Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland Depth Chart Conveyor Belt – Second Row

Jonny Gray breaks away to score for Scotland - pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography Photo Credit: Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

Moving into the boiler room where much of the hard graft happens, here’s a look at Scotland’s options on the Conveyor Belt for locks.

The Conveyor Belt

2019 RWC squad (31-man squad)
Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Scott Cummings and Ben Toolis

Looking ahead to the 2023 RWC

While Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings may have established themselves as the first choice pairing for Scotland, Grant Gilchrist and Sam Skinner performed admirably in their absence during the final two rounds of the Six Nations. Gilchrist in particular rolled back the years against France with arguably his best performance in a dark blue shirt. When Toony favourite, lineout technician Ben Toolis, is fit and firing again there will be plenty of options among the senior group.

This summer is likely to see a bit of a push to blood some younger second rows, following on from Alex Craig’s extended exposure to the national squad over the last year or so. While there’s not too much pressure to go all-in on the youngsters – with Gray, Cummings and Skinner all likely to be around for a good while yet – the top choices have played a lot of rugby recently and both Edinburgh and Glasgow have faced shortages at lock. It’s definitely best to be prepared for all eventualities with plenty of cover. Test matches in July should provide the perfect chance to manage this process rather than risk being forced to bring in completely fresh faces in the event of an injury crisis.

Most likely to be capped this summer:
Callum Hunter-Hill. The former Glasgow and Edinburgh man has been a regular for Saracens since moving down south. Playing in the Championship will count against him a bit though – and it is slightly surprising he hasn’t already had a call-up. If Hunter-Hill is not on the approved list then Cameron Henderson would probably be next cab off the rank after making his debut for Leicester (a club who know a thing or two about quality locks) aged 20.

2023 RWC squad (speculative, 33-man squad)
Jonny Gray, Scott Cummings, Sam Skinner, Alex Craig and Callum Hunter-Hill

2024 and beyond…

Given that Scotland is not exactly world renowned as a particularly tall nation (struggling to break the top 100 countries, stats fans) it’s pretty remarkable how well served the dark blues have been at age grade level for locks in recent years. The main starting duos for the World Rugby U20s Championships have been:

  • 2016 – Scott Cummings and Callum Hunter-Hill
  • 2017 – Callum Hunter-Hill and Alex Craig
  • 2018 – Marshall Sykes and Jamie Hodgson
  • 2019 – Cameron Henderson and Ewan Johson

The 2020 edition should have seen Cameron Henderson and Kieran Watt continue their partnership from the Six Nations. 2021 looks like it will be the year of Max Williamson and Alex Samuel for the delayed u20s Six Nations.

Arguably the finest lock partnership that Scotland have been able to turn out in the last decade is the combination of the Gray brothers: Richie Gray the lineout specialist, defensive bulwark and generally just enormous human being; Jonny Gray providing a huge work rate on both sides of the ball and skills as a distributor and decision-maker.

Dividing up the next-gen players in an attempt to match that pairing, they probably skew towards more potential replacements for the younger Gray with Cummings, Hunter-Hill, Craig, Sykes and Hodgson closer to that type. Finding a new Richie Gray is probably a bit more of a test. Henderson is a bit nearer to the mould of lineout general. Williamson and Samuel both look like massive units but it will probably be a couple of years before they find their ideal fighting weight.

The only way to truly match the epic scale of the elder Gray might be via an import. Rumours have swirled around Stormers’ lock, David Meihuizen, making a switch to Scotland for club and (potentially) country. At 6’9″ and 20 stone he would be the closest physical specimen to Richie. Interest seems to have cooled a bit on both sides recently but there’s no question that Gregor Townsend will continue to monitor the giant second row’s progress.

2027 RWC squad (highly Speculative, 33-man squad)
Scott Cummings, Callum Hunter-Hill, Cameron Henderson, Max Williamson and Alex Samuel

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

5 Responses

  1. 2nd Row is an interesting area, because it is probably the area of the pitch we have relied least on players coming to play for Scotland who have been raised elsewhere.
    Ben Toolis is the outstanding example of someone raised in Australia who opted to play for Scotland through parentage, but everyone else capped in this area I think has been born & nurtured in the UK. It is also the area of the team where we have probably ‘exported’ more players to play professionally elsewhere in the world because they couldn’t get contracts in Scotland – I can think of Murray Douglas, Sam Thomson, Andy Crammond and Hamilton Burr immediately. So perhaps somewhat surprisingly, for all our physical characteristics as a nation, we are pretty good at producing professional rugby players who can play in the 2nd row (admittedly we have much to be thankful for in the genes of the Gray parents)

    I have two questions in this area for future selection.

    What is the news of Ewan Johnson? Was he good at Under age because he was ‘a big lump’ physically or is his rate of progress as rugby player in France suggesting that he could be a potential international?

    Is Callum Hunter Hill’s non selection at Edinburgh and subsequent move to Saracens, merely a personality issue with Edinburgh coaches, or are the same issues likely to exist with Scotland coaches too?

  2. Shame Lewis Carmichael hasn’t kicked on yet; looked useful and quick on his debut but seems to have fallen off a bit.
    Hoping that Skinner has some more International game time; not quite the biggest but could be really useful off the bench if the opposition is tiring. Toolis is often overlooked IMO – great set piece player.

    1. In Edinburgh forum someone said the club will announce Carmichael will be retiring due to concussion issues.

      Also, Sutherland has a dislocated shoulder and nerve damage that could keep him out of Lions tour.

      This was a good few days ago mind and no announcement has been forthcoming so we’ll see.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion