Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland Depth Chart Conveyor Belt – Front Row

Zander Fagerson - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography
Zander Fagerson - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography

Kicking off the Scottish Rugby Blog’s week-long look at the national team’s Conveyor Belt with the front row – the best-looking and most talented members of any team (source – any prop ever).

Loosehead Prop

Top 10 players on the Scotland Depth Chart conveyor belt for loosehead prop

2019 RWC squad (31-man squad)
Allan Dell and Gordon Reid

Looking ahead to the 2023 RWC

Running in to the 2019 World Cup this was a tricky position for Scotland. Allan Dell was embedded as first choice with Gordon Reid heading for the Super 6 and Jamie Bhatti’s form dipping. By the end of July, while Dell may still be an option, he’ll find himself as fifth choice at best – he’s likely only to be called upon in an injury crisis in future.

Rory Sutherland’s return from injury hell has been spectacular. Oli Kebble qualified for Scotland last Autumn. Pierre Schoeman will qualify in July of this year. Jamie Bhatti has found his form down at Bath and will be back home at Scotstoun next season. These four should see Scotland through the majority of the rest of the RWC cycle and into the tournament itself. There will be a hell of a battle though, with not enough room for all four men in the initial squad.

Most likely to be capped for the first time this summer:
Pierre Schoeman. This is slightly dependent on the timing of any matches. The Edinburgh loosehead will become Scottish qualified towards the end of July.

2023 RWC squad (speculative, 33-man squad)
Pierre Schoeman, Rory Sutherland and Oli Kebble

2024 and beyond…

While Scotland may have stumbled into a glut of looseheads the medium to long term issue is that they are in the same age band. Even the youngest of them – Pierre Schoeman – will be 33 by the time the 2027 RWC rolls around. The problem for the next generation is that the group currently in the 26-29 bracket will hoover up the Test caps as well as an awful lot of the minutes at club level for the next three or four years. How do the young lads develop sufficiently if they don’t play?

Players like Sam Grahamslaw at Edinburgh and George Thornton at Glasgow will need to seize their opportunities whenever they get the chance for 15/20 minutes here or there. It’s not an easy thing to do but both looked good at age grade level for Scotland U20s.

Further afield, Nathan McBeth has played Super Rugby for the Lions. There might be a tension there between his desire to play for the land of his birth – South Africa – or whether he will progress further with Scotland, having played at age grade level for both countries. Sale’s Bevan Rodd will face a slightly different conflict of opportunities, with Eddie Jones and England reported to be sniffing around the Dunoon-born player.

Other options for 2027:
Boan Venter (24.0) – Edinburgh. Can qualify on residency in time for the 2026 Six Nations.
Alex Pleasants (20.5) – Wasps. Currently on loan at Ampthill in the Championship.
Tom Lambert (20.4) – Glasgow. Has been in a Warriors’ matchday squad but yet to make his debut.

2027 RWC squad (highly speculative, 33-man squad)
Nathan McBeth, Tom Lambert and Sam Grahamslaw


2019 RWC squad
Stuart McInally, Fraser Brown and George Turner

Looking ahead to the 2023 RWC

For the last three and a bit years, the Scotland number 2 jersey has been dominated by the dynamic duo of Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally. Until this season’s Six Nations, Brown and McInally had accounted for all bar four starts at hooker in the previous 37 Tests.

Injury-enforced absences did at least allow George Turner and David Cherry to demonstrate the strength in depth beyond the top two. Both of those replacements are in a similar age bracket though. With even Turner hitting 31 while the 2023 RWC is in progress, the next couple of years probably have to include some efforts to extend Scotland’s options in this area.

Most likely to be capped for the first time this summer:
Ewan Ashman. The Sale man has been in and around the Scotland squad throughout the current season. Depending on who is available then new Edinburgh signing, Adam McBurney, might not be far off his first Scotland call-up.

2023 RWC squad (speculative)
Fraser Brown or Stuart McInally, George Turner and Ewan Ashman

2024 and beyond…

As mentioned above this is a position that is reasonably well set for the short term but with a lot of questions to be answered beyond the next World Cup. As of next season it’s possible that both Glasgow and Edinburgh will have fully Scottish-qualified rotations in their Depth Chart. In the Warriors’ case though the youngest of their quartet will be Grant Stewart who will be edging towards 33 by the time of the 2027 World Cup.

Edinburgh will have a couple of younger players in the shape of Adam McBurney and Patrick Harrison (18.8). Harrison recently made a remarkably assured club debut and will be 25 and hitting his peak at the end of that RWC cycle. Even allowing for circumstances, playing for a pro team as a teenager suggests the hooker is highly rated. With this being possibly Scotland’s thinnest position long-term – at least as far as confirmed potential goes – someone like Harrison breaking through would be huge for both club and country.

The player with the most buzz around him in this role is Ewan Ashman. He seems to share some rugby DNA with both Brown and McInally. Like both of those men he has played in the back row for his club. That style would be an ideal fit for the transition from the current incumbents with Scotland needing a voluminous workrate and turnover threat from their hookers, to go alongside setpiece basics.

Other options for 2027
Angus Fraser (21.3) – Glasgow. He should be one rung closer to game time as Glasgow look like they will only have four hookers (instead of five) in their 2021/22 full-time pro squad.

2027 RWC squad (highly speculative)
Ewan Ashman, Patrick Harrison and Adam McBurney.

Tighthead Prop

2019 RWC squad
Willem Nel, Zander Fagerson and Simon Berghan

Looking ahead to the 2023 RWC

This is the first position in the squad where there is the potential for the current first choice to run through both of the next two World Cups. Zander Fagerson’s contributions in attack and defence allied to his maturing work at the scrum could (with a fair wind) take in a couple of Lions’ tours in addition to those World Cups.

Positional depth and, ideally, challengers to the elder Fagerson for the number 3 jersey are where questions start to arise in both RWC cycles. Willem Nel has been a stalwart since qualifying for Scotland just under six years ago. He’s not a realistic option to make it to France though. Simon Berghan is five years older than Fagerson but his solid dependability might well keep him in the squad right the way through until the 2023 tournament.

Beyond that there are players who demonstrated plenty of potential at age grade level and the early stages of their club career but who have yet to really break through as first team regulars for the biggest fixtures. D’arcy Rae, Murray McCallum and Adam Nicol may still have further opportunities ahead of them but all three are reaching the stage of needing to show a big step forward if their ultimate ambition is to win a decent number of Test caps.

Most likely to be capped for the first time this summer:
Possibly no new faces. Dan Gamble would have come into the reckoning but a recurrence of a shoulder injury is likely to rule him out. Elliot Millar-Mills might be a longish shot to provide some cover. Currently with Ealing Trailfinders, he will be a Wasps’ player in the Premiership next season.

2023 RWC squad (speculative)
Zander Fagerson, Simon Berghan and D’arcy Rae

2024 and beyond…

Zander Fagerson will be 31 when the 2027 World Cup kicks off. That’s definitely not old for a prop but he did start his pro journey as an 18-year old so there will be a fair amount of miles on the clock by then. His stated ambition to play in the Top 14 won’t help in that respect – although if it’s just for a couple of seasons then he could be back in Scotland and having his minutes managed in plenty of time to extend his career on to at least 2027.

Scotland need to find a more consistent conveyor belt of talent at tighthead prop, otherwise Zander could spend the next six years without even having to look over his shoulder too much. There are a couple of prospects coming up on the rails but taking differing routes in their professional careers. Dan Gamble has already debuted for Edinburgh while he’s been part of the Scottish Rugby Academy. Injuries hampered his Scotland age grade career (and have possibly prevented him getting some more minutes this season for his club) but when he has played he has looked a very solid prospect.

Following some excellent showings for the U20s in the 2020 Six Nations, Mak Wilson (20.8) opted to move to Harlequins academy rather than progressing through the Scottish system with either Glasgow or Edinburgh. It was a bold decision from the former Melrose man and he’s yet to make his debut for the Premiership club. As a prop, this will be a long-term project for Harlequins and Wilson will hopefully learn plenty while he’s down there from the likes of Test tightheads Wilco Louw and Will Collier and coach Adam Jones.

2027 RWC squad (highly speculative)
Zander Fagerson, Mak Wilson and Dan Gamble

In case you missed it, the introduction and details of the Depth Chart Conveyor Belt criteria are here.

18 Responses

  1. Interesting article, much appreciated that you’ve done the hard work on this Kevin. I look forward to reading your look back on this series of articles when the 2027 squad is announced to see how good your crystal ball is!

  2. Looks like you’ve had similar thoughts to mine (on NPR) and then gone and done a lot more work on them! I look forward to reading the rest of these and having more 2027 prospects to look forward to!

  3. Sinkler isn’t at Harlequins mate, and neither Louw nor Collier are that good . But coaching the scrum at Harlequins is Adam Jones. He was pretty good

    1. Fair points. Brain fart by me about Sinckler! I still think he’ll learn plenty from a couple of veteran props, even if they’re not top internationals. Jones could make a big impact.

    2. Louw and Collier are a 100+ cap Super Rugby South African international and 100+ cap Prem Rugby England international respectively. I agree that neither is in the pantheon of greats, but both are exceptionally solid players who Mak will a) learn hugely from and b) have to work exceptionally hard to displace either of. As noted, having Adam Jones coaching you will certainly help also.

  4. Bit concerning how many of these players in the conveyor belt could opt for someone else or have just failed to live up to potential.

    We should probably farm out young aspiring props to the English championship to play as much as possible instead of hording and wasting them at pro-team level.

    1. Could even use the French n U.S teams that are part SRU owned? Otherwise what’s the point of buying stakes in them? Dave cherry hasn’t done too badly since a stint in France after all.

  5. Great article Kevin! Thanks for producing this.

    A lot of pressure on Gamble and Wilson to fill what looks like a possible future weakness. Hurd is is prospect too, big unit and have to assume Leicester have seen something in him. Unearthing a SQ tighthead from somewhere in the 20-25 age bracket wouldn’t be a bad thing though.

    I guess the rise of Dave Cherry shows that we shouldn’t write off the likes of Nicol though. A season at the coalface with Jersey might be just what he needs.

  6. What ever happened to Jake Kerr? Is he destined to be a one-cap wonder?

    Excellent work and a real eye-opener for the future. Well done.

  7. Jack Stanley doing well at Gloucester at tight head, same age as Adam Nicol, I think.
    Michael Jones, young loose head, just out of school, and attached to Boroughmuir Bears, theoretically, has converted from a back row at Lasswade to a prop at Stew Mel and with Sam Grahamslaw looks a good loose head prospect at Edinburgh.
    I also think we have some good young hooking prospects as well as Patrick Harrison – Duncan Hood, Fraser McAslan, Archie Falconer, Corey Tait all look good at schoolboy level. But then Fraser Renwick, Finlay Scott, and Ross Graham have as well in recent years but didnt quite develop physically for pro level

    1. I don’t think Stanley is SQ and haven’t found any evidence of it. When he joined Edinburgh there was some chat about becoming qualified by residency but obviously no longer a factor.

  8. I was saddened to read of the death of Massimo Cuttitta our scrum coach from 2009 – 2015, reported to have been admitted to hospital in Rome with Covid.

  9. Really helpful article and can illustrate the requirement to forward plan over World Cup cycles. Agree with FF’s comment that aspiring Scottish props should head south at an earlier stage to get playing experience, rather than failing to develop in the Super 6, or bench warming for the Pro 14 teams as squad members.

    Does the SRU will have succession planning scouting operations in place, with a view to recruiting the new Nels, Kebbles & Schoemans for those positions where Scotland does not have strength in depth?

    1. very few subs just bench warm, unless not deemed ready and are last man standing. Being a sub for a pro14 team gives real development. I’m ignoring the antics of Cockerill of course.
      The super 6 has had less than a season, so a bit rich to write it off as a way to develop

  10. I forgot about Robbie Smith who went from Ayr and the Glasgow academy to Bedford and after a solid season in the championship joined Newcastle Falcons. I dont think he has made his debut yet, but at only 22 he certainly has potential to back up Ewan Ashman at hooker in both 2027 and 2031.

    1. Certainly on the long list but Glasgow already have Fagerson, Berghan and Pieretto signed up for next season. I’d expect Rae to pick up the fourth slot in the rotation given he’s currently next in line for Scotland if Nel retires from international rugby. Walker is in his final year in the Academy system, still to make his club debut and ideally needs to move straight on to a pro contract – but I’m not sure there’s room at either Glasgow or Edinburgh for 2021/22.

You might also like these:

Craig is joined by Jonny and Rory to look back at the disappointing end to Edinburgh's season and Glasgow's march towards the semi finals.
Gregor Townsend has named a largely experimental squad for the summer tour of the Americas. It's not a question of who misses out, but rather who is actually going, writes Rory.
Iain is joined by Jonny and John to discuss the penultimate round of URC fixtures as well as the recent Scottish Rugby Writers' Awards
Craig is joined by John on the injured reserve list to have a wee look at the URC action from the weekend.

Scottish Rugby News and Opinion