This Scotland XV could be spine of team for next decade - just like we were 11 years ago

Youthful backline and intriguing selections at hooker for summer tour opener against Canada

Scotland have picked an experimental team to play Canada, and I think that’s what most of us expected. I’m sure they won’t say this publicly

but I think the Scotland management sees Canada and the US as the two weaker teams on the tour. I think they believe they will get more of a challenge from the two South American teams, Chile and Uruguay, and you can understand that.

It was only nine months ago that Chile and Uruguay were at the World Cup. They beat the North American teams to qualify and they both played well at the tournament, particularly Uruguay who were excellent against France and defeated Namibia.

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So you can understand where Scotland are coming from in picking five uncapped players in the starting team and another five on the bench. Glasgow Warriors’ participation in the URC final has also been a factor. None of the guys who started against the Bulls in South Africa a fortnight ago will have trained with Scotland in the week after the final and even the boys who were on the bench will have been carefully managed given their workload and travel schedule.

There are certainly some interesting selections for Saturday's game in Ottawa and among the starters are the young Glasgow Warriors forwards Max Williamson and Gregor Brown who have both really impressed me this season.

Max struggled last season with injuries but went down to England and had a good loan spell with Doncaster Knights in the Championship and came back a different player.

It's hard to explain, it’s not like he had grown any taller or gotten any heavier but it seemed like he had ‘grown up’. He had a real presence on the field and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how he’s gone about his business this season. His workrate on the pitch is excellent and that’s because of how hard he grafts in training. A lot of it has been around the lineout and I know that Richie Gray and Scott Cummings have done a lot with both Max and Alex Samuel to help them improve.

Max has really taken his chances this season. He’s a big, physical guy and he reminds me a lot of Jonny Gray when he was coming through at Glasgow. They are different players but have a similar stature. I’m really pleased for Max because he’s a smashing player and deserves this chance. He was really unlucky to miss out on the URC final, falling ill on the eve of the game, and that leads us on to Gregor who stepped up to take Max’s place on the bench against the Bulls.

Max Williamson returned to Glasgow Warriors after a successful loan spell in England. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)Max Williamson returned to Glasgow Warriors after a successful loan spell in England. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Max Williamson returned to Glasgow Warriors after a successful loan spell in England. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

He came on for Richie in the second half at Loftus Versfeld and looked like he was meant to be there. He did really, really well in the last 20 minutes, playing an important role in some of those defensive stops as the Bulls piled on the pressure with those late lineout drives. Gregor knew exactly what he needed to do, and a lot of credit has to go to Franco Smith and the rest of the coaching staff because they instilled in the players the necessary skills and mentality to cope.

I think we’re still trying to figure out Gregor’s best position. Is he a six, is he a second row, is he a four/six hybrid in the mould of Tim Swinson? He’s a big guy, not the tallest but strong and powerful. He’s had a horrendous time with injuries this season and I know it’s been hard for him because I’ve spent a lot of time with him in the Glasgow injured group so I’m really pleased to see him come through. I’m not sure he fully appreciates yet what a good rugby player he is and I hope what happened with Glasgow and this Scotland tour will help his self-belief.

The selections at hooker are interesting. Dylan Richardson starts and it’s a position he played at age-grade level before moving to the back row with the Sharks. He’s transitioned back to hooker this season but I’m not sure how much game-time he’s had there. He’s a very good rugby player in the tradition of Scottish hookers who are good around the park with a range of skills that go beyond throwing in and scrummaging. He’s strong on the ball and defensively which is what Scotland look for.

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It will be interesting to see how he copes with the nuts and bolts of the role. I would imagine his scrummaging will be very good given that he’s grown up alongside Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nché and the rest of the Sharks front-rowers. He’s got some pretty decent mentors there!

Throwing in will be a big one. Scotland’s lineout has gone well but there have been times when it has fallen away under pressure. That’s not just down to the hooker but he’s the one who’s at the coalface and Dylan is going to have to cope with that and I know he’s been working with Simon Hardy who has been Scotland’s throwing coach for the last four or five years.

Robbie Smith is the hooker on the bench. He’s at Northampton Saints now but I remember Robbie when he was at Glasgow and he didn’t have many opportunities. He was clearly a good player but you need games and he went down south to learn his trade, firstly with Bedford in the Championship and then Newcastle and Northampton. If you are going to be a front-rower, the basics of your game have to be right and the English Championship is a good place to hone that. So Robbie has served his apprenticeship and this is a great opportunity for him to stake his claim in a position in which we lack depth, particularly with George Turner leaving for Japan.

I like the look of the backline. It’s pretty youthful but you’ve got Stafford McDowall in there as co-captain and he’s been pretty much Glasgow’s best player this season. His partner at centre is another debutant, Matt Currie. It's a position in which Scotland are well served, with Sione Tuipulotu, Huw Jones and Stafford all stand-outs but I’d put Matt in that company. He's a seasoned Scottish centre and some of his performances for Edinburgh this season have been excellent.

I know Edinburgh had injury problems in the back three but I was mystified as to why he was shoved out to the wing. For me, Matt has been their most consistently potent attacker but when he was on the wing, Edinburgh couldn’t get the ball out to the back three.

I’m really pleased to see Harry Paterson in the team, too. He made his debut in the Six Nations and was excellent and he’s had injuries since so this is also a good opportunity to give him some game-time at 15.

Having Jamie Dobie on the wing is a shrewd move. As I’ve said before in this column, Jamie’s the best player at Glasgow under the high ball. We also saw in the URC final that when he’s on the wing and there’s a ruck near him, rather than have George Horne coming 50 metres across the pitch, Jamie can step in and play nine and create really quick ball. It’s something Glasgow have utilised well this season.

It’s a young backline and there will be mistakes but I’m excited to see what they can do. I remember my Scotland debut in a quadrangular tournament in South Africa in 2013 and I think there were 10 new caps across the three games and people were claiming they were handing out caps too easily. But the players on that tour ended up being the spine of the Scotland team for most of the next decade and I think they will be hoping for something similar here.

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Summer tours are the time to blood new talent and give players an opportunity to impress before next season. For the players getting their first caps it is a huge honour and privilege and all that matters is the work that’s taken to get there and the opportunity now presented to them.

Fraser Brown is a former Glasgow Warriors and Scotland international hooker who retired from professional rugby at the end of 2023-24 season

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