SCOTLAND and British and Irish Lions legend Finlay Calder believes that Kelly Brown should have been brought back into the Scotland squad in the lead up to the Rugby World Cup.
When the extended party meets for the first time on Monday to begin their preparations for the big event in England and Wales in September and October, Brown will be one of a number of high-profile players missing.
Saracens back-row Brown, who turned 33 this week, has played his part in the last two World Cups in 2007 and 2011.
He has not been involved for his country since the Canada match on last year’s summer tour, though, and head coach Vern Cotter has not selected the former skipper – even in the wider squads – for the Autumn Tests, the Six Nations and this event with his international future looking bleak.
However, Calder, who of course was a back-row and a leader of some calibre himself, feels that Brown could have helped the younger players in the squad and been able to guide them through the preparations for a big tournament and the opening two matches against Japan and USA.
“Personally, I would have gone back to Kelly,” said the man who played in the 1987 and 1991 events with the Scots.
“I’d have had him in there for the big event as a sort of father figure, but it wasn’t to be. I think overall he has been given a pretty rum deal and I am disappointed for him.”
One forward who Calder does believe can make his mark on the biggest stage is second-row Jonny Gray.
He may just be 21 and have 13 caps to his name, but Calder has been impressed by his workrate and desire to improve in the last couple of seasons.
“The guy has come on a lot. I watched him play for Hamilton a few years ago and if somebody had told me then that he would have played for Scotland I would not have believed it,” Calder explained.
“He has come on leaps and bounds and has worked so hard. If we can get the Gray brothers playing together – what a combination that is.
“That could give us real dominance in some matches up front, but we have to be strong in all areas if we want to make the quarter-finals. I also think that to throw the captaincy at Jonny would be too much though for one so young.”
When he named his 46-man extended squad last week Cotter did not rule out the idea of having two captains in the party and Calder thinks that Josh Strauss could perhaps be the man to take on the job alongside Greig Laidlaw.
“I know some people are not in favour of using players on residential grounds [such as Strauss, Tim Visser, WP Nel and Mike Cusack], but we are where we are with that situation. If these guys want to play for the country then that is fine.
“Strauss could play a big role in the World Cup, he has been in fine form for Glasgow and I like the look of him.”
Calder believes that Scotland getting out of Pool B – including South Africa and Samoa as the main challengers for the top two spots – would be a good result, but he feels they could do better if the players take the confidence gained at their clubs forward.
The 57-year-old, who won 34 caps, said: “I think with Edinburgh getting to their European final against Gloucester and also Glasgow going really well in the season just gone everyone will turn up at the training camp on Monday with a smile on their face and in confident mood.
“Hopefully that can stay in place all summer and then who knows what can happen.
“We certainly have a problem in the midfield with so many injured players at the moment [Alex Dunbar, Mark Bennett and Matt Scott] and it really depends on who makes it – Dunbar and Bennett are very important to this team.”
Meanwhile, Calder’s former team-mate Gary Armstrong – who played in the World Cups of 1991 and 1999 – feels the Scots being together for the majority of the summer in camp will help raise standards.
The World Cup is a special thing because you actually get to train a lot more together than you do during the Six Nations,” the ex-scrum-half said.
“If you are in a training camp and there is a bit of competition from other guys in your position that is what you need.
“We have struggled in the past for strength in depth, but that is starting to come and the more these guys test and push each other in the next couple of months the better.”