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Scotland hopefuls face nervous wait

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Scotland hopefuls face nervous wait to discover World Cup fate

By PA Authors
By Online Editors

Gregor Townsend gave himself an extra 24 hours to make his mind up on the tight calls that are set to shatter eight Scotland hopefuls’ World Cup dreams.

The head coach was due to break the bad news to the players who had failed to make the cut for his 31-man squad on Sunday.

But with a number of big decisions to weigh up, he pushed his in-house reveal back to the eve of Tuesday’s public announcement ceremony at Linlithgow Palace.

Townsend has already swung the axe on Nick Grigg, Kyle Steyn, Henry Pyrgos and Gary Graham from the initial 44-man training group he selected back in May.

Lock Sam Skinner has since dropped out with a hamstring injury but that leaves the Scotland chief with a list 39 names that still requires some further trimming.

His biggest dilemma will focus on the back-row and centre positions, where Scotland’s talent pool runs deepest.

In midfield, Duncan Taylor and Sam Johnson appear World Cup certainties despite their recent injury issues.

Rory Hutchinson impressed during Saturday’s win over Georgia while Chris Harris and Pete Horne – who can also slot in at 10 – are dependable enough and both could travel if Townsend decides he does not need Adam Hastings as back up to Finn Russell at stand-off.

But Huw Jones’ prospects look decidedly less promising. The Glasgow Warrior burst onto the scene with nine tries in his first 14 appearances but he has not scored since the Calcutta Cup victory over England last year while his club form and defensive deficiencies suggest he could be the odd man out.

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In the back-row, Townsend could alleviate some of the pressure on his shoulders by selecting Scarlets’ number eight Blade Thomson as Skinner’s replacement for the second-row/back-row crossover role.

That would make leaving Matt Fagerson at home alongside Josh Strauss easier to justify, with John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie and Ryan Wilson likely to be joined by Magnus Bradbury.

Prop Jamie Bhatti played himself out of contention with a ropey display against France in Nice last month, meaning Townsend is likely to take looseheads Allan Dell and Gordon Reid and the tighthead pair of Willem Nel and Zander Fagerson.

Simon Berghan will also get a seat on the plane based on his ability to cover both sides of the scrum. At hooker, Stuart McInally is a nailed-on selection, closely followed by Fraser Brown.

That leaves Townsend to opt between Brown’s Glasgow colleagues George Turner and Grant Stewart.

The second-row battle has been simplified by Richie Gray’s decision to opt out of World Cup selection.

His brother Jonny is the third player, along with Bradbury and Brown, who has missed all three warm-up games so far but it would be unthinkable if he did not travel to the Far East.

Glasgow lock Scott Cummings and Edinburgh’s Ben Toolis could battling between them to take the third slot behind Grant Gilchrist.

Scrum-halves Greig Laidlaw, Ali Price, George Horne are in the luxurious position that all three should travel, while stand-off Russell will be the first name on Townsend’s team-sheet.

In the back-three, full-back Stuart Hogg is another who is simply undroppable, while Blair Kinghorn is an able deputy who can also cover the wing.

Tommy Seymour, Sean Maitland and Darcy Graham will also hope to get the nod, which could spell bad news for Byron McGuigan.

Press Association

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Scotland hopefuls face nervous wait to discover World Cup fate