Six Nations: Gregor Townsend explains Scotland captaincy switch

Storm Isha diverts Rory Hutchinson to Cologne

Gregor Townsend at the 2024 Six Nations launch at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. Image: ©INPHO/Ben Brady
Gregor Townsend at the 2024 Six Nations launch at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. Image: ©INPHO/Ben Brady

THERE were a few individuals missing from the first day of Scotland’s Six Nations training camp at Oriam this [Monday] morning, with Storm Isha wreaking havoc on certain players’ travel plans.

Saracens back-row Andy Christie’s flight from London was diverted to Newcastle, which was frustrating. But spare a thought for poor Rory Hutchinson, who had hoped to make the quick hop from Dublin to Edinburgh on Sunday afternoon following Northampton Saints’ 23-26 Champions Cup win over Munster on Saturday evening, only for his flight to be delayed until 11pm and then diverted to Cologne.

The other notable absentees were head coach Gregor Townsend and new co-captain Rory Darge, who endured a bumpy rider but were not diverted off track on their flight from Edinburgh to attend the Six Nations media launch at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.


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At the event, Townsend confirmed that his decision to hand the national team captaincy to Darge and Finn Russell on a joint ticket was largely driven by concern that outgoing skipper Jamie Ritchie is not currently a guaranteed starter in the side.

He insisted that Ritchie – who led the team throughout the 2022-23 season and at last Autumn’s World Cup – took the demotion in his stride and is now fully focussed on recapturing his best form in order to ensure selection in the Scotland back-row against ferocious competition from Luke Crosbie, Josh Bayliss, Andy Christie, Matt Fagerson, Jack Dempsey and, of course, Darge himself.

“The important thing for any of our leaders is to make sure they’re going to start, and that got me thinking that, if it’s going to be a real conversation around Jamie and the starting team up against those other guys, maybe we should look at someone else as captain,” explained Townsend.

“It was great to see Jamie play for Edinburgh on Friday night [after missing the previous week’s game with a jaw injury] and I thought he played well. But we came to the decision over the weekend to look at someone else and we then came on to the idea of co-captains. They’re both developing as leaders although they’ve not been captains a huge amount in their careers.

“He [Ritchie] took it very well,” Townsend continued. “I’d obviously spoken to him around if he can get back playing then this is the challenge he has now with the competition we have – to get in the team – and I explained that we still hadn’t made up our mind around captaincy, but for us the captain has to be someone who is a going to be nailed-on starter, and just now that isn’t the case because of the competition.

“He’s been excellent through this whole process, and he’s determined to be in the starting team down in Wales [on 3rd February], so that’s his whole focus.

“He played really well for Edinburgh earlier in the season, in that Ulster game in particular. Maybe things didn’t go so well for him over at Scotstoun, but we know Jamie bringing his best rugby is only going to help Scotland.

“But him bringing his best rugby …. he knows it has to happen now because of the competition we have. He’s got a week training to show where he is.”

 

Darge has faced his own injury issues recently after damaging his knee in Glasgow’s 1872 Cup clash against Edinburgh at Murrayfield in late December, but Townsend sounded optimistic about his new co-captain being fit for the start of the Six Nations against Wales in Cardiff on 3rd February.

“We’ll wait and see but he got good news on Friday,” said the coach. “He’s out the knee brace and he’ll start his running rehab process this week. He did a session on Sunday, not much on Monday because he’s here in Dublin, and then we’ll see how he is at the end of the week.

“He’ll definitely be in the squad for Spain [pre-Six Nations camp running from next Sunday to Thursday] and for the Wales game, we’ll need to make the call on Monday or Tuesday whether he’ll make it or not. But if he doesn’t then we’re confident that it will be the following week.

“Rory can lead by example in terms of his physicality and the defensive side of the game, and Finn can lead on the attack side of the game,” Townsend added. “We’ll see how it works on the field. We’ve had co-captains before. Against Tonga it was Jamie and Ali Price, at Glasgow [where Townsend coached before taking on the Scotland job] we did it for a couple of seasons. Some referees like it better knowing they can go to someone around the breakdown or the lineout, and someone else for something more general.”

Russell spoke recently about how stepping back from goal-kicking duties at Bath has helped helped relieve pressure with beneficial consequences on the rest of his game, but Townsend indicated that he expect Russell to carry on in that role at international level.

“I think he thrives on kicking for Scotland,” the coach reasoned. “He didn’t kick much for Racing and still kicked for Scotland.

“I think his goal-kicking last year was at a really high level and just getting back to the rhythm of knowing that he is kicking that week, I’m sure he will be fine.”

Townsend also suggested that Russell will take the lead when it comes to communicating with the referee during matches, which is a role Ritchie struggled to do in a positive tone.

“I’d say so. Even when he was vice-captain, Finn was very good at interacting with the referee,” said Townsend. “10s tend to have that connection after tries, and at the halfway line, and they are removed a little bit from the set-piece.

“And he’s got that level of experience. He knows where the game is going and what needs to be said to the referee.

“He’s always going to be a leader of the team, working with the captain, but I thought at the weekend there in the Bath versus Toulouse game when they were a man down and he came in and managed the clock at times and helped the captain make decisions.

“So, he has always been in that role as a vice-captain and now it will be him saying to others: ‘What do you think we should do?’ But he’s the one who has got to make the decision.

“Finn is in charge of our our attack on the field and having played lots of Test matches will be able to lean on that. Rory is a big leader of our defence with his physicality and he leads by example, and others can follow.”

 

 

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About David Barnes 3821 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

20 Comments

  1. When I started reading the comments my option Was it was a good pick finn captain and father vice captain but reading the comments now I agree Finn should be captain and if Darge is not match fit then forget it .

    • could not agree more John and you can add disdainful as he is happy to announce Scotland squad in jeans and trainers but gets suited and booted for this.

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  2. Ed you beat me to it. A big gamble naming Darge at this point. It could be wonderful naming a young guy with a big future as captain after all he will be there for years , but wait a minute….
    18 months ago,Many on here agreed that Ritchie was the coming man. He was a nailed on starter and had international captaincy experience at under 20s. It wasn’t guaranteed but as with previous captains, the promotion saw a dip in form and captaincy credentials came into question seeing him fall foul of referees.
    Personally I’d have held off naming a captain until the end of the training camp, trying a few options in the post in the training sides and see if they can motivate and moreover see who is still fit.
    There’s only been one nailed on starter across GTs time as manager and that’s Russell. It’s taken 6 years and much humble pie to finally realise he could be the guy.
    There is only one 6 nations coach out there who takes average club players and makes them play at a higher level on international duty and that’s Gatland. He picked AWJ as captain and stuck by him despite many of his performances being meh. He rewards loyalty and commands respect as a result. Played one dimensional rugby but everyone understands their role.
    Can we say that about GT? Changing captains, style of play, falling out with players, best defence in 6N one year worst the next.
    The nemesis awaits in Cardiff and despite the gulf in class between the respective players at club level I think we may get off to a losing start.

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  3. ‘Rory can lead by example in terms of his physicality and the defensive side of the game and Finn can lead on the attack side of the game’…’Townsend also suggested that Russell will take the lead when it comes to communicating with the referee during matches’. Communicating with the ref and his players during matches is exactly what a captain does, so why not just make Finn captain? Absolutely bonkers and I utterly despair of the coach’s latest wheeze.

    ‘A role Ritchie struggled to do in a positive tone’ is pretty damning and has nothing to do with uncertainty of selection, but I regret to say it is true. The sight of Jamie arguing with the ref and getting marched back ten metres was not a one-off and certainly not an example to set to the rest of the boys, far less influence the official. He is a fine player and I’m sure will come back strong now that he can focus on his own game.

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  4. Seems to be a bit of a contradiction here.. Ritchie has lost the Captaincy because he isn’t a nailed on starter but Darge is named Co captain even though his fitness is in doubt for the Wales game?

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    • The whole thing is chaotic. As you say, there’s a difference between being fit and being match-fit. You don’t just come off a month on the treatment table and assume the captain’s arm band in a test match. Or are there two arm bands, one for attack and speaking to the ref, the other for defence? Only Townsend.

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  5. With GT logic Darge should not be co captain. He has not played since Edinburgh game and a doubt for the opener. Christie is in great form so back row v Wales should be Bayliss/ Fagerson, Christie and Dempsey. If they perform well is Christie to be automatically dropped.

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  6. On GT Logic Darge should not be co captain.
    Out injured since Edinburgh game and Christie in great form suggests the back row for Wales should be Bayliss/ Fagerson, Christie and Dempsey. If Christie has a great game v Wales is here then dropped.

  7. On GT Logic Darge should not be co captain.
    Out injured since Edinburgh game and Christie in great form suggests the back row for Wales should be Bayliss/ Fagerson, Christie and Dempsey. If Christie has a great game v Wales is here then dropped.

  8. Intriguing this issue of having a definite starting berth. Assuming everyone retains current level of fitness, then guaranteed starters I would guess are Schoeman, Z Fagerson, Gray, Dempsey, Russell, VdM & Kinghorn and of those, I would suggest only Finn and of course Zander (please, only joking!) is natural captaincy material. GT presumably puts Darge in the at least “near certainty” category but just not convinced he’s always going to be the best choice. Dempsey surely has to start and would be crazy to leave out Christie given his current form so for me, leaves either Darge or Crosbie at openside, with M Fagerson unfortunately filling the role of versatile sub. Against the Irish certainly, I like the idea of Crosbie’s physicality to give us a bit more beef and maybe in other fixtures too. And Ritchie might fight his way back into contention. So not convinced Darge as co- captain is the right choice, but then this side is picked and coached by GT so who knows …

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    • Took the words right out of my mouth. How many times against the powerhouse forward packs are we gonna turn up with lightweight back rows and then wonder why we have been dominated at the breakdown and in the tackle. Townsend never learns.

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  9. No guarantee Ritchie will be a nailed-on starter so he picks Russell and a guy who is injured and consequently has no guarantee to be a nailed-on starter. Whatever.

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