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Scotland’s 2023 World Cup cycle selections – the backs

Finn Russell - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Finn Russell - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports

After taking a look at Scotland’s forwards yesterday, now it’s the turn of the backs. For each positional group, these are the 35 players who have featured during the current RWC cycle and how the squad in this area has been narrowed down to the 14 who will travel to France.

Half Backs

Started final match of 2019 RWC:

Greig Laidlaw / Finn Russell

Started first match of 2023 RWC cycle:

Ali Price / Adam Hastings

Most selected unit in this cycle:

Ali Price / Finn Russell (x14)

Likely starters v South Africa:

Ben White / Finn Russell

More than any other player, Ali Price absolutely dominated selection for Scotland for the first 3 years of this World Cup cycle, most frequently being paired up with his old flatmate Finn Russell. Ben White has timed his run to the 9 shirt to perfection though, backing up Price throughout 2022 before taking the starting slot for 2023. That has allowed the Toulon scrum half to build up his own relationship with Russell and they have started 6 games together so far in 2023.

RWC 2027

While Finn has talked about having another World Cup in him, he will turn 35 around the time of the next tournament. His long-term understudy, Adam Hastings, will be 31 himself but there are a couple of already capped 10s who will still be in their 20s in 2027 in the shape of Ben Healy and Ross Thompson. White will still only be 29 in 4 years’ time while Jamie Dobie, who was in the training squad this summer, will have reached the ripe old age of 26.

Centres

Started final match of 2019 RWC:

Sam Johnson / Chris Harris

Started first match of 2023 RWC cycle:

Sam Johnson / Huw Jones

Most selected unit in this cycle:

Sam Johnson / Chris Harris (x11)

Likely starters v South Africa:

Sione Tuipulotu / Huw Jones

There have been a couple of distinct phases in centre selections for Scotland in this RWC cycle. Initially, it was Sam Johnson and Chris Harris who were a clear first choice as the dark blues looked to enhance their defensive credentials following the 2019 tournament in Japan. It was only in the 2022 Autumn Nations Series – game 27 of the cycle – that Sione Tuipulotu fully ousted Johnson from the inside centre spot. His relationship at club level for Glasgow with Huw Jones – and, of course, Jones’ own return to stellar form – contributed to Shuggy winning back the number 13 jersey in 2023 that he had previously held for most of 2017 and 2018. Huwipulotu have started together 8 times so far for Scotland since their first Test outing together in the Calcutta Cup match at the beginning of this year.

RWC 2027

The Ipulotu part of the partnership will be 30 so could still be strutting his stuff for Scotland but, at nearly 34, the Huw element could be a longer shot. Capped centres that will still be in their 20s in 2027 are Stafford McDowall and Cameron Redpath.

Back 3

Started final match of 2019 RWC:

Darcy Graham / Tommy Seymour / Stuart Hogg

Started first match of 2023 RWC cycle:

Blair Kinghorn / Sean Maitland / Stuart Hogg

Most selected unit in this cycle:

Duhan van der Merwe / Darcy Graham / Stuart Hogg (x12)

Likely starters v South Africa:

Duhan van der Merwe / Darcy Graham / Blair Kinghorn

There is almost no question that the plan heading into this summer was for a Duhan van der Merwe / Darcy Graham / Stuart Hogg back 3 to take Scotland into the World Cup. Hoggy’s retirement has necessitated a fairly quick change of plans though with Blair Kinghorn stepping back into the 15 shirt after playing almost all of the previous 2 years at stand off. The Edinburgh trio only have 2 previous starts together as a combination for Scotland – although they do also have 15 club appearances as a unit, all of which came prior to Kinghorn’s move to full-time stand off in 2021.

RWC 2027

Duhan is the oldest of this triumvirate and will be 32 when the 2027 RWC commences. Blair and Darcy will both be aged 30 at the time of what could be their 3rd tournament. Ollie Smith and Kyle Rowe are the capped back 3 players who will be in their 20s and might realistically come into consideration in 4 years’ time.

10 Responses

  1. If anyone deserves their place in the starting XV forwards or backs. It’s Jones. Smashed with a crazy extended season post Currie Cup since landing for Glasgow first time round, dropped (wrongly) without a chance to prove himself at the last World Cup, injuries, much maligned for defensive fragility (fake news) and overlooked for far inferior players – Nick Grigg?? Yet to anyone with half an eye, an absolute gem and phenomenal runner. Time to show the world he’s better than Ringrose, and the best 13 on the planet! With a Dunbar, Taylor or classy Tui inside, was always always always the best choice. Finally Toonie has seen the light. My personal hope for what this team may have in store, the Russell dink over the top, a la Vakatawa, into the arms of Shuggie…

    1. I suspect Huw Jones was isolated at Glasgow. He Just did not fit in, much too talented but that happens, he was never going to fit, I agree with every word you say, I just wish you never had to say it. How on earth could we not see it and get it right first time! But a new team, with ambitions to play , as a team , look forward and lets enjoy where we are now. I will caveat that by saying IMO and that we will never know, so drop it.

  2. Think there might be an argument for Steyn starting ahead of Graham.. he has been in seriously good form and has played most of the games this year due to Grahams injuries.

    1. Steyn has indeed been in great form – but only really stepped up in the last few games. Lets not forget that Darcy is also in incredible form over a longer period of time (injuries aside) and assuming the Georgia game was just a precaution as much as anything else, Darcy has to start – look at both his try scoring and his MOM performances – he is top 5/10 wingers in the world for me (Penaud / Hansen / Jordan / Kolbe are probably better, then he’s in a discussion alongside e.g. Lowe / Villiere etc). They are different players and perhaps there is an argument to say Steyn could be a better option given his aerial strengths against a team like south africa – but I wouldn’t personally make that argument as I think Darcy is one the best players in the team and able to create something out of nothing – and in any event, the SA wingers are also small and fast so we need our own! SA perhaps won’t play quite the same kicking game we expected in the past given the overall rejuvenation and oustanding backs they now have in their team. I’d still go Darcy over Steyn, but still great to have Steyn as an almost-as-good replacement. I just hope Darcy is fit and firing and ready to go.

    2. Graham for me is first choice winger when fit, he is much more well-rounded, and scores points at pretty much the same rate as VDM.

      If anything I’d consider putting VDM on as a replacement to take advantage of tiring legs (especially if we were to ever face a 7-1 split!) – but opening game against the Boks is not the time to start experimenting!

      1. I’ve always had a feeling that VdM, Horne and Kinghorn coming of the bench en masse could be a terrifying prospect for tiring defences

  3. No mention of George Horne, in my opinion the best scrum half Scotland has produced in a long time. He meshes with Finn perfectly, he seems to energy’s the whole team and the pace of the game rockets when he comes on. The fact thatToonie thinks he’s too small has deprived the team of a less then predictable slow , dull and repetitive start

    1. The thing is he’s just too good coming off the bench. It’s such an obvious was to make an impact and up the attack. What Seanair says is interesting – maybe you even reserve Graham, so that bringing on Horne for White and Graham for Steyn. Possibly a bit too cute.

      1. In this woke world we find ourselves in you need to be careful how you say this but factually, Horne and Darcy are agile, they have giant presence, are hard as iron, but physically small. The boks are large and clumsy, polar opposites and that makes Horne and Darcy tough to tackle cleanly IMO. Would any referee, especially a Southern Hemisphere one, card a bok in their first game !

        Personally I would play Darcy and bench Horne. I think the SA game is about containment first half and we do what we have done all year, come out in the second half with Horne raising the tempo when they are tired. Steyn consistently finds the whitewash, against all odds,.

        Wakey Wakey’s Team talk : it’s the old rope a dope first half, make it FINNtastic in the 3rd quarter and then the smallest man on the pitch comes on and plays like Billy Whizz. A win is enough , we wont humiliate them with a 50 pointer . be gracious to them lads.

  4. If Scotland have any chance of progressing from their pool then Bennett must come in for Harris. S.Africa want to wear out the Scottish pack , Russell is the key to neutralizing the s. African pack but Harris can’t play Russell’s front foot game. Harris won’t defend S. Africa out of a win .

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