Today Scotland head coach Vern Cotter will send off his World Cup 31 to World Rugby. Tomorrow he announces his squad officially to the public. If ever there was a time to speculate, this is it.

The Kiwi head coach has already spoken of the “headache” he has whittling down his training squad to one fit for an assault of World Cup Pool B – a task made all the harder after Scotland’s 48-7 demolition of Italy at the weekend.

However, there are a few question marks over who should be cut from Cotter’s pack and how many centres or scrum-halves he should take.

So here is a 31-man squad I would pick if I were in charge. A few of these men will miss out but screw it, they deserve credit. This is a 17/14 split, with one of the scrum-halves just scraping in to make up the numbers in the backs. There are also some incredibly unlucky players not here – the supremely talented Adam Ashe is the victim of coaching preferences in the face of enormous competition in the back row, while Alex Dunbar is just too much of a fitness risk.

Peekaboo: David Denton looks out from the middle of a maul

Peekaboo: David Denton looks out from the middle of a maul


Alasdair Dickinson – One third of Edinburgh’s hugely impressive front-row trio, the loosehead is in the form of his life and looking certain for a starting berth.

Ryan Grant – The Glasgow Warrior hasn’t had the best season of his career, despite his club’s Pro12 triumph, but he has too much quality to miss out.

W.P. Nel – Looks to be the No 3 Scotland have been waiting for, the South Africa-born tighthead is part of Edinburgh’s iin-form front-row unit, working brilliantly with Dickinson and Ross Ford.

Gordon Reid – Not only is Reid a lighthearted soul, well-liked by team-mates. He has also come on leaps and bounds for Glasgow this season and a man always up for the rough stuff. A good man to have during an injury crisis.

Jon Welsh – Seems unlucky to only have the number of caps he does, but Welsh has reached form in the right time of his career. Should see plenty of action from the bench.


Fraser Brown – His rise over the last few seasons has been rapid. His set-piece work can be shaky, but he is forever peeling round rucks to offer a carry or a fizzing ruck clearance. Offers energy.

Ross Ford – The incumbent, a senior player and a man on a crest of form, Ross Ford is not only a shoo-in but a man delighted with the comfy fit of his club side’s front row becoming Scotland’s first-choice front row as well.

Stuart McInally – A relative unknown for many in the game, McInally brings a dynamism that any experienced loosie-turned-hooker can offer. Happiest when his head is ducked and heading for close-quarter contact.


Jonny Gray – It’s no longer a secret: Jonny Gray is one of the best young locks in Europe, if not the world. Not always flash, he is a tireless grafter who thrives in set-piece and offers himself up when slow play needs speeded up on the back of aggressive carriers. He is an automatic pick for Cotter.

Richie Gray – Meanwhile, what Richie Gray offers was never a secret. Often flash, he works best on a rangy run but is also a wonderful target in the lineout. A nice foil for his younger brother.

Grant Gilchrist – Finally back to full fitness and a leader within Cotter’s squad despite his lack of years, Gilchrist is a player who holds others together. He has a scrap on with Richie Gray to secure a starting berth but while ambitious he isn’t the type to mump and moans should he not make it. An asset in a squad facing stern physical and mental tests.

Rob Harley – It’s looking more and more likely that Harley won’t make it, with big Jim Hamilton in his stead– but the Glasgow grafter should be in. Is the Glasgow man really a lock? Well no, not really, but he can play there if needed and he is a ridiculously industrious blindside. He’s a head-down-plenty-of-chalk kind of player and if he was asked to grunt through half an hour of scrummaging in the second row he’d do it.

Thrown up: Scotland's pack performed well against Italy on Saturday

Thrown up: Scotland’s pack performed well against Italy on Saturday


John Barclay – This selection is as likely as me winning Mr Universe, unfortunately. However, such is the power of Barclay’s form in the last 18 months that I will state now that it is nonsensical to leave out this smart and tenacious openside – plus he can play at No 6 if he needs to.

Blair Cowan – Cotter’s openside of choice throughout the Six Nations, Cowan is a player who bothers the charts for tackles and turnovers all the time. With World Cup referees likely to look a little closer at conduct at the breakdown, he may have to watch his discipline, but has done more than enough in the last season.

David Denton – The Edinburgh No 8 has burst onto brutish form, making yards with hard carries that looked beyond him only a season ago. Perhaps the competition has pulled the best out of him and no doubt he is enjoying a feeling of fine health for the first time in a long time.

John Hardie – Another unknown, but you have to give the New Zealand product credit for taking to his tasks in his first Test well. If selected he’ll be lucky, certainly, and most likely a risk given the quality of other opensides in the squad – not to mention robbing a fine young talent like Adam Ashe – he will still have a nation’s eyes on him when he makes it.

Josh Strauss – Getting your first cap during a World Cup is the definition of a selection gamble, but if Strauss is in he has earned that place on the back of his line-leading toil for Glasgow Warriors. The bearded back-rower was built for running past heavy traffic.


Sam Hildago-Clyne – This kid, should he make it, is pretty lucky. His superb form for Edinburgh last season has been overshadowed by the pre-World Cup work of the other nines in the squad. He may have to do a lot of watching.

Greig Laidlaw – Looks set to retain his place due to kicking consistency and the steeliness if his gaze whenever he is in a leadership role. Will have Henry Pyrgos breathing down his neck, but that will only spur him on more.

Henry Pyrgos – What a summer Pyrgos is having. His recent play is a prime example of perfect timing. He is running freely, kicking smartly and telling team-mates in no uncertain terms what he wants. He has shoved his way into this squad.

Playmakers: Would all of these attacking threats make your squad?

Playmakers: Would all of these attacking threats make your squad?


Finn Russell – There is no doubt that Finn Russell is the man to direct operations for Scotland. Cheeky and brash on the field, he backs it up by demonstrating lovely skill and all of it belies a tactical mind that is getting sharper with every Test.

Duncan Weir – He chips in with points over and over again before you acknowledge that he plays rugby the smart way, Duncan Weir is the ablest of deputies for Russell. A good man to close out tight Tests if needed.


Mark Bennett – Finally firing again after an injury-interrupted term, Bennett is a natural centre. Reads team-mates lines well, doesn’t shirk contact and has a good knack of knowing when to give it and when to swallow the ball in contact. An impressive young man.

Matt Scott – A few years ago he was considered the first of a new generation, an impressively skilled young back blazing a trail for the next generation of Scots stars. Injury has dogged him since, but he looks more than ready to ride the bumps and blows of cashes with South Africa and Samoa.

Pete Horne – Another player cresting a wave of brilliant form at the right time, Horne’s ability to make excellent decisions on the hoof – no doubt owing to a marriage of his stand-off’s brain with years of sevens play in broken fields – makes him a constant “maybe” when Cotter considers his starting 15.

Richie Vernon – Some will ask why no Alex Dunbar, but with him still too much of a risk with his knee troubles someone else has to be considered. That someone else is Richie Vernon, who has flourished in the centre for Glasgow this season. If selected, he must be congratulated for playing in the 2011 World Cup as a back-row and this one as a back.

Wise old head: Sean Lamont put in a strong display against Italy

Wise old head: Sean Lamont put in a strong display against Italy


Stuart Hogg – A nailed-on starter. We all know Hogg’s strengths, how he can carve a line when faced with dog-legged defences and forwards in front of him. He also possesses a booming boot and ever-improving defence.

Sean Lamont – This old dog may not have learned too many new tricks, but he doesn’t have to when his old tricks work so well. He knows the way past the gain line and his engine is never in question. A bustling, well-respected pro who can still outmuscle most.

Sean Maitland – Has plenty to prove, but as he regains fitness maybe it’s time to allow him an opportunity to prove his point. Blessed with wonderful key attributes, he needs to get his head back in the game. Lucky, but in possession of the tools to make more of his own luck.

Tommy Seymour – Who works harder for his team than Tommy Seymour? The winger endured the best season of his life last time round, sweating buckets in the process, and demands respect for that. His is a hard-earned spot.

Tim Visser – Still such a potent threat going forward and a valuable man to have when Samoa reach his old stomping ground of Newcastle, with their centres charging and leaving space out wide, he can be forgive his defensive frailties should he create a few scores of his own.