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Analysis: How does the Scotland rugby squad shape up?

Assessment of the 31 players Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is taking to Japan.

The Scotland squad lined-up outside Linlithgow Palace.
The Scotland squad lined-up outside Linlithgow Palace. SNS

Gregor Townsend gave himself the task this summer of whittling down 44 players to 31 for the flight to Japan - some of his decisions were easy but many more have sparked debate.

The Scotland head coach has selected 17 forwards and 14 backs; meaning there is plenty of cover behind the scrum but the team could be light at prop and back row.

Five props are selected: two specialist looseheads in Allan Dell and Gordon Reid, three specialist tightheads in WP Nel, Zander Fagerson and Simon Berghan. Berghan will act as emergency cover for Dell and Reid.

Lock/back-row hybrid player Sam Skinner was a certainty to make the cut but the hamstring injury he picked up against France at Murrayfield means Scott Cummings makes the plane after only being a late inclusion in the training squad. The Glasgow Warrior is only 22 but had a strong end to the domestic season and has good mobility and work rate in the second row.

Townsend had an abundance of riches to choose from in the back row - left-out players Matt Fagerson and Josh Strauss could have done a good job in Japan. The five selected offer balance and versatility - Hamish Watson is a pure openside, John Barclay and Jamie Ritchie can play either side of the scrum, Ryan Wilson is adept at 6 or 8 (and has played 7 many times under Townsend for Glasgow) while Blade Thomson looks an out-and-out number 8 but can also fill in at 6 or as an emergency second row.

Some squads - notably England and Ireland - have taken just two scrum-halves but Scotland stick with the safe option of travelling with three. Experienced leader Greig Laidlaw looks in pole position to start at 9 with Ali Price on the bench and George Horne in reserve.

https://stv.tv/sport/rugby/1440458-scotland-s-rugby-world-cup-2019-squad-xx-named-captain/ | default

Finn Russell was always going to be one of the first names on the teamsheet and is joined by specialist stand-off back-up Adam Hastings.

The midfield saw the tightest selection calls made and has definitely generated the most debate. Huw Jones is a world-class strike threat from outside centre but he remains out of sorts this year and is justifiably left out in favour of Chris Harris, who delivered a strong showing in attack and defence in the second warm-up match.

Sam Johnson and Duncan Taylor are selected on the merit of their form and reputation despite only fleeting appearances in the summer tests. Pete Horne, a creative 12 and cover for fly-half, is the selection causing the most debate, given he flies to Japan at the expense of Rory Hutchinson, who has been in red hot form all year.

Stuart Hogg is another player who was always going to be included as long as he was fit and you could probably put Saracens winger Sean Maitland in the same category. Tommy Seymour and Darcy Graham will compete to earn the final jersey in the back three to face Ireland on September 22, while Blair Kinghorn provides back-up on the wing and at full-back.

Gregor Townsend announced the squad in the rain at Linlithgow Palace.
Gregor Townsend announced the squad in the rain at Linlithgow Palace. SNS

With a turnaround of just four days between the last two matches against Samoa and then Japan, all 31 players can expect to see game time during the tournament.

Injury replacements are almost inevitable as well. From the summer training camp, Scotland will have Jamie Bhatti, Grant Stewart, Tim Swinson, Gary Graham, Matt Fagerson, Henry Pyrgos, Rory Hutchinson, Huw Jones and Byron McGuigan on stand-by.

Others who have not been part of the preparations will also have their phones on in case of an emergency this autumn. Murray McCallum (prop), Richie Gray (lock), Duncan Weir (stand-off) and Lee Jones (back three) are trusted players who Townsend could turn to if the injuries start to mount up.

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