10 takeaways from Scotland’s summer tour squad announcement

Head coach Gregor Townsend talks through his big selection calls

Gregor Townsend. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Gregor Townsend. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

1. Winning trumps development

Gregor Townsend said:

“We are here to win. There are challenges of going to four countries and the travel that is involved, you are playing in really hot conditions in North America, and potentially different colder conditions in South America. You have a new team – there will be a different team from week to week, and for some of the players it will be the first time they’ve played. There are a lot of challenges but it’s great for us to go there when we’ll be favourites in all four games and back up that favourites tag with a really focused and relentless performance every time we play.”

2. Fin Richardson, Ben Afshar and Rob Carmichael – who are flying out as ‘development players’ for the second half of the trip – could end up playing

“Those three players are coming out for that opportunity to train at Test level, but they’re also coming out as cover if we do have injuries or call-offs closer to the game.”

“We want to go to the last two weeks with a number closer to 30, so players have still got an opportunity to play rather than 37 being hard to give everybody a game in the last week if we were still at that number.

“And for the final game we won’t be able to select anybody [who plays] outside of Scotland because it’s not in the international window. So our squad will reduce somewhat with the players based outside of Scotland not being available.

“I think we first looked at 40 [players on tour], and then we narrowed things down to what a team would look like against Canada, USA and the final two games to get to that number. We believe that will be right for us to give players opportunities to play in more than one game. I think if you go to a higher number then one player might just get one chance off the bench or one game. We’re certainly looking to give players a lot more than one opportunity when they’re on tour.”


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3. Captaincy will be a rolling brief

“We’ll share the leadership. As you’ll see, the squads will change from game to game. I think my view of a tour captain is someone who is probably going to play in and be captain in three out of the four games – it’s not something that I envisage. We’re looking at continuing with the co-captaincy in some form. That could be in one or two of the games, it could be in all four games. We feel that gives another person a chance to really grow as a leader. And the leadership will be shared throughout those four games.

“Players like Rory Darge, who was co-captain in the Six Nations, Sione Tuipulotu, who has been vice-captain, those players are on tour so it’s a chance for them to build on what they’ve done in a leadership capacity before.”

4. Some sort of continuity is key

“That’s really important. When you go from campaign to campaign, as we do at international level, you’ve got to take the learnings from the previous campaign and build on them. So, it is important that you have players that went through those experiences and can take that on.

“We were looking originally at taking the strongest squad that we could, but we feel that with some players the best thing we can do for them is give them the summer off because of the challenges they’ve had over the last 12 months and the challenges they potentially have coming up over the next 12 months.

“But it is a strong squad with some really exciting players there who are going to have their first opportunities to play in the Scotland shirt.”

5. Getting Gus Warr to commit was like pushing at an open door

“You’ll need to ask him but he’s been very keen. He’s made it clear over the last year or two that he’s very keen to play for Scotland after playing most of his age-group rugby for Scotland. He’s someone who’s been very consistent, and the fundamentals of his game, his passing and kicking, are at a high level. I felt since the Six Nations, his game has gone up a level. With Raffi Quirke coming back available to Sale he’s had a real challenge there and he’s started most of the games, especially in the last few weeks of the season.

“His speed away from the ruck area – especially his passing – has been a real positive. And when you’re looking at scrum-halves you’re looking at those fundamentals and also the type of player who can succeed at Test level. You need a strong kicking game and a strong passing game and be really competitive.

“We know that we have real depth at scrum-half. Ali Price and Ben White weren’t considered for this tour for various reasons. Ben has started a lot of games for us, Ali has played a lot of games for us and also the Lions a couple of years ago. So those are two experienced players. But with George Horne having a brilliant season and playing really well for us over in Italy, and Jamie Dobie coming through, we feel that nine is a really strong position now.”

 

 

6. Ewan Johnson is a serious specimen

“What we’ve seen over the last few weeks is someone who is physically capable of playing at the highest level. He’s 6ft 8ins, about 125kgs, and he shows that physicality when he plays. Over the last three months [with Oyonnax], he’s been playing a lot of the teams that finished in the top half of the Top 14 in France and performed well. He moves well – there’s some areas of the game that he can improve, but in general he’s someone who has a very good set-piece, carries the ball well, is skilful, and that size will help him in the set-piece and in other areas.

“He was very good for the under-20s [in 2018 and 2019] when he was also in the Racing academy and I think played most games for the 20s. Chatting to the coaches who worked with him in that age-group, and players, he was one of the best players back then, four or five years ago. And since then he played Pro D2, went to Oyonnax and then got injured. He wasn’t playing in the first half of the season, so he’s only come back on our radar in I suppose the last couple of months – and we’ve been very impressed with how he’s played.”

7. Dylan Richardson is now a hooker who can play back-row if required

“That [decision to focus on playing hooker] was between him and his club coach but we were delighted to see how well it went. John Plumtree [Sharks’ head coach] must have spoken to Dylan in the summer and we heard that he was looking to change to hooker. He played hooker at age-group level when he first came through but then focused more on being an openside flanker. He’s done really well. He had an injury and missed a few months after Christmas but the games before that and his game since then have shown he can throw in well, he can scrum well and the rest of the game is what he would bring as an openside flanker anyway.

“And the ability to cover two positions – whether starting or on the bench – is a bonus, too. A lot of teams are going to 6-2 and being flexible with their bench cover. So knowing that we do have someone who can go to the back-row, who’s maybe started at hooker, is a bonus. Deon Fourie did that really well for South Africa. But we’re excited to see Dylan back for us. He’s had an injury interrupted last couple of years since he played for us versus Japan [in his only cap so far in 2021].”

8. Opportunity knocks for Robbie Smith and Patrick Harrison

“We probably all remember when he was captain of the Under-20s, one game when they had a really good win against England. He is a passionate Scottish rugby player, desperate to play for his country. He didn’t get the opportunity in Scotland to get a pro contract [after being in the Glasgow Warriors academy] but worked hard first at Newcastle and then at Northampton to get a contract and contract extension.

“We’ve been in regular conversation with the Northampton coaches throughout the season. They’ve been very impressed with him. He’s been unlucky the last few weeks since he’s come back from injury. The two hookers played really well in his absence. But we saw enough last season and in parts of this season [to know] that he has got the game that can make the step up to Test rugby. He’s very solid in the set-piece and very competitive outside of that. We know he’ll be desperate to play and play well for Scotland.”

“Paddy Harrison is a great story of someone who has not had the opportunities with Edinburgh over the last few weeks but has played really well in those three games for Edinburgh ‘A’. He’s competing with the likes of Angus Fraser and Gregor Hiddleston, who are also competing well in that position.

“Whether it’s Paddy who comes through from Peebles to Edinburgh and then is on our tour, or someone comes from playing for the Sharks, or Oyonnax, we will judge who we believe is the best person to get this opportunity, for them to grow but also to help the team win.

“With Johnny Matthews and Dave Cherry, those are experienced players that have been in our environment before. On this occasion, we wanted to see players we haven’t worked with before who could go out and grab their opportunity. Dylan Richardson has been in our environment as a back-rower but he’s played well at hooker this year for the Sharks when he’s been available so we see him growing in that position, and Paddy Harrison and Robbie Smith are two players for the future.”

 

 

9. Gregor Brown earned his chances with performances in South Africa

“For us, he really grabbed the opportunity in the two games he played for Glasgow versus Bulls and Lions last month. Both were at second-row, and he has shown the ability to move between there and six. He really fronted up there. Two years ago he started at openside against Leinster in a quarter-final for Glasgow, so he’s someone who can play across the back-row and now second-row, too.

“We love his toughness, how he takes the game to the opposition. But there is competition in that position too. Euan Ferrie is also playing really well and was in the mix, too. I’m really glad that in each position, there is someone who is younger, either uncapped or a low number of caps, who gets the chance to play for Scotland this summer and add depth, but also compete with a more established player.”

10. Darcy Graham needs a summer off

“He was so keen to be available. It would’ve been pushing it. He would be ready to go around Canada and USA but to have had that time out and go straight in and expect to play Test rugby, it is a risk. We would love Darcy to be with us this summer, but given he’s missed a fair bit this season, I think the right thing for him and his club is that he has a longer pre-season and he’s ready to go at the beginning of next season.”


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About David Barnes 4028 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The 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.

11 Comments

  1. I’ve never really understood Magnus’s prolonged exile? I understand there was the head injury incident back in 2017 which I assume was a booze fuelled fight. But he’s been such a consistent physical presence in Bristol and Scotland have lacked real go-forward at times (apart from Dempsey)

  2. It’s just a thought after watching Redpath in the Final against Northampton, I thought he had an excellent all-round performance and perhaps rest Tuipulotu just a thought.

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  3. If Richardson is seen primarily as a hooker then that means four hookers and only one number 8 in the squad, which to me makes Bradbury’s omission all the more puzzling!

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    • Bayliss and Fagerson are the two Number 8’s, and Crosbie can cover there too. I would have liked to see Fagerson rested and Bradbury touring though.

    • I don’t think Bradbury will ever get back into a Scotland squad led by Townsend, which is a mistake. This tour would have been an ideal opportunity to see how he has developed while at Bristol.

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    • well said Billy but its obvious that he has already got the new chair wrapped around his finger and he will get another shot at trying to get us out of a world cup group.He has been finacially backed to the hilt and the amount of money we have spent on the pro and international rugby is eye watering. The majority of the players on more than 250k are our imports and we are even going to paying 125k a year for a guy who has played 5 pro games and only started one.

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