Henry Pyrgos to captain Scotland against Ireland
Chris Cusiter’s hopes of making World Cup waning with scrumhalf not training with squad
Glasgow’s Henry Pyrgos will captain Scotland against Ireland. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Chris Cusiter’s hopes of joining an elite group to play in three World Cups for Scotland appear to be diminishing after it emerged the 33-year-old is not training with the national squad.
Cusiter was excused a high intensity camp in the Pyrenees in June because of the birth of his child and it was assumed he was back in the fold, with paternity leave having come to an end. Officials, however, were forced into releasing a statement concerning the player’s international future when another scrum-half, Henry Pyrgos, remarked on Tuesday after being named as the Scotland captain for Saturday’s World Cup warmup match against Ireland in Dublin that Cusiter “has not been training at the moment”.
The statement confirmed Cusiter was not injured. “The Scotland national team have respected the wishes of Chris, who requested to be absent during this summer’s Rugby World Cup preparations at Murrayfield following the arrival of his first child,” it read. “Chris has continued his pre-season conditioning with his club Sale Sharks and remains available for selection to the national team.”
Cusiter recently tweeted he had been training with the football team in his native Aberdeen, and the fact the Scotland coach, Vern Cotter, has given the armband to Pyrgos at a time when Greig Laidlaw and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne are also in contention could well signal Cusiter’s caps tally has stalled on 70.
The last of those caps came in November’s win over Tonga at Kilmarnock. Subsequently, Scotland lost all five of their Six Nations matches and in the absence of a summer tour this is the deepest into a calendar year they have gone without a win in the two decades of the professional era. “It’s been tough” said the second row Jim Hamilton, who is part of a 25-strong preliminary squad for Dublin who will be trimmed when the team are named on Thursday. “The players we have coming through are at a level and a class that I’ve never been a part of. That bodes well.”
It is a big ask for Scotland to reverse a 10-40 thumping by Ireland in their last fixture – and that is before it is remembered that the hosts beat Wales 35-21 last weekend.
“The Six Nations still hurts me, the Ireland game especially,” Hamilton said.
“To watch Ireland lift the Six Nations in the manner in which they defeated us at Murrayfield was pretty tough.”
A pattern seems to be emerging in that of the past nine Scotland captains, Pyrgos – who was brought up in Dorset and is the son of a former Harlequins player and a Grangemouth-born mother – is the fifth to occupy the scrum-half position, following Mike Blair, Cusiter, Rory Lawson and Laidlaw.
Of Pyrgos’s 13 caps, 11 have come off the bench, and his captaincy experience at Glasgow is limited to three when selected from the start. However, Scotland’s 115th captain – with the 26-year-old selected for the position ahead of Grant Gilchrist, who was given the role before the last autumn series before injury struck – said: “There are other senior guys in the squad, so it is not just down to me to be leader. There are other guys who can step up.”
Among those he may turn to is the hooker Fraser Brown, who captained the Scotland Under-20 side in which Pyrgos made his debut. Another member of that team was Stuart McInally, now converted from flanker to hooker and one of four uncapped personnel, all forwards, for the match in Dublin.
The others are the New Zealand-born flanker Hugh Blake, the South African-reared prop Allan Dell and another prop, Mike Cusack, who has no Scottish ancestry and was born in Yorkshire. He qualifies via the controversial three-year residency rule.
Backs: Dougie Fife, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Peter Horne, Ruaridh Jackson, Sean Lamont, Henry Pyrgos (capt), Tommy Seymour, Greig Tonks, Richie Vernon, Tim Visser, Duncan Weir. Forwards: John Barclay, Hugh Blake, Fraser Brown, Blair Cowan, Mike Cusack, David Denton, Allan Dell, Grant Gilchrist, Ryan Grant, Jim Hamilton, Rob Harley, Stuart McInally, Gordon Reid, Jon Welsh.