RWC23: 10 takeaways from Scotland’s World Cup squad announcement

The final cut for Scotland's World Cup squad was confirmed earlier today [Wednesday]. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
The final cut for Scotland's World Cup squad was confirmed earlier today [Wednesday]. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

1. It’s the end of the line for Stuart McInally … or maybe not

Gregor Townsend said:

“I know it’s very tough for Stuart because he put everything into the training camp. He was one of our best trainers, he really was. He had two games off the bench and played well but we just feel the blend with the hookers is the one we wanted for this tournament and it [France away] could be the last game Stuart plays for Scotland, but it might not be and he’s just got to be ready for that opportunity if it does come.

“He could get an opportunity if there are injuries, but just now he’s not in our squad. “

2. Set-piece excellence key to Dave Cherry selection

“Dave was really good when he came off the bench against France at home. His set-piece was excellent and that’s really imporatnt. He’s a consistent thrower and a strong scrummager but he took the game to France as well.

“For him and Ewan [Ashman], they only got one opportunity in those three games so we are basing it on more than that. What they did in training was important. There’s not much between all of them [the hookers in the squad] but they all bring their own strengths.

“George [Turner] has played most for us in the last couple of years and comes alive in Test matches. Ewan was oustanding in Argentina and had a really strong end to the season with his club team, but they’ve all trainiend well. Stuart in particular trained well.

“Whoever missed out would rightly feel disappointed and angry that they have haven’t made the squad, but that’s the level of competition we have. We didn’t even select Fraser Brown, who played very well for us earlier in the season, in our first group of hookers. It’s a strong position for us.”


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3. Luke Crosbie’s credit in the bank means close but no cigar for Josh Bayliss

“Josh wasn’t in the initial squad of 41 but replaced Andy Christie. He has really impressed us at training and did very well off the bench against Italy. He got that second opportunity to be involved in Saint-Etienne. He didn’t get many minutes on the field, but he really put his hand up for selection. A lot of his strengths fit with how we want to play and how we use our back-rowers.

“But when you put that up against other back-rowers in the squad, those guys have gone really well for us this season. In the Six Nations, and when I think back to Argentina as well, there were players who really stepped up. So it was a tough decision but we’re delighted with the make-up of the back row we have selected.”

4. Javan Sebastian grabbed his opportunity against Italy

“The Murphy [Walker] and Javan one – that was definitely a close decision. We probably made that decision a couple of weeks ago and Murphy was aware that was going to happen. Murphy came to France with us last week because of Zander’s suspension. But they’ve both trained really well and we’ve seen them grow over this period around the scrummaging in particular. Just getting to spend two months with Pieter de Villers, who’s an outstanding scrum coach, scrummaging against top-class looseheads day in, day out. Then what they’ve done with their fitness and defence – it became a really tough decision.

“But Javan probably grabbed his opportunity against Italy. Those scrums in the second half were excellent. He’s taken a lot of confidence from that and I thought he played really well when he came off the bench at the weekend. Murphy is a Test player already and will be a better player for these last two months. And you never know what will happen. He was called into our squad again last week, and with a suspension or injury it could be these guys might still get a chance to play in a World Cup.”

5. Murphy Walker isn’t a back-up loose-head

“We’ve had Allan Dell in training as we don’t see Murphy as loose-head cover just now. If we have a change there, Allan would be favourite to come in. Taking three loose-heads and three tight-heads means these guys can focus on their specific positions.”

6. Georgia is on all of their minds

“We’ll go as strong as we believe we can. That will be adjusted on where players are in traininig, whether they have any niggles, any combinations we want to see more of, what we want to see from the bench.

“We know the best way for us to build cohesion and connection and improve our game is playing Test matches. If we don’t put a group out that might be similar to the group that plays South Africa, it’s going to be a month where they’ve not played a game. I don’t think that is the best preparation for a Test match.

“There were a couple of guys who have small issues from that game [in France last weekend], but we believe everyone is available for selection just now.

“Duhan [van der Merwe] is okay. He’s fine. We expect him to train fully later today. He jarred it [his ankle] before, then when he crossed the line [to score on Saturday] he jarred it again, so it was more precautionary [to take him off] but he’s recovered well.”

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7. And that game could be alright for White

“Ben’s good. He had a meeting with the specialist on Monday and that was positive. He ran yesterday, which was the first time he’d ran in 10 days, so we’ll see over the next two or three days if he’ll be available for next week’s game. That’s the target. And if he doesn’t come right for that, we know he’ll be available for South Africa.

“If he’s available for Georgia he will definitely come into the mix. We won’t know that until the beginning of next week. We may have one more live training session or game before we leave for France – we’ll decide that after we see how things go against Georgia.”

8. South Africa is Scotland’s World Cup Final … until it isn’t

“It’s the toughest group, I’d imagine. We’ll have to throw everything at the South Africa game regardless of the two-week break afterwards. All we’ve been focused on is being at our best for the start of the tournament – or as close to our best as we can get. I know that’s idealistic. Your first game at a World Cup you’re not going to deliver your very best game but we’re working hard to do that.

“We believe when we get our game right we can be a match for anyone, any of the top three or four teams in the world. A couple of times we’ve managed to get wins – England were top four or five when we played them away from home earlier this year. On another two occasions – against France in Paris during the Six Nations and New Zealand at Murrayfield in November – we were in winning positions in those games. There’s still improvement and progress to go to turn those winning positions into actual wins but we believe with this group and the rugby that we play that we can do that from September 10th onwards.”

9. Don’t mention Owen Farrell

“I’m not going to talk about that incident. We know any head contact in our game can run the risk of a sanction and that’s what we’ve got to focus on. We obviously had a red-card in our game against France two weekends ago and we had a yellow-card at the weekend, so we’ve had good preparation for what might happen in the World Cup in terms of playing with 14, and we did it really well at Murrayfield and maybe not as well at the weekend, but it is part of our game which we have to be ready for.”

10. The sky is the limit

“I don’t believe there is a set ceiling on what they [this squad] can achieve. The way we play will mean that there are opportunities that we maybe don’t take, or there is risk in terms of the width we put on the game and the speed we play at, but that’s exciting that we can learn from each opportunity and say ‘was that the right thing to do?’ or ‘if we had worked a little bit harder could we have created more of a space in their defence?’ So, we’re always searching for improvement and that perfect game.

“I was really pleased with the opening 10-15 minutes at the weekend but even within that intent and speed of play, we did miss opportunities. You are going to get that in any game.

“We, as a coaching group and players, understand that – let’s strive to be better – but we believe in the game we’re playing. We know it will stress defences, and it also stresses us with the work-rate that has to go in to deliver that game accurately.

“All I can say is it’s the best group I’ve ever worked with [as a coach] in terms of what they’re producing on the training field, and that includes time I spent with Glasgow, Scotland over the past six years and also in my short time with the Lions.

“They are delivering every day a game that stresses them in terms of the skills and fitness involved. We’re starting to see that transfer into matches. It would be nice to have another two or three games before the World Cup but the reality is we have to be at our best in three and a half weeks’ time and we’re getting closer to that.”


RWC23: Gregor Townsend names Scotland’s World Cup squad

About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

4 Comments

  1. Many lucid and encouraging comments.
    However, considered Alan Dell as back up loosehead cover seems somewhat alarming, given how little playing time he enjoyed last season.

  2. And what exactly is Gregor looking at in the photo? Lol.

    Ben White and Duhan are fit. Roll on Georgia and South Africa!

    3
    1
    • I am guessing that he’s questioning the hand on hips posture that Jamie Ritchie has. When Jamie replied, “it’s all good, girlfriend” he relaxed.

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