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Vern Cotter had no qualms about naming John Hardie in Scotland's World Cup squad

Published 01/09/2015

Blair Cowan has missed out on Scotland's Rugby World Cup squad
Blair Cowan has missed out on Scotland's Rugby World Cup squad

Vern Cotter never gave the potential for a public backlash a second thought as he handed New Zealand-born John Hardie a controversial World Cup call-up.

The former Highlanders flanker has won a place in the 31-man Dark Blues squad for next month's tournament in England just five weeks after touching down on Scottish soil for the first time.

The 27-year-old - currently without a club - was tipped for an All Blacks slot but, when it became clear that would not happen in time for this year's showpiece, he switched allegiances to Scotland, for whom he qualifies through his Fife-born grandmother.

But Cotter's decision to include him over the likes of on-form Scarlets forward John Barclay has already sparked a storm of protest, with former British and Irish Lions prop Peter Wright claiming the snub to Scotland's home-grown talent is a "disgrace".

However, the head coach said he never let the debate over national identity enter his thinking as he picked his group.

Cotter, whose side will face Japan in their Pool B opener in Gloucester on September 23, said: "We looked really at performance and what players could bring to the mix. That's how we looked at it - purely on what we thought we could get on the paddock."

He added: "We had a number of choices and it was just a matter of getting the right mix and profile in there.

"We felt that John gave us that specialist seven role and we have other players who have the versatility to cover if necessary.

"So we were looking at those first two games against Japan and the United States, which are just four days apart, with the third against South Africa six days later, when we made that call."

Hardie's inclusion has also ended the World Cup hopes of another New Zealander, Blair Cowan. The London Irish loose forward's omission is just as big a shock as Hardie's inclusion after Cotter named him in all five of his starting line-ups during this year's RBS 6 Nations.

Cotter admitted letting down one of his most dependable recruits was tough.

"That's part of the job," he said after announcing his squad at Edinburgh University's Old College Quad. "It's difficult because you spend time with these people and they worked really hard to push this group forward.

"But it was the deal from the start. We knew it was 46 to be cut to 31 and we had to make our decisions. We let the players know they wouldn't be involved and that's never particularly nice."

Barclay spent almost two years in the international wilderness but returned to the starting line-up on Saturday as the Scots thrashed Italy 48-7.

He scored his side's second try but that and his impressive display for his Welsh club side were not enough to make his third World Cup.

To further fire the row over non-native Scots pulling on the Thistle, Josh Strauss was also included - even though the South Africa-born Glasgow number eight only qualifies through residency rules five days before the Japan clash.

Rob Harley, meanwhile, failed to make the cut after Tim Swinson - who was not even in the training squad after suffering an ankle injury - was given a surprise invite after making a speedy recovery.

Ruaridh Jackson, Adam Ashe, Greig Tonks, Jim Hamilton and Hugh Blake have also been left behind.

But Greig Laidlaw - who has been chosen to skipper the team - has told his disappointed former colleagues not to give up hope just yet.

He said: "I spoke to a couple of them because they were about on Sunday morning but its a tough thing to take.

"I've been there myself before. I missed out four years ago and it was very tough to take. But it's part of the job we are in, unfortunately. Vern can only pick 31 players. He's picked the 31 he believes can do the best job for Scotland.

"The guys who've missed out this time just have to take it on the chin, go away and then try to prove people wrong.

"The guys need to look at and believe their dreams might not be over yet. I'm sure we will pick up a few bumps along the way so they could yet get called in."

Scotland will also take on Samoa in their final group game and Cotter believes he has picked a side good enough to avoid a repeat of 2011, when the Dark Blues failed to even escape their pool.

He said: "It's a tough section we are in. We know we have some good teams in our pool and it will be difficult.

"We will need the bounce of the ball but we're going to work ourselves as much as possible into a position where that happens.

"I believe in this squad, I do. There will be things that are outwith our control and I'm not throwing that in as an excuse. We are prepare to take responsibility for what is coming next."

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