Defeat of Italy clears up World Cup questions

Photograph by  PHIL WILKINSON / TSPL copyright 'Tel +44 (0) 7740444373'INTERNATIONAL RUGBY TEST 'SCOTLAND V ITALY.'PRE WORLD CUP TEST - MURRAYFIELD STADIUM  - 5PM KICK OFF''INJURED NIKKI WALKER IS TAKEN OFF THE PITCH TODAY.
Photograph by PHIL WILKINSON / TSPL copyright 'Tel +44 (0) 7740444373'INTERNATIONAL RUGBY TEST 'SCOTLAND V ITALY.'PRE WORLD CUP TEST - MURRAYFIELD STADIUM - 5PM KICK OFF''INJURED NIKKI WALKER IS TAKEN OFF THE PITCH TODAY.

SEVEN days ago I put together my own squad of 30 – a prediction of the names that would be chosen to represent Scotland at the 2011 IRB World Cup in New Zealand.

When the squad was announced by head coach Andy Robinson in the inspirational setting of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, it was clear that key positions had been confirmed after Saturday evening’s Italy game had played out. It was a match won by the Scots 23-12 with two tries from Alasdair Dickinson and Mike Blair and the rest of the points coming from the boot of Dan Parks.

It was important that Blair and Chris Cusiter showed in the match that they had recovered from injury, along with Euan Murray, and all three did.

This meant that inevitably Greig Laidlaw would be the one who would not be included as simple maths tell us that four into three scrum halves won’t go, and Rory Lawson was always ahead of the Jedburgh number nine in the pecking order.

Murray, though unable to play on Sundays because of his religious beliefs, was chosen as one of five props in the party.

But Nikki Walker of Hawick misses out, after the serious knee injury he picked up five minutes from time against Italy, allowing Simon Danielli, who was fighting with Walker for a final winger’s spot, to step in.

The other key position was in the back row. Would it be John Beattie or Richie Vernon? I had predicted Vernon but thought that Robinson might just keep faith with one of his favourite players despite a dip in form. In the end, Vernon was selected and will be among a third of the squad experiencing World Cup rugby for the first time.

I mentioned Jack Cuthbert would be in my squad instead of Nick De Luca – but De Luca had two excellent games in the warm-up matches, including a man of the match showing against Italy, so I concede that the centre who has not enjoyed the best of times playing for Scotland in the past, put his hand up when it mattered and fully deserves his place in the team.

Alastair Kellock was given the captaincy – a big honour for him and an excellent choice.

Scotland have won their last three games, against Italy (twice) and Ireland, and should build on these two wins against Romania and Georgia before taking on Argentina and England.

There is nothing quite like winning matches to improve confidence, even when the performances are not brilliant.

And while England, Wales and Ireland have had their problems (and losses) in their build-ups, Scotland have steadily been moving forward, and there is a belief among the squad that they can go to New Zealand and do themselves and Scotland proud.

This campaign is going to be very, very interesting!

Scotland Squad:

Backs – Joe Ansbro, Mike Blair, Chris Cusiter, Simon Danielli, Nick De Luca, Max Evans, Ruaridh Jackson, Rory Lamont, Sean Lamont, Rory Lawson, Graeme Morrison, Dan Parks, Chris Paterson.

Forwards – John Barclay, Kelly Brown, Geoff Cross, Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, Richie Gray, Dougie Hall, Jim Hamilton, Nathan Hines, Allan Jacobsen, Alastair Kellock (captain), Scott Lawson, Moray Low, Euan Murray, Ross Rennie Alasdair Strokosch, Richie Vernon.