Rugby World Cup squads should be increased from 31, says Scotland hooker Fraser Brown

Fraser Brown had a stint off the bench in his old openside flanker position against Ireland and may need to perform a similar role against Russia. Picture: Getty Images
Fraser Brown had a stint off the bench in his old openside flanker position against Ireland and may need to perform a similar role against Russia. Picture: Getty Images
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Scotland hooker Fraser Brown believes Rugby World Cup squads should be increased from the current 31 due to the ever increasing physical demands of the modern game.

With a four-day turnaround looming following next Wednesday’s third Pool A clash against Russia in Shizuoka leading into what is hoped will be a huge showdown with hosts Japan, the Scotland coaches have a lot of planning ahead in how to make the best use of their squad for those back-to-back games.

Most of the star men will be wrapped in cotton wool for the Russian clash but with such a tight squad and pressure points in certain positions, notably back row, there is inevitably going to have to be some doubling up required.

“No I don’t think it is but it’s what we’ve got to work with at the minute,” said Brown, when asked if 31 was a big enough squad in this day and age.

Glasgow hooker Brown may have to revisit once again his old position of openside flanker as Gregor Townsend and his coaching staff look to juggle having a side capable of getting the necessary big bonus-point win over Russia while keeping frontline players fresh for Japan.

Given their stellar performance against Samoa on Monday you would imagine that the back-row trio of Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie and Blade Thomson have been firmly pencilled in for Yokohama. That leaves John Barclay and Ryan Wilson to come in.

Brown made his Scotland debut as a hooker in 2013 after converting from back-row but in a fair few of his 44 caps he has either come off the bench as a flanker, switched back a couple of rows mid-game or, one one occasion against Argentina in Resistencia last summer, even starting a Test in his old No 7 jersey.

“I just get told every week that I have to know the role at two and seven, because you never really know what is going to happen in rugby,” said Brown. “It’s one of those things that might happen, might not happen, and it might happen halfway through a game – so, the way rugby is now you just have to prepare for every eventuality.”

Brown joins the likes of fellow hooker Rory Best for squads to be increased, with the Ireland skipper suggesting recently they should be put up to 35.

“Don’t get me wrong, World Cups are meant to be challenging,” said Brown. “It’s not meant to be easy. The reason you’re selected to go to the World Cup is because you’re a good player but it’s meant to be a challenge to be able to perform and win. But 31-man squads leave you open to disadvantages because you’ve got to pick… well most teams go with five props, three scrum halves, three hookers. I know some teams have gone with two scrum halves [like England this year] and four years ago someone went with two hookers.

“You’ve got to take gambles and hope that luck’s going to be on your side.

“It does put a lot of strain on players, particularly now when we’re talking about player welfare and HIAs being a massive focus for the past two or three years. You only have to look at other aspects of the game, predominantly the ruck to see the risk that players are at now. So 31 is probably too few but it’s the parameters that we’ve got to work with here.”

World Cup squads were increased from 30 to 31 in 2011, although back in the past they were much less. Scotland took 25 to the inaugural tournament in New Zealand and Australia in 1987 and the same to South Africa in 1995 while, remarkably, had a pool of just 22 in 1991 when they reached the semi-finals, though all of their games were at Murrayfield except the third-place play-off in Cardiff.

In major football tournaments the “two teams plus an extra” to make a 23 has been standard for a while but Brown said: “You just have to look at the progression of rugby over the last couple of years, the physical demands of it. It asks a lot.”

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