Andy Robinson brought the Rugby World Cup that bit closer for Scotland rugby fans on Tuesday, when he announced his provisional 40-man squad.
Amongst the familiar names and faces are four uncapped players, who Robinson has hinted may not be uncapped by the time the final squad departs for the competition on the 27th August.
Robinson has until the 22nd August to cut 10 players from this list, and will be looking for the right blend of experience from the ‘old guard’ of Chris Paterson, Dan Parks, Al Kellock and the like, and the ‘young blood’ of Ruaridh Jackson, Richie Gray, Richie Vernon and company. Having already been quoted as saying he wants a ‘trim squad’ we know that competition for places will be fierce, and there is a definite advantage to be had for versatile players, such as uncapped Warriors player Robert Harley who can play at both flanker and lock.
One of the places that competition will be exceptionally fierce is the crucial scrum half position: Mike Blair and Rory Lawson demonstrated their skills during the 6 Nations campaign, whereas the injury-troubled Chris Cusiter has a month playing for the Australian team Southern Districts to prove himself fully fit and ready for international duty.
Followers of Edinburgh Rugby might be surprised to see that flanker Fraser McKenzie has not been included in this provisional squad. He has put in some impressive performances for Edinburgh this season, which has made many take notice of him and cite him as a certainty for the World Cup.
Also not included was another former Edinburgh player, lock Scott Macleod, whose blonde locks rival those of Richie Gray, is no longer available for international duty following a move to Japan.
Once again many players are coming from the two home teams of Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby, and, as neither team is involved in the Magners League play-offs, they will begin their World Cup training camp earlier than those who play for teams outside of Scotland.
One thing many will be keen to see is whether the decision to keep five players from club duty in the run up to the competition has paid off. Kellock, Gray and John Barclay from Warriors and Ross Ford and Allan Jacobsen from Edinburgh were all withdrawn from playing for their clubs in the weeks after the 6 Nations with their fitness and further development in mind ahead of the Autumn’s competition. This decision caused mixed reactions amongst fans, some seeing the sense in protecting key players, whereas others blasted the logic behind it asking how can the players be match fit if they are not allowed to play in any matches.
Looking at the provisional squad, Robinson seems to be going for a team similar to that which we saw in the 6 Nations, with strength up front, experience and speed in the second row, and depth in the backs. Include in this some multi-tasking players, and we could see a real improvement in their consistency as they commit numbers at the breakdown and fully exploit the pace of Evans, Lamont and Ansbro.
Scotland have never failed to qualify from the pool stages in a World Cup, and this is Andy Robinson’s first priority in a pool that includes Romania, and Georgia as well as Argentina, against whom Scotland put in an impressive performance during the Summer tours of 2010, and England, who Scotland really challenged in their Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham earlier in the year.
I do like the look of this squad, and think that if all goes well at the training camps we could see some promising rugby at the warm up matches against Ireland (6th August) and Italy (20th August.)
Andy Robinson, you have 14 weeks to decide. Your time starts now.