Gregor Townsend announces Rugby World Cup squad to players today, nation tomorrow
Scotland’s players are being told today by head coach Gregor Townsend who is in and who is out of his final 31-man squad for the Japan World Cup and all will be revealed to the nation tomorrow.
As with previous World Cup squad announcements the SRU are making it a set-piece public event, this time at Linlithgow Palace, with the chosen 31 presented at 2pm.
Most close followers of the squad’s preparations over the past summer and three warm-up Tests so far would be confident of tipping most that are bound for the plane to the Nagasaki holding camp next Monday after Friday night’s final warm-up at home to Georgia.
That said, followers of Gregor Townsend’s coaching career well know that it can be a fool’s game to second guess him when it comes to selections.
Most positional areas look inked in, with the injury of Sam Skinner and the refusal by Richie Gray to be involved, making lock the most obvious, with last men standing Grant Gilchrist, Ben Toolis, Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings guaranteed a seat - as long as they stay standing.
The same goes at scrum-half with Greig Laidlaw, Ali Price and George Horne, but more of the backs later.
In the front row it looks like Jamie Bhatti will be the man to miss out, creating the curiosity of newly-formed part-time Super 6 side Ayrshire Bulls having a man at the World Cup in the shape of stalwart loosehead Gordon Reid.
There has been a clear determination throughout the preparation period to ensure Fraser Brown travels as main hooker back-up to potential tour captain Stuart McInally as the Glasgow man recovers from a foot injury picked up in the Guinness Pro14 final.
That leaves the Glasgow pair of George Turner and Grant Stewart battling for the final spot.
Back-row has always been one of the most competitive areas and remains the toughest one to call. Josh Strauss’s Scotland days look over as he heads back to South Africa but will Townsend decide to leave out Ryan Wilson, one of the key men in Glasgow’s famous Pro12 final win of 2015 a player he has worked with and turned to for so long?
The Warriors co-captain fell out of contention with his club in the season run-in and may not have done enough, leaving a youthful Edinburgh-Glasgow battle between Magnus Bradbury and Matt Fagerson for the final slot.
Four years ago at the University of Edinburgh’s Old College Quad, former coach Vern Cotter opted for an 18-13 forwards/backs split and most predict Townsend will do the same.
Midfield has been the main selection minefield for the former Lion who prowled that area of the pitch on ten occasions during the 1999 and 2003 World Cups.
That trusty old ‘V’ word versatility has been worn to death in this debate, with Glasgow centre Pete Horne, who can also cover stand-off, finding himself at, well, the centre of it.
A humble and honest player, Horne would be the first to admit he is no Brian O’Driscoll or Sonny Bill Williams but he has produced some excellent displays down the years and never discount versatility when it comes to tournament rugby, when cards will inevitably need to be shuffled at some stage.
When Huw Jones produced a Schoolboy’s Own two-try display in the thumping Calcutta Cup win over England at BT Murrayfield in February 2018 he seemed to have the rugby world at his feet but his star has faded since, through injury and lack of form. He was solid when he played the last few weeks but didn’t look like he’d done enough.
Conversely, Northampton centre Rory Hutchinson seized his chance with gusto, scoring against France then making it three tries from three caps in Georgia at the weekend.