When some warm-up games have been played and a major tournament is just a few weeks away, there are three things above all others that any head coach will want to see: improving individual form, improving team form, and a relatively short injury list. 

As Gregor Townsend sat down with his assistant coaches on Sunday to finalise the Scotland squad of 31 for the Rugby World Cup, he could be relatively satisfied on all three fronts.

To take individual form first, you are not looking for perfection at this stage of pre-season. Indeed, if too many players had been on top of their game in the friendlies played so far, Townsend would likely worry they would be overcooked by the time of the Ireland match on Sunday, September 22. 

Georgia 10 Scotland 44: Rory Hutchinson shines as Townsend's men put on road show in Tbilisi

Instead, you expect a spot of rustiness at first and, even if there was a whole scrapyard’s worth in that opening defeat by France, the two subsequent displays have provided reassuring evidence that most, if not all, of those who will be named in the squad at today’s ceremony at Linlithgow Palace are heading firmly in the right direction.

Some such as Josh Strauss did not rise to the occasion, but the former Glasgow back-row was arguably fortunate to be included in the wider squad in the first place. 

The competition in his area of the team is tough enough to absorb his absence with ease.

While better team performances usually arise as a consequence of better individual displays, that is not always the case in warm-up games, when the fight for places can provoke a degree of selfishness. 

Thankfully, that has not happened over the past three weekends, as Scotland as a whole have become fitter, sharper and more competitive.

The deficiencies on display in the 32-3 defeat in Nice cannot be lightly brushed aside, but at least the team has reacted in the best possible manner. 

Pleasing victory gives Gregor Townsend World Cup selection headache

First they recovered from a second poor start against the French to claim a narrow win at BT Murrayfield, and then they dismissed with ease a Georgian side that had been expected to give them at least a stern physical test.  

Of those players who have put forward a compelling case for inclusion in the 31, the most impressive has been Rory Hutchinson. 

The Northampton centre scored two tries in Tbilisi on his first start for Scotland, and also showed up well in his two previous appearances off the bench. Having played stand-off for Scotland at age-grade level, and being able to play on the wing too, he boasts a versatility that has to be a major plus in such a relatively small squad.

The traditional argument is that a player needs more than three caps to be seen as a frontline Scotland player but, if he does go to Japan, Hutchinson might not be viewed in that light. Instead, his primary role could be to rip into Russia, in a game from which some top players need to be rested, with the final pool match against Japan following just four days later.  

Another versatile centre, Chris Harris, has also impressed. And here’s where selection probably became most complicated. 

Presuming Sam Johnson and Duncan Taylor are the first choices at centre, if you take Hutchinson and Harris, does that mean both Pete Horne and Huw Jones stay at home?

The normally undemonstrative Horne was forthright in his own defence at a recent press conference, insisting the team play better with him in it. 

Certainly, when Finn Russell has been inclined to embark on too many flights of fancy in a game, Horne has been the one with the ability to get his feet back on the ground and keep the lines of communication open between the playmaker and his outside backs. 
If Horne is in as well as Hutchinson and Harris, not only is Jones surely out, Adam Hastings may also be left behind. 

But can you really afford to go to a World Cup with just one specialist stand-off? Or are three versatile centres one too many?

Of all those who will be left out today, perhaps as many as four or five will eventually see action as replacements for injured players. 

So far, Sam Skinner is the only squad member to have been ruled out by injury, but we are still waiting for Fraser Brown and Jonny Gray to return to action this season, while Tommy Seymour and Blade Thomson are still making their way back from the head knocks they received at home to France. 

Even if, as seems likely, all four are passed fit, the sad reality is there will be casualties over the coming weeks. 

In other words, today’s “final squad” of 31 will not in time be the final squad at all.