Six Nations 2021: Who is in contention for Scotland squad?

Duhan van der Merwe carries forward in Scotland's Autumn Nations Cup defeat by Ireland in Dublin on 5 December
Scotland's last match was a 31-16 defeat by Ireland in Dublin in the Autumn Nations Cup on 5 December

Scotland's squad for the Six Nations is announced on Wednesday with the Calcutta Cup opener against England on 6 February looming large.

A bizarre 2020 started slowly for Gregor Townsend's men, picked up with a run of wins, and ended somewhat anti-climactically with losses to France and Ireland.

All of which was of course interrupted with a global pandemic.

There are likely to be few shocks in the group selected for the Six Nations, particularly given its size. However, there are some key positions which could present a chance for players to break in.

Hooker shortage?

Hooker has been a position in which Scotland have been blessed with depth in recent seasons, with Stuart McInally and Fraser Brown both taking turns at being Townsend's preferred option.

However, Brown is out for the tournament while McInally is a doubt for at least the opening match against England as both struggle with neck injuries, leaving a fresh opportunity for others to make their mark.

Glasgow's George Turner is usually third choice and, given strong recent form for his club, will surely be the number one pick for the number two position.

"I think George is a brilliant rugby player," his team-mate Brown said on BBC Radio Scotland after the 1872 Cup match on Saturday.

"He hits like no one else, he hits like a steam train. Sometimes it can go too far, but I know it's something he's really worked on in the last couple of years.

"He's a strong ball carrier, his lineout has come on a heck of a long way, his scrummaging is still improving."

If Turner is the prime candidate, who fills the other two spots? Edinburgh's Dave Cherry has been in good form this season, and can replicate Brown and McInally's breakdown prowess, having won seven turnovers in the Pro14 this season, which puts him in the top five in the league.

Grant Stewart is another Warriors hooker who has shown promise, while Leicester's Jake Kerr has also been selected by Townsend previously, but has only played once this season.

A list of the forwards used by Scotland during their matches played in the autumn of 2020

Number eight conundrum

One of the few positions up for serious debate in terms of the starting XV to play England is number eight. It's Scottish rugby's hot topic.

"I keep hoping that Magnus Bradbury is going to step up a bit more, but he doesn't get the ball enough for me," former Scotland prop Peter Wright said on BBC Radio Scotland.

"Matt Fagerson's another one. We keep talking that we need a number eight who can get his hands on the ball and be involved in a big part of the game."

Bradbury and Fagerson will likely be in the squad, with Blade Thomson, Nick Haining and Cornell du Preez the others to have been included in the autumn. But Gary Graham is a player who will surely be in contention this time, given his displays for high-flying Newcastle in the English Premiership.

Scotland's lack of physical edge compared to nations like England is often talked about and Graham, an all-action, combative, ball carrying number eight, is not someone who can be easily overlooked.

Left out of the Autumn Nations Cup squad, he would relish the chance to add to his two caps and Scotland could do with his abrasiveness. Another to throw into the mix is Ryan Wilson, who seems to be out of the national picture, but his consistency for Glasgow has been excellent and could merit a recall.

Other runners & riders

There are a few others who did not feature in the autumn who could be in with a shout of being in the squad, and even force their way into the matchday 23 for the England game.

Richie Gray has put recent injuries behind him to turn in some fine individual performances for Glasgow. He was a huge presence in the lineout when the Warriors faced Edinburgh at Murrayfield, and was influential in the reverse fixture at Scotstoun.

Another second row who could sneak in is Glen Young of Harlequins, having agreed to join Edinburgh next season. At 6ft 7ins tall, the 26-year-old is another solid lineout operator and gets through a power of work on the field, ranking in the top five for tackles made in the Premiership this season.

Then in the backs, there is Rory Hutchinson who was injured during the autumn. Scotland lacked creativity from midfield against Ireland and France, and the Northampton Saints player provides the pace and skill to open up defences.

Bath's inside centre Cameron Redpath, son of former Scotland scrum-half Bryan, is another dark horse but is yet to declare his allegiance having represented England at Under-20 level, and been selected by Eddie Jones for the tour of South Africa in 2018 before pulling out through injury.

A list of the backs used by Scotland during their matches played in the autumn of 2020