This is – recently at least – uncharted territory. Scotland has eight players on the British and Irish Lions tour and there are actually some options to examine this summer.
Scotland have set a largely undemanding summer schedule of an A game against England at Leicester’s Welford Road, and away tests at Romania and Georgia.
These were probably arranged with the foreknowledge that Gregor Townsend would be away with the Lions. Also, as we’ve noted in Breakdowns past, the international/professional player pool needs and deserves some respite after what has been a trying season, physically and mentally.
Blair taking the reins
Mike Blair will be in the senior role as stand-in head coach, – he was deep in conversation with Gregor at Friday’s 1872 Cup game – while Pete Murchie taking Steve Tandy’s defence brief.
There’s been no official word yet but one would assume that the A game will feature as-yet uncapped players. The games against Romania – currently coached by Andy Robinson, assisted by Stevie Scott (no relation) – and Georgia offer plenty room for experimentation. But it’s likely the strongest possible unit will be assembled, at least for the game in Tbilisi.
So what gaps need to be filled, and how much will depth be tested? Here’s a look at the positions that need filling.
2021 Summer Tour schedule 🏴 🇷🇴 🇬🇪
Which game are you looking forward to most?
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) May 10, 2021
Replacing Stuart Hogg: Blair Kinghorn, Huw Jones, Damien Hoyland
Kinghorn would have been the unanimous choice at the start of the season. Jones has shown considerable adaptability in his switch to 15 for Glasgow, although he featured at 13 against Italy in the Six Nations.
The injury that forced an early end to his season and his Glasgow career may prevent Jones from being considered. Damien Hoyland’s had a decent run in place of the injured Kinghorn for Edinburgh.
Replacing Duhan van der Merwe: Kyle Steyn
Almost forgotten because of season-long injury, Steyn returned against Edinburgh last Friday and played like a man possessed. He immediately put himself in the frame for a recall for both summer tests, and with Sean Maitland and Darcy Graham available Scotland are still spoilt for choice on the wings.
Replacing Chris Harris: Cameron Redpath
Maybe the biggest disappointment of the Six Nations was Redpath being restricted to his massively impressive debut at Twickenham. We need to see much more of him and I’d be for playing him at inside centre ahead of Sam Johnson in at least one game.
Replacing Finn Russell: Adam Hastings
Glasgow’s increasingly impressive Ross Thompson can play in the A game. Although if you want to blood him early, these two senior games are the place to do it risk-free. Hastings will have recovered from the facial fracture that ended his season prematurely, and he should be fresh after an injury-interrupted campaign.
Scotland A will face England A in Leicester on Sunday 27 June, ahead of Scotland's tests against Romania and Georgia this Summer.
Full story ⤵️
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) May 10, 2021
Replacing Ali Price: George Horne
The younger Horne has had an injury-disrupted season and is the accepted back-up to Price when everyone’s fit. I’d prefer him to play both senior games, however much the coaching team seem to like Scott Steele.
Replacing Rory Sutherland: Oli Kebble
No messing about here. Pierre Schoeman will be eligible this summer, but not in time for these games. There seems to be plenty stock for years at this key position.
Replacing Zander Fagerson: Simon Berghan, WP Nel
Again, no messing about. Soon to be Zander’s back up at Glasgow in one of the stranger moves of contract season, Bergy will start against Romania and bench against Georgia, while Nel will do the opposite.
Replacing Hamish Watson: Josh Bayliss, Tom Gordon, Luke Crosbie
Bayliss was in the squads at the end of the Six nations but didn’t play, and it might be time to get him over the threshold – maybe in all three scheduled games. Gordon and Crosbie may be playing off for a first cap this current fortnight.
And as captain….?
The solid, unspectacular move would be to give it to Fraser Brown or Stuart McInally. But personally, I hope that the coaching team get a bit more adventurous and try Jamie Ritchie or Scott Cumming.
Captain’s Challenge: Time-wasting telling tales.
As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Rainbow Cup was a perfect place to conduct trials of law variations.
But I’m not impressed with the Captain’s Challenge, where skippers can ask for TMO referrals in instances of scoring or foul play.
Friday’s 1872 Cup game featured three challenges, two successful, both resulting in red cards. With a couple of head injuries adding to the haul, an 80 minute game took 140 minutes to actually play.
We have more than enough waiting around while refs look at screens already. Of course we all support the drive for player care. But strict action and the blizzard of cards are currently having no effect whatsoever. Players continue to go into contact far too high.
Furthermore, to me the Captain’s Challenge messes with one of rugby’s critical elements – all players are on the edge of the rules looking for an advantage. It’s up to the ref to sort it out.
Neutral officials and TMOs spotting foul play is how it should be, not players telling tales on each other.
Although it didn’t happen on Friday, I’m also wary of players attempting to provoke each other to force a challenge and sanction.
One notes Super Rugby in New Zealand have already ditched their trial of the Captain’s Challenge. The PRO14 should follow suit.