GREGOR TOWNSEND says that Rory Hutchinson’s exclusion from Scotland’s World Cup squad ultimately came down to the 23-year-old’s lack of international experience. The Northampton Saints utility-back was one of the surprise omissions from the 31-man group which was named this afternoon, but the head coach pointed out that he has only been involved in the national set-up since the start of the summer, making two appearances off the bench and one start for the national side.
Huw Jones, who was one of Scotland’s most celebrated players just 12-months ago, also misses out after failing to recapture the form of his early international career.
“Rory came very close, both him and Huw were debated for a long while on the flight back from Georgia and at the airport and during subsequent conversations with the coaches,” explained Townsend.
“He did very well on Saturday night [scoring two tries in the team’s win over Georgia] – he was comfortable on the ball – but just missed out as he’s not had enough international experience, especially against some top teams. He came off the bench in both France games and started against Georgia, but we know we have players in the group who have performed really well for Scotland in the bigger games.
“Both Rory and Huw are similar in terms of not having enough games at international level to force their way into the squad.
“Huw hasn’t had enough games playing well, or playing at all, over the last few months. He’s looked in unbelievable shape in training but we haven’t seen enough in the game and a half he’s had with us to get himself into that final squad. We know he’s on his way back to his best form, but it just wasn’t enough.”
The chief beneficiary of Hutchinson and Jones’ exclusion is Peter Horne, who is a trusted Townsend lieutenant but prone to the odd costly gaffe, such as the interception pass which led to an early try for France two weekends ago. Townsend said he wasn’t incited to read too much into that particular incident.
“In the France game he did very well but he had a pass intercepted – you can look that That and say it was an error and that happens, or you can say it was really good defence,” he said. “We had two interception tries in the Six Nations when Finn picked off a couple and we look at that as great defence.
“The pleasing thing is that in the first game this season he played very well after that and worked his socks off as he always does. He was a really good foil playing with Finn and carried the ball and gave us width.
“He’s always one of our top two or three hardest workers in training and he does that in games, and we are happy with his condition. He’s played a number of games for Scotland when we have done well.”Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 24)
Chris Harris is another player who wasn’t seen as an automatic pick at the start of the summer to be named in the group.
“Chris has been outstanding right through our campaign and he’s really improved as an attacking player – we saw glimpses of that against France in his support play and running lines,” said the coach.
“Defensively, him and Duncan Taylor are up there with the best defensive centres in the world, so knowing we have them alongside some really good attacking players gives our group a really good balance.”
Townsend confirmed that Fraser Brown (toe), Jonny Gray (hamstring tweak), Taylor (Achilles flair-up), Tommy Seymour and Blade Thomson (both concussion) have all recovered from their respective injuries to be fit for selection in Scotland’s final pre-tournament outing against Georgia at Murrayfield this Friday night, although it is not guaranteed that they will play given the coach has indicated he might deploy players from out with the 31 in order keep his World Cup squad fresh and injury free.
“We just needed to know that he [Brown] can train fully, which he has been able to do for the last few days. He is not going to be involved [this weekend], neither is Stuart McInally, so that gives an opportunity to Grant Stewart to be involved,” said Townsend. “He’s done well during his two opportunities off of the bench. It also allows us to go to Japan knowing that Stuart and Fraser should be fit unless something happens in training.
“With Jonny [Gray], it is maybe going to be a good thing that he missed those three games and we’re hoping to involve him this weekend,” Townsend added. “He trained well this morning and he was in excellent shape before he pulled his hamstring. He’ll be raring to go this weekend and then for the tournament.”
Magnus Bradbury is also back training fully after missing the last three weekends with a rib injury, and is likely to play this Friday despite not making the World Cup cut. The Edinburgh man will, undoubtedly, feel he has plenty to prove.
Defence takes precedence
Townsend concluded by stressing that while he has forged his reputation as an attack-minded coach, defence is going to be key to whatever success the team enjoys in Japan.
“We have looked at players who will work hard, who’ll take the game to the opposition and who won’t be fazed by any challenge they’ll face out there,” he said. “We also looked for players with strong defensive attributes. That was a key work-on for us after the Six Nations, and we believe this squad has a much stronger defensive feel to it.
“The players have to have an all-round game, but winning teams are based on strong defences.
“We pride ourselves on our defence and during the Six Nations we didn’t reach those standards, so we’ve looked at ourselves as coaches – and it starts with me – making sure defence is prioritised in our training and making sure it is prioritised in our selection.
“We play a game which will put teams under pressure because of the fitness and ambition of our players, but we’ve also got to make sure we are strong defensively.
“Success would be playing to our best. Playing to our potential has been our aim from the start. We need to do that against Ireland and keep that going throughout the tournament.
“We know, and we’ve seen, that when we play to our best, we are a match for any team in the world. We have a stronger squad now than we’ve ever had. We’ve never been in a better position over the last few years to play at our best.”