Scotland: Players need more rugby on Japan tour, not rest - Vern Cotter

By Bryn PalmerBBC Scotland Sport
Scotland's front row of (from right to left) Al Dickinson, Ross Ford and WP Nel
Scotland's front row of (R to L) Al Dickinson, Ross Ford and WP Nel have had a heavy workload

Head coach Vern Cotter insists Scotland's leading players need more time together this summer rather than missing a two-Test tour of Japan.

Cotter maintains a lack of depth and the strength of opposition - Japan are ranked one place below Scotlandexternal-link - made him steer clear of resting players.

"We don't have a lot of depth really," he said after naming a 27-man squad.

"This group needs to play more rugby together, to have more Test experience together to become better."

While the seven Edinburgh players named - including first-choice front rowers Al Dickinson, Ross Ford and WP Nel - and five exiles based in England and Wales have finished their domestic seasons, 15 of the squad still have several weeks to negotiate.

Eleven - five forwards and six backs - are still involved in Glasgow's bid for a second straight Pro12 title, with their semi-final against Connacht on 21 May and a possible final at Murrayfield a week later.

That will conclude a near year-long season for some players, which started with a three-month pre-World Cup camp last summer.

Scotland do not travel to Japan until the weekend of 11/12 June, giving themselves five days on arrival to prepare for the first Test in Toyota City on 18 June, followed by the second Test on 25 June at Tokyo's Ajinomoto Stadium.

"We have taken the [players' energy levels] into account," Cotter said. "We know there has been a fair load put on these players.

"Edinburgh have finished their season so we'll be able to give the front row a decent break for a few weeks before we start preparing for the tour.

Edinburgh hooker Stuart McInally in action for Scotland against Ireland in the Six Nations
Hooker Stuart McInally, who has only started one Test, may get further opportunities in Japan

"Glasgow we can't do much about but hopefully they go all the way to the Pro12 final and their guys hop on the plane in a very positive mood.

"We have a very good medical staff and they will look at the players individually - the amount of games they have had, the amount of contacts - to assess where they are and what the best possible preparation will be.

"Having only two games changes things. If it had been three we might have looked at it differently."

Instead of getting experience with the senior squad, emerging youngsters such as Glasgow prop Zander Fagerson, who made his Test debut in the Six Nations, Edinburgh duo Jamie Ritchie and Blair Kinghorn, and Glasgow lock Scott Cummings are in the Under-20s squadexternal-link for their World Championship next month.

Cotter stressed that the core of the squad which won two Six Nations matches, and finished fourth, after narrowly missing out on a World Cup semi-final, need more Tests under their belt to continue to progress.

"Look at the front-row players," he noted. "WP Nel (13 caps) needs more Test match rugby. Stuart McInally (seven caps) needs Test match rugby, so does Fraser Brown (15 caps). We know 'Fordy' (Ross Ford, 100 Test caps) has had a bit, and so has 'Dicko' (Al Dickinson, 57 caps) but I still think 'Dicko' is in his prime.

Richie Gray draws breath playing for Scotland in the Six Nations
Richie Gray's French club Castres do not finish their regular season until 4 June

"These combinations need to develop. Jonny Gray (aged 22, 23 caps) is a young man, Richie Gray (26, 56 caps) is still a young man, Tim Swinson (29, 22 caps) is another who hasn't had a lot of Test match rugby.

"Josh Strauss (29, 8 caps) hasn't been on the Test match scene very long. We've got John Barclay (29, 50 caps) there with his experience and he is part of the leadership group.

"It is about trying to mix and match and give players time to develop at that level to become smarter and better players, so we become a better team.

"We are taking this really seriously. We had a reasonable Six Nations but didn't play particularly well in that last game against Ireland so that gives us something to focus on and develop things we are not happy with."

'No long-term plan for 2019 World Cup'

The draw for the 2019 Rugby World Cup is expected to be made at the end of 2017, and will be based on world rankings at the time.

Scotland are currently outside the top eight teams in ninth, but Cotter maintains he is not yet planning for the next global gathering.

"The world rankings will take care of themselves as long as we do our job right, get better and get the results," he added.

"This tour gives us an opportunity to try to win games in hostile territory. It will develop the leadership group and help us for the November Tests and next year's Six Nations.

"Players will get an experience of Japan, and a lot of us have never been there so culturally that will be a good thing. But we have not really got a long-term plan looking at the next World Cup yet."