GREGOR TOWNSEND has promised that the door is not closed on the prospect of Jamie Ritchie returning to the Scotland team at some point during this Six Nations campaign after the former team captain was dropped from the match-day squad for Saturday’s round two clash against France at Murrayfield.
The head coach explained that the decision not to select the Edinburgh flanker came down to striking the right blend in the back-row, plus the benefit to cohesion of all three starters – co-captain Rory Darge, Matt Fagerson and Jack Dempsey – playing for the same club.
“Once we knew Luke Crosbie was going to be ruled out [with a shoulder injury] and Rory was available [after recovering from a knee injury] we had a good look at the back-row and what the best blend would be, and we’ve gone with a Glasgow back-row with the cohesion they have, knowing each other’s games, but most importantly the blend they have,” said Townsend.
“Rory’s an out-and-out seven who can carry the ball well – he’s got an all-round game – but we feel the carrying strengths of Matt and Jack gives us a better mix this week.
“It might be a better blend for the England game as well, it might not be – we’ll decide once we get there.
“What Jamie can do is train well. He’ll get an opportunity, I’d imagine, for Edinburgh next week to play well. So that’s the pressure he could put back on.
“I felt he was unlucky in the Wales game that the opposition were getting lots of jackal penalties, and he didn’t get the reward in a couple where he was on ball,” Townsend added. “But he also contributed in that period to a really efficient and effective defensive performance, and in the contact area in attack.
“So, it’s just the blend we’re looking for this week. And we know we’ve got really good competition with Josh Bayliss in our squad who has trained really well the last few weeks. And you’ve got guys like Hamish Watson and Magnus Bradbury just outside our squad, and that’s with Luke Crosbie injured.
“It’s a position of strength. And we believe this group are best suited for this week’s game.”
Andy Christie of Saracens is named on the bench, with the fact that he is comfortable playing anywhere across the back-row working in his favour.
“He’s been in really good form but we feel off the bench he can cover all three positions and add to our carrying,” said Townsend.
“He’s also developed into a line-out forward as well and stolen a few balls for Saracens this season, so he’s a real good go-to man as a third line-out player.
“And he’s used to coming off the bench because, while he’s been starting regularly for Saracens this season, for a number of seasons before that he thrived in that role of bringing energy and covering any of those three positions.”