Scotland have moved on from the World Cup but despite as many as six uncapped players in the 38-strong preliminary squad for the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, it seems to be an evolutionary change rather than a clearout.
Experienced figures like Ryan Wilson, Peter Horne and Duncan Taylor are not included in Gregor Townsend’s squad, to add to the three “officially” retired players in Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay and Tommy Seymour. But the door is still open for those players who are still active, insisted Townsend, including veteran lock Richie Gray – who couldn’t commit to the World Cup but is now available again – one of a handful of players who misses through untimely injuries.
Of the six uncapped players, the best chance for elevating to actually playing might be the Gloucester lock Alex Craig, although second row is already a pretty congested area of the team. Townsend spoke of his “Jonny Gray levels” of tackling and dynamic ball-carrying, and added he could even come into the equation at blindside flanker.
Even if Townsend is impressed by former Under-20 international Craig and by Glasgow’s Tom Gordon and Ratu Tagive – a residentially qualified Australian with Fiji roots – and Edinburgh back rowers Nick Haining and Luke Crosbie, they would appear to be along for their first ride on an international training week.
There’s notable recalls for Matt Scott and Cornell du Preez, who has overcome serious, potentially career-ending injury since he was last capped in 2018, and has played every game for Worcester Warriors in the Gallagher Premiership this year.
“We are looking at players we want to give opportunities to and think will add to our game in ball carrying and power,” said Townsend. “I think Ryan (Wilson) has played 10 of the last 12 games and has been playing well, but we feel that now is the time to look at someone else and whether they can do a better job.
“Pete Horne has played in one game in the last two months. We know what he can do. I have coached him for a long time but other guys have been better.
“We have gone with two tens in our squad and Pete just misses out because he has not been playing enough. We hope he and Ryan are playing rugby for Glasgow and if they are playing well they will come back into our mix in the next few weeks.”
In Duncan Taylor’s case the logisitics of him playing for Saracens the Sunday before the Ireland game on February 1 meant he’d be involved in just one of five sessions planned prior to the championship opener, added Townsend.
Elsewhere, James Lang of Harlequins was in “outstanding” form and would have been in contention but has torn a hamstring. Sam Skinner, just newly returned from injury, Matt Fagerson (broken rib), Richie Gray (head knock) and Blade Thomson (head knock) were players who could come back in after the first two games in back-to-back weeks against Ireland and England, added Townsend.
“Richie started the season pretty well then missed a bit of the season,” he continued. “He’s still only 29 and if he can get some good luck with injuries he will be in the mix.
“With the World Cup, he was coming back from injuries and he did not think he would be able to play or train at his best.
“I know it would have been a difficult decision. I had a couple of phone calls and I could tell he was eager to be part of the squad. On reflection it was not right for him then but it was clear next season would be a different story.”
Forwards: Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Jamie Bhatti (Edinburgh), Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Alex Craig (Gloucester), Luke Crosbie (Edinburgh), Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), Allan Dell, Cornell du Preez (Worcester Warriors), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Tom Gordon (Glasgow Warriors), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Nick Haining (Edinburgh), Stuart McInally, Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh).
Backs: Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, captain), George Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Hutchinson (Northampton Saints), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Sean Maitland (Saracens), Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors), Henry Pyrgos (Edinburgh), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Matt Scott (Edinburgh), Kyle Steyn (Glasgow Warriors), Ratu Tagive (Glasgow Warriors).