The last time Scotland played the Cherry Blossoms in Japan they lost (an uncapped game) so Vern Cotter was never going to risk sending a sub-standard side to the same place this summer.
The 27-man squad to make the two-Test tour is based almost exclusively on the Six Nations squad which earned two victories. Further names could still be added.
There are three “new” faces but two of them are well-kent all the same. Scrum-half Henry Pyrgos and hooker Fraser Brown, both of Glasgow, were both injured for much of the championship leaving Edinburgh winger Damien Hoyland as the only real “newbie” in the national set up and even he already has one cap to his credit.
“We wanted continuity from the Six Nations,” Cotter said by way of explanation. “We weren’t happy with the last game we played against Ireland. We didn’t play well so this gives us an opportunity to assess that and get over to Japan.
“We know it is going to be tough. Getting off the plane and only having five days to prepare is a challenge. We will have to adapt. It is a different form of challenge for this group and it is important to help us get shared experience.
“The more time we spend together focused on getting what we want – positive results, scoring more points than the opposition, getting the wins – this is another opportunity to come together and do this.”
Both Stuart Hogg and Mark Bennett’s names had been linked to the GB Sevens Olympic squad destined for Rio but Hogg, perhaps with one eye of next year’s Lions’ tour to New Zealand, has opted to concentrate his considerable talents on the 15-man game.
Bennett lost his place in the Scotland starting XV during the Six Nations and his absence from this squad only confirmed those rumours about his hopes of being on the plane to Rio.
“I have spoken to Mark,” Cotter replied when asked. “It is an opportunity that has been presented to him and he would like to consider it. We respect that and we will wait and see what happens… For the moment Stuart is with us.”
Both players are said to have made their own individual choices in the matter, which can’t be said for Sean Lamont. The veteran winger is one of the most popular characters around and, at 35, still puppy-dog keen to add to his 104 caps, but the coach confirmed that his international days may, after 12 years at the top, be behind him.
“I spoke to him last night,” confirmed Cotter. “It is a conversation you don’t like having with players because he would like to be involved. He stayed available.
“Glasgow have a bit of rugby to play so he could be on the plane going there, as could other players. That is the initial 27 and things could change. He is
fully professional so we know we can count on him getting on the plane with us.”
The other casualties omitted from this squad are Duncan Weir and Matt Scott who, just a couple of years back, was undroppable. The centre has a fighting chance of touring this summer if only because no one knows the full extent of Alex Dunbar’s knee injury, inflicted during Glasgow’s defeat at the weekend, until the results of an upcoming scan are revealed.
Dunbar is listed, alongside Peter Horne and Duncan Taylor, but all are involved in the post-season matches and Scott would be well advised to steer clear of the beach and the beers for now.
Ruaridh Jackson, who recently announced his move from Wasps to Harlequins in search of meaningful game time, was preferred to Weir which was something of a surprise as was the inclusion of John Hardie.
The Kiwi merits a place on the plane but after back-to-back seasons which included a Super Rugby title with the Highlanders and then a Rugby World Cup with Scotland.
He was rested by Edinburgh at the weekend and many expected Scotland to follow suit.
“It was taken into consideration and it was a worry for us,” Cotter admitted. “The fact that Edinburgh have finished their season gives those players an opportunity to do some rehab and have a breather, do some recovery. They’ve got two weeks off before they come back into any form of training. They’ve been given weeks off and some of them may not start the Pro12 season next year. We’ll be looking at the amount of time they’ve spent on the paddock, consecutive games, number of minutes, number of contacts and a whole load of things will go into evaluation.
“Glasgow, hopefully they’ll go right through and they can get on the plane with a positive result, and that dynamic will then push them through to helping the team.”
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