HEAD coach Vern Cotter described Ryan Wilson as “exceptional” yesterday after naming him in the Scotland team at the first opportunity following the end of the flanker’s international suspension.
Wilson, 26, was found guilty in January on two counts of assault and fined £750 by the court for the incidents which happened in a Glasgow takeaway restaurant last October. The Glasgow Warriors forward was subsequently suspended from his club without pay for three months, with an extended international ban until 23 August. He also underwent a programme which the SRU said would “support his personal development around the factors which contributed to the original conviction”.
Wilson was yesterday selected for tomorrow’s third World Cup warm-up Test against Italy at BT Murrayfield, lining up in a starting team which looks closer to a first choice XV than the previous two games – a 28-22 loss to Ireland in Dublin and a 16-12 win over the Italians in Turin.
Openside flanker John Barclay makes his first start for Scotland since November 2013 after returning from the international wilderness when he won his 44th cap off the bench in Dublin two weeks ago. Edinburgh No 8
David Denton completes the back-row, while it will be an all-capital front row of Al Dickinson, Ross Ford and WP Nel, the hooker becoming Scotland’s most-capped forward with his 88th appearance – one more than the record of 87 he currently shares with Scott Murray.
Grant Gilchrist, who missed out on the chance to captain in Turin last weekend through illness, partners Jonny Gray in the second-row. In the backs, Sean Lamont is named at right wing for the third straight game and is the only retention from the starting XV that won in Italy, with Tim Visser on the left flank. Skipper Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell resume their Six Nations half-back partnership, while the Glasgow trio of centres Peter Horne and fit-again Mark Bennett, and Lions full-back Stuart Hogg, complete the line-up.
Cotter revealed the team at the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews, where the squad have been based this week, and when asked how impressed he had been with the application Wilson has shown during training, the 53-year-old New Zealander replied: “He’s been… well I would almost put him in the outstanding category with what he’s bringing – his competitive nature and his skillset. I think he’s the fastest forward we have.”
Wilson returned for his club to play a part in the Guinness Pro12 win, delivering a stand-out display in the final, and Cotter agreed that was the level of performance he was expecting from the Aldershot-born loose forward.
“That [off-field troubles] was outside what we have been doing. It hasn’t even been mentioned,” said Cotter.
“We have been looking at his rugby and what he is bringing to the team with his character. It has been exceptional. We’ve just got on with the job and he has been very good.
“We want to look at him playing for us. He has been waiting for this opportunity.
“We have been impressed with what he’s done and he gets an opportunity. We need to see that transferred to the paddock. He is in a very competitive position and we need to see if we can get the right mix.”
Cotter revealed that injured centre Alex Dunbar was seeing a specialist in London yesterday and, as with all players, his medical report will be fully assessed on Monday before the final 31-man squad is picked, then announced the following day.
The coach said that Tommy Seymour, who tweaked his back before the Ireland game, and Sean Maitland, who is coming back from a long-term shoulder injury, were both close to featuring this weekend, but the medical staff felt they needed another week.
He also paid tribute to Lamont, who is busting a gut to make his third World Cup, and said: “Sean doesn’t ask for rests, we have to take him out and put him on the sidelines at training because he’s doing too much, but he’s in fine form.
“Sean has definitely put his hand up and I think he’s playing very well. He doesn’t look like he’s got a few years under his belt, he looks like a young, sprightly man.”
Cotter again insisted that lots of places in the squad remain up for grabs and lots of consideration lies ahead. “Second row and loose forwards are where there’s the most competition,” he said. “A lot of things can change, which is why I really need to see these players play this weekend before I can decide on the final 31.
“There have been some players who’ve had their first chance so there are still a lot of considerations of how we get the right people and the right mix. We’ve also got to take injuries into account.”
The announcing of the squad next week will bring the curtain down on a long three-month preparation phase and herald the start of the serious business. The Kiwi reflected: “It’s been a real adventure, starting up in the hills in France.
“Being here [at St Andrews] has been good – we’ve done a few things outside the game which has, I think, brought everyone closer together.
“Yesterday was a good day, the players managed to experience a bit of Scotland and its produce. We managed to cook up a meal last night.
“There were different parties – a fishing party, a lobster party, a foraging party. Then there was music and cooking and a meal cooked up from the land and sea.
“It was good to share those moments as well as sweating in the gym and pushing weights.”
Meanwhile, Italy legend Sergio Parisse will not be involved again this weekend after Azzurri coach Jacques Brunel named his team. The back-row forward missed the game in Turin after suffering flu symptons.
Prop Martin Castrogiovanni returns to the team and will draw level with Parisse and Marco Bortolami on a joint Italian record of 112 caps.
Leicester hooker Leonardo Ghilardini will captain the side.
Scotland team (to play Italy at BT Murrayfield on Saturday, kick-off 3.15pm)
15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors), 14 Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), 13 Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors), 12 Peter Horne (Glasgow Warriors), 11 Tim Visser (Harlequins), 10 Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors), 9 Greig Laidlaw CAPTAIN (Gloucester), 1 Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby), 2 Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby), 3 Willem Nel (Edinburgh Rugby), 4 Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby), 5 Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), 6 Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors), 7 John Barclay (Scarlets), 8 David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby)
Subs: 16 Stuart McInally (Edinburgh Rugby), 17 Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors), 18 Jon Welsh (Glasgow Warriors), 19 Robert Harley (Glasgow Warriors), 20 Blair Cowan (London Irish), 21 Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors), 22 Ruaridh Jackson (Wasps), 23 Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby)
Italy team: Luke Mclean (Treviso); Angelo Esposito (Treviso), Michele Campagnaro (Exeter), Luca Morisi (Treviso), Leonardo Sarto (Zebre); Tommaso Allan (Perpignan), Guglielmo Palazzani (Zebre); Matias Aguero (Svincolato), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Leicester), Martin Castrogiovanni (Racing ’92), Marco Fuser (Treviso), Joshua Furno (Newcastle), Alessandro Zanni (Treviso), Francesco Minto (Treviso), Samuela Vunisa (Saracens).
Subs: Andrea Manici (Zebre), Michele Rizzo (Leicester), Dario Chistolini (Zebre), Quintin Geldenhuys (Zebre), Mauro Bergamasco (Svincolato), Marcello Violi (Zebre), Carlo Canna (Zebre), Andrea Masi (Wasps)