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Scotland’s 2023 World Cup cycle selections – the forwards

Richie Gray - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Richie Gray - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports

The Scottish Rugby Blog has already taken a look at the ins and outs from Scotland’s last RWC squad. Now it’s time to drill down into how the selection for the tournament in France built up over the last four years.

Across the forwards, no fewer than 44 players saw game time in the 39 Tests played by the dark blues during the current World Cup cycle, with 19 of them booking their place on the plane to Nice.

Front Row

Started final match of 2019 RWC:

Allan Dell / Fraser Brown / WP Nel

Started first match of 2023 RWC cycle:

Rory Sutherland / Fraser Brown / Zander Fagerson

Most selected unit in this cycle:

Pierre Schoeman / George Turner / Zander Fagerson (x10)

Likely starters v South Africa:

Pierre Schoeman / George Turner / Zander Fagerson

Zander Fagerson had a grip on the tighthead slot from game 1 of the current cycle, after backing up WP Nel throughout the 2019 World Cup. Injuries to Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally provided the initial impetus for George Turner but he certainly grabbed his chance with his first start of the cycle in game 10 – an historic win over England. The Covid-affected decision to delay the 5-year residency qualification allowed Pierre Schoeman to debut for Scotland 2 years earlier than expected. He took the number 1 shirt in game 15 and has rarely relinquished it since.

RWC 2027

Schoeman, Turner and Fagerson will be 33, 34 and 31 by the time of the next World Cup. While George and Zander have younger deputies (Ewan Ashman and Murphy Walker respectively), Pierre, currently aged 29, is the youngest Scottish-capped loosehead. After Jamie Bhatti’s birthday on 8th September, every other capped LH prop (and even those who have been in Scotland squads but not played) will be 30+.

Locks

Started final match of 2019 RWC:

Grant Gilchrist / Jonny Gray

Started first match of 2023 RWC cycle:

Scott Cummings / Jonny Gray

Most selected unit in this cycle:

Scott Cummings / Jonny Gray (x10)

Likely starters v South Africa:

Grant Gilchrist / Richie Gray

The Grant Gilchrist x Richie Gray combo is a relatively new selection in this cycle, not teaming up until game 28 versus Fiji. They have plenty of previous experience together though, first starting a Test match as a combination in 2014 plus they were both part of Scotland’s u20s squad all the way back in 2009! Since the 2022 Autumn Nations Series, the mature duo have been clear first choices at lock, although a fully fit Jonny Gray being consistently available might have seen the Gray brothers reunited in the pairing that started Scotland’s last 3 fixtures in the 2015 RWC.

RWC 2027

It’s not unheard of for locks to play on until serious veteran status has been achieved but Gilchrist will be 37 and the elder Gray 38 by the time the next World Cup gets underway. There will be twentysomethings available who have already been capped – Jamie Hodgson, Marshall Sykes and Cameron Henderson – while Scott Cummings and Alex Craig will only be 30 years old.

Back Row

Started final match of 2019 RWC:

Magnus Bradbury / Jamie Ritchie / Blade Thomson

Started first match of 2023 RWC cycle:

Jamie Ritchie / Hamish Watson / Nick Haining

Most selected unit in this cycle:

Jamie Ritchie / Hamish Watson / Matt Fagerson (x12)

Likely starters v South Africa:

Jamie Ritchie / Rory Darge / Jack Dempsey

Along with Adam Hastings and George Horne, Jamie Ritchie made his debut on the summer development tour the year before the 2019 RWC. Ritchie made himself a starter immediately though, whether at 6 or 7, and has only missed games since the last World Cup when injury has intervened. Until recently he might have expected to be joined in the back row by his regular colleagues, Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson. The form of Rory Darge and Jack Dempsey has been undeniable though. Darge in particular might have made his breakthrough earlier if injury hadn’t meant he missed both the Autumn Nations Series and Six Nations.

RWC 2027

Dempsey is the oldest of the expected starters and would be 33 if he made it to a third World Cup. Ritchie will be 31, while Darge will comfortably make the 2027 tournament (and might well be eying up a tilt at the 2031 edition when he will be 31). Remarkably, Matt Fagerson will still only be 29 when the next RWC rolls around. Andy Christie and Dylan Richardson are the other already capped back rows who will be in their twenties in 2027.

2 Responses

  1. SA fan on Reddit was absolutely raving about Dylan Richardson and speculating he could return to the Bok fold before 2027. How much is he still on Toonie’s radar?

  2. I wouldn’t believe everything you read on reddit. He’s had 680 minutes of action for the Sharks in the last two full seasons according to Wikipedia…. I wouldn’t believe everything you read on there either come to think of it, but they can’t both be right!

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