THE initial training squad for the Scottish Club XV will be announced tomorrow [Tuesday] ahead of playing two games during the Six Nations window, away to English Counties and at home to a team yet to be confirmed (with an Italian select mooted to be on the cards).
Phil Smith of Heriot’s will again coach the side, assisted by Glen Tippett of Ayr and Jamie Parker, also of Heriot’s.
Players fully contracted to a professional team are not eligible, although those on partnership contracts and in the BT Sport Academy are in the mix. They must be Scottish qualified, have not played three or more years as a full-time professional in the past, and cannot be a full or A level internationalist. Anyone involved in the national under-20s set-up won’t be considered.
Just to prove that those who sit in front of laptops pontificating about the game don’t know what they are talking about, here is The Offside Line’s stab at what the team might look like –
15. Fraser Thomson (Melrose): Value to the league leaders was evident when they faltered slightly during the month he was out with a hamstring strain. He has been around for so long that it is tempting to categorise him as a veteran, but he is still only 27 and that deadly eye for a counter attacking opportunity, plus the pace and ball playing ability to exploit it, is as keen as ever.
14. Jordan Edmunds (Boroughmuir): His scoring stats this year might not match some of his rivals for this jersey but that is perhaps because opposition coaches put so much thought and effort into neutralising his threat. Boroughmuir are struggling, as their league position testifies, but what is the point of a team like this if you don’t give a player with a bit of X-factor the chance to shine?
13. Robert Beattie (Glasgow Hawks): Has the pace and balance to glide past players as if they are caught in quicksand, and crucially knows when to back himself and when to pass. He is surprisingly robust in contact given his slight frame.
12. Ross Curle (Ayr): A rock of dynamite in midfield. Explosive in both attack and defence, and is getting better at curbing that ‘over-enthusiasm’ which has had a habit of blowing up in his face in the past.
11. Kerr Gossman (Glasgow Hawks): Has watched on while brother, Craig, has played at this level, but this may be the younger sibling’s year after accumulating 10 tries in the opening 11 matches, including a couple of stunners against Watsonians and Currie – the first of which must be a leading contender for try of the season.
10. Gregor Hunter (Gala): Was involved in the professional set-up for a long time but the majority was as an elite development player with Edinburgh or on a partnership contract with Glasgow Warriors so doesn’t seem to have passed the three years as a full-timer barrier. Has all the tools a stand-off needs and hopefully the bad luck with injuries which hampered his progress in the pro ranks are now in the past.
9. George Horne (Glasgow Hawks): Currently top of both the try scoring and golden boot charts for the BT Premiership. A fulcrum of the exciting brand of rugby championed at Old Anniesland this season, he is versatile enough to play stand-off if required. Spent a large chunk of last season on loan to London Scottish and made his Glasgow Warriors debut off the bench against the Ospreys last Friday night.
1. Jamie Bhatti (Melrose): With George Hunter no longer eligible after throwing his lot in with the Bahamas during the summer, the former Scotland under-20s man makes the step up to the starting XV. A stage three player with the BT Sport Academy this year, he made his debut for Glasgow Warriors as a late replacement against the Scarlets at the start of the month.
2. Michael Liness (Heriot’s): Back-up hooker last year and gets his chance after Ross Graham headed off to Yorkshire Carnegie to try his hand in the English Championship.
3. Murray McCallum (Heriot’s): Last year’s Scotland under-20s loosehead is in the process of being converted to tighthead and made a pretty good fist of it after being thrown in at the deep end with Edinburgh in their last six matches. He played the full 80 minutes against the Dragons on Sunday. But will the stage three BT Sport Academy player’s spiralling career trajectory have taken him beyond the club XV by the time February comes around?
4. Robert McAlpine (Ayr): The totem pole around which the rest of the pack can rally. Has played in three games for Glasgow Warriors so far this season as injury cover. At 6ft 7inches and just shy of 18 stone, he provides an important physical presence, and will give the opposition something to think about at line-out time.
5. Hamilton Burr (Stirling County): Has exceeded all expectations at Bridgehaugh in terms of both consistency and making an impact with big plays since making the move into the BT Premiership from Aberdeen Grammar over the summer. As a member of the Scotland under-20s set-up last year, time is on his side – and don’t be surprised to hear that he is on the Glasgow Warriors radar.
6. Neil Irvine-Hess (Melrose): An unsung hero of the Melrose pack. Huge work-rate, rarely makes a bad decision, and useful option at the tail of the line-out.
7. Will Bordill (Ayr): Can play right across the back-row but is most effective at open-side, where he can get right in the opposition’s faces. Plenty of power and aggression but can play a bit, too.
8. Pete McCallum (Ayr) CAPTAIN: Has spent much of the campaign recovering from a knee injury, but the 15 tries he scored last season on his way to being elected BT Premiership player of the season shows what a dangerous proposition he can be. Squeezes in ahead of strong competition from the likes of Iain Moody of Melrose [on the bench], Struan Dewar of Heriot’s, that old warhorse Ross Weston of Currie, not to mention his club-mate Blair Macpherson, who racked up eight tries during the six weeks his captain was out of action.
16. Grant Stewart (Glasgow Hawks): Had a storming start to the season at hooker, but may be a bit rusty on the technical aspects of the role after playing most of the last two months as an openside flanker for his club.
17. Nathan Borel (Watsonians): The Frenchman has lived in Scotland long enough to qualify on residency grounds, and if it’s good enough for the full Scotland team then …
18. Steven Longwell (Ayr): Cornerstone of the most dominant scrum in the league this year and no shrinking violet over the ball at the breakdown.
19. Iain Moody (Melrose): Played in the second-row in this team last year when at Boroughmuir and is really enjoying the freedom of operating at number eight in a dominant Melrose pack this year, his versatility gives him an edge over Heriot’s second-row Callum Marshall, who Phil Smith rates as the best lineout forward in the league.
20. Grant Runciman (Melrose): A good old fashioned open-side – quick and strong over the ball to snaffle possession or at least slow the opposition’s game down, and provides a good link between backs and forwards in attack.
21. Reiss Cullen (Watsonians): Fast, powerful and a low centre of gravity makes him a real threat breaking from the base, he has all the attributes to develop into a really useful scrum-half.
22. Harvey Elms (Currie): Unlucky to miss out on selection to the starting XV having been a real handful for Currie all season, but will do some damage when sent on as fresh legs when the game starts to open up.
23. Ben Robbins (Currie): Back north after a short loan spell with London Scottish and scoring for fun since his return with six tries from five games. Another player who can make a huge impact as a super-sub.
Image courtesy of Scottish Rugby/SNS Group