GREIG Tonks and Jonny Gray have been included in Scotland’s A squad for their clash with England Saxons on Friday, 31 January – effectively ruling the pair out of the senior team’s Six Nations opener against Ireland 48 hours later.
Three further players – Rob Harley, Dougie Fife and Kieran Low – named in Scott Johnson’s RBS Six Nations squad will be given the chance to put down a marker for the rest of the tournament when they take on the Saxons at Scotstoun, while Glasgow assistant Shade Munro has been named head coach for the game.
Munro has been entrusted with the task of taking the A squad after he guided them to a 13-9 win over the Saxons in Newcastle last year.
He said: “This is a game the players and supporters all look forward to as it’s a one-off match and it’s fantastic that we’re playing the game in Glasgow this year for the first time.
“I’m delighted to have been named head coach once again and, after last year’s victory down in England and our success at Netherdale two years ago, we’re looking to continue our good record against the Saxons.
“We’ll be coming together as a squad next week. I’m pleased with the mix of promising young talent and hard-nosed experience that we have in the squad and we’ll look forward to performing at Scotstoun.”
The squad comprises ten players who would be making their first appearance for Scotland A – forwards Olly Atkins, Fraser Brown, Kevin Bryce, Blair Cowan, Gray, Tyrone Holmes and Low, as well as backs Byron McGuigan, Mark Bennett and Grayson Hart.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is 48-times capped back-row forward Ally Hogg. The Newcastle man has not played for Scotland since the 2009 Six Nations but could be in for a long-awaited recall if he impresses at Scotstoun.
Meanwhile, Munro has been given the reins once again after leading Scotland A to their first win on English soil at that level, beating the Saxons 13-9 in Newcastle last February. He will be assisted by fellow Glasgow coach Kenny Murray and Edinburgh assistant coach Stevie Scott for the match, which kicks off at 7:30pm.
Murray, who made the step up from club rugby to professional rugby in July when he joined the Warriors from Ayr, has been given the opportunity to coach a national squad for the first time.
He said: “I’m honoured to have been asked to help coach Scotland A this year. I’ve really enjoyed the last six months at the Warriors and this is another big opportunity for me.
“It will feel very familiar working with Shade [Munro] and playing the game at Scotstoun and I’m looking forward to working alongside Stevie [Scott] for the first time.”
Scott said: “It will be good to be involved with Scotland A again and hopefully we can build on last year’s fantastic win down in England.”
In the England Saxons camp, meanwhile, Freddie Burns wishes he had handled the fuss over his impending Gloucester departure differently.
The England fly-half, who trained with England Saxons yesterday as they prepare for matches against Ireland and Scotland, is expected to join Leicester Tigers in the summer. Last week Gloucester confirmed Burns will leave Kingsholm at the end of the season, but the 23-year-old has not confirmed his destination and Leicester have made no comment.
Burns admitted before Christmas that he was wrestling with the decision on his future, on whether to re-sign with Gloucester or move elsewhere. That sparked a host of reports linking Burns with Leicester, which the Bath-born playmaker now regrets.
Admitting he would have handled things differently in hindsight, Burns said: “I’ve learned masses about myself over the last couple of months. It’s been probably the toughest time of my career in terms of not playing well.
“Obviously I had a decision to make, I do wish I’d handled it slightly differently, in terms of not saying anything and focusing on Gloucester. But I’ll live and learn, and move on, and I’m excited about being here and the opportunity I’ve got here, and finishing the season on a high with Gloucester.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself, I wish I’d handled it slightly differently, but it’s happened now and I’ll be a better person and a better player because of it.”
Gloucester wing Charlie Sharples is understood to have replaced injured Wasps flyer Tom Varndell in the Saxons squad, who has suffered a recurrence of his biceps problem. Scrum-half Dan Robson has also joined the squad as cover for half-backs Joe Simpson and Dave Lewis. Bath’s Fijian flyer Semesa Rokoduguni is also an injury doubt as the Saxons monitor his swollen knee.
Scotland A squad to play England Saxons:
Forwards – Olly Atkins (Edinburgh Rugby), Fraser Brown, Kevin Bryce (both Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan (London Irish), Jonny Gray, Robert Harley (both Glasgow Warriors), Allister Hogg (Newcastle Falcons), Tyrone Holmes, Ed Kalman (both Glasgow Warriors), Kieran Low (London Irish), Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors), Grant Shiells (Newcastle Falcons) and Jon Welsh (Glasgow Warriors).
Backs – Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors), Jack Cuthbert, Dougie Fife (both Edinburgh Rugby), Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors), Grayson Hart (Edinburgh Rugby), Tom Heathcote (Bath Rugby), Byron McGuigan, Henry Pyrgos (both Glasgow Warriors), Greig Tonks (Edinburgh Rugby) and Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors).
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE