Scotland Six Nations Squad – Hits and Misses

Last Wednesday saw head coach Gregor Townsend name his Scotland Six Nations Squad. There were some surprise omissions, others enforced by injury, along with six uncapped inclusions. Erin McRitchie has taken some time to dissect the squad, and here gives her view on the hits and misses of Townsend’s 38-man collective.

All of those chosen will be hoping to get the chance to run out at BT Murrayfield. (Photo: Erin McRitchie)

Overall outlook and new captain

Last Wednesday marked the announcement of head coach Gregor Townsend’s 38-man Scotland team for the 2020 Guinness Six Nations campaign.

Of the players involved, an impressive 29 players play their domestic rugby in Scotland with either Edinburgh or Glasgow Warriors. A further eight represent English Premiership sides, and a lone one is involved in the French Top 14.

This year’s line-up saw fullback Stuart Hogg awarded the captaincy following the international retirement of long-time captain Greig Laidlaw last month.

“He really cares about playing for his country, what the jersey represents and also getting the best out of his teammates,” Townsend said upon explaining his decision to promote Hogg to the leadership position.

“He’s a really intelligent rugby player who’s learning and improving with every season. He’s very good at bringing others into the game and building relationships with those around him.”

Uncapped players

Since taking control of the national team, Townsend has often provided opportunities to Scotland’s young talent – giving players the likes of Blair Kinghorn, Lewis Carmichael, Rory Hutchinson, George Horne and Adam Hastings their first caps.

And so, it was of no surprise that his team this year introduces some new faces to the international, test environment. Alex Craig, Luke Crosbie and Thomas Gordon have all represented Scotland at Under 20 level, Kyle Steyn has represented the country on the 7s circuit, whilst Nick Haining and Ratu Tagive both gain Scottish qualification through a grandparent and residency respectively.

Asked about each of the six uncapped players in turn, Townsend gave them all glowing reviews in terms of the potential that gained them their inclusion in the squad.

Alex Craig: “Every time he’s played, he’s looked more confident. He’s got a real explosive, dynamic quality in his ball-carrying, allied to his huge work-rate and that huge defence.”

Luke Crosbie: “He’s tough, and his tackle percentage is over 90% – I think it’s 94% this season. We like the fact that, when he gets the ball, he’s so athletic that he can really go at the opposition.”

Thomas Gordon: “We think we’ve got a potentially exceptional player. His man of the match game against Edinburgh at the end of last season, in one of his first starts for Glasgow, showed there was a special player there.”

Nick Haining: “He has nice skills, good handling and he’s a big man. He has good footwork. He’s a skilful player, a powerful ball-carrier and a good defender. To us as coaches he has the attributes to do well at international level.”

Kyle Steyn: “He works hard on his game, so things like high-ball catching and contact work, you see the improvements month to month. He’s a really professional player.”

Ratu Tagive: “Getting into the Glasgow team was a huge step forward when you think of the wingers they have there. He’s a hard-working player who should thrive in the environment with the players he’ll have around him.”

Some quick information on all of the uncapped players. (Graphic: Elise Kennedy)

Unfortunate injury exclusions

Townsend’s squad selection was also hit with some unfortunate injury knocks which ruled powerful players out of contention.

Second rows Blade Thomson and Richie Gray both miss out due to concussion concerns. Meanwhile fellow second row – though he can slot in to the back row with ease – Sam Skinner only returns to full time training with his club, Exeter Chiefs, this week following a troublesome hamstring injury.

Glasgow Warrior’s on-form back row Matt Fagerson fails to join his elder brother Zander in the Scotland camp due to a rib injury picked up in the Warrior’s home draw against Exeter Chiefs in the Champions Cup.

And finally, Townsend said that due to the form he’s shown this season James Lang would have been included were it not for a hamstring injury ruling him out for the foreseeable future.

Townsend did express the possibility for fringe players the likes of those aforementioned to return to the Scotland fold should they return to peak fitness and form throughout the course of the competition.

Eyebrow raising omission

Mark Bennett was quite possibly the most shocking of the Scotland squad omissions. The Edinburgh centre – who joined the club from Glasgow Warriors in 2017 – has played in 14 of Edinburgh’s 16 fixtures so far this season, featuring in all 10 Pro14 games and four of the six Challenge Cup matches the club has played.

Upon arriving at the club, Bennett was struck by injury in both of his first two seasons, but on both occasions worked tremendously hard to return to full fitness to participate in at least part of the season for Richard Cockerill’s team.

He has become a key figure in Edinburgh’s midfield and has linked well with former Scotland partner Matt Scott as well as breakout inside centre George Taylor, this season.

The former Scotland 7s player and Olympic 7s silver medallist, has spoken of his drive to focus on his club and attempt to reclaim the best of his form. And so, it is rather confusing to see him miss out on Townsend’s squad when the likes of Huw Jones has suffered somewhat of a slump in form at the tail-end of last season, and who has only played in a handful of games this current season.

Obviously, the line on how many centres to include in a squad must be drawn somewhere, however it comes as quite a blow to the likes of Bennett who really looked as if he could have had the opportunity to line-up in the Scotland jersey once again.

Despite not being included in the national set-up, Bennett will still have a testing time in the season coming up as Edinburgh face Scarlets, Connacht and Cardiff Blues in the Pro14 throughout the course of the Six Nations tournament, as they’re international contingent is away.

Perhaps this will be the platform Bennett needs to truly prove himself to Townsend and push to be included in this year’s Summer Tour squad. Only time will tell if the storming centre will be to return to the Scottish team.

Fans, especially Edinburgh ones, will be hoping to see Mark Bennett’s name back in contention. (Photo: Scottish Rugby twitter)

Return of familiar faces

The recently announced squad also sees the return to the Scotland fold of some familiar faces who, due to a number of reasons, have not featured in the Scottish jersey for a little while.

Rory Sutherland, who has recently re-signed for Edinburgh, returns to the Scotland set-up for the first time since 2016 having looked to have put his injury doubts and struggles behind him.

Cornell du Preez, having powered through the adversity of a potentially life-affecting, career-ending throat injury, is restored to Townsend’s Scotland ranks along with fellow former Edinburgh man Allan Dell who has been on good playing form with London Irish in the Gallagher Premiership.

Another Premiership inclusion is Northampton Saints’ Rory Hutchinson who is selected once again with the ability to cover both the fly-half and centre roles.

 

Scotland team:

Fowards: Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Jamie Bhatti (Edinburgh), Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow), Alex Craig (Gloucester), Luke Crosbie (Edinburgh), Scott Cummings (Glasgow), Allan Dell (London Irish),  Zander Fagerson (Glasgow), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Glasgow), Tom Gordon (Glasgow), Nick Haining (Edinburgh), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Cornell du Preez (Worcester), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh).

Backs: Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Adam Hastings (Glasgow), Stuart Hogg (Exeter, captain), George Horne (Glasgow), Rory Hutchinson (Northampton), Sam Johnson (Glasgow), Huw Jones (Glasgow), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Sean Maitland (Saracens), Matt Scott (Edinburgh), Byron McGuigan (Sale), Ali Price (Glasgow), Henry Pyrgos (Edinburgh), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Kyle Steyn (Glasgow), Ratu Tagive (Glasgow).

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