Scottish rugby’s nationalist wing will not lose too much sleep over the selection of one imported New Zealand back-rower over another, even though Blair Cowan’s contribution to the cause has been a whole lot greater than John Hardie’s, whose career north of the border is still being measured in minutes rather than hours. What may well reduce them to apoplexy is the decision to pick Hardie ahead of John Barclay.
Hardie arrived in the country just five weeks ago, armed with a pair of boots, a short-term Scottish Rugby Union contract and documentary evidence of his grandmother’s links to Fife.
Until then, the Southland-born flanker had played Super Rugby for the Otago-based Highlanders, and as recently as February he had been quoted as saying: “Scotland is always an option but I want to fulfil my potential in New Zealand. I’ve always aspired to being an All Black.”
Barclay, on the other hand, made his Scotland debut in 2007, played at the last World Cup, once went close to beating England single-handedly and turned in a peach of a display in the heavy warm-up victory over Italy at Murrayfield last weekend.
Under the circumstances, Hardie’s selection is a very bold call by the head coach, Vern Cotter, who happens to be… a New Zealander.
Cotter’s choice at No 8 will also raise a highland eyebrow or two, although Josh Strauss, a South African from Cape Town, has paid his share of dues in helping Glasgow to their current status as the best club side to be found anywhere in the Celtic lands.
The problem? Strauss does not actually qualify for Scotland on grounds of residency until later this month and is thus ineligible for this weekend’s final warm-up game against France.
Cowan, a regular presence in the back row since making his debut last year, will be hurting every bit as much as Barclay. So will the likes of Jim Hamilton, the outsized Saracens lock, Ruaridh Jackson, the Wasps full-back, and the multitasking Glasgow back-five forward Rob Harley. All missed out in the tightest World Cup selection race in recent Scottish rugby history.
There may yet be a role for the highly regarded Glasgow centre Alex Dunbar, whose recovery from mangled knee ligaments is not quite complete. Cotter undoubtedly wanted to pick him, and the 25-year-old can consider himself first reserve. In his absence, his clubmate Richie Vernon will be the first Scot to feature at a World Cup as both a forward and a back. Four years ago in New Zealand, he played as a No 8.
“There are some good players and good people who haven’t made it,” Cotter said. “Getting down to 31 has been a difficult process and we feel for them.”
Meanwhile, the versatile Saracens back Chris Wyles will lead a United States squad featuring several other Europe-based players, including the Leicester wing Blaine Scully and the former Northampton forward Samu Manoa, who moved to the French powerhouse Toulon at the end of last season.
Tartan Army: Scotland World Cup squad
Props A Dickinson, W Nel (both Edinburgh), R Grant, G Reid (both Glasgow), J Welsh (Newcastle).
Hookers F Brown (Glasgow), R Ford, S McInally (both Edinburgh).
Locks G Gilchrist (Edin), J Gray, T Swinson (both Glas), R Gray (Castres).
Back-rowers D Denton (Edin), J Hardie (unattached), J Strauss, R Wilson (both Glas), A Strokosch (Perpignan).
Back three S Hogg, S Lamont, T Seymour (all Glas), S Maitland (L Irish), T Visser (Harlequins).
Centres M Bennett, P Horne, R Vernon (all Glas), M Scott (Edin).
Fly-halves F Russell, D Weir (both Glas).
Scrum-halves S Hidalgo-Clyne (Edin), G Laidlaw (Gloucester), H Pyrgos (Glas).Reuse content