SCOTLAND’S interim head coach Scott Johnson named his first 35-man training squad for the RBS Six Nations, more than half of which is new to international rugby.
New Zealander Sean Maitland heads a list of ten uncapped players called into the first squad named by Johnson since he took over from Andy Robinson last month. The squad features 19 players who have either made their international debut inside the past 11 months or are yet to play in a Test match. And, yet, Scotland’s resources are so limited that there are not many surprises.
One exception, however, is scrum-half Sean Kennedy. The Stirling-born 21-year-old is on loan to Glasgow from Edinburgh and has also played for Stirling County this season. His selection ahead of 30-year-old Rory Lawson is the one clear sign of a look towards the 2015 World Cup.
Johnson was already deprived of the injured Chris Cusiter, Rory Lamont, Nick de Luca, Joe Ansbro, Scott Lawson, Ross Rennie and John Barclay, although some of them may return in time for his final Six Nations squad. Mike Blair, Allan Jacobsen, Phil Godman, Dan Parks and Simon Danielli were also in the mix this time last year, but have now either retired or faded from the scene. So, while the return of No 8 Johnnie Beattie may not have happened had Robinson still been in charge, Johnson had few other areas in which to be radical if he wanted to be.
The Australian said: “It’s not a building period; sometimes you just need to say this is where we are and how we need to get there. We’ve had a look at the World Cup in 2015 and the board would like us to be competitive there. We’d be foolish not to be looking and making some decisions on players, giving them the experience to do that, but, at the same time not losing sight of the here and now.
“That’s an integral part of what we’re doing. We’re going into a massive competition here, but I’ve been down this path with Wales in the early 2000s when we were trying to compete everywhere and couldn’t and didn’t have some processes in place. Sometimes you’ve got to take a breath, sit down and say this is where we are and build.
“That doesn’t mean you’re not going to compete or that the expectations are lower. The expectation is that you want to compete. I’d compete over a game of marbles. We need to compete in this tournament and we need to have an eye to the future. We’ve got to look at our squad and say what our strengths and weaknesses are and understand where we have an advantage over others, and trust me we have in this squad. We’ve got some athletes that other nations would die to have. We’ve just got to make sure we get the best out of those athletes, so when I talk about competing everywhere I’m talking about competing at this tournament, but not losing sight of he future, making sure that when we got to a really big tournament we have the
mileage on the clock as well.”
He has been clear on his desire to pick players on form, however, with nine of the uncapped call-ups coming from Glasgow, who have been by some distance the better of Scotland’s two professional teams this season. The Warriors provide 19 of the squad, with Edinburgh having just three backs and four forwards involved. Nine of the 35 currently play outside Scotland. There is also no place for form Edinburgh back-rowers Stuart McInally or Roddy Grant, and Johnson has even shifted the squad training base from St Andrews to Glasgow.
Perpignan flanker Alasdair Strokosch asked to miss the training camp next week as his wife is due to give birth, but he is expected to join up following the baby’s arrival.
Backs: Peter Murchie*, Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland*, Tommy Seymour*, Sean Lamont (all Glasgow), Tim Visser (Edinburgh), Max Evans (Castres), Matt Scott (Edinburgh), Alex Dunbar* Peter Horne*, Duncan Weir, Ruaridh Jackson (all Glasgow), Tom Heathcote (Bath), Henry Pyrgos, Sean Kennedy* (both Glasgow) and Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh).
Forwards: Alasdair Dickinson (Sale), Ryan Grant, Dougie Hall, Pat MacArthur* (all Glasgow), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Worcester), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Moray Low, Alastair Kellock (both Glasgow), Richie Gray (Sale), Jim Hamilton (Gloucester), Grant Gilchrist* (Edinburgh), Kelly Brown (Saracens), Robert Harley, Ryan Wilson* (both Glasgow), Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier), David Denton (Edinburgh), Richie Vernon (Sale), Chris Fusaro* (Glasgow).