10 takeaways from Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations squad announcement

Scotland head coach confirms that he is not actively looking for a new job and explains the selection of 31-year-old England cap Ruaridh McConnochie

Gregor Townsend named a 40-man Six Nations training squad at lunchtime today [Tuesday]. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Gregor Townsend named a 40-man Six Nations training squad at lunchtime today [Tuesday]. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

1. The man himself is in no rush to part company with Scottish rugby, contrary to reports linking him with France and Leicester Tigers

GT: I will be as honest as I can. I am in my last year of contract with Scotland. I did get a call from France to see if I would be interested [to] which I said I was not prepared to go in to any discussions until after the Six Nations.

I have had no contact with Leicester at all.

People may want to get in contact with you or your agent because they know your contract is up and yes my contract is coming to an end at the end of the year.

I love the job. I love the people I work with. I love the challenges we have. It is easy to say yes [I want to stay] but that is not my decision.

The future is how we do in the Six Nations and how we prepare the team for that so it is not something I think about a lot.

From what I hear there will be no talks until either during the Six Nations or after the Six Nations. That is the feedback I have had.

I don’t get to decide whether I stay or not. At this point I would love to stay in the role because I enjoy the role but who knows what will change over the next few months.

What I know is that I want to coach. I enjoy coaching. Enjoy is a big word but it is something that has been a massive part of my life for ten to fifteen years and I would like that to continue.


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2. Ruaridh McConnochie has been on his radar for a long, long time

GT: He is a very good player who is available to us. I met him in October and he said one of his goals was to get in the Scotland squad and he has made it. Now the hard work continues for him and he has to try and find a way into the starting 15 or the match-day 23.

He has always been a player I have been fond of. I met his dad [Rennie] years ago at an event in London. I remember the surname. He said ‘look out for my son, he is playing for London Scottish under-18s’ or something like that. As a dad would talk about a son. When I saw he was playing for England Sevens I realised it was the same player.

He was English-qualified as well as Scottish-qualified, got selected for England Sevens and that meant he wasn’t going to play for Scotland. From there he won a professional contract with Bath, got into the England team and played in the last World Cup, but with this law change he becomes available to Scotland, where all his family have been brought up and a lot of them remain.

It’s a great story. We’ve got a player of quality who has played Test match rugby, who can come into our squad when we are missing Darcy Graham and a couple of others, so we’re looking forward to working with him.

3. McConnochie won’t be forced to watch Braveheart on endless repeat each night in camp

GT: I’m sure he’ll be highly motivated, with his family here and having that Scottish bloodline. But, really, when players come into your squad, it’s about how well they integrate with their team-mates, how quickly they pick up information, how suited they are to the way we want to play, and obviously how well they play. That’s what we’re looking for. Their identity and what motivates them is their own area. We want to see the best of them out on the field.

4. Wounded warriors such as Zander Fagerson, Hamish Watson and Stuart Hogg should be fit to face England

GT: We believe everyone in this squad will be available for us against England. That’s why the likes of Rory Darge and Scott Cummings have not made the squad. They’re going to be coming back around that [England] weekend or the Wales weekend.

Hamish is scheduled to play [for Edinburgh] a week on Saturday. Stuart is back running and is contention to play this week but it might be next week. Zander, I’m not sure whether he’ll get a game [with Glasgow] but if this week goes well he should be back in full training next week.

 

5. Darcy Graham could well feature at the tail-end of the championship

GT: I think that would be the hope. It will depend when he starts running again. If things go well he will be available for those last two games. But he’s still at an early stage of his rehab.

6. Opportunity knocks for Ben Healy

GT: Ben really impressed us as coaches in his last two games, which were off the bench against Ulster when he made a winning difference and then the following week he started against the Lions and player really well.

He didn’t play at the weekend. He’s competing against two players who are Irish squad members, but we feel he’s got a game which could easily transfer to Test level. He’s very knowledgeable around attack-shape, decision-making, very connected, he’s got a really strong kicking game from hand and at goal.

But he’s someone we’ve not worked with before, so he’s got to be integrated into our group and we’ll find out how quickly he can get up to speed with how we want to play and connect with others.

He was someone who wasn’t available for us a few months ago, so it is a bonus when we are missing Ross [Thompson] and Adam [Hastings] that we can bring someone with his ability into the squad.

7. But the Blair Switch Project has not been shelved

GT: That [playing on the wing] has been required with Edinburgh given the number of injuries they’ve had. We are aware that Blair can play on the wing at Test level, he’s played really well for us there in the past, and he’s had his two most recent games for Edinburgh there now. Whether he plays there again this week or back at 10, we’ll have to wait and see. We’ve got three 10s in the squad, and one of them we know can play in the back three.

 

8. Lack of game time is what counted against Rufus McLean, apparently

GT: The fact he has not been playing for Glasgow is why he has missed out on the opportunity with us.

9. Stafford McDowall is an example of how perseverance can pay off

GT: It is great. We love Stafford – one of the hardest working players and it is that hard work and desire to improve that has brought rewards.

Franco [Smith] went to Glasgow and didn’t know the players at all. The ones who stood out in pre season were given opportunities, and those who grabbed them got more opportunities. From where he was a year ago, to now being in the Scotland squad and captaining his team, is great.

This is probably the strongest we’ve been at centre. Sam Johnson and Mark Bennett were both fit, but neither made the squad.

10. AB Zondagh’s seat in the technical box will not be empty for long

GT: The initial plan is for me to do more coaching. There will be support around that as you will see over the next couple of weeks. We will definitely have someone supporting during the Six Nations and I wouldn’t want to continue as the only person in charge of attack because there are a lot of other things to do in my job.

We will look for someone who helps the group. What they add could be things they are doing currently, their experience, or they could add more to the general coaching group beyond attack.

We are not going to change much in how we play. I’m in charge of a lot of the attack already, the general play and starter plays. AB empowered to work with the backs and look after the counter-attack, but our game is not going to change a huge amount from where we’ve been. Someone is going to come in to add value, more on the attack side but also the whole group.


England cap Ruaridh McConnochie surprise call-up to Scotland’s Six Nations training squad


About David Barnes 3192 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

13 Comments

  1. Kinghorn is NOT an international 10! He is a good club back 3 player, but lacks belief in himself. Never goes for a long touch, penalty and conversation rate is not international standard. Tackling suspect. He’s a big fast guy who doesn’t use his attributes. Maybe needs a hypnotist to make him believe in himself!

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  2. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Peter Horne drafted into the Scotland set up in an attack coach capacity. He was a favourite of Toonies and a good lieutenant on the park for him if you catch my drift. He’s been making a decent coaching name for himself at S6 level and lately with the Warriors so it’ll be interesting to see who ends up in the mix for this coaching role…..

  3. Can anyone help?
    I need to go to Paris and would love to see Finn play in Racing’s stadium. I’m away in April and May. Racing are playing at home on March 4th. as there are no 6N games that weekend, is that part of the players International window (best for Scotland) or is Finn likely to be called back that Saturday to play for Racing?

  4. I wonder if the starting XV will offer any of the usual surprises. That Kinghorn is still being discussed as a 10 suggests it might.

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  5. ‘People may want to get in contact with you or your agent because they know your contract is up and yes my contract is coming to an end at the end of the year.’ Oh please, no more – for it would be more than I could bear.

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  6. Maybe Dave Rennie comes in on a short-term contract as attack coach? We could use a people person in that coaching group to unite the team, and competing in a six nations and World Cup with some of the players he helped developed might be desirable.

    Scotland HC role post-WC could be a possibility also to entice, not saying he is the best option but there is not a lot of options currently, and he did take us pretty close to winning the Pro14 against Leinster in the final, by no means a bad coach.

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    • Not sure Huw Jones would agree with the first part of your comment! I like Dave Rennie but am still baffled as to how he managed to take a world class talent and ruin him for the next 3 years.

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      • nor would McDowell
        Others who left Glasgow have also commented
        Rennie alienated half the Glasgow squad
        Simply excluded them. Nice guy if you were “in” total opposite if you weren’t, no real effort to be inclusive

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  7. So Kinghorn is still a strong option for bench 10 as he covers back three, great. Just what we need against a direct and abrasive English team galvanised by fresh coaches and direction from Borthwick.
    I hope he is just spouting this stuff as he thinks he needs to justify his selection of BK at 10 for the last year.

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