My dear old friend Jock MacVicar, who died earlier this year, had garnered so many favourite expressions over six decades in sports journalism that they virtually became a language on their own.
Latterly, his colleagues covering golf would play “Jocky Bingo”, waiting for the daily rendition of favourites like “not a dish washed” or “what a size he is” (to anyone mildly corpulent) or “these days are endless”.
One of Jock’s perennials was “Can we put a kilt on it?” – a request that we might find some tenuous Scottish connection to a player on a day when our actual countrymen had scored hee-haw.
There’s plenty of scope for putting kilts on all sorts in the Summer Series squad announced on Tuesday. In fact the bespoke Edinburgh outfitters are taking orders for full Highland dress kit for future dinners right now.
17 uncapped players makes the summer interesting
Summer squad 🏴🔥
Which player are you most excited to see in our 2021 summer training squad? pic.twitter.com/VOZfzudeqI
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) June 2, 2021
The three games Scotland are playing this summer always looked fairly developmental – England A in Leicester on June 27, Romania on July 10 and Georgia on July 17. The squad confirms this, with 17 uncapped players picked. A whole swathe of bodies are given some welcome respite after what has been, physically and mentally, a brutal season.
The eight Lions are obviously missing. But so are Jonny Gray, Fraser Brown, Stuart McInally, Sam Johnson, Jaco van der Walt, Huw Jones, Darcy Graham, Sean Maitland, among others.
The squad also shows the need to “put a kilt on” a bunch of players who might be useful to Scotland down the line.
Hence we have the likes of Cole Forbes, who has wowed Glasgow fans with his cameo this season. Also Sione Tuipilotu, soon to join Forbes at Scotstoun, Cameron Henderson, Nick Auterac, Josh Bayliss, Cameron Henderson and especially Ewan Ashman.
All these guys have dual eligibility. Ashman, the Sale hooker, trained with Scotland throughout the Six Nations but was not capped. He was being actively courted by England for their matches this summer.
The game at Welford Road against England A is a “capture” game, whereby those playing will be marked for future international representation.
So it’ll be a lower level version of what happened when Cam Redpath chose Scotland and then made his debut in the Six Nations at Twickenham. You can expect Ashman to start at hooker in Leicester as a playful thumb-nosing to Eddie Jones.
Grandparents? Residencies? Bring `em all on
I’d imagine all those players with dual-eligibility will play in that game. This should get the usual suspects aerated, as the super-sleuthing by Murrayfield into granny’s birth certificates is too unseemly for those with a delicate constitution.
Surely to not examine these eligible players would be a dereliction of duty for Scotland, with our tiny player base. Even if Scottish Rugby were brilliant at raising participation levels, we’d still be lagging behind even Fiji and Tonga for player numbers.
Secondly, every other country, even the player-rich like England and France, does this as well. To be snotty and superior about residency and grandparental eligibility is basically an act of self-harm.
If the players are good enough, committed to Scotland and are eligible, then they should play. I’m not bothered if Scotland’s enhanced reputation as a result of recent wins makes us more attractive to waverers. Bring `em all on, we can’t have enough bodies.
Plenty of reward for ‘native’ Scots
— Glasgow Warriors (@GlasgowWarriors) May 31, 2021
And the Summer Squad also gives the lie to those who suggest these “incomers” restrict opportunities for “homegrown” or “native” lads (isn’t it strange how the language in this verges on xenophobia).
Rory Darge and Ross Thompson have got due recognition for their superb form for Glasgow. Robin “Bomber” Hislop is in line for a debut at 29, and there’s even room for Matt Scott.
Here’s a look at how the teams might line-up with their kilts firmly on:
A team vs England A: Cole Forbes; Jack Blain, Matt Scott, Sione Tuipilotu, Rufus McLean; Ross Thompson, Charlie Shiel; Nick Auterac, Ewan Ashman, Robin Hislop; Cameron Henderson, Alex Craig; Luke Crosbie, Rory Darge, Josh Bayliss.
A team vs Romania and Georgia: Blair Kinghorn; Kyle Steyn, James Lang, Sione Tipilotu, Rufus McLean; Adam Hastings, George Horne; Oli Kebble, George Turner, Simon Berghan; Scott Cummings, Sam Skinner; Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Matt Fagerson.
Just like the good old days – but no more Niko
⚔️ @GlasgowWarriors offloading for fun as Ross Thompson dives over to put his team in the lead 🤩
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) May 29, 2021
Funny how a few results and a few offloads rapidly change perceptions. Three wins after humiliation against Benetton, Danny Wilson’s Glasgow have an outside chance – okay, really outside chance – of reaching the PRO14 Rainbow Cup final.
We should make no judgement over-positively in the same way we made none over-negatively. The time to properly judge Wilson’s performance as head coach is probably Christmas. Then he’ll had an unfettered run with his own mark on the team rather than Covid chaos.
Still, the orgy of off-loading that produced Ross Thompson’s try against Dragons made one think of the Warriors teams of 2015-16-17, or those occasions when they really let lose under Dave Rennie.
With that in mind, I share the sadness of Warriors fans that Niko Matawalu will be moving on at the end of this season.
Niko at his best was an electric presence, a real box of tricks and gloriously fun to watch. Occasionally it backfired, but the of him launching a seemingly hopeless breakout from his own 22 and then jogging over for the score at the other end 15 or so seconds later will never get old.
My favourite moment? February 23, 2013 against Ulster. Niko pickpockets Ruan Pienaar at the back of a scrum and bungs a backdoor offload to Tommy Seymour for a try.
Typical Niko – cheeky, skilful, audacious and above all, it made you laugh.