Guess the Scotland Squad: 2020 Edition

Picking a Six Nations training squad is a lot easier than my previous attempts at a World Cup squad with a bit more leeway over numbers. However given recent player retirements and some new coaching staff, the sense is that this is something of a fresh start post World Cup, which means it’s still tricky to see where Townsend is going. Given how 2019 went, can he even afford to experiment?

Based on last years 22/17 split, I’d go with this for our group:

22 Forwards
Allan Dell, Jamie Bhatti, Gordon Reid Rory Sutherland
Stuart McInally, Fraser Brown, George Turner
WP Nel, Zander Fagerson, Simon Berghan
Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Scott Cummings, Sam Skinner, Ben Toolis
Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury, Blade Thomson, Ryan Wilson, Matt Fagerson, Luke Crosbie

17 Backs

Stuart Hogg, Blair Kinghorn
Sean Maitland, Darcy Graham, Byron McGuigan, Kyle Steyn
Matt Scott, Rory Hutchinson, Huw Jones, Chris Harris, Mark Bennett, Sam Johnson
Finn Russell, Adam Hastings
Ali Price, George Horne, Henry Pyrgos

Loosehead: Allan Dell, Jamie Bhatti, Rory Sutherland*
The Question: who the hell to pick.

Gordon Reid is technically a Super 6 player (though training with Glasgow) and Allan Dell and Jamie Bhatti are short of game time, Bhatti in particular is like Alex Allan, stuck behind an in form, not yet qualified on residency South African. It’s all a bit of a worry.

Dell has only played 7 games for basement dwellers London Irish, and only two of them as starts. Rory Sutherland’s recent return to fitness could be key, even if he was last capped in 2016.

Are there any Scots qualified looseheads out there we don’t know about? Could Nathan McBeth do a Huw Jones and just pop up from South Africa for the tournament? Unlikely with Super Rugby on the horizon.

WP Nel - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography
WP Nel – pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography

Hooker: McInally, Brown, Turner
The Question: could Brown be the skipper?

Not too much to debate here in terms of the selection, but with McInally out injured Brown is likely to start on current form. Would he then have to be the captain? Glasgow’s Grant Stewart would be next choice for a slot if any injuries occur.

Tighthead: Nel, Fagerson, Berghan
The Question: is Zander Fagerson ready to take the big step up?

The group of three picks itself, but question marks still remain over when (not if) Zander will make the tighthead shirt his own. Showings in the loose for Glasgow have been hugely impressive of late and Zandbags kept to a healthy minimum, but the hope is that between the tutelage of Petrus du Plessis at Glasgow and Peter de Villiers at national level they can unlock his potential to dominate the set-piece instead of conceding penalties. Wasps Jack Owlett (who can cover both sides of the scrum) is creeping on to the radar too.

Second row: Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Scott Cummings, Sam Skinner, Ben Toolis
The Question: might we see a bolter here?

A selection perhaps made easier by Richie Gray’s current absence from playing for Toulouse (with a concussion). Gloucester’s Alex Craig has been starting a lot of their big European games lately – but has he done enough to usurp squad regular Ben Toolis? With Sam Skinner likely to be rusty in the extreme after a long injury layoff, meaning pressure on likely starters GG/JG/SC, I think it might be too soon for Craig’s first call up, or say Edinburgh’s Lewis Carmichael. Either could well feature in the summer. Stick with what we know in the boiler room – unless Toony calls up Craig too, and ditches one from the back row.

Ryan Wilson
Ryan Wilson at Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow. pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

Back row: Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury, Blade Thomson, Matt Fagerson, Luke Crosbie, Ryan Wilson
The Question: is there still a place for Ryan Wilson?

Even with John Barclay retiring there is still some decent depth in the back row (as long as you aren’t looking for big carrying Number 8s). On form Ritchie and Bradbury will be in the mix while Watson probably represents the voice of experience. That’s why Wilson is in, although I’d expect him to get less game time now Bradbury and Ritchie are settled at this level. Quite simply, the squad has lost a lot of experience and he’s needed for that reason if no other.

Sam Skinner may well make an appearance in the back row during the tournament if he is fit. There’s an argument to take him as a 6(ish) plus another lock, but Luke Crosbie has earned his call up ahead of Gary Graham who suffers from Newcastle’s relegation. Other possibilities for a position here include Luke Hamilton (Bristol), Cornell du Preez (Worcester) or Nick Haining (Edinburgh) all of whom offer a little more bulk at the back.

Scrum-half: Ali Price, George Horne, Henry Pyrgos
The Question: who is the third choice 9?

Now that Greig has retired, the top two are clear with Horne currently edging selection for Glasgow but Price a more familiar dance partner for Finn Russell. The big question is who gets the nod as a third scrum-half. The best bet for the long term would probably be one of the young pretenders (Shiel or even Dobie) on a learning brief, safe in the knowledge that Henry Pyrgos would get a call-up if there was an injury during a game. But you don’t want your backup too undercooked in either sense. Sorry Cockers.

Standoff: Finn Russell, Adam Hastings
The Question: can Finn kick the goals?

An easy selection with both men in fine form. The question mark over this position then is one of goal-kicking responsibilities. Finn doesn’t have them for Racing, and seems to fare better for Scotland without them. George Horne has a goal-kicking pedigree and Stuart Hogg has been known to have the odd pop. I think a new (slightly) mature Finn is going to have to shoulder this responsibility.

Matt Scott
Matt Scott on the charge for Edinburgh Rugby at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

Centres: Matt Scott, Rory Hutchinson, Huw Jones, Chris Harris, Mark Bennett, Sam Johnson
The Question: who do you leave out?

The answer to the question could well be Townsend stalwart Pete Horne, who has only played 5 games this season, and only one start at 12.

This is the toughest area but we will have to leave out some quality. It gets harder when we consider it by position. A lot of our in-form players are 13s and we can’t take them all and be left without anyone to play 12:

12s: Scott, Johnson, Horne, Lang
13s: Harris, Bennett, Jones
Either: Hutchinson, D Taylor

First are the ones who should definitely be in: Rory Hutchinson, Matt Scott and Huw Jones. Chris Harris is also holding down the 13 shirt for Gloucester who are flying. He’s had his doubters in the past but seems to be backing it up since the move to Kingsholm. Scott and Mark Bennett are both in excellent form but might Toony only pick one of the Edinburgh combo? For me it would have to be Scott who offers a different approach and looks in the form of his life this season.

That leaves two from Johnson, Bennett, Taylor and the rest. Even with 6 slots available based on 2019’s squad, there are a lot of excellent 13s to pick and the choice at 12 might be determined by Steve Tandy’s approach to the midfield defence. Matt Taylor/Vern Cotter tended to favour a defender at 12 (Dunbar) with a creative 13 (Jones, Bennett), whereas Toony seems to have swapped that axis around before the most recent failed experiment of two defensive types in the World Cup. Duncan Taylor could miss out this time although like Harris, he’s been making regular appearances in a very competitive Saracens squad and forgotten man James Lang is also going well at Quins. Too soon also for Edinburgh’s George Taylor who has leapt forward this season.

Wings: Sean Maitland, Darcy Graham, Byron McGuigan, Kyle Steyn
The Question: do we have enough wings coming through?

Maitland and Graham are the standout candidates and Kinghorn will likely feature here in matches, but there is a bit of a drop in quality after that. Kyle Steyn is good going forward but may not even really be a wing. Could we see a centre who could cover there added instead? With Edinburgh’s “Visser Mk II” Duhan Van Der Merwe not qualified until the summer, perhaps Tommy Seymour retired a tournament too soon.

Stuart Hogg
Stuart Hogg – pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

Full-back: Stuart Hogg, Blair Kinghorn
The Question: should Hogg be captain?

Another easy selection, with no other candidates to speak of. Kinghorn continues to mature and Townsend is likely to use him off the bench while Hoggy looks to have recovered from the World Cup with sparkling form at Exeter – though he’s perhaps not as rapid as he used to be.

Captaincy is also an issue, with Hogg, Russell and Watson possibly the only players certain to play every game if fit and all that is left of the leadership group. I’d rather Hogg rediscovered his attacking mojo, make Brown and McInally joint captains then see who starts.

Possible Scotland team to face Ireland: Hogg, D Graham, Hutchinson, Scott, Maitland, Russell, Horne; Dell, Brown (capt), Fagerson, J Gray, Cummings, Ritchie, Watson, Thomson.
Replacements: McInally, Reid, Nel, Skinner, Bradbury, Price, Hastings, Kinghorn.

Toony changes: Toony might ditch another back row to bring in another lock for experience, using Skinner in a dual role as he has before. The midfield group might feature a few more favourites like Horne for Bennett or possibly Taylor for Scott. But I’m hoping for a slightly more ruthless selection based on form. There could even be a bolter in the front row like Owlett. Hopefully someone we’ve never heard of, I like surprises…

The Scotland squad for the 2020 Six Nations will be announced tomorrow.

You can see Scotland’s 2019 Six Nations squad here.

* in the initial version of this article posted I picked Gordon Reid, but having researched Rory Sutherland’s game time recently (he wasn’t as injured as I thought, thanks for nothing Jamie Lyall) think he’s a better shout.

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23 comments on “Guess the Scotland Squad: 2020 Edition

  1. Not rocket science on

    Fair selection, but hopefully see Taylor (as a 12, covering wing and 13) rather than Harris. McGuigan far from nailed on with Kinghorn and plenty of rapid 13s… Horne needed at Glasgow; Pyrgos needed at Edinburgh.

    Reply
    • Rory Baldwin on

      I don’t think you can ignore Harris, nor indeed Taylor if he’s still fit. For me they’re probably offering more than Johnson at the moment but had to try and balance positions. Taylor at 12 didn’t work all that well…

      PS updated the loosehead section after researching Sutherland’s game time properly.

      Reply
  2. septic 9 on

    Taylor is a busted flush, as is Nel I think – certainly on his form this season here and Japan.
    I don’t get why folk think Watson is a shoe in – depends what you want from your back row and ours hasn’t been good enough.
    Ryan Wilson has played 100 games (well maybe not quite!) in a row for Glasgow, so does not seem to be under SRU rest rotation protocols – ie looks like not going to be picked.
    Will be interesting to see which one of Maitland, Graham or Kinghorn start on the bench, could be any of them.
    We could field a miniature backline if we ain’t careful, not the best idea against the likes of Aki or Henshaw trucking it up the middle or the Irish penchant for jumping into players on the kick chase

    Reply
  3. Highland Bear on

    With building towards 2023 the priority I would expect to see more of the ‘old warhorses’ surplus to requirements, particularly as the national team has under-performed over the past season. Nel, Ryan Wilson, Pyrgos and Maitland have all peaked and won’t be about for the next RWC. They are part of a failed past. Townsend, who his coaching for his future, has to be brave and go for the future and those capable for playing in the style of his vision of the Scotland team. He should be building a team around the young standouts from the recent 1872 ties: the likes of Fagerson, Cummings, Ritchie, George Horne,Scott, Jones and Graham all stood out in what was a defacto national trial.

    Reply
    • FF on

      I don’t see why the priority should be a World Cup in 4 years time. We haven’t won the championship in 20 years – our priority is to put out the best team and win the 6N

      I’d keep Maitland and Nel in the bench. Wilson and Pyrgos don’t earn their places so shouldn’t be included anyway.

      Reply
      • TeamCam on

        Yep. Maitland is still playing very well and is defensively excellent, and Nel is still our best scrummager.

  4. Ben F on

    Gloucester are finally moving due to an mercurial fly half called Danny Cipriani and the flamboyant Louis Rees Zammit. One other factor there is Ackerman now working out when to bring on subs but that is not relevant to this blog. Harris plays his part , arguably a bit player however I suspect Toony will go for him because he plays week in week out with an unpredictable fly half. Other than that , he is dead average , but I say Toony will not go back on his decision to leave Huw Jones out.

    Reply
    • Rob on

      Dobson on £933,000 up from £478,000 and increases paid to all directors from £1.13m to £2.246m. As you say, good job we didn’t have a good WC or 6N. Also, profit before tax fell from £1.8M to £308,000 ….. you couldn’t make this up!!!

      Reply
      • Nessie on

        That is staggering given the poor performance on and off the field. I can’t think of another sport where the CEO earns more than the star players!

      • Alanyst on

        To be honest, I don’t think the SRU should be paying top-rates for ‘marquee’ players to stay in Scotland – that is a club issue to budget for.

        We can’t have a viable international squad without exiles…better to keep the younger generation in the fold, otherwise they will drift away (see Redpath, Dingwall etc…)

        Finn’s move to Racing has benefited him, Scotland, and arguably Glasgow. He has taken his game to the next level, and Hastings has developed into a viable backup at international level.

        Hogg is a bit less clear so far but certainly there is an opportunity at Glasgow for a young full-back to step up…

        Jonny hasn’t even left yet, but similarly Cummings gets to be first pick at Glasgow, and there is room for another up-and-comer…like Hunter-Hill or Alex Craig.

        This is not a justification for C-suite bonuses, but I think SRU money should be spent on the base/middle of the pyramid, not at the top.

      • septic 9 on

        if you would like to look at the facts, it includes several previous years bonus payments.
        The SRU’s financial position since Dodson was appointed has improved beyond recognition. Off filed targets wil be the main ones for Chief Exec. Like debt almost gone, revenues up (which enables us to pay top players better than otherwise).
        Its a lot of money but the ill informed hysteria is a bigger farce

  5. Neil on

    My Squad:

    1. Dell (Consistent last 2 years despite lack of appearances for Edinburgh & LI)

    2. Brown (Far better breakdown and defence operator compared to McInally)

    3. Fagerson (The current in-form of the 3 and regularly starting)

    4. Cummings (Never looked out of depth and all-Round Package)

    5. J.Gray (For familiarity with Cummings & Brown, Does not offer enough in attack but Skinner will need a few games before taking his place)

    6. Bradbury (Need your gainline carriers at this level & and in decent form)

    7. Ritchie (The in-form backrow, a more niggly breakdown operator to Watson who is yet to reach his pre-injury heights despite having solid/good performances)

    8. Thomson (Solid enough at WC, should be that reasonable carrier/ballplayer to help set the backs alight)

    9. Horne (My preference to Price, his game management against top international opposition needs tested to keep the starting Jersey however)

    10. Russell (Obviously)

    11. Kinghorn (I think the team lacks ball carriers in the backline which is why he starts ahead of Graham, both on great form anyway.

    12. Scott (In form like Hutchison/Johnson, but who i think is best for team balance currently)

    13. Jones (Currently in form = No other contenders)

    14. Maitland (That all round solid player which should help Scotland in tough moments, never really been off form)

    15. Hogg (In form but i have been disappointed with his lack of big line-breaks for the past 18 months, needs to offer a bit more running threat)

    Reply
  6. Sam Benedict on

    Pete Horne will be in tomorrow’s squad. He and his brother did a promotional film for Scotland’s new partners Specsavers – in kit.

    Reply
  7. john martin on

    Taylor, P.Horne, Wilson, Harris shouldn’t be in the squad given we have Bennett, Hutchinson, Scott, Johnson & Jones @ centre & Crosbie @ flanker. Should Thompson be in? – is not playing for Scarlets & despite a big rep. has been underwhelming in dark blue so far

    Reply
  8. Bruce Strachan on

    I am on the fence between irritated and angry at how HQ Murrayfield is rewarding failure and allowing the gap between grass roots volunteer Rugby and the elite to grow. Mr Dobson performs poorly as a figure head of Scottish Rugby, he single handedly made us look stupid in Japan. Saying that it is just a job to him; he can never be passionate about Rugby in Scotland as there is not an ounce of him that hurts if the team does not do well. Time for a shake out at the top and time for a shake out with the team to allow 4 years of development before the next WC.

    Reply
  9. Rory Baldwin on

    Folks if you can keep the Dodson chat to a minimum here please as this post is for discussion of the Scotland squad, we’ll be discussing on the podcast tonight so your thoughts on the matter will be welcome on that post when it appears later this evening/tomorrow morning.

    Reply
  10. Jontymo on

    I like the squad.

    Nothing Townsend can do about our lack of depth in certain positions (e.g. LHP, wing). Certainly no one can criticise him for just going for the same old faces. Tom Gordon intrigues me…a couple of years back, someone remarked to me that he could be the new Ross Rennie. Time will tell.

    Overall, it is what it is. We have relatively few forwards who pick themselves and relatively few that will be in contention for the Lions next year. Time for someone to step forward and take things by the scruff of the neck. Aggressively.

    (As an aside, I wonder whether people will ever realise that we need players like Gray and Hogg to move on, so that other players can stake their claim for first team rugby Edinburgh and Glasgow? The problem isn’t their departure…it’s a lack of quality stepping up to claim the position. It’s doubtful we’ll ever have the player quality or depth to have three decent domestic pro sides, even if the finance or supporter numbers were there to support them).

    Our choices for captain are similarly quite limited (I don’t think the time for Ritchie or Cummings has come yet). Here’s hoping Hogg can become an impassioned but calm leader by example, rather than what was on display the last time he did the job (vs USA).

    One final thing…great to see Cornell du Preez back, after what’s he’s been through.

    Reply

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