Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Rory’s World Cup Squad v5.0: the Final Squad

[Edinburgh, UK. November 11, 2017] Scotland Head Coach, Gregor Townsend - Scotland vs Samoa at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. (c) ALASTAIR ROSS | Novantae Photography Photo Credit: Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

This is the last in a series of articles that was started by Gav way back with a prospective Scotland World Cup squad. I took it over after the autumn 2018 and Six Nations 2019 and after the long road to Japan, here we are.

Following a comprehensive away win in Tiblisi that was perhaps more convincing than expected given all the talk of a 50,000 crowd ready to cheer their side into the Six Nations, Gregor Townsend will announce the squad tomorrow.

Sadly for both those left behind and those on the plane, leaks are appearing already to indicate the direction the final 31 might take, which we’ll deal with as we go.

This is my version, with plenty of input from our team of writers and podders. I’ve mashed forwards and backs into one post this time (sorry about the length).

It’s a 17/14 forwards/backs split as in 2015 and only includes players in the training squad. The time for fantasy picks is over; sorry Duncan Weir or Darryl Marfo fans.

Japan is scarily close, but not everyone can make it.


In 2015 Vern Cotter had a couple of versatile props (and King Richie Vernon) to balance his front line players against the need for cover in such a small squad size. World Rugby should really change the limit to 32 and allow for 3 full front row units, but they have’t yet.

With that in mind Townsend tried Simon Berghan as a temporary loosehead against France. It may have worked as a stopgap and with quality looseheads actually a bit thin we’re going to stick with it.

Gordon Reid may only have Super 6 club Ayr interested in giving him a contract in Scotland currently, but his scrummaging greatly improves Scotland’s set piece effort. He gets in just ahead of Jamie Bhatti who was poor in the first warm-up although better against the fabled Georgian scrum.

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

WP Nel and Zander are the chosen tightheads plus the apparently versatile Berghan. It’s a decent group of props with Nel and Dell probably the first choices to face down Ireland’s front row monsters.

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

Stuart McInally
Stuart McInally is congratulated by teammates after scoring his second try for Scotland vs Samoa at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography


The warm up tests have highlighted the worry should one or both of Brown and McInally go down injured. Really we need the top two hookers fit if we are to make any progress.

For the third hooker position, George Turner edges ahead of Grant Stewart, just, arguably based on previous performances as there isn’t much between them. It’s perhaps too early for Grant who has huge promise and has been excellent at times for Glasgow, but is still very raw. Still, if you are looking for a bolter in the squad, Stewart ahead of Turner could be an outside chance.

Selected: Stuart McInally, Fraser Brown, George Turner
Unlucky to miss out: Grant Stewart


The injury to Sam Skinner just over a week ago made this selection a lot simpler. He would have been a certainty with a tough choice between Toolis and Cummings for the remaining slot. Now though, both will go alongside Grant Gilchrist and Jonny Gray who are probably the first choice pairing – although there is perhaps a question mark over Gray the younger’s current fitness.

Tim Swinson was a late training call-up (and Richie Gray wasn’t) but didn’t play on Saturday so didn’t have much of a chance to repeat the late charge he made in 2015 at Jim Hamilton’s expense. Blade Thomson could be used as emergency second-row cover and you never know, Sam Skinner might be involved in the later stages if an injury call up was required.

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

Jonny Gray faces France - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography
Jonny Gray faces France – pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography


Previous selections were all based around who was fit – and in some cases, injuries helped make decisions easier.

No such luck this time.

Even with the likes of John Hardie or Gary Graham now long since cast aside, it is still a tricky selection to make.

First though, who should definitely go?

Hamish Watson will definitely go, and you would bank on Townsend taking the experience of John Barclay, and probably also Ryan Wilson who is somewhat of a marmite figure on these pages, but does marshal the defensive line well.

That would leave two spots between Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Josh Strauss, Matt Fagerson and Blade Thomson. Strauss arguably played himself out of contention in that first French game, while Bradbury hasn’t featured at all due to injury. It would be a disappointment for Bradbury not to go given his promise, but like Ritchie he is still very young. Ritchie however should go on his form this year which has been superb. It’s most likely a toss up between Thomson – who Townsend seems to be a fan of but we haven’t seen much of – and Matt Fagerson, who like Bradbury hasn’t had many chances but did show up well at times in the Georgia game and does offer dynamism with ball in hand.

We are still very light in dynamic ball carriers which is why I think Townsend will go with Thomson despite his lack of game time. Plus it wouldn’t be a Scotland squad announcement without a parachuted Kiwi would it?

Personally I’ll take Watson, Ritchie, Barclay, Fagerson and Thomson but I think Townsend will opt for Wilson, and I’d be reasonably happy either way. Wilson is a great squad player hugely popular with his teammates – that aspect should not be ignored.

Selected: Hamish Watson, John Barclay, Jamie Ritchie, Blade Thomson, Matt Fagerson.
Unlucky to miss out: Ryan Wilson*, Magnus Bradbury, Josh Strauss.


Back to the easily sorted: Laidlaw, Horne and Price. Laidlaw is currently in the driving seat to start but to be honest, any of them could realistically start and be good – and that’s a good situation to be in. A lot of teams are only taking two scrum halves but I’m not sure Toony will go down that route, as the pace he wants to play at needs a scrum half who is fully fresh.

Selected: Greig Laidlaw, Ali Price, George Horne
Unlucky to miss out: only 3 scrum-halves in the training squad.

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


Finn Russell is currently indispensable to Scotland. France’s (borderline offside) rush defence showed other teams how to close Scotland’s free-flowing intent down, as Ireland and Wales have before them in recent times. We need Finn’s range of chip’s and grubbers – and his willingness to attempt them – in order to keep defence’s honest and open up the marginal spaces wider out that Hogg, Sam Johnson or say Darcy Graham may profit from.

Adam Hastings will go as a backup, and may see a start in the Russia game as well as perhaps offering fullback cover.

Selected: Finn Russell, Adam Hastings
Unlucky to miss out: no-one


Ugh. This is still a nightmare to call, and some pretty useful players are going to be left at home.

Rory Hutchinson is now a Scotland international and a useful looking one at that with two tries against Georgia while Duncan Taylor is (finally) fit again. Taylor has long been a Toony favourite as has Pete Horne, and like Sam Johnson should definitely go.

There is a lot of talk that Huw Jones has credit in the bank, but I’d suggest that Hutchinson is currently looking more likely to travel, and also more like the Jones of a few years back, which is what we really want. Leaked reports today suggest both men will be left behind too though, which would mean Townsend is opting for the less dynamic Chris Harris. I’m going with Hutchinson here though.

Once again we have to look at what we’d like, versus what Townsend has done in the past. History is on the side of Chris Harris and Pete Horne, even if the potential for excitement in the midfield is perhaps less as a result.

Selected: Pete Horne, Rory Hutchinson*, Sam Johnson, Duncan Taylor.
Unlucky to miss out: Huw Jones, Chris Harris.


With Townsend seeming to favour slightly less swashbuckling centres of late, and Russell often going wide quickly (by kick or pass), the back three selection is a little more important to the style of play. Maitland and Graham were both very good defensively against Georgia and Blair Kinghorn has nudged ahead of Byron McGuigan. I can’t see Tommy Seymour being dropped even if we haven’t seen that much of him lately and I’d be happy with any of this four partnering Hogg in the back three.

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

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


Hoggy is still nailed on, despite patchy form over the summer and several dodgy haircuts.

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

Our Forwards (17): Allan Dell, Gordon Reid, WP Nel, Simon Berghan, Zander Fagerson; Stuart McInally, Fraser Brown, George Turner; Scott Cummings, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Ben Toolis; Hamish Watson, John Barclay, Jamie Ritchie, Matt Fagerson, Blade Thomson.

Our Backs (14): George Horne, Ali Price, Greig Laidlaw; Finn Russell, Adam Hastings; Pete Horne, Rory Hutchinson, Sam Johnson, Duncan Taylor; Sean Maitland, Darcy Graham, Tommy Seymour, Blair Kinghorn, Stuart Hogg.

A potential XV: Hogg, Graham, Taylor, Johnson, Maitland, Russell, Laidlaw; Dell, McInally, Nel, Gray, Gilchrist, Barclay, Watson, Thomson
And bench: Reid, Brown, Fagerson, Toolis, Ritchie, Price, Hutchinson, Seymour.

Gregor Townsend
Gregor Townsend Scotland – pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

*Editor’s Note, ie reality

I think in reality Townsend will probably pick Harris ahead of Hutchinson. A predicted Toony squad would also have Ryan Wilson instead of Matt Fagerson and look like this:

Predicted Forwards (17): Allan Dell, Gordon Reid, WP Nel, Simon Berghan, Zander Fagerson; Stuart McInally, Fraser Brown, George Turner; Scott Cummings, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Ben Toolis; Hamish Watson, John Barclay, Jamie Ritchie, Ryan Wilson, Blade Thomson.

Predicted Backs (14): George Horne, Ali Price, Greig Laidlaw; Finn Russell, Adam Hastings; Pete Horne, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duncan Taylor; Sean Maitland, Darcy Graham, Tommy Seymour, Blair Kinghorn, Stuart Hogg.

It is of course, the Toony Tombola though. All will be revealed tomorrow.

Additional selection advice thanks to Cammy, John, Iain and Sandy

45 Responses

  1. I think I’m going to log off until it’s announced. All the speculation is giving my heed jip

    1. Get used to it and get a supply of dummy tits in for the tournament, because this one is going to be a cracker.

    2. Well. I personally am disappointed that Horne and Harris are ahead of Hutchison and jones. Wow. Flair missing in midfield. However Taylor and Johnson brilliant

  2. Turner or Grant Stewart ? that is a 50/50 IMO , I think Stewart, has had more recent game time and a good turn of pace which seems to deceive the opposition.

  3. Predicted Forwards (17): Allan Dell, Gordon Reid, WP Nel, Simon Berghan, Zander Fagerson; Stuart McInally, Fraser Brown, George Turner; Scott Cummings, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Ben Toolis; Hamish Watson, John Barclay, Jamie Ritchie, Matt Fagerson, Blade Thomson.

    Predicted Backs (14): George Horne, Ali Price, Greig Laidlaw; Finn Russell, Peter Horne; Chris Harris, Rory Hutchinson, Sam Johnson, Duncan Taylor; Sean Maitland, Darcy Graham, Tommy Seymour, Blair Kinghorn, Stuart Hogg.

    1. Don’t disagree although I can’t see Finn being used in every match and therefore who will stand in – Horne, Hutchinson? I think Hastings will go at the expense of Horne or Kinghorn … probably Kinghorn. Also, leaving a character like Ryan Wilson doesn’t make sense as the marginal benefit on the field is outweighed by his squad input / leadership.

  4. Mark Palmer in the Times suggests that Toony likely to use some of the discarded 8 for Friday’s 23 – I’m not sure it’s realistic to expect any of them to be at their best only 4 days after such a big low. If we are wrapping some others in cotton wool do we run the risk of a weakened team with some potentially disaffected/ distracted players – what price a demoralising performance as a send off? It is interesting that since England announced their squad they have used only squad members in subsequent warm up matches.

    1. We need to go off with a good win and to do that we should be brave enough to play 23 from the 31 in front of a home crowd. Georgia were poor on Saturday , but they are ranked 12 which is 2 behind Japan. What is to be gained from selecting our also ran’s.

    2. If I missed out today, I’d make sure I had the game of my life on Friday to a) make Toonie eat his selection, and b) make the choice easier when there was an injury in Japan. However, I’d have had the game of my life in the build up, and not gone MiA.

  5. For what it’s worth, my slight variation on Eoin’s picks. It feels like we are all on similar lines, but there will be something unexpected from GT no doubt (P Horne most likely)





    1. Have to disagree with the dismissal of Toolis in your squad. He is the best set piece lock we have both in the lineout and scrum and although the average fan doesn’t see it gets through the most work combining all aspects, rucks, tackles (low chops are quality), carries, kick pressure. A prime example against England topped the tackle count at 24 none missed and hit something ridiculous like 51 rucks and 5 carries thats 80 collisions outside of scrum and maul work.
      Where as cummings likes playing loose and carrying the ball so wouldn’t be surprised if he just takes Skinners spot.

  6. If it were my choice I would take.
    M. Fagerson

    But GT won’t.

  7. Hogg, Seymour, Maitland, Graham
    Harris, Taylor, Johnson, P Horne
    Russell, Hastings
    Laidlaw, Price, G Horne
    Dell, Reid, Nel, Z Fagersen, Berghan
    McInally, Brown, Stewart
    J Gray, Gilchrist, Toolis, Cummings
    Barclay, Watson, Wilson, Ritchie, Bradbury, Thomson

  8. Still hoping the wild card is Huw Jones. To say it again, you’re 5 down against NZ or SA and you’re preparing to bring on Harris, Horne or Hutchison. Great. Who will run onto Finns’ last ditch Hail Mary and eat up 3/4 of the pitch or burst through the line? If you have Johnson, Taylor and Jones you just need one of them to be firing to have a midfield. Form is temporary, class is permanent.

    1. Huw Jones was in good form from 2016-2017. His class will be determined by whether he can regain it. No signs yet…

      1. Huw Jones’ wonder try against england, and epic run from Russell best pass of the century, was in the 2018 6N.

        There is this narrative he has been out of form for ages but it isn’t really true – he’s not played well at glasgow, where Rennie has made it quite clear he doesn’t rate or value him. He was going to leave for Leicester and Toonie and Dodson persuades him to stay at a club he has not settled in as it would be better in the RWC lead up / which he has now not been selected for. He was injured for most of this years 6N.

        All round, we are not doing very well at getting the most from our best talent. We don’t have the depth to burn through players as good as Jones. Harris will never do what he has done on a rugby field.

      2. Not to mention his tries against England in the 2017 horror show. He’s still got a seriously good strike rate – 10 tries in 22 caps, and let’s not forget his awesome assist for Horne’s try against SA – and needs investment as, like you say, he’s too good to squander. The number of excellent/high potential centres we’ve squandered is concerning: Jones, Dunbar, Scott, Bennett. The common thread is injury, but it begs the question of whether we’re managing returns from injury correctly.

      3. Dunbar also spoke about being mystified he was never getting a crack at Glasgow after returning from Scotland duty. His form also went down the toilet under Rennie. At least Jones has time in his side but he needs away from Scotstoun.

      4. WTF, it’s absurd. Dunbar, Gray and – most of all – Jones are actual or potential Lions.

        Bennett, Scott, Dunbar, Jones are all better players than Harris and Horne.

        Rennie has not been good for Scottish rugby. Pending the official announcement, I’d say the same about GT as national coach.

        Bradbury must be injured?

        The silver lining is that Russell, Graham, Hogg (though he’s looked slow and too heavy since returning at Saracens from injury to date) and G Horne (if he ever gets an opportunity) all have stardust; and Johnson and Maitland are consummate rugby players.

        Paper thin in midfield though.

        The other silver lining is that it’s not too late for Harris or Horne to pick up a (minor) injury against Georgia and force Toonie’s hand. Danger is, if you’re Jones you’re probably already on the phone to your agent saying get me to the EPL or France, and out this nepotistic environment.

      5. NRS: I don’t think we should be wishing injury upon our players. That’s not cool. We should be wishing them great success.

      6. Depends whether you are outcome orientated or not. Of course, I wouldn’t want a serious injury. But if there was a muscle strain that put a much better player into the national side – who could make the difference – and maybe returned a solid club player to their club, then it maximizes overall benefit / success. All that said, take your point, I’m behind the team, but with severe skepticism.

    2. Problem is I think you’re hurting your chances of being within 5 points of NZ or SA in the QFs if you pick Jones.
      It seems to be widely accepted that teams who defend well do well in tournaments &, even at his peak, Jones was never the greatest defender.

      I have never been the biggest fan of Harris, but Toonie (& others much more in the know than I) believe that he is the real deal. He also looked to have finally adapted to the pace and intensity of international rugby against France.

      Fingers crossed GT has got this call right. Ultimately, with Hogg, Maitland, Graham/ Seymour, Johnson guaranteed starting places they’ve clearly chosen a more conservative option in Harris. Which on paper makes sense.

  9. Sorry… i know Harris has improved.. but is he really a better player than all the names below ?

    Steyn/Scott/Bennett/Jones/Dunbar/ Hutchison/Grigg & Mcdowall

    I expect Toony will pick him ofc.

    Goes to show our international quality pool of centres is ever increasing at least.

    1. That faint hissing you hear is the sound of the optimism escaping from Scotland supporters World Cup expectations balloon.
      Actually, what started as a hiss with the back row was more like explosive decompression when the centres were rumoured.
      What was the point of the warm up games other than an opportunity to get injured? Performance, never mind fleeting appearance seems to have had no bearing.
      With our famed struggles against physical opposition & Ireland NZ/SA on the horizon of course you pick a jack of all trades medium weight set of breakaways.
      We might still see the fastest rugby on the planet…it could just be mostly backwards.
      Oh well, at least we have some potent, try scoring create something out of nothing centres to choose from… Instead the 2019 era relative equivalents of De Luca & Di Rollo + 50 minutes of a guy whose occasionally good (national) form was last seen 2 years & several injuries ago.

      Of course we are not privy to how well players are training. We only see what happens in the pitch…& it is there not the training ground where our fate will be decided. This selection seems to have little correlation with recent evidence.

      Congratulations to those selected. They don’t select themselves & will doubtless do their best. The coach could have done better.

  10. Sounds like Toony has ‘done a Gary Graham’ on Hutchinson, picked him for a couple of Mickey Mouse matches and then dump him (for Harris and Horne no less), all so they can’t now qualify to play for England. Hutch was touted for the England squad this summer. How’s that for rewarding loyalty. I mean, if Hutch misses out after looking so good in every chance given then it feels like he was never gonna make the squad no matter what. We’ll lose to Russia with a Hastings-P.Horne playmaking combo that has intercept passes written all over it.

    1. I think you mean ‘done a Heathcote’.

      Hutchison will get plenty of caps for Scotland and we were his first choice. Graham will probably never get capped again unless it is in your somewhere remote.

  11. Looks like Rugby Pass had good sources for the Irish squad so I fear Toonie is going with Horne and Harris. Can’t see what more Hutchinson could have done. He brings pace and good hands. Also worried we are a ball carrier light in the back row without Bradbury or Fagerson

  12. If Bradbury is injured then fine, but picking a player who has managed 40mins of rugby in 10 months and made his debut a week ago ahead of Bradbury sends a terrible message out to players.

    1. It’s professional sport you’re the best or your not good enough. This isn’t mini’s where you give someone game time just for turning up to training every week.

  13. Hutchinson should go, the little I’ve seen of him, he reminds me of Keith Robertson. As much as I like Peter Horne’s attitude and commitment, he throws too many intercepts and butchers attacks too often. It would be a very disappointing way to treat someone excluding them after they have done everything asked of them in favour of someone who has had a host of chances and is basically a very good club player but not an international.

    If it’s a choice between Graham and Kinghorn, Graham goes. If Gary Armstrong was a winger, he’d be Darcy Graham. A potential absolute great.

  14. Right you’ve all had your say, now lets go and support whatever 31 are selected and hope Toonie proves you all wrong.

  15. I would argue Townsend already considers Harris first choice 13 based on Warm-up play time.


    I guess Townsend has spotted something in that position though that we are defensively vulnerable & would prefer a defender over a cutting edge player.

    1. I agree with part 1 but Im not overly concerned if he is our first choice 13. I’d have him before Jones,Taylor needs at least another 80 minutes. Hutch is more a 12 and Harris is a very good player who has had a poor introduction to international rugby but grown into it. If selecting to play Ireland tomorrow I’d say Harris just edges it at 13 for me

      Toonies Advisor: if you dont want to contribute anymore that’s cool. Leave the rest of us to do so if we wish. It’s a bloomin comments section!

  16. As much as we may be disappointed at inclusions/omissions from the (alleged) squad, Toonie’s not an idiot and all of the players picked at are least good. I’m still excited to see what they can produce. If we improve on last RWC (i.e. beat a T1 side and reach the knock outs), I’m happy to call it a success.

  17. Shock news: Ireland don’t pick Ringrose; Wales don’t pick Jonathan Davies; and England don’t pick Tuilagi. Oh no wait a minute.

  18. I can’t grasp the logic of omitting Hutchinson. What I’ve seen shows he can threaten any defence. Without either him or Jones our midfield options seem limited

  19. Dear all: the official squad will be posted this afternoon on its own post. If you absolutely can’t wait you can post reaction in here. Remember to play nice.

  20. It’s quite the emotional rollercoaster that Scots rugby fans go on.

    Six months ago many didn’t even know about Hutchinson, or certainly weren’t talking about him. One month ago he was uncapped. Now he’s apparently indispensable in some eyes. He’s certainly a talented player, and we’re very lucky to have him, but talented players will miss out on this squad.

    Jones is maybe our most instinctive finisher since Alan Tait. Never mind his defence, I’m not entirely convinced his passing off his left hand is up to standard though (e.g. the muck up with the easy 2-on-1 with Hogg against Ireland in 2018). New Zealanders tend not to forgive players who can’t do the basics, so I’m not surprised he’s not first choice at Glasgow.

    I wouldn’t pick Peter Horne (or Ryan Wilson, for that matter) on pure talent. The thing everyone forgets, though, is that every side needs its John McGovern(s) – the player or players that make everyone else perform, just by being there. Brian Clough was no fool – he knew what made a team tick.

    1. Couldn’t agree more Jontymo.
      I’m excited by this squad – the first XV is exceptional and the subs provide the requirement to finish a game, change the game, or flexibility to cover injuries. Or all three.

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