MIKE Blair is unsurprisingly vague when the topic of conversation turns to precisely how many places remain up for grabs in Gregor Townsend’s Rugby World Cup squad. But then in modern rugby, where accident and injury can lurk around each corner, it is wise to keep your options open.

Officially 40 players remain in camp, battling it out for 31 spots, but in reality the competition in the three tune-up matches which remain before the squad is revealed at the historic surroundings of Linlithgow Palace on Tuesday September 3 will be far more limited than that. Most observers could probably take a pretty fair stab this morning at around 20 names who will be on that plane to Japan on Monday 9 September, barring any of those eventualities.

That would leave 20 players, say, battling it out for the final 11 spots, albeit in a scenario where the Scotland coaching staff must ensure there is adequate cover for all positions. Only three scrum halves, for instance, remain in the group – Greig Laidlaw, Ali Price and George Horne – and it is entirely feasible that Scotland take all three. Further clues about the approach will come when Townsend names his team for the first tune-up match, against the French in Nice on Saturday night, today.

“It is probably a bit of everything,” said Blair, attempting to define the imperfect science which will be picking his teams for the back-to-back matches against France and Georgia, the last of which comes at Murrayfield some three days after the squad announcement.

“The squad isn’t 100% nailed down for that 31, some guys will have an opportunity to put their hands up for that,” added this veteran of three World Cup squads. “At the same time, we need to get some cohesion in particular positions and units.

“We'll use the opportunity to make sure they know each other's game well. There's also blooding guys, giving guys opportunity, making sure that everyone is Test match ready. So there's no definitive answer, we're looking at lots of different ways of using these warm-up games.

“There are a few positions up for grabs, it is certainly not a closed book. I can’t give you a number. And there are four games, aren’t there? The thought is that most guys will get at least a couple of games to show what they can do at international level.”

Such comments leave the door tantalisingly ajar for the four uncapped players who remain in the squad, the versatile Rory Hutchinson of Northampton Saints, and forwards Blade Thomson of Scarlets, and Grant Stewart and Scott Cummings of Glasgow Warriors. On the scrum halves specifically, something of Blair’s specialist subject, he appeared to take the opposite view to Eddie Jones, who named just two No 9s, Leicester’s Ben Youngs and Gloucester’s Willi Heinz, when he named his 31-man group on Monday.

“I think that's a risk,” said Blair. “I don’t know how quickly they can fly someone out if someone's sick overnight, but it's a way of getting an extra back row player or an extra centre.

“They've got a good dynamic, the three guys left behind,” said Blair. “Henry [Pyrgos] did well while he was in camp but it's a really competitive position so someone was always going to drop out.

“Part of that is that when you have four scrum-halves in 15-on-15 training they don't rotate a lot so they don't get the reps they'd normally get, but when you are down to three they rotate pretty well and still get rhythm and fitness. We're really confident in the guys we've got left, that they're capable of doing a job and are putting their hand up to be first choice 9.”

Part of Gregor Townsend’s modus operandi as Scotland head coach is sharing knowledge from other sports, with the latest guest speaker being Ryder Cup hero Stephen Gallacher, part of GB & NI’s victorious winning team from Gleneagles in 2014.

“He was good fun, talking about his Ryder Cup experiences,” said Blair. “Some things we will take on board, some things we maybe won't. Hoggy liked the sound of Lee Westwood's Ryder Cup warm-ups!

“It's great having these guys come in, and we've had a fair few over the piece, just talking about their experiences and how they prepare for big events. Some things will be transferable to what guys believe and think they'll do, and some won't, but they're good fun along the way.

“He spoke very positively about his Ryder Cup experience. He said he enjoyed it, he said that the players were looked after really well, and how they talked about the score over the piece, not just the fact that they'd won four times in a row.”

With the rest of the world also staging their World Cup warm-up matches, the other part of Blair’s job is poring over the video to try to put together a plan for tackling their pool rivals Ireland, Russia, Samoa and dangerous hosts Japan. “I’ve not watched the Japan game from this week yet, but I’ve watched them the last couple of weeks and they are a very skilful team who play with a lot of tempo, tackle low in defence, put a lot of pressure on you,” said Blair. “Over the next couple of weeks this is our project to be doing, looking at the teams we are playing against and putting together a plan. Obviously we have got a few ideas already but obviously we can tweak them taking in more recent games.”