THE 38 man training squad named by Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend earlier today [Wednesday] will work together in Edinburgh on Monday and Tuesday next week, before the nine exiles in the squad return to their clubs for the second half of the week.
A reduced squad – “I don’t think we’ll take any more than 32,” says Townsend – will then fly out to the immediate pre-Six Nations training camp in Spain next Sunday morning, before being reduced again down to just 28 bodies for the trip to Dublin four days later on the Thursday before the opening match of the Championship.
Townsend insisted that he still has some big decisions to make before naming his match day 23 for that Irish showdown, so the six uncapped players in the squad know that they have everything to gain and nothing to lose over the next two weeks.
So, without any further ado, meet the new boys –
Name: Alex Craig
Club: Gloucester (previously Hartpury College)
Appearances in top tier of pro rugby: 12
Place of birth: Dumfries
Previous Scotland honours: 12 caps at Scotland U20 level in 2016 and 2017
Townsend said –
“We visited Gloucester about six weeks to two months ago now and Alex had just come off the bench.We had gone down to meet Chris Harris and spend some time with Alex, to tell him we were looking at him and a lot would depend on him getting game time. He was very engaging. The coaches talked highly of him. They felt like he’d been training really well but just hadn’t had an opportunity. Then, over the next four or five games, he got the opportunity – and was outstanding.
“Against Connacht away, he made 28 tackles out of 28. And he went off for ten minutes for an HIA. So that’s up at 30-plus tackles [if he plays the full 80] – that’s Jonny Gray levels.
“Every time he’s played, he’s looked more confident. He’s got a real explosive, dynamic quality in his ball-carrying, allied to his huge work-rate and that huge defence.
“For him to get in the starting XV of that Gloucester team, who have World Cup-winning second-rows and some big men there, it showed that he’s earned that opportunity.
“He could have the potential to come into consideration at blindside flanker, because he’s so explosive.Obviously, Sam Skinner has moved from second-row to back row before. He’s a different player from Sam Skinner but his work-rate shows he could do that job.”
Name: Luke Crosbie
Club: Edinburgh (came through at Currie Chieftains)
Appearances in top tier of pro rugby: 35
Place of birth: Livingston
Previous Scotland honours: 10 caps at Scotland U20 level in 2017
Townsend said –
“Luke hasn’t played as much in recent weeks but we watched him post-World Cup and during the World Cup playing very well for Edinburgh. Getting off the bench in the 1872 Cup game, shows he can play in bigger games and do well. He is up against some quality competition at club level but I’m hoping that he might play this weekend.
“He’s changed physically over the last couple of years. He’s six-foot-five, I think – or at least six-four – and 110 kilos. He’s the quickest forward in Scottish rugby, very explosive over the first 10 metres. He’s tough, and his tackle percentage is over 90 percent – I think its 94 percent this season.
“He is very similar to Jamie Ritchie in that he can play at 6 or 7. It’s unusual to get a 7 at his height but he can do that role because he’s so quick and can tackle.
“We like the fact that, when he gets the ball, he’s so athletic that he can really go at the opposition.”
Name: Thomas Gordon
Position: Flanker (out-and-out openside)
Club: Glasgow Warriors (previously Currie Chieftains)
Appearances in top tier of pro rugby: 14
Place of birth: Rotorua, New Zealand
Scottish qualification: Grandparents
Previous Scotland honours: One cap at Scotland U20 level in 2017
Townsend said –
“We think we’ve got a potentially exceptional player. His man-of-the-match game against Edinburgh at the end of last season, in one of his first starts for Glasgow, showed there was a special player there. It was a huge game.
“He is up against a lot of quality players in Callum Gibbins etc, but I’ve watched his Super6 games and he has a dominant tackle with really good timing, so he is similar to Sam Underhill in that way. He carries the ball in two hands, has good evasion and against Treviso I thought he was outstanding.
“That was one of the best club performances I’ve seen from Glasgow in the last couple of years. To go there and front up defensively and front up in attack with a new team was really impressive. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Name: Nick Haining
Club: Edinburgh (previously Jersey Reds and Bristol Bears)
Appearances in top tier of pro rugby: 24
Place of birth: Freemantle, Western Australia
Scottish qualification: Grandmother from Dundee
Previous Scotland honours: None
Townsend said –
“Gavin Vaughan [Scotland team analyst] and I watched him at Bristol last year and thought he was a really good player whenever he got the opportunity. He has nice skills, good handling and he’s a big man. He has good footwork. He started the season well for Edinburgh and the Cardiff away game he really stood out.
“He missed a couple of games with suspension and a couple with a head knock, but whenever he has played, he has done a good job. He’s a skilful player, a powerful ball-carrier and a good defender. To us as coaches he has the attributes to do well at international level.”
Name: Kyle Steyn
Position: Centre or wing
Club: Glasgow Warriors (previously Griquas)
Appearances in top tier of pro rugby: 23
Place of birth: Johannesburg, South Africa
Scottish qualification: Scottish mother
Previous Scotland honours: Seven appearances for 7s squad
Townsend said –
“Kyle was in our World Cup [training] squad due to the great form he was in for Glasgow. He mainly played 13 amd he was keeping some quality players out of that jersey to play all the way through to the PRO14 Final. We brought him in to the World Cup squad to look at him more as a winger, largely because of the number of centres we had and the quality there, but we know he can play well at centre. He has played mainly on the wing this season – and played well.
“He works hard on his game so things like high-ball catching and contact work, you see the improvements month to month. He’s a really professional player. He has built on his breakthrough season and he comes in after a really good training camp.”
Name: Ratu Tagive
Club: Glasgow Warriors (Currie Chieftains on a partnership contract)
Appearances in top tier of pro rugby: 10
Place of birth: Sydney, Australia
Scottish qualification: Residency
Previous Scotland honours: None
Townsend said –
“I know him well as I signed him at Glasgow. This is his fourth season [in Scotland]. He had some adversity in his upbringing – a tough life back in Australia – but he was always looking for an opportunity. He came to Glasgow for that on a partnership contract with Currie, and got better and better with every season.
“He played well in his first game down at Ospreys but didn’t get many games for us. He missed last year with an Achilles injury but came back strong from that. Getting into the Glasgow team was a huge step forward when you think of the wingers they have there. He played well against Cardiff, was outstanding in the Sale game, has shown an aggressive side that we probably didn’t see in training before.
“He was unfortunate at Exter when he got a hamstring injury after 10 minutes but we’ve been impressed with him. He’s a hard-working player who should thrive in the environment with the players he’ll have around him.”
And the ones who missed out –
“Duncan Taylor is in a position where there is a lot of competition. He is playing well. We rate Duncan very highly and he worked really hard in the World cup camp fighting against a couple of injury niggles, and obviously hadn’t played for a season. He worked really hard in our away game in France, and in the games [at the World Cup] he played in, but wasn’t back yet up to top form and top speed – [although] he has shown that for Saracens over the last few weeks.
“Unfortunately for Duncan, Saracens play Sunday-Sunday next week, which to me is ridiculous – that the Premiership have got a game six days before we play Ireland.
“So, we are training five sessions from Monday to Monday, and those Saracens players can only make one of those five sessions. It is not Duncan’s fault, it is not Sean Maitland’s fault – although Sean is in our squad – and it is not Saracens’ fault, but for Saracens to have a fixture the Sunday before the Six Nations …
“None of the England players will play that week, they’ll be away at their camp in Portugal. It does make it really difficult for us to prepare the team the best we can. So, Duncan’s been unlucky in that regard. There is a lot of competition in centre but the fact that we know he is only going to make one of those five training days means that we have not included him this time.
“Sam Skinner is back training [after the hamstring injury he sustained just before the World Cup] but hasn’t played a game. We’re hoping he plays for Exeter A on Monday. They have a league game the following week and if things go well Sam could be playing for Exeter within a couple of weeks.
“Ryan Wilson has been playing really well. We are looking at players we want to give opportunities to and think will add to our game in ball-carrying and power. I think Ryan has played 10 of the last 12 games and has been playing well. We feel that now is the time to look at someone else and whether they can do a better job than Ryan has done over the last few years. Ryan is very experienced – 50 caps. He has played well for Scotland in big games in the past. He’s an outstanding line-out forward and an intelligent player. His form has been good.
“James Lang was outstanding for Harlequins this season, we’ve watched him closely and speaking to coaches down there he has been one of their best players, but unfortunately that weekend when we went to watch him he tore his hamstring.
“Peter Horne is a slightly different case. I think he has played two games in the past two months but was very good against Treviso at 10. We know what he can do but other guys have been playing well in that centre position and we’ve gone with two 10s in our squad. He just misses out as he hasn’t been playing enough. Those guys are both 30, I think, and if they play well for Glasgow they will come back into our mix.
“Matt Fagerson is injured. He broke his rib at the weekend and could be out for two or three weeks. It is a shame as he had been playing well and would have been fresh after suspension.
“Blade Thomson is out with a head-knock at the moment.
“Richie Gray started the season well with Toulouse. They brought him back for a European game and he came on at half-time against Gloucester away. He played the following week but he has had a head-knock. He is only 29 so if he can get good luck with injuries then of course he will be back in the mix.”
But he is definitely committed to the Scotland cause after his World Cup snub?
“Yes. The Top14 season was still going on when we were coming into our [World Cup] camp. He had just come back from injuries and felt it was too much of a commitment. He did not think he would be able to play or train at his best once he came back from injury.
“I know it would have been a difficult decision. I had a couple of phone calls and I could tell he was eager to be part of the squad bit on reflection it was not right for him but next season would be as different story.”