1. Why are you giving thought to changing the captaincy?
Gregor Townsend said:
Partly the competition in the back-row, and Jamie Ritchie missing the last couple of weeks [with a jaw injury]. When we were debating the squad last week and again on Monday we didn’t know when he’d be back available but I believe he’ll be fit for this weekend. Because there’s so much competition in that back-row we’ve got to make sure we pick players who are playing well, are in form and will help us win.
He’ll be one of the favourites to be captain, but we’ll leave that decision to after this weekend. He’s likely to be competing with the guys who have captained the team before. Rory Darge captained the team, and Finn Russell did as well in the summer, and Grant Gilchrist has captained the team before. Sione Tuipulotu has been a vice-captain and has been leading Glasgow really well in recent weeks, so those are players in our leadership group and I’d have thought if there was a different captain in this Six Nations it would come out of that group.
If he plays well [for Edinburgh against Scarlets this Friday], he puts himself in a strong position. The first role of our leaders is to play well. That’s the best way to lead because that means you get in the team. Jamie has missed the last two or three weeks and is up against some players who are playing really well in recent weeks so he knows he has to deliver a performance this week which I’m sure he will.
2. Any qualms about calling up Alec Hepburn, who was previously capped six times by England?
It is a fluid concept. I could use a number of examples where it’s not as straightforward as you might believe.
Cam Redpath’s dad was captain of Scotland and all his family are Scottish but he was brought up in England because Bryan, his dad, went to play for Sale and ended his career there. Cam Redpath played for England under-18s, England under-20s and was selected by Eddie Jones to go on tour and could have been playing for England. But the fact was that he was dual-qualified and a player who was of interest to us.
We have to compete with all the other countries looking at players who are dual and triple qualified, so you have to be open-minded with everyone.
We’ve got to pick who we believe is the best player to help us win and that’s only right and what our supporters, I believe, would want us to do.
Ideally, we’d be producing more players that come through the Scottish pathway but it’s never been as straightforward as that. A lot of Scots travel, a lot of Scots bring their families up outside of Scotland and they’re proud when their lads and girls play for Scotland, so we’ve got to make sure we’re aware of these players who are dual qualified.
Someone like Alec Hepburn wasn’t English qualified. He qualified on residency. He’s got a Scottish father, was brought up in Australia but finished schooling in England, and after a few years became involved with the England set-up.
I’m delighted he’s now with us. He’s at a good age for a loose-head prop  and can go straight in and play Test level.
3. What persuaded him to throw his lot in with Scotland?
I spoke to him about 18 months ago and had a couple of really good conversations with him, but at that time he wasn’t selected, wasn’t prepared to commit to Scotland.
But he’s always talked about Scotland over the years. He used to wind up Jonny Gray [his club mate at Exeter Chiefs] saying he was going to go via the sevens route and play in the Olympics in order to qualify for Scotland.
This has now opened up for him in the last year or two with the new law change and I’ve been really impressed with him the last two or three weeks. I was at the Exeter versus Northampton game where he played really well off the bench, and at the weekend there he played very well against Glasgow.
He was out for a long period at the beginning of the season with glandular fever and during that time he thought about Scotland and thought his chance had gone.
It was a real motivator for him coming back. Playing at Sandy Park at the weekend was a motivator because he hadn’t played there for a number of months.
He was really taken aback when we talked over the weekend and the last couple of days [and explained] that there was a chance that he could be in the squad.
So it’s great that someone’s come back from some adversity and set a goal and it’s looking like he’ll achieve it.
I think he’s the type of player that really suits the way we play. He’s aggressive, high skill, and has real pace.
And it’s a challenge to someone like Rory Sutherland who has the next two or three games for Oyonnax to show us his best rugby. We are big believers in Rory, he’s been involved with us for a while now, we just want him to get back to his best too.
He was off the bench at the weekend, they played Sharks and he scrummed well. He missed the two weeks before that, but I believe he’s starting this weekend. We’ll be continuing to watch his performances.
4. Tell us about Will Hurd?
He has played regularly [at tight-head prop] for Leicester this year. He played Scotland under-20s and was on Glasgow’s books a few years back for a a short period and we have been impressed with him this year. He is solid at scrum time, hits hard in defence. Pieter de Villiers has been in contact with him for a while, giving him feedback around his game. He was delighted to be called up. It has been a dream for him since playing under-20.
5. You must have been chewing your nails whilst watching Zander Fagerson playing 80 minutes for Glasgow against Exeter at the weekend given how short of options you are at tight-head?
There are not many but we have more depth than ever before. WP [Nel] is playing the best rugby of his career. He played 72 minutes both games against Glasgow and made 20 tackles a game so that is great. A couple of years ago we never thought WP would still be playing but he is, and playing well. Javan Sebastian was going really well and did well against Castres before getting his injury. He should be back available by the start of the tournament, might just miss the first couple of games.
D’Arcy Rae is back at Edinburgh, Angus Williams [is at Edinburgh too], and Will Hurd now becomes available for us.
Murphy Walker, who was in the wider World Cup squad, is coming back from injury and will be back for round one or two [of the Six Nations].
Clearly Zander is our leading tight-head and has been for a number of years and that showed what Glasgow think of him playing him 80 minutes in a Champions Cup game and he was still going well at the end of the game.
6. Is Harry Paterson ready for this step up after just a handful of pro appearances for Edinburgh?
I believe he is and that is based on the two away games he played for Edinburgh. Against Ulster he was outstanding and then in the very tough environment of Clermont he fronted up with his kick-chase, his tackling, and his energy. Edinburgh didn’t win but he was part of a positive performance. It would have been great to see him play against Castres but he got injured in the first 10 minutes. On the flip side, he got off the bench early at the weekend and looked dangerous.
7. What will Arron Reed add to the squad?
He brings real energy. He’s a player in form, he works hard on the field and he’s got outstanding pace. From my meetings with him over the last year or two, I believe he is someone who has got a growth mindset. From his feedback, he can’t wait to be working with an international squad, training alongside the wingers we have in our squad, so we’re looking forward to having him in our group.
8. What about the other English and Welsh based players you have been linked with?
I’ve chatted to Gus [Warr] and Tom [Roebuck] over a number of weeks. They are players of interest for us who are playing regularly for clubs. They will be people that we watch and give feedback to. They’re not in our squad right now for different reasons. The ones we have in the squad are the ones we believe in.
[Fin Smith] was in England’s extended World Cup squad so I’d imagine he’ll be in their squad that gets announced tomorrow [Wednesday]. When someone’s already committed to another team it’s usually just a matter of time before they’ve then capped.
[Fraser Dingwall] is dual qualified too but was in the wider England squad for the World Cup so we’ll see if he’s selected for them.”
[Rhys Litterick and Jacob Beetham] are players who are dual-qualified and not in the Wales squad. I’d imagine they’ll continue talking to Wales and we are certainly watching and giving them feedback from a Scottish perspective as well.
9. Does not selecting 32-year-old Hamish Watson effectively mean he has been retired from international rugby?
No, I don’t believe that’s the case. It was the same conversation with Chris Harris who’s a year older than Hamish. We’ll select on how players are playing and who they’re competing with as well.
Hamish, when he came back into the Edinburgh team, played well and had two really good games. He maybe didn’t play as well in the first game against Glasgow but it’s more the level of performances we’ve seen from the likes of Andy Christie and Luke Crosbie. They’ve been really good this year.
And when you’re competing as open-sides … we need to make sure we have a blend of players who can play No 8 and line-out forwards in our squad too.
Hamish is good enough to play Test rugby tomorrow so maybe this disappointment will have a positive effect as well and he’ll go for it in the one game before the break for Edinburgh and put pressure on that selection. But physically Hamish has a lot of rugby left in him.
Chris [Harris] actually played well the last two or three weeks. He’s obviously disappointed not to make it, but Huw [Jones] has had a great year for us. I think he has played really well when he’s had to move to the wing, but he did play really well at 13 in Glasgow’s win against Bayonne. Hopefully he’ll get some game time at 13 this week.
And Rory Hutchinson has really come through in the last month. He missed about six weeks with injury. So he’s had to compete hard to get into the Northampton team, and since he’s been back in that team he’s performed really well.
10. How close is Rory Darge to being fit again?
Friday will be the three-week mark from his injury and there will be a series of tests which get conducted then. So, we’ll have a clearer picture this weekend on whether he is a chance for the opening weekend, or the opening two weekends. Let’s hope that is the case.
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