1. Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell are not being punished for that night out in Edinburgh
Gregor Townsend [GT]: “Every individual case we look at. Whether we believe someone should be on tour or not. That incident had nothing to do with this squad. We looked closely at what the three Lions guys had done this season because they are the players who had played the most rugby the year before playing right through until August, and the three Lions guys not selected [Hogg, Russell and Chris Harris] played the most minutes of any of our players. Stuart Hogg, in particular, has played more minutes than anybody.
“Looking at where they are physically, with injury niggles, that became the decision about them not touring.
“They are not the only ones we did not consider. WP Nel, Fraser Brown, Stuart McInally, we want them to be in their best position ever to play their best rugby next year [during tiger build-up to the 2023 World Cup.
“Josh Bayliss is one who has just missed out too. He’s got an ankle injury which has kept him out longer than we and he expected. He’ll be fit around the end of the tour.
“Ben Vellacott just picking up an injury a couple of weeks ago. He was 50-50 whether he would be available for the Test series.”
2. Hogg has not lost the captaincy
GT: “It is a hypothetical question and I have said that to Stuart as well, but November is still a few months away. He has got a big opportunity to rest up. He got a couple of injury niggles during the Six Nations but kept playing for us, kept playing for Exeter and again at the weekend. We think the time he has had off will do him the world of good. He is in agreement with that. He wanted to tour but once he digested the news he is going to turn this into a positive .
“Conversations are always ongoing. We learned a lot on and off the field during the Six Nations, and that week it was disappointing for us that it ended up in the public domain. It was an incident that happens from time to time, whether it was this incident or something else, when you come together and you learn from it.
“Stuart has been an excellent captain for us. He’s been consistently one of our best players, not just as captain but before that, and he had a really good Six Nations.
“So, there is time for him to reflect and things for him to work on as captain, just as there is for him as a player.
“My hope and my belief is that we’ll get to that stage in November where he wants to be captain and he’s in a position where he can be a strong captain for Scotland. That’s the goal.
“Now, if that doesn’t happen it is either because he doesn’t want to do it, or because we’ve seen someone else come through, or other circumstances – but I can’t predict that.”
3. Hogg, Russell and Chris Harris are all carrying minor injuries
GT: “Finn is the one who would be the least likely to have played, he is currently out injured [knee].
“Stuart has had a couple of niggles. He had a couple of knee issues in the Six Nations, he had a foot issue and a groin issue last week, so it’s a couple of things which just need, probably, recovery. They might need operations, maybe not, but it is more just recovery from the season.
“Chris had a hip injury when Gloucester played Harlequins, but two weeks later they played Saracens and he was back fit for that. Whether he’ll need something further, we don’t know about that, but we’re hoping again it is a situation whether were rest just cures all the niggles.
“Of the others, WP is fit but given his age we want to focus all the way to the World Cup and he is contracted to Edinburgh until then. He played his best rugby against Glasgow so he is still able to play at that high level. Stuart McInally has had an injury and although he is fit now that was a factor if it was right for him to go on tour.”
4. That night out is now ancient history
GT: “We had individual meetings, we had team meetings about it, we discussed a lot about what playing for Scotland means, and going through that week I had seen a response from the group with the way we trained. So, while it was disappointing that it came out when we arrived in Ireland on the Friday, a lot of what we needed to talk about and fix had been done.
“There are reflections after the Six Nations. We ask players for feedback and we meet the players too. Those discussions are obviously private but I would hope that we have all learned from that>”
5. Fin Smith is definitely on Scotland’s radar … and vice versa
GT: “People speculate before squads are picked. I have chatted to Fin Smith on three occasions now since the Six Nations and have chatted to other players who are dual qualified that have not made our squad. He is definitely a player we think very highly of.
“He has played a lot of rugby at a young age and just turned 20 a few weeks ago. It was great to get to know the person as well. He has close links with my old club, his grandad played for Gala and the Lions and his mum is from a village three miles from Gala [Clovenfords]. It has been good to get that connection and see how his game is progressing. I thought he had one of his best games of the season [for Worcester Warriors] as at the weekend when he played Bath. I went down to watch the Premiership Final against London Irish so, yeah, he is progressing but we didn’t feel this tour is the right time for him and obviously he would have to make a commitment between us and England at that stage.
“This tour has come just too early for him in his career but he is a dual qualified player. His mum and dad are Scottish but he was brought up in England. We know he has a decision to make. Cam Redpath eventually chose Scotland but played England under-20s, Fin Smith played England under-20s, Ben White played England under-20s so it is not an easy decision to know you have a strong family link but have your own experiences. He is one we are keeping an eye on and has an opportunity to come back into the mix, or at least, be potentially in our squad in the future.”
6. Jamie Ritchie’s recovery from a torn hamstring has been slower than initially anticipated
GT: “Maybe two months ago he was very keen to tour and was perhaps going to be back around the Chile weekend, but, no, he’ll be back full training probably three or four weeks after the tour.
“He’s done a lot of work physically. Upper body, he’s put on a lot of wait.
7. Cam Redpath is targeting the start of pre-season with Bath
GT: “He had a neck operation after the Wales game which was the last one he played for us. This neck issue flaired up after the england game last year and flaired up again after the wales game so on this occasion they decided to operate. He is not far away from playing but he is not back to full training yet and Bath’s pre season starts in four or five weeks time and he will be ready for that. That will be the first pre season he has done. While we are disappointed he is not available, he is on the mend.”
8. Player power key to discipline in the squad
GT: “It won’t just be me. It will be co-owned with the playing group, and that’s the feedback that we got back [from the players] – for the leaders to agree this is who we are and this is what we are doing … and going out is just one part of that. It is about how we go there as ambassadors for our country to Argentina and Chile, it is how we want to be seen as a team on this tour, and how hard we are going to work to get success. These are things that get discussed and agreed whenever you go into a campaign. Sometimes you get reminders that you have to do that a bit earlier or make sure that there is clarity. But it is not going to be a head coach led or imposed programme. It is going to be with the whole playing group and particularly the leadership group.”
9. Opportunities knocks for six uncapped players
GT: “Murphy Walker has really impressed us this year with how well he’s played when he’s had his opportunities. He’s not had a huge amount but two games in particular stand out: as loose-head against Samson Lee away to Scarlets he was rock solid, and in the first 1872 Cup he started as loose-head and switched over to tight-head against Boan Venter, one of the best loose-heads in the URC, and he did very well.
“We see him as a tight-head, we see more opportunities on our depth chart. We look upon this as him spending some weeks with us, especially Pieter de Villiers. Just being a tight-head scrumming against Rory Sutherland and Jamie Bhatti in training, just being involved in Test matches or the Chile game. That’ll depend on how well he does in those training sessions. But he’s one that’s already shown from a scrummaging point of view that he can cope really well and there’s more to come from him, and he’s mobile too.
“Glen Young hasn’t played as much rugby [for Edinburgh] recently after picking up an injury. He was fit for the Stormers game but missed out on selection because he hadn’t played that much. Some of the rugby he’s played this year has been outstanding. He’s a different sort of second row, he can play in the wide channels, he made a few line breaks, but he also has a hard edge about him around the contact area. We want to see how he thrives at Test level and in a Test level training environment. We want to see if his skills can come out in that, because those skills could really help us.
“Ben Muncaster is a huge success story. He won young player of the season at Edinburgh at their awards last night. To go into Edinburgh as a 20-year-old and get a spot in that back-row shows he must have been training really well. He had the consistency of good performance after that. He played really well in those games out in South Africa against Sharks and Lions. Speed is his biggest asset, with carrying ball as a No 8 or kick-chase. He’s physically matured, his body shape now looks like he’s able to play club and Test rugby. We’re excited about seeing him in our environment. He trained for three weeks during the Six Nations and he fitted in well as a character.
“You want people who are going to enjoy touring, first of all, and can’t wait to play for Scotland and make the squad better. That can be people who are energisers or really positive people, and Ben’s one of those. We all love people who are different and want them to be encouraged to be themselves when they come into the group. We want him to be the person he can be.
“Ollie Smith has done really well. We have to remember that Stuart Hogg has played almost all the games for us at full-back in the last 10 years. Someone else is going to be playing 15 this year. There’s a few candidates, Ollie’s one of them, and it’s up to those candidates to show that they’re worthy of selection and grab that opportunity.
“Ollie really impressed me at Under-20 level, his left boot and ability to break tackles, I thought he was the best player coming out of that group. He didn’t get the breakthrough like Rufus McLean, Jamie Dobie at the same time. But he’s come through this year and we want to spend more time with him.
“With Matt Currie we have high hopes for in the future. He’s an intelligent rugby player who can run good lines and defend in that 13 channel which is really important for us. He played well for Watsonians on the wing in Super6 a couple of weeks ago. He hasn’t broken into the Edinburgh team but that’s because Mark Bennett, Chris Dean and James Lang have played really well. But he’s been in a lot of 23s [match-day squads].
“Kyle Rowe was in our squad through the Six Nations. It’s been great having him around even if he didn’t get into the 23. What a season he’s had, on the back of getting one game for Edinburgh and not getting a contract in Scotland, to go down to London Irish, impress in pre-season and become one of the key players. There was a stat prior to the Six Nations of the three players who had broken the most tackles, one was Kyle, one was Duhan van der Merwe and one was Alfie Barbery. He’s got a real intelligence about his game and he’s another candidate for 15, he’s got a good kicking game, good in the air and he’s a communicator on the field. All these players are going to get an opportunity in the Chile game or the Argentina Tests.”
10. Damien Hoyland is a contender for the No 15 jersey
GT: “He played 15 for Edinburgh with Blair [Kinghorn] on the wing. He could easily play 15 at the next level. Damo’s a great story, he’s played well this year and had two injuries that have kept him out, but he came back, and the last two games for Edinburgh I thought he was in excellent form. He played himself in, absolutely. There’s a couple of guys that may have been mentioned who play in England and there’s a couple of guys who play outside [backs], Tom Roebuck who could have potentially been on tour, but we’re covered by the likes of Damo.”