Rugby: Cotter’s first Scotland squad is just baffling

Now, I hate to be the first one to pick holes in Vern Cotter’s first squad – particularly given that he has hardly even arrived as the new Scotland coach – but I couldn’t help noticing that there was a pretty big hole in the squad he announced this week.

Vern Cotter (Pic: Wikipedia)
Vern Cotter
(Pic: Wikipedia)
I’ve been back over the squad several times to make sure I haven’t made a mistake but I there is no doubt about it – his squad is lop-sided, alarmingly so. That may seem odd when he has announced a squad of 43 players for a four-match tour, but bear with me.

That 43 squad is actually three squads: there is squad number one, to take on the USA and Canada, there is squad number two, to take on Argentina and South Africa and there is squad number three – an amalgam of the two other squads made up of the players who will do both. But the glaring omission is from the squad to tour the southern hemisphere, including those who will do both legs.

Incredibly, there are only three back row players named for the whole second half of the tour. They are David Denton, Rob Harley and Chris Fusaro. Now, that is an impressive back row. Indeed, it could be said that it is a better balanced back row than Scotland managed to field throughout the Six Nations.

But there are no replacements named. So these three players – however good they are – are going to have to play the full 80 minutes in Argentina and the full 80 minutes in South Africa without having anybody on the bench to replace them. What if any one of them (or more than one) gets injured? Cotter has managed to name a 43-man squad but only three back row players for what will be the most testing leg of the tour.

David Denton (Pic: Facebook)
David Denton
(Pic: Facebook)
It doesn’t just seem odd, it seems foolhardy. It is inevitable he will have to bring in some additional players as cover but why not do that now, rather than rush somebody out after one of those initial back-row players has got injured in the penultimate match?

And, while we are about it, why name just three back row players for the second leg of the tour and eight front row forwards? The squad is so imbalanced that it is practically falling over before it leaves. Maybe there is a plan to convert some of those frontrowers into backrowers but that is probably news to Gordon Reid and Moray Low.

There is another imbalance. It is not quite as extreme as the lack of backrowers for the second leg, but it is also pretty stark. There only appear to be two out-and-out centres named for the second leg of the tour, Peter Horne and Alex Dunbar. Now, these are again, fine players and there is no doubt that Ruraidh Jackson and Peter Murchie can deputise in that role but neither are centres by trade. Stuart Hogg might also be able to fit in at 13 (and indeed he has done for Glasgow in the past) but he is not a centre by trade either.

Cotter has named five back three players (Hogg, Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, Dougie Fife and Murchie) for the southern leg and only two centres, two fly halves and two scrum halves. Why?

It is easy enough for us outsiders to feel baffled and bemused by these selections but how must it feel to be Roddy Grant or Hamish Watson, Edinburgh’s two Scottish backrowers who have been, so strangely, overlooked. Well, Cotter is an experienced coach so he obviously knows what he is doing – even if it is hard to see it from here – well, I hope for Scottish rugby’s sake he does.

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Hamish Macdonell is one of Scotland’s leading political commentators. He is also an experienced parliamentary journalist, author and lecturer. Hamish was the Political Editor of The Scotsman for eight years. He is also the author of Uncharted Territory, the acclaimed history of the first decade of devolution. Hamish now works extensively as a political commentator for BBC Scotland, is a regular columnist for The Scottish Daily Mail and writes frequently for The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Mail on Sunday on Scottish politics. He is also one of the co-founders of Scottish Speakers, a new agency matching expert speakers to corporate clients all over Scotland.