SCOTLAND coach Ian McGeechan has challenged his new crop of uncapped players to force their way into his World Cup reckoning on next month’s North America tour.
Continuing a trend towards casting the net wide, McGeechan named 12 uncapped players in his squad of 32 for the tour, and the match against the Barbarians at Murrayfield on 1 June - two more than appeared in his last tour, to New Zealand in 2000.
The coach was quick to play down suggestions, however, that he was taking radical action to find fresh blood after the disappointing Six Nations Championship.
He said: "We took a lot of young players to New Zealand. You just look at who is there and knocking on the door, and at the moment we have, potentially, some good players. But, 18 months out from a World Cup, I want to look at how we draw that potential through.
"If they weren’t talented players they wouldn’t be on that list. There has been a lot of hard work going in and tremendous attitudes shown by the young players coming through, and that’s really what the list reflects.
"I’ve always worked to the philosophy that if we think they’re good enough, they’re old enough."
While the likes of Rory Kerr, Mike Blair, Allan Jacobsen, Chris Paterson, Donnie Macfadyen, Craig Smith and Simon Taylor are still very much in the "young" category, it is the fresh trio of 18-year-old centre Tom Philip, new Edinburgh flanker Allister Hogg, 19, and wing Nikki Walker, 20, to which the coach was referring, which will surely send a great ray of hope to age-group internationalists.
Hogg, who, after captaining Scotland Under-19s to a remarkable fifth place in the FIRA World Junior Championships, then leapt straight into the Scotland Under-21 side, admitted yesterday it had been a whirlwind time for him.
He said: "A year ago I was playing under 18s, just trying to get into the Stirling first team, and a year later I’ve played for the under-19s, under-21s, got a pro contract with Edinburgh and now I’m going on tour with Scotland. It really is a dream come true."
The selection of new faces Ben Hinshelwood and Andy Craig, meanwhile, to the exclusion of Alan Bulloch and Scotland A centre Kevin Utterson, clearly shows a willingness to uncover something new which can help revitalise Scotland’s back division.
McGeechan added: "You’ve got to remember that it is a hell of a challenge going across there and performing in that environment, and those test matches, so it’s potentially a great challenge and a great opportunity."
While somewhat risky, the decision to take just two scrum-halves for the six-match tour, in Graeme Beveridge and Blair, is another indicator of McGeechan’s keenness to use the tour to maximum effect.
As expected, a host of leading players will stay at home to rest, namely Gregor Townsend, Bryan Redpath, Scott Murray, Tom Smith, George Graham and James McLaren, while the unavailability of injured prop Gavin Kerr has meant a first call-up for Edinburgh’s versatile Joel Brannigan.
The squad will meet up on 28 May, four days before the Barbarians match, and fly out to Canada on 2 June.
McGeechan said that should Northampton reach the final of the English Premiership play-offs, captain Budge Pountney and tighthead Mattie Stewart will be flown out the following week. The same will apply to Stuart Grimes of Newcastle and Iain Fullarton of Sale.
Meanwhile, hooker Gordon Bulloch yesterday pledged his future to Glasgow by signing a new three-year contract.
TOUR ITINERARY (All times BST)
5 June: v Canada East (Kingston, Ontario, 11.30pm). 8 June: v Rugby Canada (Markham, 7.30pm). 12 June: v Canada West (Victoria, 2.30am). 15 June: v Canada (Vancouver, midnight). 18 June: v USA A (time tbc). 22 June: v USA (San Francisco, 9pm).