WE are only one week into the new season in Scotland and already our gaze is drifting toward the horizon where a mammoth six match (in seven weeks) Autumn Test schedule is looming into view. 

We expect Gregor Townsend to name an initial training squad early next week, with a preparatory training camp to take place towards the end of the week for home-based players and those at non-Scottish clubs which are prepared to release their assets outside the official international window. 

We know already that prodigal son Finn Russell will not join the camp until after Racing 92’s European Champions Cup Final clash against Exeter Chiefs on 17th October, which lengthens the odds on him playing against Georgia in the Autumn series opener just six days later. Meanwhile, the Chiefs quartet of Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray, Sam Skinner and Sam Hidalgo Clyne will likely find themselves bouncing straight from their Euro clash into the Gallagher Premiership Final, which is on the same weekend as the Georgia game, so don’t expect to see them until Scotland play their long-awaited final Six Nations match on 31st October. 

All of which means, there is likely to be a pretty heavy reliance on players based in Scotland for that first game of the Autumn, and given the fairly demoralising start of the 2020-21 PRO14 campaign both Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors endured on Saturday past, there will be plenty of individuals who will be desperate to make the most of their last opportunity to state their case this coming weekend, with Edinburgh taking on Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday night and Glasgow Warriors hosting the Scarlets at Scotstoun just under 24 hours later.  

Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson, the two props who started and excelled in all four of Scotland’s Six Nations matches before lockdown, will have done their chances of retaining the No1 and No3 jerseys no harm at all by missing the weekend’s defeats for their respective clubs.  

Fagerson was self-isolating after being exposed to someone who has been exposed to someone who has COVID and, all being well, should be available again this weekend.  

Sutherland’s situation is not so clear. He suffered a back spasm in the gym at the start of last week and no prognosis has been forthcoming out of Edinburgh. Glasgow Warriors’ South African-born prop Oli Kebble – who qualified to play for Scotland on residency grounds in August – would appear to be the next cab off the rank, but don’t forget the 32-times capped Allan Dell, who played 55 minutes for London Irish in their crushing 7-36 defeat to Bristol Bears on Sunday after a month on the side-lines. 

The battle for the hooker slot between Stuart McInally and Fraser Brown is always an intriguing contest, with the latter’s leadership and all-action approach for Warriors last weekend surely putting him in pole position at the moment. 

Scott Cummings was quiet by his own standards against Connacht but has done more than enough to keep his berth in the engine-room, perhaps alongside Warriors team-mate Richie Gray, who will be making his first international appearance since March 2018 after declining an invite to the 2019 World Cup training squad. 

As two genuine Lions contenders in Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie will start on the flanks for Scotland if Townsend decides to name his strongest team against Georgia, while Matt Fagerson looked sharp for Warriors which could give him the edge ahead of Edinburgh duo Magnus Bradbury [concussed after 16 minutes] and Nick Haining at No 8. 

Edinburgh scrum-half Charlie Shiel is closing in on being a genuine Scotland contender, but the 22-year-old is only five starts into his professional career, so Warriors duo Ali Price and George Horne can breathe easily for now – but they will be acutely aware that forgotten man Hidalgo-Clyne could well arrive in camp at the start of the Wales week straight off the big-match experience of playing in the Champions Cup and the English Premiership finals during the previous fortnight. 

The No10 jersey is Adam Hastings’ to lose so he deserves the nod against Georgia – especially if Russell played six days earlier – while South African-born Jaco van der Walt will come into contention when he qualifies for Scotland on residency grounds in mid-November as Townsend looks to grow depth in that crucial position. 

Sam Johnson hasn’t played since rugby’s restart due to injury but Warriors head coach Danny Wilson has said he is hopeful that the Australian-born inside centre will return this coming weekend, which should be plenty of time to get up to speed for Georgia – although Townsend could well be thinking of giving Rory Hutchinson of Northampton Saints a run in any case, and Matt Scott has been playing regularly for Leicester Tigers. 

The bulked-up Nick Grigg – fresh from his try-scoring exploits for Warriors against Connacht on Saturday – will fancy putting some pressure on Chris Harris for the No13 jersey, while it is a case of five into three at wing and full-back, with Edinburgh triumvirate Darcy Graham (wing), Blair Kinghorn (wing or full-back) and Duhan van der Merwe (wing) – another recently qualified South African – up against Sean Maitland (wing) of Saracens and Huw Jones (full-back) of Glasgow Warriors the obvious candidates. 

So those are the known variables, but with Townsend there are the unknown variables to consider as well – the players you didn’t realise are Scottish qualified – and sometimes you didn’t realise existed at all. It’s why they call it the Toony Tombola. Will there be a leftfield call-up next week?