Nearly half of Scotland’s 37-strong squad for their three-match summer schedule are uncapped as interim head coach Mike Blair will look to build Scotland’s depth of squad.
Eight leading players including skipper Stuart Hogg are with the British and Irish Lions in South Africa, and the Scots have also given extra time off to Jonny Gray, Fraser Brown, Stuart McInally and others.
Jamie Ritchie will lead the squad which will play England A (June 27), Romania (July 10) and Georgia (July 17). There’s a real mixture among the 17 uncapped players named.
New faces aplenty in the squad of 37
Some, like hooker Ewan Ashman – reportedly courted by England recently – back-rower Josh Bayliss, wing Rufus Mclean and young scrum-half Jamie Dobie were involved in squad sessions during the Six Nations.
New Glasgow signing Sione Tuipulotu and props Nick Auterac and Javan Sebastian are three examples of players identified by Murrayfield’s searches for players eligible through parents or grandparents.
Others are rewarded by late season form, notably Glasgow’s young stand-off Ross Thompson and fellow Warriors Cole Forbes, Rory Darge and Kiran McDonald, and Edinburgh’s Jack Blain, Jamie Hodges and Luke Crosbie.
The newbies run the gamut from one of Blair’s former team-mates – albeit briefly – at Edinburgh, 29-year Wasps prop Robin Hislop, and the 21-year-old former Strathallan School lock Cameron Henderson, now playing for Leicester.
‘These players are ready to play test rugby’
"I like making people better. I like making teams better."
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) June 1, 2021
“We have two Test matches this summer and we feel these players are ready to play Test rugby,” said Blair, who takes the reins with Gregor Townsend also off with the Lions.
“Yes, the World Cup in 2023 is on the horizon and we want to see how guys develop. But at the same time this is a squad capable of playing test match rugby at the moment.
“Whenever we get together as a squad and national teams, as coaches it’s always about developing. That’s true whether it’s experienced players or new players coming through.
“It’s fantastic that a guy like Ewan Ashman is going to have the opportunity. While that does tie him to us, all these players coming in have shown potential, when they’ve had the opportunity with their clubs.”
‘Some will benefit from time off’
There was a “real mixture” of decisions about who was being left home this summer.
“Guys like Fraser and Stuart, the opportunity to get a good pre season under their belt is important as they are slightly older players,” he said.
“Some need the time off, some might want the time off, some we feel it will benefit. It is a real mixture. Jonny (Gray) has had a fair bit of rugby. He is a young player still, unbelievably young for the amount of rugby he has played.
“This is a great opportunity for him to take a bit of time and have a good preseason.”
Ritchie’s captaincy potential fulfilled
The choice of Jamie Ritchie to skipper the squad was a “natural progression”, Blair agreed.
“When Jamie first came on to the scene four or five seasons ago with Edinburgh, he was someone we immediately identified as having captaincy potential,” continued the coach.
“He’s got an aura around him and leads from the front, puts his head in places he shouldn’t be. He’s got a lot of respect from the players. Hhe’s got a good rugby brain as well so he ticks a lot of the boxes.
“We’re delighted he’s going to be captain on this tour.”
The tests do give an opportunity for Scotland to mark up a number of dual qualified players, said Blair, but all had been on Scotland’s radar.
‘He is really keen to play for Scotland, he made that clear’
“Sione Tuipulotu we’ve had our eye on for quite some time,” he continued. “He’s a really special player, I think he qualified to play for five countries.
“He has a grandmother from Glasgow. Sione’s really keen to play for Scotland, he made that clear with us a while ago. He can play centre and wing, and he’ll be someone who can be really important for us.
“Nick Auterac is a strong mobile prop. Javan Sebastian had time at Glasgow back in 2016. He’s a really good scummager, moves well around the pitch for a big guy.
“Cole Forbes has just got something about him. You can see his raw physical attributes but he seems to have a tendency of being in the right place at the right time.
“Gregor has done a lot of these conversations, the first port of call for a lot of these players. We want to guys to think long and hard whether they are comfortable with their decision, really excited about it.
“They’re all looking forward to pulling on the jersey when they come on tour with us.”
Henderson’s swift rise into the squad
Henderson, who is also dual qualified, has had a swifter development at Leicester than anticipated.
“It was a big decision to go to Leicester and one that has really paid off,” said Blair. “He probably did not think he would get as much first fifteen rugby as he has. But with each opportunity he has had he has excelled.
“He’s a line out forward, mobile around the pitch and a real prospect. He is ready for the step up again.”
Scotland Squad for 2021 summer series
Forwards: Ewan Ashman (Sale Sharks), Nick Auterac (Northampton Saints), Josh Bayliss (Bath Rugby), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh Rugby), Jamie Bhatti (Bath Rugby), Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh Rugby), David Cherry (Edinburgh Rugby), Alex Craig (Gloucester Rugby), Luke Crosbie (Edinburgh Rugby), Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Darge (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Cameron Henderson (Leicester Tigers), Robin Hislop (Doncaster Knights), Jamie Hodgson (Edinburgh Rugby), Oli Kebble (Glasgow Warriors), Kiran McDonald (Glasgow Warriors), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh Rugby, capt), Javan Sebastian (Scarlets), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Grant Stewart (Glasgow Warriors), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors).
Backs: Jack Blain (Edinburgh Rugby), Jamie Dobie (Glasgow Warriors), Cole Forbes (Glasgow Warriors), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), George Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Damien Hoyland (Edinburgh Rugby), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby), James Lang (Harlequins), Rufus McLean (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Leicester Tigers), Charlie Shiel (Edinburgh Rugby), Scott Steele (London Irish), Kyle Steyn (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Thompson (Glasgow Warriors), Sione Tuipulotu (Glasgow Warriors).