Scotland coach Scott Johnson puts emphasis on depth

By Mike BlairFormer Scotland scrum-half

Forty-one names, covering a wide spectrum of youth and experience, all seemingly being given opportunities with the 2015 World Cup at the forefront of the interim coach's mind. Yes,

The Australian has talked extensively about his "duty of care" in strengthening the depth of the player pool and, with only 24 games to go until the tournament starts, he is keeping to his word.

I see the squad split into a number of fairly clear categories.

First, there are the younger players (such as Jonny Gray and Mark Bennett) who want an opportunity to show what they can do in an international environment. They are perhaps not ready now, but in 20-odd caps time, they will have the experience to deal with the intense nature of a World Cup.

Glasgow Warriors centre Mark Bennett
Glasgow Warriors centre Bennett is already a Scotland Under-20 international

Then there are the older players, on the wrong side of 30, will be playing to show that they have the engine, desire and athleticism to be playing at the top of their game in 23 months time. It sounds strange to say it, but even two years out from the tournament, this could be make-or-break time for some of these players.

There is certainly the backbone of a side with age and experience on their side that, barring major injury or severe lack of form, will make up the squad for a number of years.

Finally, there are the unknown quantities - London Irish pair Blair Cowan and Kieran Low. Cowan plays at six, seven or eight and Low at five or six (and, according to Johnson, "fit a profile").

They will be monitored closely during the camps to see what they can bring to the national side. Another player who could be included in the unknown category is Duncan Taylor of Saracens who, although capped in the summer, will not be known to all Scotland supporters and is quietly going about his business very effectively in the the number 12 jersey in the Aviva Premiership.

London Irish forward Kieran Low
Second row Low was a surprise call-up to the squad along with London Irish team-mate Blair Cowan

There were never going to be any revelations of players being left out of this squad - as 41 is a large opening pool. It will be interesting to see who will drop out for the smaller training group nearer the internationals as the second and back rows, filled with class and potential, are looking a bit heavy in numbers.

The squad is made up from 18 Glasgow Warriors players, 10 Edinburgh and 13 exiles and, looking ahead to the autumn series, I think there will be a slightly tougher bedding-in period than previously to get the players heads round the offensive and defensive structures and patterns that Johnson and co will be demanding.

Defensively, for many years, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Scotland have had very similar systems and the transition between teams is therefore fairly seamless. However, this year, with this may prove a bit trickier.

Mouneimne is a believer in the first tackler going high and locking up the ball, preventing the offload, with the second man "chopping the legs". Glasgow and Scotland defence coach Matt Taylor is an advocate of the first man tackling low, scything the ball carrier down, and then the second man doing anything he can to win or slow down possession from the ruck, whether it be "jackling" or "winning the space" over the ball.

The order in which these tasks are completed may seem incidental but have a huge influence on a team's defensive structure. Together with the 13 exiles, this will be Taylor's first job. This is one of many examples showing the issues facing national sides.

Offensively, we experienced a contrast in styles between the slightly limited approach to the 2013 Six Nations and the offloading mindset of the summer tests. The weather will have had a huge bearing on this and, with a typically wet and cold November predicted, I believe that kick strategy (headed up by Duncan Hodge) and defence will be the priority during the camps.

But, with the enterprising Johnson at the helm, expect there to be a few tricks up the sleeve in attack.

Anyone like to have a stab at their best starting XV from this squad?


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