WILL it be 18-13 or 17-14. At a stretch 16-15 or 19-12 – but are they both a bit daft?

No, not a group of academics mulling over important dates in history but rugby fans wondering about the breakdown of squads in the next Rugby World Cup.

In Scotland, it is fair to say, the discussion is not confined to bar talk among the supporters. The coaches are at it too and, for them, it is not idle speculation but something they have to go into in mind-boggling detail.

“I’m going to push as many forwards as we can pick,” joked Danny Wilson, the forwards coach. “We’ve yet to discuss [the split of squad] yet. There’s a decent number of arguments for either side, but we still haven’t made those decisions.

“The next step is to play these [warm-up] matches, France home and away then Georgia home and away. That’ll give us really good footage and evidence to make further cuts.”

READ MORE: Finn Russell reveals how half-time meltdown inspired Scotland's draw with England

The games may also simplify some of the potential decisions since some players will pick up injuries.

For Wilson and the rest of Gregor Townsend’s coaching team the issue is that they currently have 44 players in training but can take only 31 to Japan. An unlucky 13 are going to miss out and there are going to be some big names among them.

Hence the argument and, in all seriousness, it comes down to whether they take 17 forwards and 14 backs or sacrifice a back to take an extra forward on the assumption that the attrition rate up front is usually higher.

Four years ago, the breakdown up front was 17-14 – five props, three hookers, four locks, including Tim Swinson who could cover the back row at a push, and five back-row. When Grant Gilchrist, a lock, got injured, however, he was replaced by Blair Cowan, a back-row.

As Wilson points out, even if he gets an extra man, there will still be some top-class players left out.

“It’s the risk when you can only select a certain number and it makes for some really tough decisions,” he admitted.

“Sometimes the decisions are made for you by injuries and lack of depth. As a coaching group we’re in a position where we’ve got some really tough decisions and just a few weeks to make them. The unique situation when you’re travelling so far away is that you need to have flexibility, you have to have players who can play more than one position, because you’re restricted by distance and by tight turnarounds.

“You have to use your squad, but also because 31 is a small number you have to know what your worst-case scenario is.”


READ MORE: Sean Maitland taking nothing for granted over World Cup selection

Wilson accepts that with a fully-fit squad for the first time since he joined the Scotland coaching set-up less than a year ago, he is only just starting to appreciate the depth he has to work with in some positions.

Take tighthead prop, for example.

“I knew a lot about WP Nel from preparing to play against him [coaching] the Scarlets and the Blues,” Wilson added.

“He’s always been a quality rugby player, very good scrummager and is very experienced and still brining that at the moment.

“What’s good to see is Zander Fagerson literally just back from injury after the Six Nations and having had a good run of games. You add Simon Berghan, who had some really impressive performances. You’ve got three great tightheads with a real battle to see who is going to be in that No.3 jersey.”

It is a similar story on the other side of the scrum where Allan Dell, Gordon Reid and Jamie Bhatti are in competition but the real battle is in the back row, where there are nine players plus Sam Skinner, who says he is a lock but has played most of his Test rugby at No.6, and a maximum of six places.

“When you look at the names in the back row there are quality, quality players competing. Long-term, we need to develop that more, but I certainly think we’re taking a step in the right direction,” Wilson added.

“We’ve got to prepare and have a squad capable of performing against four different opponents while at the same time putting our own stamp on things.”