A familiar cluster of Borders-linked players has been included in a 42-man Scottish training squad as preparations begin for September’s rugby World Cup in Japan.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has kept faith so far with some of the best-known local players who have figured in recent internationals, including Darcy Graham, Stuart Hogg, Greig Laidlaw, Jamie Bhatti and Gary Graham.
A further two spaces in the squad remain unfulfilled (one forward and one back) with Townsend keeping the door open for those operating at the business end of the season to play their way into the group.
Just under half (14) of those named featured in the 31-man squad that reached the quarter-final of the 2015 tournament in England and have been given the chance to surpass their efforts this autumn.
“The selection is a good indication of the depth and level of competition we currently have in Scotland,” said ex-Gala and Scotland star Townsend.
“We made a conscious decision to keep squad numbers low, which enables us to do more work with those most likely to be on the plane to Japan. We’re really excited to work with this group of players, who will now compete hard for a place in the final 31-man group going to the World Cup.
“There are, of course, a number of very good players who have missed out – players who have been unlucky with injuries this year or haven’t hit form at the right time – while others are unlucky to lose out on some very close decisions.”
The first block of Scotland’s preparations will see the squad divided into smaller skills and strength and conditioning groups to accommodate post-season breaks for those in the knockout stages of domestic or European Cup competition.
The majority of players will then be given three weeks off and will return from mid-June to intensify pre-season preparations at Oriam, Scotland’s National Sports Performance Centre, on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
The pre-season campaign will be punctuated by three residential camps in Scotland and a hot-weather camp in Portugal, before four home-and-away Summer Test matches against Georgia and France begin in August to complete the squad’s pre-departure preparations.
Townsend added: “Our goal is to deliver our best rugby on September 22 (when Scotland face Ireland in the opening pool round) and throughout the following few weeks, so there will be a big conditioning element driving us towards that.
“We’ve got to be ready to play with energy, huge effort and be fitter than every team we come up against. That will enable us to attack and defend at a high level and put pressure on the opposition.
“There are a number of challenges that await us in the tournament, starting with facing some quality teams in our pool as well as adapting to the Japan’s unique environment.
“As it’s likely to be hot and humid during the tournament, our warm-weather training camps in Portugal and Nagasaki, as well two Test matches in the heat of Nice and Tbilisi, should be invaluable.
“We look forward to building closer relationships with each other and improving as a squad during our training camps, while this opportunity to be together for longer means we can add a couple of things to our game to help us get closer to reaching our potential.”
Scotland training squad:
Forwards – John Barclay (Edinburgh), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors), Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Allan Dell (Edinburgh), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Gary Graham (Newcastle Falcons), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Gordon Reid (London Irish), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Grant Stewart (Glasgow Warriors), Josh Strauss (Sale Sharks), Blade Thomson (Scarlets), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors).
Backs – Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Nick Grigg (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Harris (Newcastle Falcons), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors), George Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Pete Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Hutchinson (Northampton Saints), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne), Sean Maitland (Saracens), Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors), Henry Pyrgos (Edinburgh), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), Duncan Taylor (Saracens).
Saturday, August 17 – France v Scotland (Allianz Stadium, 9pm). Saturday, August 24 – Scotland v France (BT Murrayfield). Saturday, August 31 – Georgia v Scotland (Dinamo Arena). Friday, September 6 – Scotland v Georgia (BT Murrayfield). Kick-off times in last three matches to be confirmed).
Scotland’s Pool A fixtures, Rugby World Cup 2019 (kick-off times local):
Sunday, September 22 – Ireland v Scotland (Yokohama, 4.45pm). Monday, September 30 – Scotland v Samoa (Kobe, 7.15pm). Wednesday, October 9 – Scotland v Russia (Shizuoka, 4.15pm). Sunday, October 13 – Japan v Scotland (Yokohama, 7.45pm.