ONE of the great will he-won’t he questions of our time appeared to be finally cleared up once and for all earlier today [Wednesday] when Cameron Redpath – the precociously talented Bath midfielder and son of former Scotland captain Bryan – was named in the Six Nations squad for the country of his parents’ birth as opposed to the country he grew up in. Then a few hours later, Donald Trump acquiesced to a peaceful transfer of power across the pond.
Redpath was born in France while his father was playing for Narbonne; and he has lived in England since before his first birthday, after the old man moved to play his final few seasons at Sale Sharks, before moving into coaching with Gloucester, Sharks, Yorkshire Carnegie and most recently Scotland Under-20s.
The 21-year-old came through the Sharks academy set-up, representing both Scotland and England at under-18s level, then England at under-20s level, before being picked by Eddie Jones to tour to South Africa with the senior England team during the summer of 2018 whilst still a pupil at Sedbergh School.
In the end, injury ruled Redpath out of that trip and he hasn’t had another call-up from Jones since then, meaning he hasn’t been ‘captured’ by England and is therefore free to throw his lot in with Scotland.
Bath paid Sharks a six-figure sum to buy out the remaining three years of his first senior contract last February, and he has been in impressive form for the Somerset club since lockdown lifted.
“We are obviously delighted to be able to announce Cam in the squad, I have been chatting to him for a wee while now,” said Townsend. “We offered him the chance to be in our squad in the autumn but he felt it wasn’t the right time. Now he has come to a decision and he has chosen Scotland.
“He is an excellent player. He has played regularly for Bath this season and he has a lot more to bring, a lot more growth in this game over the next few years. I’m looking forward to working with him.
“Obviously, his Dad played and captained Scotland, and I played alongside his Dad, but that’s not been a factor. It’s what he feels is right for him now and for the next ten years, or however long he has of an international career ahead of him.
“It’s an unusual situation with a family that’s all Scottish but he’s been brought up in England and played age-group rugby for England. It would have been a tough decision with weeks and months thought about it, but we can’t wait to work with him next week.
“He’s a bright lad, a mature lad – he’s already in the leadership group at Bath – and he’s made up his own mind.
“We certainly appreciate and value players who are decision-makers, are highly skilled, are competitive and who can lead, and Cam is one of those players. There are areas of his game to improve like any player, but he’s someone who would fit in with what we are looking for from our backline players.”
Redpath’s selection means there is no room in the squad for Sam Johnson of Glasgow Warriors or Rory Hutchinson of Northampton Saints.
“They’re two excellent players, which probably shows you the competition we have at centre,” suggested Townsend, before adding that a lack of recent game-time had been a factor in those omissions.
“Rory came back from injury the weekend of our final game in the autumn and played a couple of games for Northampton, who then missed a couple of games with Covid. He also had to miss two weeks with Covid himself. He’s back full training now so we’ll definitely watch how he’s going over the next few weeks.
“Sam was our starting 12 this time a year ago but he just hasn’t had enough games. He came into autumn a bit later because of a knee injury. He played a couple of games for us, went back to Glasgow – and Glasgow then played two games in six weeks, and for the second game, he had to isolate because he was a close contact.”
Opportunity knocks at hooker
Meanwhile, Townsend confirmed that Stuart McInally, who slipped a disc in his neck during a weights’ session last week, will be out for a number of months. We already knew that fellow hooker Fraser Brown is likely to miss most if not all of the Championship with a similar neck issue, as will scrum-half George Horne after foot surgery, while stand-off Adam Hastings is hoping to be back from his shoulder injury for the second half of the campaign.
“We look at this as being a three-week block – a camp and two games – then we get a week off,” explained Townsend. “We’ll know better of how Adam is at that week off. If he can come back and be available for the last two games, that would be on course from where he is now. Anything else would be a bonus.”
The absence of Brown and McInally presents four hookers with golden opportunities. George Turner with 12 caps is comfortably the most experienced and his explosive performances during the Autumn Test schedule cemented his credentials as a bona fide contender for the No2 jersey even before the two front-runners got hurt, so he is odds-on to start against England in two and a half weeks’ time.
Meanwhile, Cherry, Stewart and Ashman will fight it out for the back-up slot. 30-year-old Cherry has experience, recent form and a tidy technical game on his side, Stewart (who picked up three caps off the bench during the build-up to the 2019 World Cup) is an excellent contributor around the park but hasn’t played much recently and questions persist about his darts, while Ashman was a star of Scotland’s Under-20s programme the last two seasons and is seen more as a prospect for the future at this stage, although Townsend didn’t rule him out of having some involvement in this Six Nations.
“He hasn’t played much senior rugby [two appearances for Sale Sharks during the last two seasons] so that’s a frustration for him – and for us as we look further field for hookers,” acknowledged Townsend. “But he trained with us for a week in the autumn and he loved the experience – got a lot out of training alongside and learning from Fraser and Stuart – and we were really impressed with him last year in the Scotland Under-20s.
“Obviously, we would have loved to have seen him play more senior club games, but we can’t control that, so the best way is to see how he goes in our training. We feel that seeing Ewan up here is better than getting feedback from Sale, where he might not play.
“You never know. We’re hoping we don’t pick up any other injuries at hooker in this period, but you’ve got to have a bit more depth in that position, just in case we do.”
Covid casts a shadow
It seems that the selection prospects of Sam Skinner, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Duncan Weir, Hutchinson, Blair Cowan and Cornell du Preez may have suffered from the challenges presented by Covid.
“We’ve had to take into account that the Six Nations is different from Autumn Nations,” explained Townsend. “We are not able to keep our players in a group throughout the tournament. Our players based in England will have to leave camp on Wednesday to go back to play for their clubs next week, and if they are not in our 23 for the opening game of the tournament then they will have to go on that Tuesday or Wednesday back to their club.
“That’s normal practice – it’s called Regulation Nine of World Rugby’s directives – and it just makes it more challenging during this period when we’re dealing with Covid.
“So there has been factors in our selection regarding the fact that we can’t hold onto players throughout the tournament. It’s case by case but it wouldn’t have been a factor before. There are players who were in our squad for the autumn, where we’ve decided because of the situation, we have to factor that in.
“We need enough training numbers for our work during the week, but we also want to reduce the risk of players coming in and out every week.”