ANDY Robinson has handed three uncapped players a glimpse at the RBS Six Nations Championship as reward for their form this season and insisted age is no barrier to pulling on the Scotland jersey when the championship kicks off in Paris in just over two weeks' time.
• Andy Robinson is happy with the blend of youth and experience he has at his disposal. Picture: Dan Phillips
The new faces are the uncapped trio of Jon Welsh, 24, and Rob Harley, 20, both Glasgow forwards, and Bath's 6ft 5in full-back Jack Cuthbert, 23, who qualifies for Scotland through his Glasgow-born mother and made his A debut in November.
Like all England-based players Cuthbert will not be released for next week's A game but Harley and Welsh could both play again at Netherdale.
As forecast, there are few changes to the Scotland squad which Robinson took to five wins and a draw from ten Test matches in 2010, his first full year in charge.
The core of the side which defeated Ireland, Argentina, South Africa and Samoa is expected to remain in place when Scotland launch a year that begins in France and ends in New Zealand at the seventh Rugby World Cup.
Johnnie Beattie is included, although he will have to prove his fitness in Scotland A games before returning to the matchday 22, having only played two games this season. Glasgow captain Alastair Kellock is also back, along with centres Nick De Luca and Alex Grove and wingers Rory Lamont and Simon Danielli.
Chris Cusiter, Graeme Morrison, Jim Hamilton, Alasdair Dickinson and Phil Godman are all injured but the first four named could all come into contention later in the championship.
Robinson has placed a high priority on form in his camp and insisted that all 34 players named yesterday had a chance of playing in the Six Nations.
"We talk about the younger players," he said, "but some of the older players are delivering too. Since the autumn internationals Nathan Hines has gone back to Leinster and performed outstandingly well week after week. That's the quality we're looking for and that will take Scotland forward. You've got to admire what Nathan has been doing for Leinster.
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"Another who has done that is Kelly Brown (at Saracens]. To be moving forward we need to have players who are playing at the very highest level and performing well for their clubs. Those two are out there and delivering in the European competitions, in the real intense games. For us to win, particularly away from home, we need guys who can perform under the most intense pressure."
It is, therefore, a great balancing act to keep the players on their toes and the squad fresh by introducing new faces but also invigorate the experienced core of the side. Welsh has been pushing for a step-up for the past year and Harley's case has merely strengthened with every game he plays.
Alasdair Strokosch is back from injury with Gloucester this week but, because of the depth at blindside flanker – Robinson also speaking of considering Hines for the No 6 jersey – he has to regain match fitness before being recalled. Beattie needs game-time too, but he is included as, other than Richie Vernon and the possibility of Brown being used there, there are few genuine candidates at No 8 as the 'Killer Bs' formation of John Barclay, Beattie and Brown begins to hove back into view.Cuthbert is an intriguing call and, while the coach spoke highly of Edinburgh's Jim Thompson, who sat on the bench in Argentina last summer and had been ahead of Cuthbert in the pecking order, it appears that his lack of game-time at Edinburgh since returning from injury and vying with Chris Paterson, and Cuthbert's strong performances in the Premiership have altered Robinson's thinking.
The coach has also named the remaining players who will make up the Scotland A squad to face Ireland at Netherdale on Friday, 28 January. Thompson features there, alongside impressive Glasgow performers Peter Murchie, Aly Muldowney and Ryan Wilson, all of whom have come north from English rugby due to Scottish parentage.
Alex Grove is again preferred to Ben Cairns at centre but Robinson sees Grove as a challenger for Graeme Morrison's vacated inside centre role along with Nick De Luca and Cairns is handed another chance with the A team to push his case. Robinson was quick to stress that the A games were a big part of his planning.
"What you'll see from that squad is a number of players will be selected for the A team and I'm expecting Johnnie Beattie to be involved with the A team next Friday," said the coach. "That is a place for guys that are still to put their hand up to play against France, so the A team will be important for us. Everybody that is in the (34-man] squad is available (to face France] and I am looking at potentially selecting for that first game, so these guys aren't turning up just to be part of a squad.
"We will look at these first two games and, after that, draw breath and look at the squad to be selected for the Ireland game, and a lot of it will come down to how we perform. It's getting that consistency of selection. The selection of the Scotland side is down to how guys play – if they play well they will be selected the following week."
He held back on naming his captain – Kellock, Rory Lawson, Mike Blair and John Barclay appear the main contenders – but may reveal that at next week's RBS Six Nations launch in London. He added: "We have belief in the way we perform, but it's important to go game by game, understand what we're about as a squad and live our values. International rugby is an unforgiving place for coaches and for players, so it's important to stay tight as a squad and deal with the winning, the losing and the injuries. You just have to look back to the Welsh game last year to see the highs and lows you can have in a game. That's the great attraction of the Six Nations. There's a lot to happen in this tournament."
Squad for pre-RBS 6 Nations Championship training camp at St Andrews, beginning Monday 24 January:
Backs: Joe Ansbro (Northampton Saints), Mike Blair (Edinburgh), Jack Cuthbert (Bath), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh), Rory Lamont (Toulon), Sean Lamont (Scarlets), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Dan Parks (Cardiff Blues), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Hugo Southwell (Stade Francais) and Nikki Walker (Ospreys).
Forwards: John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie (both Glasgow Warriors), Kelly Brown (Saracens), Geoff Cross, Ross Ford (both Edinburgh), Richie Gray, Dougie Hall, Robert Harley (all Glasgow Warriors), Nathan Hines (Leinster), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Scott MacLeod (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Newcastle Falcons), Ross Rennie (Edinburgh) and Richie Vernon and Jon Welsh (both Glasgow Warriors).
Scotland A squad (to prepare for game v Irish Wolfhounds, Netherdale, Galashiels, Friday 28 January, kick-off 7.30pm).
Backs: David Blair, Ben Cairns (both Edinburgh), Colin Gregor (Glasgow Warriors), John Houston, Lee Jones (both Edinburgh), Peter Murchie, Hefin O'Hare, Colin Shaw (all Glasgow Warriors) and Jim Thompson (Edinburgh).
Forwards: Roddy Grant (Edinburgh), Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors), Alan MacDonald, Stuart McInally and Fraser McKenzie (all Edinburgh), Alastair Muldowney, Fergus Thomson and Ryan Wilson (all Glasgow Warriors).