Fourteen Glasgow players have been included in the Scotland squad for the Tests in Argentina next month, though it should be noted that three of them – Scott Cummings, Rory Darge and Matt Fagerson– were missing – recovering from injuries last week. Their absence hardly accounts for the scale of the disaster in Dublin.
Coaches, like football managers, are held responsible when things go horribly wrong, and so Danny Wilson has been discarded. One has sympathy for him. He took over a squad that was already showing signs of decline, and then came Covid. Nevertheless, results and performances in the first part of this season were good the team playing a game that was both successful and entertaining. The back row of Darge, Matt Fagerson and Jack Dempsey was especially impressive and there was lively play from the back division. But from the New Year things began to go wrong, and then got worse. Something is clearly very far from right in the club, and whoever takes over from Wilson has a tough job.
So of course do Scotland in Argentina. The decision to rest Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell is understandable – Finn’s domestic season may finish this weekend but only if they lose to Bordeaux-Begles tomorrow. In any case with an awful lot of rugby to be played up to and including the World Cup in France in October next year, both may benefit from a longer break this summer.
On the other hand both performance and results in Argentina are important. The Six Nations ended badly, also in Dublin, and there was a mediocre performance in Cardiff. At most the Scotland team was marking time, rather than improving – or, at least, any improvement was being matched or more than matched by others, notably France and Ireland. World rankings don’t necessarily account for much, but it’s better to hold your ranking position rather than see it drop. Over the last few years there have been few international tries other than from short-range mauls or forward’s playing pick-and-drive that haven’t owed something to either Hogg or Russell, quite often to both. Moreover, the quality of their kicking from hand has regularly put us in good positions. So it’s a bold decision to face a team of Argentina’s quality without them.
Equally surprising is the decision also to rest Chris Harris, who has not only been the organiser of the mid-field defence for two years now, but has also offered a lot more in attack than some of his critics recognise. In his absence Mark Bennett, just named Edinburgh’s Player of the Year, has a long-awaited chance to shine at outside centre. Huw Jones may challenge him, but may perhaps be preferred to Glasgow’s Ollie Smith at 15, the position in which he has recently played for Harlequins. I am assuming that Blair Kinghorn is now being regarded as a fly-half, though one still of course available to play at 15. Of course, either Adam Hastings or Ross Thompson may get the nod at fly-half, though I would guess that young Thompson is most likely to ne picked in that position for the “A” international. against Chile.
In Hogg’s absence, the captaincy goes to Grant Gilchrist, even though some might prefer Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings, fresh after a long injury absence at lock, even though Gilchrist is to be considered the man in possession.
Our recent record against Argentina is good. We have lost only one of the last eight matches – that was in he 2011 World Cup – and only by a single point. We won twice in Argentina in 2010, with Al Kellock as captain, and again by a big margin 44-15 four years ago. But that, I think, was against an Argentina team without some of their France-based players.