Scotland Depth Chart – Autumn 2018

Over the past 15 months Gregor Townsend has taken the opportunity to have a look at pretty much every realistic candidate for the Scottish RWC squad in 2019. Barring a significant injury crisis the the vast majority of the 31 names on the plane to Japan will come from the 72 men that Toony has already selected for his previous squads.

Here’s On Top Of The Moon’s guide to the the players in contention and where they might rank exactly one year out from Scotland’s first fixture in the tournament against Ireland on 22nd September 2019 (click images for larger versions):



  • Neil Cochrane and Scott Lawson were also included at hooker over the last year or so. Both men retired from professional rugby at the end of the 2017/18 season.



  • Tim Visser was involved in Toony’s early selections but has announced his retirement from Test rugby.
  • Three other scrum halves have been picked for squads without making it into the match day 23 – Nathan Fowles, Sean Kennedy and Charlie Shiel.
  • And of course Richie Vernon (part of the most recent 6 Nations training squad at centre) stands ready to cover any position from 1-15.

There are still some names who might yet come into contention before the RWC kicks off. OTOTM picks out the forward and back most likely to make that breakthrough.

Blindside flanker / number 8 / lock

It’s a story that has panned out a number of times before. Player features for New Zealand U20 and Maori All Blacks but never quite makes the breakthrough to the full Test side. Comes North and rips it up in European club rugby. Blade Thomson has taken a slight detour in playing in a different country from the one he’s qualified to play for but the man who has put in some storming performances for the Scarlets looks to be a very good fit for Scotland.

At 6’6″ and 17 stone he can feature as a large back row or an athletic lock. It’s early days with his new club in Wales but he’s been their stand out performer in the opening 3 rounds of the PRO14. More clean breaks and defenders beaten for his side than anyone bar Hadleigh Parkes; primary carrier in the pack; 35 tackles made and only 1 missed; 11 lineout takes plus a steal on the opposition throw-in. His middle name is Neville though so it’s not all perfect…

If he sustains this through the next few rounds of league action and the early stages of the Champions Cup the question becomes not so much does he get called in but rather where exactly do Scotland want to play him?


Scotland have a surfeit of talented centres – Gregor Townsend has had just shy of a dozen different names involved in his squads so far – but injuries have meant the head coach has very rarely had the full set to select from. With Mark Bennett and Duncan Taylor the current absentees the Autumn Tests might be seen as an opportunity to deepen the selection pool a little further. Sam Johnson qualified for Scotland on residency over the summer and it’s possible that Toony might want to include a man who was his go to at 12 for the Warriors on some big European nights.

Sam’s a bit of a hybrid between the two types of inside centre Scotland have favoured in recent years – the second five eighth / playmaker Pete Horne type and the more direct runner exemplified by Alex Dunbar. Johnson can distribute but he’s also able to carry the ball up and challenge the line, even in heavy traffic. His lack of a kicking game counts against him slightly but if Scotland are playing Russell, Hogg and Kinghorn in the backline it’s unlikely to be a deal breaker.

The current issue for Johnson is his lack of game time in the early part of the season, with his own injury woes keeping him on the sidelines. If he can get some decent minutes under his belt prior to November there’s a good chance he’ll be in the squad for the Autumn Tests.

It would have been great to have been able to include Alasdair Dickinson in the list of names that could still come into contention. The Edinburgh loosehead would have been a shoo-in if he had returned to full fitness but sadly he’s been forced into retirement.

As a seriously long shot (and only if he sticks it out for another year in Scotland) then big Brian Alainu’uese will qualify to play for the national side just in time for the RWC semi-final and final…

Of course there is always the chance that Toony will pull another rabbit out his hat like he did recently with James Lang. With 13 games to go until the real action starts the focus is likely to start concentrating on a core group of realistic contenders for the final selection. The Autumn Tests’ selection next month should start to give a good idea of the head coach’s thinking.


    1. It’s a tough call. I think Toony’s preference is for a playmaker at 12. Poor Duncan Taylor has only a slim chance of making it unfortunately which puts Horne in pole position for 12 with Lang and possibly Johnson pushing for that place. That pushes Dunbar out to 13.

      Jones has done amazing things for Scotland but, at times, his defence and distribution gave been exposed. Allied to his struggles for the Warriors since he signed I think the solidity of Dunbar in attack (the rest of our backline is skilful but lightweight) and defence may appeal for the toughest matches.

      Of course it could all be completely different in 12 months time!


  1. Huw Jones surely has the 13 shirt for Scotland. He hasn’t had a run of games for Glasgow and being partnered with Grigg hasn’t helped but the Champions Cup games coming up will hopefully see an improvement in form from him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He’s definitely done some amazing things in attack for Scotland. I think Glasgow will be looking for a step up in his defensive work and distribution of the ball though. If he doesn’t get the 13 jersey nailed down for the Warriors it makes it much harder for Toony to see him as a certainty for the equivalent role with Scotland.


      1. He’s played 544 minutes of rugby for Glasgow. 423 minutes of that was coming straight from the Currie Cup and being thrown in immediately. 30 minutes in Ulster after the 6 Nations. And now the two appearances in SA.

        In the Champions Cup he started against Montpellier with Johnson who went off after five minutes for Horne then Glasgow played 20 minutes in the middle of the match with 14 men against a huge pack. Jones made a great break out for Sarto’s try. The other two Champions Cup games were dead rubbers: lambs to the slaughter vs Leinster with Grigg at 12 and against Exeter with Dunbar who went off after 14 minutes for Horne. Jones held up a try early on so he contributed points defensively.

        In the first 1872 game Jones scored a try and Edinburgh only scored 3 points while Dunbar and Jones were on together. He got five minutes in the second leg. At Zebre he started with Grigg at 12 in a game that was over in 30 minutes.On his comeback after the 6 Nations he did just fine with Dunbar for 30 minutes before being assaulted by Stockdale.

        So what we know is don’t play him with Grigg* (the Italy game and Saturday being the definitive proof). If he plays with Dunbar the defence is generally good (see the NZ test and wins over Wales and Ireland) but we don’t know if Dunbar is a complete crock or Rennie just doesn’t fancy him much. And we have only seen him for five minutes with Sam Johnson. I’d say we can’t judge until we see him get a chance to establish a partnership with either Johnson or Dunbar. I’d also say Glasgow desperately need his try scoring in Europe now that Hogg is out again.

        Scotland don’t have any other options at 13. The task is to audition find out if Johnson or Scott are up to it. And to consider whether it’s worth wrapping Dunbar in cotton wool next summer for the Ireland match in Japan.

        *I’d say never play Grigg in a big game

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I take your point that Huw really hasn’t had the chance to prove himself with a good run of games in amongst the rest of the Glasgow first team. I do feel that he will be looking to improve some of his numbers though. He had the lowest tackle completion among the Glasgow centres. Highest rate of ball lost (from handling errors etc.) in the entire Glasgow squad with a turnover per 2.9 carries. That’s twice as often as Grigg and Horne, 2.5 times as often as Johnson and 3 times as often as Dunbar.

        He’s a young fella with a lot of potential whereas we maybe thought after his Scotland exploits we were getting a finished product, experienced international. He only had 5 Super Rugby starts in his career before moving to us. 746 minutes total at that level. He may end up playing more PRO14 + Champ Cup minutes than that in his first 12 months at Glasgow.

        Like I said to djpugh23 above I think Toony’s preference for a 2nd playmaker at 12 could also impact things, pushing Dunbar out to compete with Jones for the 13 shirt rather than pairing them together. (That may be adaptable though if Hogg and Kinghorn are playing and are brought into the line at first or second receiver more frequently).

        Right now I think the only players with their positions 100% nailed down (assuming everyone is fit) are J. Gray, Watson, Laidlaw, Russell and Hogg with McInally close (but under pressure) and Nel out in front only if he returns to his previous form. 13 games left for some other players to make themselves indispensable (or at least the best option available) but they’ll need to show some club form too.


    1. This time round the Depth Chart was only looking at the 72 players Toony has picked so far – Duncy’s not been in a Scotland squad since Vern Cotter’s last game. Mind you after his stormer for Worcester at the weekend I do wonder if he is the back with the best chance of being added to the list rather than Sam Johnson!

      A full Scotland Depth Chart (including everyone with a chance of selection and the up-and-comers in the age grades) is a long-term project for the guys at the Scottish Rugby Blog. Hopefully once it’s up and running it’ll be updated regularly depending on form, injuries etc.


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