GREGOR TOWNSEND believes that the close friendship which exists between Adam Hastings and Blair Kinghorn can help drive both players on in their battle to make the Scotland No 10 jersey their own as the build-up to next year’s World Cup gathers pace.
“They’re best mates, so as soon as the squad got announced before the start of this Autumn series, David Edge, our team manager, got a message from them both five minutes apart, each asking if they could share a room with the other,” the national team head coach revealed after adding Hastings to his starting XV and dropping Kinghorn to the bench for Saturday’s clash against Fiji at Murrayfield.
“When I spoke to Blair on Monday to tell him he wouldn’t be starting for this one I did say it will be interesting to see how the both of them get on this week. We don’t train on a Monday but they both grabbed Chris Paterson that day to go out and kick together. We see that [friendship] as a positive.
“They’re going to drive each other as they get on very well with each other. I’m sure they’ll both want to be starting although Blair can cover a few other positions too.”
Hastings will be part of an all-new Scottish midfield against Fiji, alongside fellow exiles (who were not available last weekend) Cam Redpath at inside-centre and Chris Harris at outside-centre, replacing Kinghorn, Sione Tuipulotu (both named on the bench) and Mark Bennett (out of the match-day squad altogether).
One of the big disappointments from last week’s narrow loss to the Wallabies was how little the home backline showed with ball in hand, and this looks like a better balanced triumvirate.
“Adam is a game manager who also has the ability to run whereas I’d say Blair is a runner-passer and is learning more on the game management side,” said Townsend. “Adam is playing regularly and very well for a team that’s going great in the English Premiership, and the way Gloucester have performed this year aligns a lot in attack with what we want to do with our team.
“Blair off the bench is also a positive thing – his running game, his pace, his passing, whether that’s at 10 or in a different position, can really cause damage in the last 20 minutes.
“Centres all bring their own strength but firstly you have to get the gain-line, you have to go forward and you have to defend well, then you bring anything else you have on top of that,” Townsend added. “With Cam, because he’s played at 10, he’s a link player and a kicker, whereas with Sione you have someone who is going to attack defenders.
“Having Cam and Chris together is a really good combination which suits the strengths of each other. Chris is a great defender and has really good running lines, while Cam is a more creative player and is very good post tackle, so I picture a scenario where Chris makes a good tackle and Cam is on the ball defensively, or Cam is creating something to put Chris through a hole. That is certainly how they have been training this week.”
The other backline change sees the vastly experienced Stuart Hogg (also unavailable last week) replace emerging star Ollie Smith at full-back, with Townsend praising the way the older man has responded to losing the captaincy.
“He’s been the loudest at training, he sits in the front row of our meetings, and he’s contributing a lot this week,” said the coach.”So that’s positive, because we know he has to manage his body all the time given the way he plays and the amount of rugby he’s played.
“Everytime he goes out to play you see that positive nature and he wants to put something on the ball. He’s always going to be a leader for us. Just focusing on being the rugby player and how he can help the team without all the other things, that’s our aim, to bring out the best in him.
“I think Ollie’s had two big opportunities against quality opposition in Argentina during the summer and Australia in his first Test on home soil last week, and he’s stood up very well. He hadn’t played much for Glasgow this season, just one game, and one Super6 game before that. So to do as well as he did is a real positive. He’ll get a lot now working with Hoggy; seeing how he operates and his all-round skillset. I’d imagine that’ll inspire him to get another start soon.”
Meanwhile, Townsend quashed rumours that the exiled Finn Russell is to be recalled to the squad ahead of next Sunday’s clash against New Zealand, providing a one-word answer – “No” – to a direct question on the subject.
He was, however, more expansive about the prospect Russell’s namesake, 20-year-old Northampton Saints stand-off Fin Smith, becoming part of the Scotland set-up.
“I have spoken to Fin a few times, prior to this summer and also over the last couple of months,” said the coach. “He got a bad injury in training so has not been available for his new club Northampton for the last couple of months.
“It has been great having conversations with him. He is a young man but he is very mature and understands the game and has very strong links to Gala, so that is always a good thing isn’t it?” added Townsend, who is, of course, a product of the Border town.
“We know there are a number of players, Cam Redpath for one, whose parents are Scottish. Fin’s parents are Scottish, his grandfather played for the Lions but he has come through the English system. He will maybe have to make a decision sooner than people think because he is a very good player. I am sure England will be after him as well.”
“He hadn’t played until last week so his focus will be with his new club and getting back playing again during the November Tests so I would imagine his conversion with us and England will continue after this Autumn period.
“It was just great seeing how well he played at the weekend given he’d been out for three months with a broken jaw. I see he’s starting again this weekend.”
Scotland (v Fiji at Murrayfield, Saturday @ 1pm): S Hogg; D Graham, C Harris (VC), C Redpath, D van der Merwe; A Hastings, A Price ; P Schoeman, G Turner, Z Fagerson, R Gray, G Gilchrist (VC), J Ritchie©, H Watson, M Fagerson. Substitutes: E Ashman, R Sutherland, M Walker, J Gray, J Dempsey, B White, B Kinghorn, S Tuipulotu.
Fiji: K Murimurivalu; S Tuicuvu, W Nayacalevu, K Ravouvou, V Habosi; V Botitu, F Lomani; E Mawi, S Matavesi, M Saulo, T Mayanavanua, R Rotuisolia, A Tuisue, L Botia, V Mata. Substitutes: T Ikanivere, L Natave, L Tagi, A Ratuniyara, K Kamikmaica, P Matawalu, T Tela, S Maqala.