Stuart Hogg will captain the 2020 Scotland Six Nations squad, leading the team into a hugely challenging year of fixtures that will make or break Gregor Townsend’s career as coach.
Townsend has selected one player less than last year in his forwards group, while taking one more winger and one less centre. In each case he could have perhaps added an experienced head like Ryan Wilson or Pete Horne but clearly seems to be looking towards the future, with half an eye on who is in form.
That is all as it should be, but it does leave question marks about the level of experience in the squad. Excuses about “this is a young group, we’re still learning at this level” etc are not what we want to be falling back on come March.
There are recalls from the wilderness for Rory Sutherland, Matt Scott and Cornell du Preez. The former is perhaps down to lack of alternatives at loosehead but given his troubles with injuries since 2016 he should grasp the opportunity fully.
Scott and du Preez are rewarded for their fine form. Du Preez has not started for Scotland since the near-miss in 2017 and will hope that he might get a couple more cracks at them this year. His last cap came in the Cardiff drubbing of 2018.
The six uncapped players include four new faces in Gloucester lock Alex Craig, Edinburgh’s Nick Haining and Glasgow players Tom Gordon and Ratu Tagive. Luke Crosbie and Kyle Steyn have made previous training squads but not a Scotland 23.
Haining’s journey from the Western Force Academy, via Jersey Reds and Bristol, is an interesting one – he marked Sean Maitland on the wing during the Lions tour of 2013, having toyed with a switch to the centre. His barnstorming carries from Number 8 are why Scotland need him though.
Tagive qualifies on residency and has impressed now he’s finally fit and playing for Glasgow. The rangy winger offers something different to the other options in the back three and is the most “Tombola” like selection.
Tom Gordon was born in New Zealand but qualifies through a grandparent and has represented Scotland at U20s and Club XV level already.
A number of previous squad stalwarts miss out, including the oft-debated Wilson and Horne, as well as Sam Skinner, Gordon Reid, Mark Bennett and Duncan Taylor. Bennett is probably the unluckiest in the backs with a glut of 13s in fine form and Kyle Steyn offering further cover from the wing.
Up front Matt Fagerson fans may feel aggrieved as he and Blade Thomson miss out, and while you can argue about quality, the number 8 options picked ahead of him have been selected on form. His time will come – and Glasgow could use him at the moment in any case. Richie Gray continues to be absent in what could well be his last chance to add to his caps while Sam Skinner is still on the comeback from injury and could well be involved later in the tournament.
Overall it does feel like quite a raw squad, but there is a freshness to it and some selections, like the excellent Rory Hutchinson or Tom Gordon point to the future under Townsend – or anyone else.
Scotland 2020 Six Nations Squad
Jamie Bhatti, Allan Dell, Rory Sutherland
Fraser Brown, Stuart McInally, George Turner
Simon Berghan, Zander Fagerson, WP Nel
Alex Craig, Scott Cummings, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Ben Toolis
Magnus Bradbury, Luke Crosbie, Cornell du Preez, Tom Gordon, Nick Haining, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson
George Horne, Ali Price, Henry Pyrgos
Adam Hastings, Finn Russell
Chris Harris, Rory Hutchinson, Sam Johnson, Huw Jones, Matt Scott
Darcy Graham, Sean Maitland, Byron McGuigan, Kyle Steyn, Ratu Tagive
Stuart Hogg (capt), Blair Kinghorn
16 from Edinburgh – including their top two tightheads, their first choice second row pairing and 2/3 of their starting back three. Ceciarelli has also been called up by Italy.
13 from Glasgow – including their first and second choice hookers, scrum-halves and centres (at least while Huw Jones is in favour).
1 from the Top14 in France.
8 from the Gallagher Premiership, including 2 from Gloucester.