Scotland’s Summer Tour squad announcement has been made. Players left at home, players rested, new players brought in. And a new captain.
What does this squad look like, particularly against the set of development aims outlined in my previous article here?
As the last extended opportunity to rest players ahead of 2019 World Cup, Townsend has voluntarily omitted around 8 first choice Six Nations starters from the summer tour squad with another 2 to 3 on the injury list.
Most significantly perhaps is the combined omission of Scotland Captain John Barclay and Vice-Captains Greig Laidlaw and Ryan Wilson. By leaving the whole of this leadership group at home Townsend will be looking for the next generation of Scottish leaders to step up – perhaps with an eye to the next World Cup cycle. The appointment of Stuart McInally as tour captain completes a season in which he has emerged as a World Class hooker. On tour, it will be interesting to see who else takes on leadership positions either through the selection of Vice Captain(s) or the assumption of captaincy when McInally is subbed or rested.
Based on the announced squad lets reconsider the key Summer Tour development priorities mentioned in the previous article.
Develop front five go forward
With Stuart McInally the only player in the entire forward pack who can be assured of a starting place on tour there is a significant urgency in the need for Scotland to develop pack cohesion. The loss of Scotland’s forwards coach Dan McFarland to Ulster in January 2019 and the addition of Worcester head coach Carl Hogg to the Scotland coaching team on an interim basis has already muddied the waters with regards to developing Scotland’s forward pack and therefore it is even more important that signs of progress are made during the tour.
Look out for
A dominant forwards display against the Argentine Pumas in the final test.
Back row backup
With all of Scotland’s starting Six Nations back row missing from the tour David Denton (28) is the only loose forward with significant test match experience. The Summer Tour, therefore, will allow plenty of opportunities for up and coming young Scottish players in the squad: Luke Hamilton (26), Magnus Bradbury (22), Jamie Ritchie (21) and Matt Fagerson (19). This is an exciting crop of youngsters to be able to select from and it will be interesting to compare and contrast these players performances at the end of the three matches
Look out for
The emergence of a strong ball-carrying option to augment the guile of Messrs. Barclay, Watson and Wilson.
As expected Alex Dunbar, and Duncan Taylor return from long-term injuries but Mark Bennett and Matt Scott miss out. Chris Harris and Nick Grigg make the squad following their Six Nations debuts. With Huw Jones, unfortunately, missing through wrist surgery it will be more difficult to compare and contrast options at 12. However, in his selection, we may get a sense if Townsend is looking for a creative second receiver at 12 or a more traditional heavy ball carrier. With Townsend stating that he sees the uncapped James Lang primarily as a 12, the choice of standoff appears to be between Pete Horne and Adam Hastings. With Finn Russell leaving Glasgow Warriors for Racing 92 in the summer this decision between Horne and Hastings at starting fly-half will also face Dave Rennie at Warriors next season.
Look out for
Townsend’s choice of starting 12 against Argentina.
Other noteworthy items
Hogg to lead back line – With first-choice wingers Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour rested, Stuart Hogg will have a crucial role in providing continuity for Blair Kinghorn, Byron McGuigan and Lee Jones who have made important contributions on the wing for Scotland when called upon but lack Test match minutes. Some may be surprised with the decision not to rest Hogg, Scotland’s most talented player, but this probably reflects the need to have a senior voice in the back line and that relative to other senior players Hogg is comparatively fresh having had an extended break following his fractured cheek last summer.
Numerous Nines – the resurgence in form of Sam Hidalgo-Clyne for Edinburgh in recent months has been recognised by Townsend selection. This is despite his pending move South from Edinburgh to Scarlets in the summer. The selection at scrum-half is further complicated by Ali Price having slipped behind George Horne and Henry Pyrgos in Dave Rennie’s selection at scrum-half for Glasgow Warriors.
Undoubtedly Scotland’s toughest test will be against Argentina in Resistencia. A strong showing on foreign soil from this inexperienced touring side short of senior leaders would be a major development success and a positive omen for Scottish Rugby ahead of the 2018/19 season.
Author: Dougie Thoms