The 2012 6 Nations came one step closer today as Andy Robinson named his Scotland squad. The first team of the competition to be named, 36 players have received the call up to attend the St Andrews training camp in around 2 weeks time.
At a glance the squad contains 12 Glasgow Warriors players, 9 Edinburgh players, 4 Gloucester players, 3 from Sale Sharks, 2 from London Irish and 1 from Ulster, Castres, Newcastle Falcons, Saracens, Scarlets, and Cardiff Blues. There are many familiar names in there; Dan Parks, Kelly Brown, the Lamont brothers, Euan Murray and so on. And there are also 6 uncapped players named as well for their performances and contributions to their respective clubs.
From clubs outside of Scotland Frazer McKenzie, who plays second row for Sale Sharks, has impressed Andy Robinson with his style of play. McKenzie will bring yet another facet to the second row, and will no doubt challenge existing second rows Alastair Kellock, Richie Gray and Jim Hamilton.
Steve Shingler, who plays at London Irish, qualifies for Scotland thanks to his mother, who was born in Dumfries. Many may raise a few eyebrows at his inclusion in the 36-man squad, as prior to this he has shown interest in Wales, and played for Wales in various age group squads, and certainly the Welsh Rugby Union have challenged his selection. Shingler is a fly half, and a lot of people will know him for the red card he received in the Heineken Cup pool match against Cardiff Blues.
The four other uncapped players come from both Edinburgh and Glasgow. Lee Jones has impressed all this season for Edinburgh, the 23-year-old wing has been on fine form for his club, scoring tries a plenty. He also can comfortably play at scrum half, bringing yet another dimension to the team. Glasgow Warriors players Rob Harley, Duncan Weir and Stuart Hogg (pictured above) make up the remaining three uncapped players. Their inclusion in the Scotland team has come as no surprise to anyone that has been following the Warriors this season. All three players stepped up their game during the World Cup; Harley was showing his maturity by taking the captaincy for the club during this time.
Duncan Weir (pictured right) has kept Ruaridh Jackson on the sidelines for Warriors with his fantastic range, speed and dynamism with the ball in hand. Still only 20 years old, he does need the level head and experience of someone like Chris Cusiter next to him at scrum half in order to exert control on the game. Stuart Hogg has been the real shock of the Warriors season; joining the squad as an elite development player he has only just signed a full professional contract. Comfortable playing at fullback we may have another player of the same calibre as Chris Paterson as he matures and expands his game.
With both Nathan Hines and Chris Paterson announcing their retirement from international rugby, the questions over who are the first choice second rows, halfbacks and full backs have only become more confusing. Richie Gray and Al Kellock work exceptionally well together at club level, and yet we failed to see that during the world cup. Dan Parks, who is probably now not long for the international set up, Ruaridh Jackson, Duncan Weir and Steven Shingler all play very different games at fly half, and with several scrum halves named as well, Robinson has definitely got his work cut out to find the winning combination.
Scotland’s first game is on the 4th February, and it is a home game against England. I can tell you that already there is excitement building up for that encounter! Followed by an away trip to Wales on the 12th Feb.
With that first fixture in mind my starting XV would look something like this:
15. Rory Lamont, 14. Max Evans, 13. Stuart Hogg, 12. Graeme Morrison, 11. Sean Lamont, 10. Ruaridh Jackson, 09. Mike Blair, 1. Allan Jacobsen, 2. Ross Ford, 3. Moray Low, 4. Richie Gray, 5. Alastair Kellock, 6. Kelly Brown, 7. John Barclay, 8. Richie Vernon