VERN Cotter believes club success will provide Scotland with a welcome boost following the disappointment of the Six Nations Wooden Spoon.
Glasgow created history in Belfast on Saturday night as they won the Guinness Pro12 title and delivered a first major title for a Scottish club, while Edinburgh had earlier finished runners-up in the European Challenge Cup.
After naming his 46-man initial World Cup training squad at BT Murrayfield yesterday, the head coach said: “There are 22 players from Glasgow. But there are also players from Saracens [Jim Hamilton and Duncan Taylor], who won a competition. Edinburgh reached a European final. Gloucester won that final and Greig Laidlaw was strong for them. I thought he really controlled the game well.
“It’s pleasing to see that players who left and went back to their clubs had positive influences on their teams.
“And Glasgow won the Pro12. That was fantastic and it was pleasing to see Finn Russell, in a big year of rugby for him, win games and make big decisions.
“That shows how he’s kicked on since the Six Nations. Learning how to win was very important.”
“We have to go through some pretty intensive training games”Vern Cotter
Scarlets flanker John Barclay has been given the chance to end his two years in the international recall after excellent club form has earned a recall which many have been calling for.
Cotter said: “I congratulate John because we discussed things with him and felt that while he was a very good defensive player he wasn’t offering us enough in attack and carrying. In the last three months he has impressed us because he has been playing eight and seven, and that gives them an advantage over someone like Roddy Grant.
“He plays to positions and he has been carrying the ball and getting over the advantage line. I think he has been effective at ruck time, getting more turnovers and being more of a threat without the ball. We are really happy to welcome him back into the group.”
While Barclay returns, there are a few familiar names who have not been included.
“I spoke with Johnnie Beattie,” added Cotter. “He, Roddy Grant, Dougie Fife and Kelly Brown were all players who were close. They may still get a call. We have to go through some pretty intensive training and games, so any of those players could still be called up and make the 31. It can’t be just a fixed group, we need some flexibility as well, but this is how we are starting.”
Prop Geoff Cross and his London Irish team-mate Kieran Low, who is joining Glasgow for next season, are also left disappointed, as is Edinburgh’s Australia-born lock Ben Toolis and the Glasgow flanker Chris Fusaro.
“Geoff’s another that has missed out,” said Cotter. “He’s got things, as has Dougie Fife, to work on to become involved. He’ll be able to prepare with his club and if we need him we’ll call.
“Moray Low is another one. What we’ve done is take a core group from Glasgow, players who know each other with strong cohesion. Mike Cusack we want to have a look at and see what he’s got, Dicko [Al Dickinson] can play tighthead, that is an option.
“We’ve communicated with players. Kieran Low’s had a tough season and for whatever reason he’s not put forward the performances needed to be selected.
“We know he’s a good rugby player and we’ll maybe see something more of him in the future.”
Eight uncapped players make the initial pool, including the South Africa-born “project player” pair of WP Nel and Josh Strauss.
Young wingers Damien Hoyland (Edinburgh) and Rory Hughes (Glasgow) will have a chance to impress, while Hugh Blake, the young “kilted Kiwi” whose Six Nations call-up without a single Edinburgh appearance to his name at the time proved controversial.
He has since been loaned to Glasgow but his only action has been with the sevens squad. Cotter said: “Hugh has been playing sevens. We had a Glasgow/Edinburgh versus the under-20s game a month ago and he played well in that.
“He is a player who can play six and seven. I think we have seen his skillset and want to have a good look at him. He has been working hard so he gets his opportunity.
“With Damien Hoyland we have also seen what he has done at sevens. Hughes impressed me in that under 20s game.
“These are players we want to have a look at. We don’t have a lot of depth in outside backs, so we want to have a look at these guys in an intensive situation to assess them as athletes and rugby players.”
Cotter said that he expects the final tournament squad of 31 will be an 18-13 split between forwards and backs and is still hopeful that some of the key injuries Scotland have suffered of late have good chances of being fit in time for the tournament.
The coach said: “I had a meeting yesterday with medical and Mark Bennett’s improving rapidly, that’s positive. Sean Maitland as well, with Matt Scott improving too.
“Alex Dunbar is going well but we know his injury will take a little more time so we’re hoping middle of August latest to have him on the paddock. Grant Gilchrist will be attacking full contact on the 15th [June], fully fit and on his final process. He’s still not there yet, but fingers crossed we’ll have everybody in the month of August.
“With Dunbar, I can’t be 100 per cent certain. I’m hopeful and confident, I know the medical staff are working with him and he’ll go to the States for two weeks for rehab.”
Asked if any of the injured players would still travel to the training camp in the Pyrenees the former Clermont Auvergne, coach Cotter joked: “To carry logs and things like that? Absolutely.” He then clarified: “No, there will be a group who stay back here for rehab. Guys like Sean Maitland, they’ll be back here working separately. They will join us progressively.
“That camp in France will be important for a lot of things. First of all, it’s a start, allowing us to define as a group where we want to go.
“It will be good because players are taken out of their comfort zone. We’ll look at how they react.
“We need to improve physically, that is one aspect. But team cohesion and having a laugh will be as big a part of it, as well.”