Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland Depth Chart Conveyor Belt – Back 3

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

The final part of this look at Scotland’s Conveyor Belt and it’s the turn of the back 3 – an area in an ongoing period of transition.

Conveyor Belt

2019 RWC squad
Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham and Blair Kinghorn

Looking ahead to the 2023 RWC

There’s plenty of crossover in the back 3 positions so it seems fair to assess them as a collective. There aren’t a vast number of options currently on the conveyor belt and it wasn’t possible to fill all 30 slots available with players who have already made their top league debut (Tommy Seymour has not been included as he has previously announced his international retirement).

The triumvirate of Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg was the go to for the 2015 World Cup in England and also dominated the 2019 RWC cycle. With Hogg likely to be the only one of that trio to make it to the next tournament in France there will be a different feel to the back 3. Seymour and Maitland were experienced rugby heads with plenty of defensive nous and excellent under the high ball.

Duhan van der Merwe is already cemented into the lineup and Darcy Graham is likely to slot in when Maitland retires but there should be a few more in the mix by the time of the 2023 RWC. The newer options for Scotland have raw attacking potential to burn but there’s work to do if they’re to support Hoggy in the backfield the way that Tommy and Sean did.

This is an exciting time for wing and full back selections. Edinburgh have developed some young talent in recent years and are likely to be bringing through even more youths to add depth to their squad. Glasgow are in a full blown transition in this area, as evidenced by them turning out a back 3 with an average age of 21 years and 18 days against Leinster a couple of months ago.

Most likely to be capped for the first time this summer:
Jack Blain and Rufus McLean. Hopefully, Stuart Hogg and Duhan van der Merwe will be on a Lions’ tour. 32-year old Sean Maitland may well get the summer off. That might open up a couple of slots for the powerful Blain and scampering McLean who both featured in the u20s Six Nations just over 12 months ago.

2023 RWC squad (speculative)
Duhan van der Merwe, Darcy Graham, Stuart Hogg, Blair Kinghorn and Rufus McLean

2024 and beyond…

This hasn’t been a hugely productive area for Scotland in recent years – although it hasn’t needed to be due to the dominance of a key group of players. Opportunities should be far more plentiful for wingers and full backs to step up in the next couple of seasons and on into the 2027 World Cup cycle. Fortunately, there seem to be plenty of players with potential bubbling under or just breaking through who will hopefully be capable of filling these slots for club and country.

Edinburgh’s key full-time options already skew pretty young (including Darcy Graham, Jack Blain and Blair Kinghorn) but they also have a complete back 3 of talents in their Academy who will hope to push on in similar fashion. Jacob Henry and Harry Patterson both played for Scotland u20s in the 2020 Six Nations. Nathan Sweeney was featuring for the Southern Knights prior to Super 6 being suspended.

Glasgow’s moves to transform their back 3 options have already seen them blood Rufus McLean, Ollie Smith and Cole Forbes. Still to add into the mix are Ollie Melville and Finlay Callaghan who are with the current year’s crop of u20s.

Exciting times ahead in this area although not every player will come through and some might change position (could Ollie Smith end up at outside centre?) There’s no question though that there seems to be a more consistent conveyor belt of players with the kind of athleticism and speed required for the outside back positions.

Other options for 2027:
Freddie Owsley (24) – Bristol Bears. Edinburgh have signed a lightning-quick winger. If he can translate his performance on the athletics track onto the pitch he could pick up caps for Scotland.
Josh McKay (23.5) – Crusaders. Glasgow’s new signing could be Scottish qualified in late 2026 and would turn 30 midway through the World Cup the following year.
Femi Sofolarin (21.2) – Scotland 7s. The former England player committed himself to Scotland via the 7s and would bring plenty of pace if he can transition over to the 15-a-side game.

2027 RWC squad (highly speculative)
Darcy Graham, Rufus McLean, Ollie Melville, Jack Blain and Cole Forbes

9 Responses

  1. If nothing else, this proves beyond doubt that Hogg is a once-in-a-couple-of-generations talent. There are some exciting players coming through, but so far none of them have shown the talent that Hoggy did in his early 20s. I hope I am proved wrong of course!

    1. And to have Russell at the same time is ridiculous. It really is now or never…

  2. Interesting articles.

    Kyle Steyn seems to have dropped off the radar whilst he’s been injured. I think Glasgow see him more as a 13, especially with all the young speedsters they now have, but I believe he could still step up to the international squad at either wing or outside centre when fit again.

    If all these youngsters click then Glasgow could have a really attacking backline again with a couple more years experience under their belts. I dare say that Graham needs to keep an eye over his shoulder at some of the up and coming talent. I’m sure he wont have missed McLean’s try from a couple of weeks back.

    As for full backs the gap between Hogg and the next generation is significant so we need to hope one of the youngsters comes good over the next couple of years. Kinghorn hasnt come on as expected so perhaps the coaching of these guys needs looked at.

    1. I think you are right about coaching. You may remember that Hogg and Weir in their early days, had a natural on field exuberance which was suppressed in favour of getting them to play to ‘the plan’.

  3. These articles have been very interesting and informative – many thanks to Kevin for the effort involved.

  4. Great articles, thanks Kevin.
    It’s a small point and I may be wrong but my understanding is that the residency qualification will remain 36 months until the end of 2021. This would mean McKay would be eligible in late 2024 not ’26.

    1. Thanks! In terms of the residency issue, players need to qualify and be cap tied ahead of the change in the regs (31 December 2021 deadline following the 12 month extension) not just start their qualification period. From 1 January 2022 only players who have completed 5 years continuous residency at the point of selection (or have been previously cap tied) will be eligible. So for example if Schoeman doesn’t get capped between July and December of this year he will need to wait until July 2023 before he would be eligible for selection again.

      I believe that’s one of the main reasons why the period was extended so that no-one (well Japan really) was disadvantaged by lack of games in 2020. There were going to be players who had missed out and were going to need to wait an extra 2 years to qualify.

    2. It has changed so that if they *finish* their 3-year residency period before the end of 2021 then they are eligible.

      This means that Pierre Schoeman, who signed in 2018, will be eligible by the end of this year instead of 2023.

      McKay would have to wait to 2026.

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