Both players have announced their intention to retire from the game after the tournament in France in the autumn and they were yesterday named in Gregor Townsend’s 41-man training squad which will gather on May 29 to begin preparations. The Scotland coach, who has put pen to paper on a three-year contract extension, must whittle his selection down to 33 names for the World Cup which begins in Paris on September 8. Hogg’s inclusion is no surprise and the decorated 30-year-old full-back will look to play in the third World Cup of his stellar career before hanging up his boots. The decision to pick McInally is more contentious and Townsend admitted that choosing four hookers from the six main contenders was tough. McInally, 32, is joined by his Edinburgh team-mate Dave Cherry, Glasgow Warriors’ George Turner and Sale’s Edinburgh-bound hooker Ewan Ashman. The two unlucky players to miss out are Glasgow pair Fraser Brown and Johnny Matthews.
“We have had a lot of discussions round certain positions and hooker was the position we had the most discussions round,” said Townsend. “There was a two-hour meeting on hookers last week and we had some sort of clarity with our thinking and wanted to see how Glasgow got on at the weekend and we had another debate on Monday.”
Glasgow lost at home to Munster on Saturday in the quarter-finals of the United Rugby Championship in a match in which Matthews started and Brown came off the bench. But the Warriors’ campaign has eclipsed Edinburgh’s. They finished fourth in the URC regular season, eight places higher than their capital rivals, and have also reached the final of the European Challenge Cup. Despite this, Townsend has opted for McInally who has announced his intention to become a commercial pilot when he retires from rugby in the autumn. The 48-times capped Edinburgh hooker missed a chunk of the season after sustaining a concussion against Castres in December but Townsend was impressed with his form on his return.
“We feel Stuart has come from his last injury looking really sharp,” said the coach. “For us he is the man in form and really motivated to go to this World Cup and play his best rugby. I felt he was playing really well before the Six Nations and the timing of his injury meant he missed the Six Nations. It could have easily been Fraser [who was selected]. He stepped up really well for us in November against New Zealand. Very experienced, very tough and it could have been Johnny Matthews too who has been in great form. To have six hookers in the discussion it was difficult to leave out two of them and in particular Fraser out who has over 60 caps and played for us earlier this year.”
Brown, a veteran of the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, played in four of Scotland’s five Six Nations matches. Matthews, meanwhile, is Glasgow’s top try-scorer this season with 13 in 18 matches.
Hogg’s selection was more straightforward. The full-back has decided his body has suffered enough punishment after more than a decade at the top of the game and he will call time after the tournament in France where Scotland will face South Africa, Tonga, Romania and Ireland in Pool B. Townsend admitted he had hoped Hogg could be persuaded to have a rethink on his retirement decision. “He told us before the Six Nations and it was a surprise then and I was secretly hoping he would change his mind but he has been adamant this will be his last season because of the pain he has felt with his knees and other areas of his body and how tough it is to get up for games,” said Townsend. “It has freed him up as well. I have read a couple of interviews with him when he said telling Exeter and us, and his family, means he can target the next few months, so he can be in his best form for the World Cup.
“It’s similar to Stuart McInally as they know the World Cup will be the end point of their careers. They have to train really well, compete hard to get in the World Cup squad then work hard to get into the starting XV. That will be a special final memory they will get in rugby. I wish them both good luck too. For Stuart, we know what a great rugby player he is and he brings his experience on top of that. We know he has to keep with the rehab and keep on top of things off the field. Stuart McInally is in his best physical shape. Missing the Six Nations could be good for him.”
Townsend’s training squad is bolstered by the return of Adam Hastings, Darcy Graham and Rory Darge who all missed the Six Nations through injury. Stafford McDowall, the Glasgow Warriors centre, and Cameron Henderson, the Leicester Tigers lock forward, are the only two uncapped players selected. Other notable absentees include the centres Mark Bennett and Sam Johnson, Josh Bayliss, the Bath back row, and wingers Ruaridh McConnochie and Sean Maitland. Jonny Gray is also missing after suffering a serious knee injury while playing for Exeter Chiefs. John Cooney, the Irish international who is now Scottish-qualified, is not included, with the four scrum-half berths going to Ben White, Ali Price, George Horne and Jamie Dobie.
The Scots will play four warm-up matches before the World Cup, beginning with a match at Murrayfield against Italy on July 29, followed by another home Test, against France, on August 5. They will then take on the French in Saint-Etienne on August 12 before completing their preparations back in Edinburgh against Georgia on August 26.