1. It’s between Ross Thompson and Blair Kinghorn for the No10 jersey versus Tonga on 30th October
GT: Ross had a great [2020-21] season and both he and Blair were going to be involved in the summer covering 10 [before the three scheduled matches were cancelled due to a Covid outbreak in the Scotland squad].
We wanted to give Ross another opportunity. I think he’s started this season just as well as he finished the last one, but we see Blair as a 10. Particularly at the beginning of this campaign, he will be competing with Ross for that position, and when Finn and Adam come in Blair and Ross will be in the mix for 10.
We know that Blair can play other positions and has played very well at Test level on the wing and at full-back [but] he is very engaged in playing 10 and he takes a leadership role in attack and I think he has huge potential there.
We are in a really good position that we can leave two experienced 10s out – Duncan Weir and Jaco van der Walt, who has now picked up an injury. Both are playing well but we have brought in two players who we think can thrive in this environment and have much more to bring in their games in the future.
2. Tonga game can also be a big opportunity for Thompson’s Warriors club-mates Rufus McLean and Rory Darge
GT: Yes. 100 percent. And it has been great to see young guys grabbing their opportunity. These are players who were involved in the same under-20s team a couple of seasons ago.
Jamie Dobie, I suppose you can add to that as well. I think he’s been involved in four or five games in a row.
They’ve not only played well to keep in the Glasgow team, they’ve won man-of-the-matches on occasions, so it is great to see that form, and we hope and expect that to be transferred into the international environment if they get that opportunity.”
3. The depth of second-row resources is being tested
GT: Jonny Gray had a shoulder operation about a week after the Lions played Japan and he is coming to the final stages of his rehab. We don’t yet know when he will be available but we know the shoulder is in a much better state.
We still hope that Scott Cummings will be available for part of this Test series, so it just depends how quickly he can recover from the surgery on his hand.
Alex Craig unfortunately tore his hamstring and is out for the whole campaign, Glenn Young picked up a pec injury, Ben Toolis is out and Cameron Henderson, who was involved in the summer, has also picked up an injury.
We have a lot of depth in the second-row but we are really testing it now. It will be great to see the likes of Marshall [Sykes] and Jamie [Hodgson] grab this opportunity. They have been playing regularly, too. I love the work-rate and edge they bring. But it is good to have someone with the experience of Rob Harley there. He does a very good job at club level and can also do it at Test level.
4. Injuries are not confined to the second-row
GT: Other guys who are injured include Simon Berghan, who is likely to miss all the campaign with an Achilles injury. I don’t believe it requires surgery.
Cameron Redpath has had a shoulder and ACL operation but he is making really good progress and is targeting a return at the start of next year.
Duncan Taylor is out injured for the next few weeks. James Lang [groin] and Jaco [shoulder] got injured at the weekend. James came into our squad on Monday but got us can and will be ruled out for a few weeks.
5. Scrum-half selection was a tough call
GT: Scott Steele was excellent for us in the Six Nations. He had to play three different positions off the bench and put his heart and soul into those performances, and also started against Italy which was one of our best attacking games. His work-rate in that game was outstanding. So, to not include someone who has played really well [for Scotland], has done nothing wrong, and when he’s come off the bench for Harlequins he’s played really, that was tough.
Ben Vellacott has come up to Edinburgh and been in outstanding form. Charlie Shiel at the weekend, I thought played really well, too, in challenging conditions. So, it’s great that those guys are playing well and they may be called upon for injury in the later stages [of the series].
But we’re also really pleased with the three nines we’ve got in our squad. Ali started for the Lions in two Tests, George Horne missed a lot of last season but has been part of our squad since the World Cup and is a special player, and Jamie Dobie we really believe in, not just in what he can do in the future but in what he is doing now, he’s a very calm presence that’s got massive strengths in his attacking game and in the defensive side of his game. He’s getting better and better with the game-time he’s been getting for Glasgow.
6. Pierre Schoeman has upped his game
GT: I think this year he has been in great form. I think we’ve seen a different side to him in terms of where he is physically. He’s lost weight, he’s been sharper and more dynamic, he’s playing well for long periods. Maybe that was something which wasn’t so good last season when he had to play 70 or 80 minutes and there was a fatigue element that would set in, but now we see the same effort at the end of the game as he puts in at the beginning.
He’s having to play a different style of rugby which is more closely aligned to the way we want to play, and he’s shown up really well in that.
7. Murray McCallum and Oli Kebble have the chance to establish themselves as Zander Fagerson’s main challenger at tight-head
GT: Oli played at tight-head [for Glasgow] last week and did a really good job in his first game of the season, and we know he’s played a lot of rugby at loose-head.
Given that this is an opportunity to look at other players – there is obviously no WP Nel in the squad – whether it is Oli or Murray McCallum, they’ve got a chance to show that they can be the future, and the present.
WP [Nel] is still playing really well. I thought he had a really good game at the weekend, made a difference in the scrums, but we want to look throughout this four weeks at players who can replace WP when it comes to Six Nations time.
8. There is plenty of competition at outside-centre, even with Chris Harris unavailable for Tonga
GT: Mark [Bennett] has been really sharp. He’s always had fantastic attacking ability whether that is one-on-one or with his support play. He scores lots of tries so getting the ball in his hands more is something we’ve enjoyed seeing, and defensively he’s doing much better too. It looks like he’s loving his rugby so that’s brilliant to bring him back in after he’s not played much rugby for Scotland over the last two or three years.
I know a fair but about Sione [Tuipulotu] having watched him play in Japan and for the Rebels over the last few years. We always believed he could adjust to playing northern hemisphere. He’s a very good rugby player and he’s shown that in his training sessions with Glasgow and with his consistent performances.
We have a lot of centres pushing for selection and for someone like Rory Hutchison, who played really well in his last game for Northampton, to miss out shows the quality of player we have there.
Matt Scott is rewarded for the form he is showing now and at the end of last season, so it is a very competitive position.
9. Dylan Richardson has been on the radar for a while
GT: We’ve known about Dylan since he was 18. His dad had got in contact, or we had got in contact with his dad, a number of years ago and we’ve been aware he’s Scottish qualified since then. He played really well for South Africa at the U20 World Championships two years ago. He was a hooker who was playing in the back-row then but he has decided to go for the back-row as his No 1 position.
We saw how well he played for the Sharks in their various competitions and also against the Lions. He played twice in a week against the Lions and we were really impressed by him. There were conversations around ‘would you commit to Scotland?’ He’s got the heritage link and over the last few weeks he’s made that commitment.
Like other players, whether it’s Cam Redpath who made the commitment before the Six Nations, or Dylan now, we’re delighted they’ve chosen Scotland. He came up last week for two days’ training and fitted in really well so we’ll see how he goes over the next week when we bring more players into the squad.
10. Stuart Hogg is taking good care of himself after a roller-coaster couple of years as Scotland captain, Lions tourist and playing for Exeter Chiefs
GT: It [burn-out] could be a concern, but having spoken to Stuart I know he’s on top of that. He’s put a lot of things in place to prioritise his well-being. He asked his club for another two weeks of time at home which they agreed to. He trained on his own, and it was of a massive benefit to him and his family.
Stuart is certainly a player driving that and making sure that when these challenges come on that are relevant to what’s happened these last 12 months, he’s got mechanisms in place to make sure it doesn’t affect him. We are aware that players are going to have challenges and we’re asking them to go again after such a big season.