Scott Johnson revealed what could be his last Scottish squad for the triangular series in South Africa during the week.
Not surprisingly, he has introduced a number of new and uncapped players. Denied Sean Maitland, Richie Gray and Stuart Hogg, who are all off to Australia with the Lions, he has selected a total of nine players who have not pulled on the blue jersey in a full international, six of whom come from the Glasgow Warriors.
It is a great opportunity for these and others to stake a claim before the autumn internationals.
Given that both South Africa and Samoa are in Scotland’s group for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, it will be an important series of matches to see whether this group of players are edging any closer to achieving the SRU’s stated ambition of winning the tournament.
Johnson has also excluded three players who could have been considered an integral part of the squad in days gone by Nick de Luca, Max Evans and Rob Harley. The last mentioned made such a positive impression in his first full outing for Scotland against Italy this year that his omission is a surprise.
Johnson has cited the need for rest and physical preparation as his reason for leaving these players out. That excuse doesn’t really stack up as far as de Luca is concerned, given the fact that he spent much of this season suspended.
In particular, it is the three-quarters who have the most to play for, partly because of Maitland and Hogg’s absence but partly because this is where Scotland are normally most troubled.
If there is one person who I hope comes through this trip with his reputation enhanced, it is young Bath fly-half, Tom Heathcote. Capped for 5 minutes in the disaster against Tonga, I have seen him play a number of times for Bath in the English Premiership and he’s looked a class act. Given the opportunity, he could easily leapfrog Ruaridh Jackson in the pecking order, as Jackson seems to have plateaued in his development.
My other hope is that Grant Gilchrist continues in his rise to prominence in the absence of Richie Gray. Gilchrist has an honesty about him and a work ethic that puts other second rows to shame.
I hope he is given the chance to demonstrate that on tour.
There is no doubt it is going to be a very tough tour for this group of players, but a trip which could be the making of some of them. I hope all of them take their opportunity to stake their claim for the future.
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