Cotter’s conundrums in Scotland’s Canada Test

EVEN if he wanted to reward the same side which saw off the USA Eagles in Houston last weekend, Scotland head coach Vern Cotter would still have to make at least two changes to his starting XV given the absence, due to injury, of lock forward Jim Hamilton and centre Duncan Taylor.

Vern Cotter: Decisions, decisions. Picture: SNS/SRU
Vern Cotter: Decisions, decisions. Picture: SNS/SRU

As it is, he will be tempted to make a couple of other adjustments to face Canada in Toronto on Saturday when he names his team today.

Second-row options

Cotter could shuffle London Irish’s extra-large breakaway Kieran Low into the second row but it seems far more likely that he will start Grant Gilchirst alongside big Richie Gray in the Scotland boilerhouse. Gilchrist did a good job replacing Hamilton last weekend and, while Tim Swinson has arrived in Toronto to back them up, it makes sense to utilise the duo who finished the match in Texas. Swinson will still be needed for the second half of the tour.

Midfield options

Peter Horne has flown out to replace Taylor and either he or Max Evans could be drafted in to the 12 or 13 jersey respectively. Evans did the job last Saturday. However, the bold move would entail Cotter handing Mark Bennett his first cap and the versatility of Sean Lamont gives him the option. With Lamont at 12 Bennett could fill his favoured No 13 channel. The young Glasgow centre is more physical than Evans or Horne and the Canadians are not shy when it comes to contact. One final option is to play a “second five-eighth” with Ruaridh Jackson playing outside Finn Russell, but that looks the least likely permutation.

Back-row options

Kelly Brown missed the USA Test with an injured toe but he is expected to start against Canada. Cotter is less hung up about specialist sevens than some other coaches. He played Julien Bonnaire there often enough for Clermont and the former France flanker is no-one’s idea of a “fetcher”. If Brown does start at seven, then Alasdair Strokosch or Kieran Low are the alternatives for the blindside slot. If the Melrose man starts at six then Blair Cowan will probably get another run at seven.

Other options

Elsewhere, the team is likely to be much the same as the one that beat the US, although there is an argument that the reserve bench should be tweaked. Scott Lawson needs to start at hooker for his experience but the management already know what Pat MacArthur has to offer. This is a development tour as much as anything else and, with tougher tests ahead, Saturday may be the last opportunity to see what Kevin Bryce can do in the No 2 shirt. He could be brought on only if/after the match has been won.