DUNCAN WEIR is set to be chief beneficiary from the double injury blow which has deprived Scotland of Finn Russell and Adam Hastings for at least the remainder of this Autumn’s Test schedule.
The 29-year-old has been capped 28-times since his Scotland debut back in 2012, but only once since Gregor Townsend became head coach in the summer of 2017, as a late replacement against France earlier this year. The Worcester Warriors man has been a member of the extended training squad throughout the Autumn so far, meaning that he should be able to hit the ground running against Italy away a week on Saturday.
“Duncy is playing the best rugby of his career,” said Townsend. “I have worked with him for a long time and it has been really encouraging to see how well he has played pre and post-lockdown. There is a calmness about the way he plays.
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“The way they play at Worcester is not dissimilar to what we want to do moving the ball,” he added. “He has really improved in that area. He has been excellent running the opposition plays in the past couple of weeks. There were a couple of line breaks last week and he still has that very good all-round kicking ability.”
Townsend also pointed out that Edinburgh’s South African-born stand-off Jaco van der Walt becomes eligible to play for Scotland through the three-year residency rule after the Italy game but before round two of the Nations Cup against France at home the following Sunday.
However, there is a complicating factor here because van der Walt is currently back in South Africa getting married and will have to go through a quarantining process before he is able to get involved.
“It’ll be tight,” conceded Townsend. “He comes back on 9th November so we’ll just see what the quarantine will have to be, whether he misses our training, or whether things change because he is able to get tested here.
“We were aware that was going to be happening and he’s not available for the Italian game anyway, but as soon as we can involve him in our training that should coincide with whether it is the France game for the Fiji game the following week.”
In the meantime, James Lang, who has played at inside centre in Scotland’s two matches so far this Autumn, will be the next cab off the rank after Weir at stand-off. “He has covered 10 in every game he has played this year [for Harlequins], whether he has started there or come off the bench,” explained Townsend.
“So, he has had enough minutes [at 10] and Stuart Hogg moved there at the weekend. Blair Kinghorn is an outside option, too. We feel it is better Peter Horne stays with his club and plays, as he has played well in his last two games. He is another option for us too but going into the Italy game we are comfortable with the options we have in our squad.”
Townsend also revealed that Exeter Chiefs scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne is being added to the squad to compete against Ali Price, George Horne and Scott Steele for the No9 jersey.
“We feel that Sam deserves to come in given his performances for Exeter, but we didn’t feel it was right for him to come in for the Wales game having missed the first two weeks of our camp,” he explained. “Now we get an opportunity to work with all four [scrum-halves] and Mike Blair is looking forward to putting them through a few little scrum-half and conditioning sessions.
“He [Hidalgo-Clyne] is also someone else who can play stand-off. Him and Scott Steele were half-back partners at Merchiston many years ago, so we know we have another person who could move there if needs must.”
Meanwhile, winger Sean Maitland is called after missing the Wales game due to his Covid breach whilst on Barbarians duty two weeks ago.
“We obviously didn’t include him [Maitland] in our squad for the game against Wales. He was due to come back and we were disappointed, as he was, with his actions – but he is back available now and determined to prove that he can make up for that mistake,” said Townsend, indicating that the SRU are happy to leave the RFU to take care of any disciplinary measures which might arise from that incident.
“There is an ongoing disciplinary hearing being conducted by the RFU because the Barbarians are an English club, so I know there has been a couple of hearings already and we’ll wait to see what the outcome is of that, but he’s going to be back with us for training this Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”
A handful of as yet unnamed players will drop out of the training group to bring the number involved down from 40 at the start of the Autumn to 35. A full squad update is expected tomorrow [Thursday].