Scotland rugby coach Andy Robinson will tomorrow unveil a 28-man squad for next month’s three-match tour of Australia, Fiji and Samoa.
And, if recent emphasis has been on the unavailability of the likes of Dave Denton, Lee Jones and Jim Hamilton, the tour will also see the rehabilitation of the tried and trusted in the form of Joe Ansbro and maybe also Ally Dickinson, the newly-eligible Tim Visser and a handful of up-and-comings set to be rewarded for getting Edinburgh to a Heineken European Cup semi-final this season.
The need to plan ahead was certainly prominent in the mind of Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson when he attended the introduction of Chris Paterson as an ambassador/coach at Murrayfield last week, where he remarked: “This tour is pretty important. But we heap too much pressure on the need to deliver. With Scotland there is a time to deliver but there is also a time to see some of the other players coming through.”
That could be the cue for the likes of Grant Gilchrist, Tom Brown and Matt Scott to undertake their first sojourn of this type while Greig Laidlaw may have made himself an indispensible part of coach Robinson’s Six Nations plans but he will be undertaking a maiden tour with Scotland, probably to cover both half back positions, if it is decided to leave Mike Blair at home to continue sorting out a club for next season.
As well as new blood what Scotland desperately needed after that limp Six Nations is a feeling that this is a fresh start, which is where Ansbro will come in.
The first black player to be capped by Scotland when introduced for the win over South Africa in 2010, Ansbro started eight out of the next dozen games, sometimes missing out as squads were rotated immediately before and during the World Cup. Injury struck on his return from New Zealand but by then Ansbro was already planning atonement, remarking at the beginning of this year on the need to prove more effective as a team than was shown at the World Cup.
“We played some good rugby throughout the tournament but didn’t quite have that finishing touch you need at international level. In the England match we had a few chances but didn’t put them away. We need to improve in closing games out.”
In that respect nothing has changed from when Ansbro made those comments and Robinson, pictured below, will be pinning hopes on an extra cutting edge being provided by Visser when he becomes available on Scottish residency grounds after the Australian leg while Scott and Brown have been integral to an Edinburgh back division which has proved capable of opening defences – orchestrated by Laidlaw.
Ruaridh Jackson and Duncan Weir may be rivals for the Glasgow stand off slot and each player has found favour with Robinson in the past. But it is unlikely both will travel especially with another from that stable, Alex Dunbar, coming with such a rush of form in the centre that Jack Cuthbert could be jettisoned immediately after being an unused sub for Scotland’s concluding Six Nations clash in Rome.
Quite how Robinson chances his arm on the back of seven straight defeats will be fascinating but so far as the forwards are concerned it is more a case of needs must – especially at second row while the grapevine suggests the veteran Allan Jacobsen will be rested from an arduous tour of duty at this stage of his career.
Jim Hamilton’s red card which earned him a seven-week ban when captaining Gloucester against London Irish may well open a door for Grant Gilchrist, who has had a season to remember at Edinburgh and although Stuart McInally was unable to command a start at the business end of the European Cup, his versatility could move him closer to a first cap in the back row.
Here, though, Robinson might just have an ace up his sleeve in the form of Ally Hogg, whose cap career has stalled after 48 appearances but is still only 29.
Credited with being the mainstay of a Newcastle Falcons side that was admittedly off-colour for much of the season, Hogg has plenty of experience to lend in an area where Robinson may be preparing to pick another uncapped contender in Rob Harley.
Not that Hogg is holding his breath, declaring: “Sometimes you are in and sometimes you are not, but I will never say never as far as Scotland are concerned. I have still got a massive desire to play for them, but at the moment there is not much love coming my way. That is just the way it goes sometimes.”
Possible tour squad:
Forwards: Ford, Cross, Rennie, McInally, Gilchrist (all Edinburgh), Gray, Barclay, Kellock, Welsh, Harley (Glasgow), Dickinson, Vernon (both Sale), Lawson (London Irish), Strokosch (Perpignan), Murray (Newcastle),
Backs: Laidlaw, De Luca, Visser, Scott, Brown (all Edinburgh), Evans (Castres), S Lamont (Scarlets), Hogg, Dunbar, Morrison, Weir, Cusiter (all Glasgow), Ansbro (London Irish)