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.
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