Gregor Townsend opts for youth and ‘new’ Scots

Darcy Graham at Murrayfield. Picture: SNS/SRU
Darcy Graham at Murrayfield. Picture: SNS/SRU
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Gregor Townsend announced a 41-man training squad ahead of the autumn internationals with two foreigners who have now qualified for Scotland on the grounds of residency and two age-grade internationalists from last season’s Scotland Under-20s squad.

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Teen flanker Matt Fagerson made three starts for Glasgow last season and looks set to follow big brother Zander into the team. Hawick have produced one class act in the shape of full-back Stuart Hogg and they have unearthed another gem in winger/full-back Darcy Graham.

He is small but quick and Townsend suggested that players like Graham had “something about them”.

“He’s played well at wing and full-back,” the coach continued. “He is the sort of player you want on the ball as much as possible and that could be full-back.

“It’s great to see small players coming through and doing well. New Zealand have Milner Skudder and Damien McKenzie. Darcy has a similar profile. It is very hard to tackle small players now, especially with quick feet, but you have to be competitive and tough to play at a high level when you are not as big as the others.

“Darcy has shown that already in his career and in pre-season with Edinburgh. I’m sure we’ll see him play over the next couple of weeks.”

If Graham and Fagerson were born in blue, the Namibian lock Anton Bresler and the New Zealand midfielder Phil Burleigh have qualified for Scotland thanks to the three-year residency rule that will extend to five from next year. Bresler adds to an already healthy mix of second row options although Richie Gray is missing, injured.

Centre is also a position of strength and depth for Townsend but while Burleigh will do well to get past Alex Dunbar for the No 12 shirt the Kiwi can do a shift at ten where Scotland are struggling to find anyone to challenge the incumbant Finn Russell.

There are three other uncapped players in addition to the ones already mentioned. Glasgow lock Scott Cummings, Edinburgh flanker Jamie Ritchie, who owes his inclusion to Rob Harley’s injury, and Jamie Bhatti. With just one start for Glasgow to his name, Bhatti owes his place to the injury-plagued loosehead trio of Rory Sutherland, Alasdair Dickinson and Allan Dell; only the latter is likely to recover in time to be a contender for the November Tests although Townsend is hopeful of getting Dickinson back for the Six Nations.

“Jamie Ritchie we were impressed with last season,” said Townsend of the young flanker while admitting this may be the last chance for uncapped players to force their way into the World Cup reckoning. “He played a few games with Edinburgh and his defence was excellent and he adjusted to playing at openside much more regularly and with a consistency in his game.

“Jamie was not going to be in the squad but he is the right player to come in to replace Rob [Harley]. It will be interesting to see how he gets on competing against the other back rows in the squad.

“Jamie Bhatti... this is an opportunity again through injury with Al Dickinson and Allan Dell still out injured. Alex Allan misses out who had been on the summer tour.”

Allan isn’t the only one to receive a wet flannel in the face. Such is the improved depth of Scottish rugby that the list of overlooked players would have been shoo-ins to many a Scotland squad not so long ago: Josh Strauss, Ruaridh Jackson, Damien Hoyland, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Adam Ashe, Matt Scott and Duncan Weir were just a few of the disappointed.

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