10 takeaways from Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations squad announcement

Scotland head coach explains his big selection decisions

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend announced his 39-man Six Nations training squad today [Wednesday]. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend announced his 39-man Six Nations training squad today [Wednesday]. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

1. It didn’t take much to persuade Ben White to throw his lot in with Scotland

“He was involved in a game [for England] against the Barbarians a few years ago [2019] and he played England age-group when he played one game alongside Cam Redpath, but he’s Scottish qualified. 

“He was involved in the Exiles system with a training session a few years ago but being brought up in England, playing for Leicester, the youngest ever player to play a Premiership game for them, he’s been more involved in that set-up.

“We’ve been watching him the last couple of seasons. He didn’t have as much game time at Leicester as he would have liked, but this year he’s played a lot of rugby with London Irish, and we’ve been connecting with him since around November – and he’s been really keen to be involved if that chance comes up, and it did after yesterday’s selection meeting.”

2. Andy Christie has been on the radar for some time

“He’s a lovely lad. I remember a few years ago being aware that he was Scottish qualified. He played for Scotland Under-17s. Kelly Brown, when he was working with the [Saracens] academy, used to talk highly of him.

“I watched a London Irish A team against a Saracens A team three years ago and there were a couple of Scottish-qualified players involved in that game. Andy Christie was one of them. Seeing him close up, I saw his work-rate and his defence, but he was playing at A-team level. Last year in the Championship he got more regular game-time, though obviously the Championship isn’t Premiership or European level.

“This year he’s broken through and when you see a player who gets to that next level and stands out it shows that they’ve got the ability to play better alongside better players, or their game suits the next level because their running lines and their understanding of others puts them in better positions.

“It’s weird, sometimes players don’t stand out at a lower level, they stand out at a higher level, and that’s what we’ve seen with Andy.

“He played No 8 against Edinburgh and Gloucester. His best position is probably six. He’s developing as a line-out forward and he can also play seven. He’s a back-row we like, we like back-rows who are adaptable, quick and work hard, and he’s all that.

“He was over the moon when we spoke to him on Tuesday. He talked about his grandparents who used to fly up with him when he was playing for Scotland U17s so there are huge emotional ties for him to be involved with Scotland.

“We obviously want to see how he adapts in our environment and get to know him a bit more. It’s an opportunity for him to show what he can do.

“There’s another game for him this weekend against London Irish which I believe he’ll be involved in. It’s good that we’ve got another player on form and it’s an opportunity for him, with Luke Crosbie and Dylan Richardson out injured, to show he should be involved with our squad.”

3. Adam Hastings’ omission is based on form.

“[He’s] unlucky. Those that miss out on the squad are right to feel disappointed. They want to be in this squad, they feel that they deserve it. We give each of them feedback.

“But he just missed out. He’s been involved, I think, in every campaign since he broke through, came back in from injury last year and was involved in our last game in Paris. But we just feel at the moment Blair [Kinghorn] and Finn [Russell] are playing better. Adam knows he’s got things to work on, and if he works on them and shows his form, of course the door is still open for him and the others that missed the squad.”


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4. Rory Hutchinson could be an option at stand-off or full-back

“I think Hoggy and Rory Hutchinson are players who we will look at in that position [as third choice stand-off], and obviously if we get an injury in training we’ll look outside the squad to bring someone in.

“Cam Redpath played there at the weekend but we don’t see him as a 10 right now. He’s got to get game-time back in to be considered as a centre first of all.

“Rory was on the bench for us two Six Nations ago covering 10 and centre, he’s played a couple of games at full-back this year and I think that could be a position for him to compete in as well. He’s a good rugby player with a very good kicking game.

“You’ve seen the impact and improvement Blair has made moving to 10. I’m a big believer in ball-players, ball-carriers, rugby players playing, in that position. So, Hoggy did that against Italy and had a really good game, and Rory goes into that category too. It will be one of those two [as third choice stand-off] if that [an injury] happens and they are both in the match-day squad.”

5. Cam Redpath needs game time to make the England game on 5th February

“That [selection for the England game] depends on what he does the next two weeks. He had a really good game at the weekend. It was a pretty tough game to come back in for, against La Rochelle – last year’s European Cup finalists – away from home – Bath obviously haven’t had the best of seasons – he was playing in a position because I believe he hadn’t started at stand-off before at pro level – and it was his first game in eight months. He had a line-break and six tackle-breaks in his 55 minutes on the field so it was a pretty good start to getting his way back in.

“He’s got Leicester this weekend, Harlequins the following Friday night, and we’ll have three or four days training with him, too, so we’ll just assess where he is. 

“We’re not expecting him to be back at his best form over those two games, but if he is then he’ll definitely be in the mix for BT Murrayfield, but we’ll just see how he progresses over the next two or three weeks.”

6. Finding a spot for Rory Darge is a wonderful headache

“That’s a question we’re pondering now. Hamish [Watson] was Six Nations player of the championship last year and went on the Lions tour. He didn’t have any rugby going into November and was getting himself back into it.

“He hasn’t had a huge amount of rugby [now] because Edinburgh missed a game in Europe which meant four weeks without a game with the 1872 Cup being called off.

“But he played really well in the Cardiff game [two weekends ago] with a lot of unseen work clearing contact which enabled others to play, and he’ll be available to play again this weekend, so it is a good position to be in.

“We think Hamish is one of the best players in the northern hemisphere and he’s coming back into full fitness and full form, and we’ve got someone who has had an outstanding season with Glasgow, performing really well in the big games.

“Even at the weekend there, he [Darge] wasn’t on for that last half hour when Exeter began to dominate, and he made a big impact both sides of the ball in the first 50 minutes.

“So, that’s really good competition, and there’s obviously others in that back-row competing. Josh Bayliss is starting regularly at No 8 and we feel he could do a job at No 6, too. So, it will be an interesting selection, and there’s another week for these players to show that they should be involved against England.”

 

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7. This is a selection for this Six Nations – and not for the 2023 World Cup

“There are a couple of players we want to get to know but they’re in the squad because they deserve to be. We know it will be difficult for uncapped players to get used to our language, our players and the Test environment but they are in the squad because we see them playing against England.

“It was a different philosophy in November. We didn’t consider the likes of WP Nel because we wanted to look at others during that period, but the Six Nations is about winning. It’s about improving from game to game, but [also] putting your best team out to win us the game. The World Cup is a big tournament but it’s 18 months away. For us, the Six Nations is the biggest tournament and we get to play in that every year.”

8. No apologies about scouring England searching for players

“I think they’ve got a few more that they could select than us! We’re aware right throughout the history of Scottish rugby that there are players who are dual-qualified or even triple-qualified.

“I moved to England and France and have friends who went to England who were Scottish and had kids who are second generation and they would have been very proud and wanted them to play for Scotland after being brought up in England. That is the modern player. Their families move around and they’ve got a decision to make.

“Cam Redpath is the player who had a huge decision to make a year ago and we’re delighted he committed to us and had a great experience in his one game for Scotland, and it meant so much to his family who are all Scottish.

“We would only pick a player we believe would help us win and help us improve. There are certain types of players we maybe look for more in certain countries because they fit with how we want to play and that’s a game of movement, a game of speed. And they’ve got to show us that at a high level, whether that’s Premiership, URC or European rugby.

“From an England point of view, they have a lot more players to select from so their selections must be even more difficult than ours.”

9. Kyle Rowe proves that you should never give up on your dream

“That’s a great story of someone who has not had the opportunities up in Scotland, gone down to a new club and got into the team at London Irish through some really good pre-season performances then backing it up throughout the season. [He scored] a hat-trick against Saracens – one of the them was an absolutely outstanding try – and some consistent performances show he’s an exciting player that we want to work with.”

10. Scotland’s target must be to win the Six Nations this year

“It has to be. We’d enter any game or any competition with the goal of winning what’s in front of us. We feel that the experiences our players have gone through over the last couple of years puts them in a good position to know how to win a rugby game. It gives them the confidence that they’ve done that before.

“The competition [for selection] was really high, because our players are in really good form. So they should be confident as individuals, confident with the team, but we’re aware of what a big challenge this is.

“We won three games last year but we didn’t even finish in the top two. We were in the fight for every game we played, the Six Nations was the same the year before. I think our defeats were by less than seven points, so that’s a good position to be in, to know that on your day we can make it tough for anybody. But we’ve got to make sure that we turn those performances into more wins and play to our potential throughout this tournament.”


Andy Christie and Ben White surprise call-ups to Scotland’s Six Nations training squad

About David Barnes 3032 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.

6 Comments

  1. With only 2 tens in the squad it means Kinghorn must be on the bench. If it’s a 6, 2 split then he covers 10, 15 and wing. Three positions so three times the likelihood he will be called on early to play a significant part of the match. Is BK up to playing 10 or 15 in a Calcutta cup game, with all the pressure that will bring? I think not, but it looks like we will find out.

    Townsend’s obsession with his pet projects: Kinghorn ” the most talented player of his generation” and Sebastian is an “international tighthead” potentially could be our undoing in this championship.

    If Zander gets injured before the French game for example, then WPN starts. Is Townsend really thinking that Sebastian could do a job off the bench against the French scrum when he doesn’t even start for the Scarlets? If he scrummaged like Ben Tameifuna or Uini Atonio then you could excuse the excess girth but he doesn’t, so I can’t look past the fact he looks like a really poorly conditioned and weak scrummager.
    Not very impressed.

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  2. This is a very good colour piece seating Gregor’s thoughts on selection.

    Seems the same the world over though – selectors going to select and the rest of us go what? And why not him?

  3. Excellent article. Interesting that Kinghorn is now very 2nd choice 10. I like Kinghorn and he certainly keeps any opposing defence honest, he has pace and flair but is his kicking up to it? (Very scottish comment…aye he’s brilliant…..but….)

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    • Adam is Finn MK2; Ross MK3, therefore no change to game plan/ management if they’re on the bench.Can’t really comment on Kinghorn as he’s just converted to No10 but suspect he’s maybe not quite ready for 6Nations and concern must be that he doesn’t have kicking duties for Edinburgh (as with Finn at Racing).
      Would like to have seen Duncan Weir in the mix for his game management and territorial kicking.

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      • I fear that if Duncan Weir is the answer in 2022 (great servant to Scottish rugby though he has been), then we’re asking the wrong question.

  4. Really good to get such a full explanation of the selections. Tho I’d have liked someone to ask about Matt Scott, who seems really unlucky – thrown in against the most physical team in the world for first game in years, then dropped.

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