Argentina v Scotland: Rory Hutchinson to full-back explained as Townsend looks for Blair Kinghorn connection

Stuart Hogg is a tough act to follow but Gregor Townsend is hoping Rory Hutchinson can perform a role not too dissimilar to that of the Scotland captain when the national side take on Argentina in the first match of their three-Test series on Saturday.

Scotland's Rory Hutchinson has been selected at full-back.  (Photo by Gary Hutchison / SNS Group/ SRU)
Scotland's Rory Hutchinson has been selected at full-back. (Photo by Gary Hutchison / SNS Group/ SRU)

Hutchinson, the Northampton Saints centre, has been selected at full-back for the game in San Salvador de Jujuy, a relative backwater in the north-west of the country.

Townsend took the decision to rest Hogg for the tour of South America after a gruelling couple of seasons which included spending last summer with the Lions in South Africa.

Scotland’s options at full-back were reduced further on the eve of the tour when Huw Jones was ruled out with a back injury. It made the decision to send Damien Hoyland home this week along with four other players slightly perplexing given the Edinburgh man’s experience at 15, not to mention the fact he scored a hat-trick from the wing in the A international against Chile in Santiago last weekend.

It was always Townsend’s intention to prune his squad ahead of the Argentina series and the Scotland coach believes Hutchinson has the sort of transferable skills that will allow him to adapt to full-back.

“We want to give Rory opportunities and we see one at 15,” said Townsend. “He plays 12 and 13 mainly for his club but he has played a few games at 15. It's something we discussed with him and had chats with Chris Boyd, his club coach, around Six Nations time. He now gets this opportunity.”

Hogg, with 93 Scotland caps and a record 26 international tries, has been an inspirational figure for the national side for over a decade and it would be daft to expect Hutchinson to replicate what the Exeter Chiefs full-back does but Townsend believes he can perform a “very similar” role in terms of joining the attack and linking with stand-off Blair Kinghorn.

“We see him as a second receiver, ball carrier and a very good kicker,” the coach said of Hutchinson. “He fits in with what we see from our full backs, and we know he can cover 10 too. Like all of our backs, we want Rory on the ball as much as possible.

Head coach Gregor Townsend believes Rory Hutchinson can dovetail with Blair Kinghorn. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

“In games for Northampton this year, he gets 15-20 touches which is very unusual for a centre. Normally the tens hover around 30-40 touches, the 15s are next with between 15-20 and the centres will be doing well to get 10 touches.

“A lot of the game goes through Rory at Northampton and he’ll naturally get a lot of the game at the weekend. There are a lot of kicks in international rugby so he’ll have to make decisions with what he does with that ball. Once we get into our phase play, we certainly want to see him getting in there as first or second receiver.

“If that is because Blair has taken the ball to the line, and been in contact, then great, because that’s what we want to encourage him to do.”

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Rory Hutchinson in try-scoring form for Scotland against Georgia in Tbilisi in 2019. (Photo by Vano Shlamov / AFP via Getty Images)

Kinghorn, of course, was a full-back up until the end of the 2020-21 season when the fabled Blair switch project was born. And Hutchinson played a season at stand-off for Scotland Under-20s. It begs the question: would they be more naturally suited to switching roles against Argentina? Perhaps, although Townsend will hope the duo’s experience in each other’s position will give the team an attacking flexibility against opponents positioned eighth, one place below Scotland, in the world ranking.

Ollie Smith is the only player in the tour squad who plays at full-back regularly for his club and although Townsend felt the Glasgow Warriors man performed well in the 45-5 win over Chile, he is not part of the squad for the first Test with Argentina.

The five-times capped Hutchinson has not played for Scotland since February 2020 and has started just once for his country, when he scored two tries against Georgia in Tbilisi on the eve of the 2019 World Cup. Despite that performance he was overlooked for Japan but Townsend believes his improvement over the last couple of seasons makes the 26-year-old worthy of inclusion.

“Rory’s always been really good at taking feedback and showing us he’s determined to get back into the Scotland squad. And he’s worked on that. His form in attack has been very, very good over the last couple of years. In this year he’s been in even better form but it’s defensively where we’ve seen the big improvements and that’s made him the all-round player that can be a very good Test player.”

Blair Kinghorn will start at stand-off for Scotland in the first Test against Argentina. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Hutchinson will have experienced threequarters beside him, with Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe on the wings, and Mark Bennett and Sam Johnson in the centre.

Bennett’s selection is especially heartening. It’s six years since he last started for Scotland but the Cumnock man has enjoyed an outstanding season with Edinburgh which was capped off by him being voted the club’s player of the year.

“The way Edinburgh are playing gets Mark involved a lot and he’s had a brilliant season,” said Townsend. “Defensively he’s really worked hard and shown learning in that area. His determination, his toughness and his speed to make really good decisions in that channel, which can be a tough channel to defend in but can also be one where you become a defensive leader and dictate the defence to the opposition attack.”

With the exception of openside Luke Crosbie who is making his first start for Scotland in the absence of the injured Hamish Watson, the pack has an experienced feel to it. Magnus Bradbury is on the opposite flank to Crosbie, with No 8 Matt Fagerson completing the back row.

Tour captain Grant Gilchrist and Jonny Gray make up the second row and Pierre Schoeman, George Turner and Zander Fagerson are in the front line.

Scotland v Argentina: Estadio 23 de Agosto, Jujuy, Saturday, 8.10pm BST. TV: live on Sky Sports Main Event

Rory Hutchinson's performances this season for Northampton Saints have impressed Gregor Townsend. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Argentina: 15. Juan Cruz Mallia; 14. Santiago Lamb, 13. Matías Orlando, 12. Jerómino de la Source, 11. Emiliano Boffelli; 10. Nicholas Sanchez, 9. Tomas Cubelli; 1. Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2. Julian Montoya (c), 3. Francisco Gomez Kodela, 4. Guido Petti, 5. Matías German, 6. Juan Martin Gonzalez, 7 Marcos Kremer, 8. Pablo Matera.

Replacements: 16. Agustín Creevy, 17. Mayco Vivas, 18. Joel Sclavi, 19. Lucas Paulos, 20. Facundo Isa, 21. Gonzalo Bertranou, 22. Santiago Carreras, 23. Matías Moroni.

Scotland: 15. Rory Hutchinson; 14. Darcy Graham, 13. Mark Bennett, 12. Sam Johnson, 11. Duhan van der Merwe; 10. Blair Kinghorn, 9. Ali Price; 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. George Turner, 3. Zander Fagerson, 4. Grant Gilchrist (c), 5. Jonny Gray, 6. Magnus Bradbury, 7. Luke Crosbie, 8. Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: 16. Ewan Ashman, 17. Rory Sutherland, 18. Javan Sebastian, 19. Sam Skinner, 20. Rory Darge, 21. Ben White, 22. Ross Thompson, 23. Sione Tuipulotu.

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