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