Six Nations 2015: Vern Cotter names 32-man Scotland squad
Scotland head coach axes the old guard for new skillsets in maiden Six Nations squad
Vern Cotter has pulled a few surprises as he enters the fierce battle of Six Nations rugby for the first time.
The Scotland head coach has included four uncapped Edinburgh Rugby players in his 32-man squad, including relatively unknown flanker Hugh Blake, for northern hemisphere rugby’s annual showpiece.
We want to build on some of the good things during the Autumn Tests. A nucleus of the team is there, and we’ve added some great talent and some enthusiastic players who have been performing well for their clubs.
After a recent run of good form, Gunners scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne was a shoo-in for selection along with Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw, with either Glasgow Warriors’ Henry Pyrgos or Sale Sharks’ Chris Cusiter missing out. Despite his recent injury, Pyrgos made it.
The selections of Edinburgh duo Ben Toolis (lock) and Hamish Watson (flanker) were also surprises, not least because of the availability of so many experienced players in their respective positions.
“We’re comfortable” Cotter said of his squad selections.
“We want to take a pragmatic approach, but we want to look at changing our profile; the way we play as well.
“We want to build on some of the good things during the Autumn Tests. A nucleus of the team is there, and we’ve added some great talent and some enthusiastic players who have been performing well for their clubs.
“We’ve got a very positive group that want to do well. They will make mistakes, because that’s part of the game, but there’s such a genuine desire to do well that hopefully we’ll be able to put teams in trouble.
“All these teams in the championship bar Italy consider us as four points. We’re going to try and get a lot more out of those games.”
While the talk from the announcement at BT Murrayfield is of the uncapped Edinburgh quartet, it is their near rivals Glasgow Warriors who again provide just under half of the squad, mostly in the backline, while six players play their domestic rugby in England or France.
He is very quick across the ground and equally tough attacking as defending. He gets three or four turnovers per game on average, he is capable of changing the course of a match.
Cotter on Hugh Blake
With the 2015 Rugby World Cup just eight months away, the absence of a number of experienced international forwards is a further indication of a change in direction and philosophy being ushered in by the Kiwi, who has won five of his first seven matches in charge.
No places for Scott Lawson, Kelly Brown, Johnnie Beattie, John Barclay, Ryan Wilson, Ryan Grant, Pat MacArthur or Richie Vernon, although the latter is very much now a centre covering his old position in the back row.
“[Hugh] has a skillset we just don’t have,” Cotter said of his mystery flanker.
“He is very quick across the ground and equally tough attacking as defending. He gets three or four turnovers per game on average, he is capable of changing the course of a match.
“Why him instead of John [Barclay]? He offers another type of profile, he gives us a bit more speed, more turnovers and the way we want the team to head we need speed.
“We need initiative, we need to be able to tackle, to be able to change the course of games.
“Hamish [Watson] is very similar. John is in a similar situation to Roddy Grant. They are both playing well and we know what they offer.
“I spoke to Kelly, he was close. We’ll see how things play out in the championship.”
But the Dark Blues know that the big test will come next month when their Six Nations campaign gets under way with a tough trip to Paris to take on France.
With injuries to stand-offs Duncan Weir and Tom Heathcote, Cotter has named just two specialist 10s in Finn Russell and Greig Tonks, but has options should he need them with Hidalgo-Clyne, Laidlaw, Peter Horne and Start Hogg all able to play at stand-off should they be needed to switch from their more familiar roles.
Cotter has also named just two hookers with Glasgow Warriors’ Fraser Brown playing back-up to Edinburgh’s Ross Ford, but could draft in a third hooker as the tournament gets going, and an additional loose forward could be drafted in too.
Scotland Six Nations Squad:
Forwards (17): Hugh Blake (Edinburgh Rugby), Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan (London Irish), Geoff Cross (London Irish), David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby), Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Richie Gray (Castres), Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby), Jim Hamilton (Saracens), Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors), Euan Murray (Glasgow Warriors), Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh Rugby), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby), Jon Welsh (Glasgow Warriors).
Backs (15): Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh Rugby), Alex Dunbar, (Glasgow Warriors) Dougie Fife (Edinburgh Rugby), Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors), Peter Horne (Glasgow Warriors) Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester Rugby, captain), Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors), Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors), Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), Greig Tonks (Edinburgh Rugby), Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby).