Vern Cotter: Scotland cull will be toughest task

Vern Cotter must cut his Scotland squad to 31 for the World Cup
Vern Cotter must cut his Scotland squad to 31 for the World Cup
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Head coach Vern Cotter accepts the moment is drawing closer when he will have to tell certain players they won’t be going to the World Cup but insists there remains plenty of spots in his final squad up for grabs.

The 53-year-old New Zealander yesterday made 11 changes to the starting XV for tomorrow evening’s second World Cup warm-up Test against Italy in Turin.

There is almost an entirely new pack from the side that started the 28-22 loss to Ireland in Dublin last weekend, with seven new forwards and four changes in the backs. There are three new caps in the team – openside flanker John Hardie, wing Rory Hughes and hooker Stuart McInally – with the uncapped duo of Edinburgh wing Damien Hoyland and newly-qualified South Africa-born prop WP Nel on the bench.

Hardie, the New Zealand-born flanker who was added to the extended squad last month, is part of a new-look back row alongside Alasdair Strokosch and No.8 Adam Ashe.

British and Irish Lion Richie Gray partners skipper Grant Gilchrist in the second row.

A new half-back pairing of Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Duncan Weir, who scored a late winning drop goal the last time the Scots played on Italian soil, leads a backline which includes a centre pairing of Matt Scott and Richie Vernon, with Edinburgh utility back Greig Tonks getting a run at full-back.

Asked if he was dreading culling his current extended training squad down to the final 31, Cotter said: “Absolutely, it will be a very tough job to do. It will be tough to look some of those guys in the eye and say sorry. But from the outset that was the deal, so I will just sit down and be totally honest with them.

“The players are challenging other, which is creating new challenges within, forcing us to take another look at the depth we have.”

Cotter revealed that prop Ryan Grant, the main casualty from Dublin last week, faces three to four weeks out with an ankle injury but will be fit by the time the World Cup starts.

‘He’s given it a pretty nasty tweak and it will be a month, I’d say, until he comes through, three weeks to a month,” explained Cotter. “We’ve got another two weeks to make an evaluation, but the doc is pretty positive that he’ll be alright. There is no fracture, he’s given it a good stretch, so it will just take a while. But he can play in the World Cup.”

Asked about the new boys in the team and on the bench, Cotter said: “They have been working hard so this is a good chance to have a look at them. They deserve a shot so we will be able to look at them at another level. John Hardie is a good professional. He has gone about his work without making a fuss and he has learnt all he needs to learn. He’s looking forward to the game.

Scotland team to face Italy: G Tonks; S Lamont, R Vernon, M Scott, R Hughes, D Weir, S Hidalgo-Clyne; G Reid, S McInally, M Cusack, R Gray, G Gilchrist (c), A Strokosch, J Hardie, A Ashe. Subs: R Ford, A Dickinson, W Nel, J Hamilton, H Watson, H Pyrgos, P Horne, D Hoyland.