McGeechan brings in young hopefuls
The squad of 32 meets at Murrayfield on Monday for a training session and, with Scotland’s next international not until early February, the inclusion of Utterson and Irving does not mean that either is yet on the brink of a full cap. It does, however, continue a policy which has seen players such as Simon Taylor move quickly through the ranks to claim a place in the national side.
"I'm pleased to include Barry and Kevin in the squad for the first time," said Ian McGeechan, the Scotland coach. "This follows the pattern we've established of looking to broaden the experience of our younger players, and I'm sure Barry and Kevin will gain as much from working with the national squad as the likes of Simon, Donnie Macfadyen and Ian McInroy did last season."
Utterson, the 24-year-old former Kelso player, has stood out for his consistency in an inconsistent team this season. The latest demonstration of his fine form came last Sunday, when he and Marcus di Rollo easily outplayed their more illustrious Cardiff counterparts to help the Reivers to a 29-11 win.
Irving, a London Scottish player before he moved to Glasgow Caley this season, only turns 21 on Hogmanay. He has continued to alternate between stand-off and full-back according to the Reds’ needs, and his utility value has seen him start on the bench more often than he might like.
Two back-row players, Roland Reid and Andrew Mower, and the Reivers prop Allan Jacobsen are the other uncapped players selected.
Reid, like his Reds team-mate Irving, has yet to find his ideal position, and his coach Richie Dixon has experimented with moving him to the wing. Mower, the Australian-born Newcastle flanker, committed himself to the Scottish cause earlier this season after England also showed interest in him.
In common with Reid, Jacobsen toured New Zealand with Scotland in the summer, and it can now only be a matter of time before he is capped. What appears less certain is on which side of the front row he will play. A specialist loose-head prop - at least at present - Jacobsen is currently the understudy to Tom Smith in that position. Given the continued uncertainty about the tight-head berth, however, it may not be long before either Smith or Jacobsen is persuaded to swap the No1 jersey for a No3.
There are three other props in this squad: Newcastle’s George Graham, another loose-head who has been pressed into service at tight-head; Gordon McIlwham of the Reds, another who can play on either side; and Mattie Stewart, the Northampton tight-head, who returns at the expense of his Reivers namesake Barry.
Matthew Proudfoot was supposedly the tight-head solution. After being capped on the 1998 tour to Fiji and Australia, he sustained a long-term injury while playing for the Reivers, and has never been the same since.
While the heavyweights slug it out for the front-row positions, there is also set to be a real battle at scrum-half between Bryan Redpath of Sale and the two Reds players, Andy Nicol and Graeme Beveridge.
Redpath has started Scotland’s last three internationals. Nicol could regard himself as the natural choice, having captained Scotland in the Six Nations Championship and on the New Zealand tour. And Beveridge is heir apparent, an in-form player who will fight very hard to become first choice with both the Reds and Scotland.
James Craig, whose only cap to date is now more than three years distant, is back in favour, and would be a certainty to make regular appearances on the wing if the rest of his game was anything like as impressive as his sheer speed.
There is no doubt Scotland lack exceptional pace out wide at present, and Craig is one player who could remedy that situation, provided his defensive work is sound enough to persuade the coaches he will not be a net liability.
Five players have been ruled out because of injury: Gordon Simpson and Glenn Metcalfe of Glasgow Caley, and Simon Taylor, Nathan Hines and Martin Leslie of the Edinburgh Reivers.
Scotland squad (for training at Murrayfield on Monday, 18 December): Backs: Graeme Beveridge, Alan Bulloch, James Craig (all Glasgow Caledonians), Duncan Hodge (Edinburgh Reivers), Barry Irving (Glasgow Caledonians), John Leslie (Northampton Saints), Kenny Logan (London Wasps), Cameron Murray (Edinburgh Reivers), Andy Nicol (Glasgow Caledonians), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh Reivers), Bryan Redpath (Sale Sharks), Graham Shiel (Edinburgh Reivers), Jon Steel (Glasgow Caledonians), Gregor Townsend (Castres), Kevin Utterson (Edinburgh Reivers).
Forwards: Ross Beattie (Newcastle Falcons), Steve Brotherstone (Northampton Saints), Gordon Bulloch (Glasgow Caledonians), Iain Fullarton (Edinburgh Reivers), George Graham, Stuart Grimes (both Newcastle Falcons), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh Reivers), Gordon McIlwham (Glasgow Caledonians), Richard Metcalfe (Edinburgh Reivers), Andrew Mower (Newcastle Falcons), Scott Murray (Saracens), Jon Petrie (Glasgow Caledonians), Budge Pountney (Northampton Saints), Roland Reid (Glasgow Caledonians), Tom Smith (Brive), Mattie Stewart (Northampton Saints), Jason White (Glasgow Caledonians).
The SRU’s Disciplinary Panel has suspended two Ardrossan Accies players: Mark Henry for 26 weeks for stamping in a match against Madras College FP, and Crawford Allison for ten weeks for punching against Edinburgh University. Ardrossan are considering appeals against the bans.
Aberdeen University's Robin Watt received 16 weeks for stamping and verbal abuse against St Andrews University, and North Berwick's James Thomson ten weeks following dangerous play against Dunbar.