50 Shades of Play

When he took to the field as Scotland cap number 1,073, Josh Strauss became the 50th player to make his debut for the national side since the last Rugby World Cup in 2011. This is by far the highest number of new players for Scotland in any RWC cycle – more, in fact, than the previous two combined (48 new caps). It requires going back to the 1950s to find a greater number of first caps in a four year period.

Despite having the smallest player base of any of the Six Nations, Scotland has had more debutants than any of their rivals:

  • England – 41
  • France – 40
  • Ireland – 37
  • Italy – 31
  • Wales – 37

In fact only one side who competed at this Autumn’s World Cup awarded more new caps in the last 4 years. By a quirk of the global calendar Argentina don’t have access to many of their first (or even second) choice players when the South American Championship takes place and 54 of their 67 new caps (including 24 in the space of 5 days in 2013!) debuted in the annual iterations of this tournament.

23 of the Scottish players capped since the last RWC were included in the 31 man squad for this year’s tournament. The rest of the panel was made up of 4 players first capped during the 2011 RWC cycle and 4 players first capped during the 2007 RWC cycle. There were no players included who were capped prior to the 2003 event. Only one player from this era is still even playing pro rugby – a stat that surely makes Mike Blair feel rather old! Sean Lamont was the Scotland squad’s longest serving player having first run out on the 4th of June 2004 and he has now played international rugby in 12 different seasons.

The selectorial net was cast increasingly wide as the RWC neared and each of the three coaches in this period contributed players capped on their watch to the final squad. Of the 13 new caps awarded by Andy Robinson after the 2011 RWC debacle up to his departure, 7 made the squad. For Scott Johnson it was 8 of the 17 men who made their bow under the hirsute Australian. And for Stern Vern himself? Well he looked at no less than 20 new players in his first 15 months as Scotland coach, 8 of whom made it to England for the 2015 tournament – it would have been 9 but for the unfortunate injury to the luckless Stuart McInally.

The biggest contributors to the national side over this period were the Glasgow Warriors, with 28 of their players gaining their first cap (29 if Hugh Blake is included despite not playing a game for Glasgow prior to making his bow for Scotland). Removing those non-qualified and already capped, a player with 5 or more starts for the Warriors since the end of the last RWC had a 70% chance of playing a Test match!

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The number of new caps is a result of a major overhaul of the squad since the previous RWC in New Zealand and only 6 players had previous experience of a World Cup tournament. This time round the group that came so close to a semi final place is young enough to provide the bulk of the squad for the next RWC. Hopefully the experience gained will stand them in good stead to perform even better in Japan.

Who do you think the most significant new cap has been? Is there anyone who missed out in this most recent RWC cycle who should have played for Scotland? Thoughts and comments welcome below!


Picture courtesy of Adrian Henry. For more great photos of Scottish rugby visit Rugby People.

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