with cheats (had either of the other 2 been done by the Scarlets loose head there would be screaming about their inadequacies), reputation that he had seems to have been forgotten and isn’t enough – and the way he got skinned in open play by Genge in the Calcutta Cup was embarrassing

      Reply
      • SB on

        The pack needs Zander’s work in the loose. Adding him and Richie Gray hopefully addresses some of our carrying problems.

        I love Nel but he’s not as dynamic as other nations props are nowadays.

  6. Big Al on

    I think there is still a lot to learn on the Pro 14 end of season run in. The experience of knock-out rugby will help for the world cup now that Europe is over for us for another year. The last Glasgow v Edinburgh game is going to be very interesting from a forwards perspective. Is Zander Fagerson getting back to his best? Was J.Gray poked in the chest? Can any of the Glasgow back row stake a claim. Its going to be edgy! Lets just hope there are no more injuries.

    Reply
  7. MisterC on

    I would not be surprised to see Chris Fusaro make a push for the WC – has been in great form for Glasgow this season and is more deserving of a chance than some who are only there by reputation.

    Reply
    • Rich on

      I would be absolutely shocked to see Fusaro in there. Nothing against the lad but he’s currently not even close to Int. selection and I can’t see who is ahead of him in the backrow on reputation alone.

      Reply
      • Toonie's Advisor on

        Thats a great idea, lets take a 30 year old with no recent international experience ahead of Wilson or Barclay….

        Strauss can’t go to the world cup in my opinion. he is terribly unfit for a professional athlete. Struggles beyond 50 minutes and we don’t need that. Wilson is a better option than him every day, as is Fagerson, Ashe & Crosbie.

  8. sceptic 9 on

    The younger Fagerson makes yards with quick feet, and works much harder than Bradbury all round. Bradbury does the big carries, but is prone to drift out of games. Tough choice for me

    Reply
    • Mish on

      If we have two breakdown specialists either side with the breakdown ability of both our hookers, I think we can afford to have one player that’s an out and out ball carrier.

      Reply
      • sceptic 9 on

        2 carriers or one openside in the back row v 2 open sides and one carrier is a good debate. But volume of work is more important for 6 and 8 than being good at one thing. This is where Bradbury and Strauss can fall off, while the Wilsons, Barclays and Fagerson’s excel

  9. Mish on

    Is it no longer possible for a prop to retrain for both sides. Seems to me our three tightheads are probably our strongest three props. Obviously too late for this world cup but is there an argument for either Berghan or Fagerson trying to become a loosehead (prob too late for Nel).

    Anybody initiated in front row play able to shed any light on whether this is possible in modern rugby?

    Reply
    • JohnMc on

      Mish, the short answer is ‘no’. At this level of the game it’s unwise, ineffective and possibly dangerous to re-train props to switch. There are very few who can do it at top level. John Welsh was one I think, but even then I don’t think he went through a crash course to become, as it were, ambiproperous.
      Proper props – not former girly backs like me – may be able to explain in more detail why it’s not such a good idea.

      Reply
      • sceptic 9 on

        its possible but not overnight. Welsh was a destructive loose head, good carrier who was never as effective at tight head. McCallum has played both sides for Edinburgh with some success, but seems to have fallen right down the pecking order on both sides as a result. Different body shapes and muscles sets involved to different degrees. Its not just bulk.

  10. DW on

    Sorry Neil I can’t see us getting very far with a midfield of Scott Johnson – anyway hasn’t he gone back to Australia now ;)

    Reply
    • Neil on

      I agree DW its not the best attacking option but i think it gives us good distribution, a crash ball player to balance the backline thats all flash currently and also potentially the best defensive midfield.

      Reply
    • Merlot on

      Not sure whether Neil got the joke, DW.
      Although Scott Johnson was forever on the defensive and crashed through a lot of interviews!

      Reply
      • DW on

        Nice one Merlot :)

        Yes appologies Neil it was a bit of a flippant remark but couldn’t resist when you put Scott and Johnson on the same line.

        I do like Matt Scott and Sam Johnson was outstanding for us in the Six Nations both offensively and defensively. We do have some great talent in the centres my main concern is so many have been out for so long with injury is there enough time to get a pair to gell both offensively and defensively before Japan. As we all know fine margins are so key in international rugby having combinations on the same wavelength can make the difference.

      • RuggersB on

        I don’t think we are strong in the centre at all….considering how close we are to RWC.

        Scott and Bennet stagnated mid way into their careers and have not moved forward. Bennet especially looks a fraction of the player he seemed certain to become.

        H Jones looks well short of where he was. Think Glasgow was actually the wrong choice for him. No doubt would have been overplayed in other leagues but would have improved his game also.

        P Horne is nothing better than the 4th or 5th choice back up he always been really…imo. His mistakes at international level… just not good enough. Sam Johnson looks far more suited to international rugby than him.

        Our best centre on current form is weirdly Hutchinson…who hasn’t even been capped yet.

        Taylor was our best centre a couple of years ago …but who knows where he is at now.

        Macdowell has potential… and is improving with gametime…but isn’t ready for this WRC.

        Its a worry that we still dont know what our best centre, lock and back row combinations truly are. If we dont figure that out before the RWC we won’t be having much success there.

  11. MisterC on

    One other thing is the warm up games against 2 physical sides, there is the possibility of players getting injured in those, especially in the front row. Let’s also not forget the toonie tombola, there will be a few surprise selections, of that I am in no doubt

    Reply
  12. SB on

    I think that’s the forwards other than Turner in for Ford and Wilson in for Strauss.

    Toolis has been superb recently and might push out Grant Gilchrist.

    Reply
  13. Franco on

    Take both Toolis and Gilchrist. Both have earned it. And both Grays, right back on form. Why should Skinner be picked ahead of them. Hasn’t done anything for Scotland. Good player but maybe as a back row. Can he play no 8?

    Reply
      • pragmatic optomist on

        If you turned your selections upside down I’d probably agree with you. 1 R Gray 2 J Gray 3 Skinner 4 Toolis 5 Gilchrist

      • RuggersB on

        I think Skinner is a very good player….but has he played very well for Scotland yet?… He has been ok… but its very hard to be sure as he seems injury prone and has he even finished a match? I think he has been average as a 6 ….and is a better player at lock.

    • Neil on

      Skinner has been an excellent player for Scotland whenever starting & is the best option for 2nd Row/Backrow cover, he has proven he can mix it with the best.
      For me he is one of the first names in the squad.

      I think Jonny Gray has put himself right back into the mix with his last 2 performances offering more than just tackling, however the game between Glasgow-Edinburgh could be a deciding factor for one of the locks, Gray cant go back into his shell against a powerful pack which he has done before in the big games.

      It really is going to be a headache dropping one of the locks for World Cup

      Pecking order atm.

      1. Gilchrist 2. Toolis 3. Skinner
      4. J.Gray 5. R.Gray

      Reply
      • TeamCam on

        I think Skinner was excellent against Fiji, but he’s been fairly anonymous in subsequent games, especially against SA. I think he will turn out to be excellent, but he’s not there yet. That said, if he were on the plane, I wouldn’t be too concerned about it (depending on who’s left out).

        I disagree with your pecking order, though: Jonny’s last two matches have been better than anything I’ve seen from the three players you’ve got in front of him, and he has tons of credit in the bank. Richie Gray has also delivered greater performances than Gilchrist, Toolis or Skinner have, but he’s still coming back into form, so I’ll concede that for now, but with all our locks at 100% I still think the Grays are our best pairing, with Gilchrist or Skinner on the bench.

      • Scrummo on

        I think Gilchrist and Toolis have a very, very good partnership.

        I think if we are going to go outside of that partnership and equally if we are going to have our locks dominate games then we will need to see the Gray’s return to top form.

        In short, Gilchrist and Toolis good together. The Gray’s mediocre or injured recently for Scotland but capable of great.

        Skinner is only a factor as he can also cover 6, given at least one Gray will start I’d drop one or other of the Edinburgh pair for him.

      • RuggersB on

        J Gray needs to start offering something beyond tackle stats at international level…his progress stagnated. I feel he was selected for many matches based on reputation and/or potential rather than actual form. Its hard to even see what the pecking order is at lock…nobody really standing out consistently at test level..imo… a group of decent locks and nothing more.

      • Ben F on

        Gray does more than tackle stats , at line out mauls he is continually seen protecting the ball carrier and driving, we just do not measure that . He puts himself in harms way week in week out.

        It would be good to get a players opinion on who they want to play with ! Gray would be rated for a very obvious but overlooked reason , he does the hard yards week in week out and that is his strength.

        Richie Gray has been out for a while but if he ever reaches his prevous best, the man is massive, fast , and can not be overlooked, but that is a big if .

    • Stu2 on

      Versatility trumps that when you have a limited RWC squad.

      IMO he’s our second best 6 behind Barclay – Bradbury is our 8.

      Reply
      • Scrummo on

        Better than Ritchie? I’d have Ritchie as our best 6 after Barclay and third best 7 after Watson and then Barclay.

  14. Neil on

    How the WC squad Appears to be shaping up with the pecking order going into play-offs/Warm up games, outside brackets have an outside chance of making squad at this point.

    LH-(Dell, Bhatti, Reid) Allan, Sutherland

    Hooker – (Mcinally, Brown, Ford) Turner

    TH – (Fagerson, Nel, Berghan) Rae, Welsh, Mcallum

    Lock – (Gilchrist, Toolis,Skinner,J.Gray) R.Gray, Cummings, Carmichael

    BR – (Watson, Ritchie, Bradbury, Wilson, Barclay) Hardie, Fagerson, Strauss, Denton, Thomson

    SH – (Price, Horne, Laidlaw) Pyrgos

    FH – (Russell, Hastings) Thomson, Horne

    Centre – (Johnson, Jones, Mcdowall, Scott) Grigg, Harris, Dunbar, Hutchison, Taylor, Steyn, Bennett, Johnstone

    Back 3 – (Hogg, Maitland, Graham, Kinghorn) Seymour

    What this shows in my eyes in that we really have no idea our first choice Centre/Backrow combination & this will be key to identify if we are to challenge a world cup

    We also need to pick a lock partership & stick with it.

    What those combinations will be i have no idea …

    Reply
    • Sam Benedict on

      Ford wasn’t even picked for the Six Nations squad. He may have experience – and I’d like him to go partly – but honestly Turner and Kerr are both above him.

      Kinghorn has been great – he cuts fantastic lines – but Seymour is strong defensively and under the high ball. I think he might have the edge at present, with Maitland another full-back option.

      Pete Horne will go – covers fly-half.

      Grigg and Harris both above Scott at present at 13, but Scott’s ahead of McDowall at 12. A fit Duncan Taylor probably travels, though, as he can cover both plus the back three. I don’t know who he’d replace out of the aforementioned.

      A fit Richie Gray gets in over either Toolis or Skinner for me.

      Reply
      • Scrummo on

        Nope in this case the information was passed to the Pro 14 for their media guide by the club. Actually a slight touch higher than his wiki weight which is no surprise given his height and obvious muscularity. How heavy do you think he is? Lighter than Barclay?

    • Neil on

      I think Ritchie is physical enough for international rugby already, the fact he should be getting better & better will be a nice bonus, the thing i like about him over all the other backrows is his consistency, he does not drop out of games, it gives him an edge over wilson & what makes the Barclay/Ritchie at 6 very compelling.

      Reply
      • Martin on

        perception is an unreliable mistress, but I would be interested in Ritchie’s actual (crucial) stats in the 6 nations – how many turnovers did he secure, how many penalties did he conceed and what is his metres gained per carry stats? I always got the impression tht his work rate was immense but he gave away too many penalties relative to turnovers secured (versus say a Barclay) and that his carrying is not as dynamic as either Watson or Bradbury. I may try and do the ESPN route later to see if I can derive.

    • Sam Benedict on

      When someone proves you wrong, just say “Wikipedia strikes again!” and fail to acknowledge the point. Seriously?!

      Ritchie’s actually fairly strong in that wiry way of his.

      Reply
      • Scrummo on

        Agree Sam. In fact I’d say Ritchie actually reminds me of Barclay with that unexpected limpet like strength that Barclay has. Given Ritchie is also a bigger man both to look at and statistically it bodes well for his career with Barclay mentoring him at Edinburgh.

      • Sam Benedict on

        I think so too; both positionally and physically they’re very similar, and they’re also mature players. If Ritchie can fulfil a Barclay-like role in future years then Scotland are in a really good place.

  15. Nomeen Seetay on

    the site and posts are getting kinda Embracentric – Gilchrist and Toolis . . . gie us peace. Little Gray needed a break and is back with compass re-adjusted. Two storming games, 43 tackles for god’s sake and a commanding performance vs best in Europe. Big Gray getting back to it after his long lay off. Looked very good in Heineken 1/4 final for Toulouse. It’ll be the Grays for Japan, G&T back-up with Harley/Cummings.
    Saturday will be interesting – of course Embers know how to stop Glw playing . . . we’ll see . . .

    Reply
    • Sotonsaltire on

      Agreed. If fit, Gray/Gray will be our starting locks against Ireland. Can’t see Harley or Cummings being anywhere near the squad though!

      Gilchrist and Toolis have done well but when it comes to it Edinburgh still don’t win the games that count. Ulster is case on point. Glasgow (led by an inspired Jonny Gray) had to win with a bonus point against Ulster and did.

      Edinburgh with the self-styled ‘best pack in Europe’ get annihilated at home a week later by the same team that Glasgow put away when they needed to step up and win.

      Reply
      • Neil on

        I think its highly unfair to say that, Edinburgh have been consistently dominating upfront including against Leinster just a few weeks ago… They also delivered in the big pool games.

        Gray had an amazing last 2 performances but he needs to deliver those consistently now instead of the 1 off game here & there.

        If he can achieve that he will be the first name on the team sheet.

      • Sam Benedict on

        Toolis certainly didn’t disappear at Twickenham when the going got tough! Our best forward that day. And what about the pool games, for one thing? Saying that they don’t turn up is a whole field of bullocks.

      • Sotonsaltire on

        To be clear i am not criticising Gilchrist or Toolis specifically. They are good pro14 players. They are not Scotland’s best lock combination but it is good to have them in and around the squad.

        And my barb about Edinburgh’s pack is probably unfair too. However, they are nowhere near winning things yet and look unlikely to even make the play-offs this year so perhaps a bit of respect is due for the other Scottish side who has coasted into the playoffs. Again.

    • Ben F on

      Gilchrist is an average international player that I rate no higher than Swinson, who has had a terrible run with injury. But a fit Swinson has all the aggression , guile and ballskills you will never get from Toolis. However I doubt any of that three will be in Japan ,with Skinner giving a back or second row option , I can see him being the third choice 2nd row allowing an extra exclusive back row player to tour. It fits better with the Toonie Tombola which shows no signs of going away.

      Reply
    • Big Al on

      The latest Rugby Pass rankings make interesting reading for the lock pecking order:

      Ben Toolis 90
      Grant Gillchrist 88
      Jonny Gray 86
      Sam Skinner 85
      Richie Gray 85
      Scott Cummings 83
      Tim Swinson 79

      Toolis comes out as ranked #2 in the world which surprised me. I think the final Glasgow v Edinburgh game might give the selectors more insight though.

      Reply
      • Stu2 on

        Considering Rugbypass had Peter Horne as the world’s best 13 for a couple of months this season it’s probably best to ignore the drivel that are their rankings.

  16. Merlot on

    I don’t understand the hype around Skinner. He had a fantastic debut against Fiji (a tier 2 side) and backed it up with a solid performance in the loss to SA. Since then he’s been nowhere and cannot get a game at Exeter.
    To my mind, lock pecking order is
    1. J.Gray
    2. Toolis
    3. Gilchrist
    4. R.Gray (coming back fast though)
    5. Skinner
    6. Swinson
    7. Cummings
    The only reason to take Skinner to Japan is his versatility but as we have so may better back-rows that defeats the object. Would you take Sam over Barclay or Bradbury, just because he can play lock?

    Reply
    • Stu2 on

      Skinner has a foot injury – when fit he starts for Exeter.

      He was also excellent at Twickenham – the same match that has elevated Toolis to AWJ levels in some posters eyes.

      Reply
      • Merlot on

        Fair enough Stu2. Didn’t realise he was injured.
        I still stand by my rankings for lock – Sam will need to come back from injury soon to oust any of the other 4.
        In the back row you’d have to drop one of Barclay (6/7/8), Bradbury (6/8), Watson (7), Ritchie (6/7) or Strauss (6/8). Not to mention Wilson, if he comes back from injury or Matt Fagerson who is also impressing.

      • Merlot on

        We need an 8, other than Bradbury. To my mind Bradbury is better at 6, as is Barclay.
        As Rory rightly put it in his RWC Squad v4.0, with Wilson and Denton both injured, it’s either Strauss or Ashe, and Strauss is a much better 8.
        If you’re thinking to take Bradbury and Barclay as your only potential Number 8s, then your two options are either inexperienced or lightweight, respectively.

      • Stu2 on

        How about doing away with this daft idea you are picking a squad based on players who are fit right now – Wilson is going to recover and be fit for the RWC.

        Toonie is not going to leave a fit Wilson at home.

      • Merlot on

        My point was that even if Wilson goes instead of Strauss, there is still no space for Skinner just because he can play 6. IMO.
        The argument put forward was that because he can play 6, Skinner should go ahead of Toolis, Gilchrist or one of the Gray brothers. NO. He is 5th choice lock and 3rd/4th choice blindside. If he wasn’t injured, and performing well for Exeter (at either position) then perhaps. But because he’s injured we have no idea whether he’s better than the 4 locks or 5 back-rows we have playing regularly for their clubs.

  17. Bazz on

    – He was on the bench against Argentina.
    – He started 5/6 champions cup games
    – Got injured against Italy and recovered in time for the calcutta cup
    – He isn’t getting game time now because he has a broken foot

    Reply
  18. Martin on

    Just reviewed the ESPN stats for Ritchie in the 6 nations – obviously subject to dispute as I am not sure these are verifiable from any other source. But Ritchie gave away 6 penalties in 4 games and only secured 2 turnovers. His metres gained per carry is 1.46, which is inflated by his Italy performance (20m in 6 carries) outside of Italy he is exactly 1m per carry (27 carries 27 metres gained).

    He also missed 6 tackles, making 66.

    Beating 3 defenders, having 1 clean break and giving 2 successful offloads.

    I’d go as far to say that this represents a poor return (and for what its worth is what I thought at the time – in the face of him receiving great praise) – thoughts???

    Reply
    • Merlot on

      Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics (Disraeli).
      In the same way that Jonny Gray had really impressive statistics, he failed to impress in the 6N. That may be due to expectations (Gilchrist, Toolis, and Skinner had less expected of them, I would have thought).
      Ritchie, by contrast, had a reasonable 6N, although the stats don’t back it up. As a 7, his main job is being first man to the breakdown – slowing ball for the opposition (or ideally stealing it) and speeding ball/clearing out, for us. Difficult for stats to show how effective he is at that. I do recall at least two occurrences where he was penalised at the breakdown and it could have easily (should have) been given the other way. i.e. 4 penalties and 4 turnovers instead of 6 and 2.
      Still, it’s a shame we haven’t seen much of him lately to see how good he is (or can be). Maybe Cockers rates him as you do.

      Reply
      • Martin on

        Its not that I don’t rate him, its just that I got the sense that he wasn’t doing as well as people believed. Even accounting for you thinking he could easily have had 2 penalties reflected as genuine turnovers, 4 turnovers and 4 penalties is still a poor return – and I am being generous in accepting that they could have been turnovers instead of penalties (Great flankers paint pictures for refs that confound them to overlook indiscretions !). I have always thought that a top 7 needs a great blindside and tackling lock to create jackal opportunities, so perhaps this is as much an indictment on the rest of the team than Ritchie as an individual, but in my mind it is clear that Barclay and Watson are a far more effective combination and far more effective individually at present. Talking of indiscretions I would also place Hardie ahead of Ritchie at present, but do recognise that Ritchie has a lot of upside potential and he needs time and room to grow both at Edinburgh and the National team – i believe he absolutely can become world class, but he still has loads to do.

      • Stu2 on

        I think Ritchie will suffer from being a 6.5 – he might never find his true position until he is older. I still think he will make the squad for the RWC though – it would be good if he is fit for the weegie match.

  19. john on

    Toolis is our best “receiver of line out ball” – crucial we secure line out ball.
    J.Gray V Ulster put in the best performance by a SQ lock this season, maybe 2nd best performance V Leinster
    Skinner starts for a very formidable Exeter side (when fit)
    R.Gray “has everything” size, athleticism, hands – just been injured for ages.
    Gilchrist is very unlucky to miss out, but miss out he does (in my squad)

    Reply
    • pragmatic optomist on

      Agree with you that Toolis is up there with the best at lineout time. Think Richie Gray at 6′ 10″ trumps that. The only player who can pinch ball from Devon Toner of Ireland. Says it all really

      Reply
      • Scrummo on

        I’d have Toolis as my tighthead lock as he provided set piece nous and grunt then Big Ritchie alongside for his work around the pitch.

  20. Sam Benedict on

    This would currently be my 23:

    Hogg; D Graham, H Jones, Johnson, Maitland; Russell, Price; Dell, McInally, Nel; R Gray, J Gray; Barclay (C), Watson; Bradbury
    (F Brown, Reid, Berghan, Gilchrist, Wilson, Laidlaw, Hastings, D Taylor)

    The #20 shirt is the toughest one to pick. Is it Wilson, Ritchie or even Strauss? Bringing a big N°8 on for the business end of the game is a good thing to have, but Ritchie brings energy and efficiency. Wilson is the kind of guy who you want to have in the squad; a leadership figure, good rapport with Barclay, Watson and Laidlaw, allows flexibility, bit of a nuisance. I think the five backrowers we’ll take are Ritchie, Wilson, Watson, Bradbury and Barclay, with both Grays, Toolis and Gilchrist at lock; taking Skinner would free up a more full-on 8 to replace Ritchie or Wilson but I’m not sure we have an option that justifies that approach just yet.

    Back-row balance is key:

    Barclay – 6 and 7
    Watson – 7
    Bradbury – 6 and 8

    The first two are undroppable and Bradbury gets in for me.

    If Ritchie goes – at 6 and 7 – then we need to accompany him with a player who is primarily an 8 to maintain that balance. Wilson’s primarily an 8 for Scotland, but does he fit the bill? (Are we missing Dentweezy? Why was Beattie discarded?) Strauss is decent but doesn’t justify it for me as he’s wildy inconsistent. Similarly, Wilson plays at 6 and 8; we need an extra 7 that way, and we lose a more physical 8.

    This is tough.

    I think the answer might be Ritchie and Wilson; Watson offsets the lack of a big, ball-carrying 8 as he’s more physical. He’d better stay fit…

    Reply
    • Sotonsaltire on

      Probably isn’t far off.

      Don’t think Taylor is fit though and he certainly hasn’t played any rugby this year. Think the two backs on the bench ex scrum half will between Seymour, P Horne and Hastings. Combo depends on who is on form. Equally Toonie could pick Harris.

      Also think Fagerson senior will be in the 23. Adds something for Glasgow in tackling, set piece and carrying.

      Second loosehead is really an other, Bhatti has hit a bit of form.

      Reply
      • Neil on

        I question what Nel offers over Fagerson currently. Its just i dont see him as a bench option & it hard to leave him out the 23.

      • ClanFan on

        In terms of second loosehead have heard on the coconut wireless over here that Toonie has put the feelers out to Aidan Ross at the Chiefs who is qualified via grandparent.

      • Scrummo on

        Didn’t know about Ross, a quick wiki check and isn’t surprising considering his brother’s names.

  21. Sam Benedict on

    I tell you what, though: this is a decent debate to be having! It’s not that long ago that Kieran Low, Tom Ryder and Matt Mustchin were being capped by Scotland in the second row; or when Anton Bresler was making squads; or when we lost a lock to injury in our 2015 World Cup squad, and called up Blair Cowan.

    Whatever happens, one excellent forward is going to miss out. And among the backs we won’t be picking players who would have been automatic selections if they’d been born 5 years earlier; Grigg, Scott, perhaps Kinghorn among them. That in itself speaks volumes of the progress that Scotland have made under the stewardship of Cotter and Townsend, as well as under our club coaches, Rennie and Cockerill. They have helped improve our present playing crop.

    I don’t want to appear celebratory quite yet; we might well capitulate against Fiji, or fall some way short of the hurdle against Ireland. But it is still worth commenting on. Our depth looks better in several key positions; our historically-strongest positions – the flankers and full-back – have decent cover beside extraordinary individuals, as does fly-half; we have a fantastic crop of second-rows; our centres and wings are strong; we have strong depth at hooker and tighthead prop; our scrum-halves include Horne and Price alongside our second-highest point-scorer. The picture looks a little less rosy at loosehead – no Chunk, Dicko or Grant – and at N°8; but we are still in fine fettle heading into the RWC.

    Reply
    • JohnMc on

      Generally agree with you that we’re in a much better state than we were a few years ago. Even better than 2015 RWC, when until the second half v Samoa and the QF v Australia, we didn’t realise that we’d become quite a good side after our wilderness years.
      Concerned about centres this time round. Crucial area where due to injuries and loss of form we’ve gone backwards. Apart from Johnson, who’s been excellent. Yet he’s only one of what needs to be a three or possibly four player combination to get through the tournament.

      Reply
      • Sam Benedict on

        We haven’t really seen Huw Jones uninjured and unhindered so far this year, so I do retain some hope. Johnson hasn’t been bad and Grigg has looked OK defensively. Harris is still better than many of our previous centres. We’ve still gone backwards, but not catastrophically, I don’t think.

  22. Sam Benedict on

    In a year, my forward selection’s changed quite a bit. Dell in for Dickinson, Bhatti in for Marfo, Turner in for Ford, Toolis in for Swinson, Bradbury in for du Preez and Ritchie in for Hamilton.

    A few changes in the backs, too: George Horne in for Pyrgos, Hastings in for Weir, Johnson in for Dunbar, Darcy Graham in for Bennett/Visser.

    Reply

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