Chile v Scotland A: Gregor Townsend places trust in home-based players with one notable exception
The strength or otherwise of the Scottish pro teams will be put to the test in Santiago on Saturday when a matchday squad containing 22 players from Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors takes on Chile in an A international.
The opening match of Scotland’s South American tour falls outside the designated international window so Gregor Townsend has been unable to call upon his English-based players. Indeed, such is the agreement hammered out with Premiership Rugby Limited that the Exiles have not yet been permitted to join the rest of the squad and will only arrive in Chile on Saturday.
Also flying in is Glasgow hooker George Turner, who has recovered from the illness that prevented him travelling with the original party.
Townsend has selected six uncapped players to face Chile - three in the XV and three among the replacements - as he looks to test out some new talent.
Glasgow’s wretched end to the season hasn’t prevented them supplying the bulk of the starting side and Ollie Smith has been picked at full-back. Matt Currie, the Edinburgh outside centre, also starts alongside his club-mate Ben Muncaster, who can play across the back row but has been picked at blindside flanker after a highly impressive first campaign as a pro. The three uncapped players on the bench are Glasgow hooker Johnny Matthews, Glasgow prop Murphy Walker and Edinburgh lock Glen Young.
Edinburgh flanker Luke Crosbie, who has one cap, will captain the team and there are starts for Glasgow’s Ross Thompson (also one cap) and Rufus McLean (two caps) at stand-off and left wing respectively.
Although it is not a full Test, Townsend is treating it as one and is eager to see how the younger players do in what is, for some, their first taste of international rugby since age-grade level.
“We are certainly viewing it as a Test match,” said the Scotland coach. “We are not able to pick all our players but it is a game that has been added on to a tour which we feel is hugely beneficial.
“This is the first time that a team from the Six Nations has played Chile in 60 years, so we know it is going to be a massive opportunity for them to take on a team from the northern hemisphere and help their preparations for taking on the USA [in next month’s World Cup play-off match].
“We know we are representing Scotland. For a number of players it has been a while since they either played for Scotland, with guys like Scott Cummings and Matt Fagerson coming back from injuries, or it is the first opportunity for some to be involved outside of age grade rugby. We will be pumped up.”
Cummings and Fagerson add experience in the pack but so too do Jamie Bhatti and Dave Cherry. The backline has a more callow look to it and Townsend has appointed five-cap centre Sione Tuipulotu as his vice-captain.
Seasoned scrum-half George Horne partners Thompson at half-back and there is a welcome return on the wing for Damien Hoyland, five years after he last played for Scotland.
There is a strong, experienced core among the replacements, with Pierre Schoeman, Magnus Bradbury, Ali Price, Blair Kinghorn and Mark Bennett all ready to step up if required but you suspect Townsend will want to see the new boys play plenty of minutes.
Scotland will face Australia in the autumn in another match that falls outside the international window so this could prove a useful exercise.
The cavalry, in the form of the English-based players, will arrive in time for the main part of the tour which is a three-Test series against Argentina and Townsend expects them to get up to speed quickly.
“They have been training on their own,” said the coach. “They should be at a fitness level that means they are ready to go on Monday.
“It is just one of the issues we have when we have players playing outside Scotland. But we have to adapt to that and use next week as a really important training week to get whatever team we put out in the first Test together.”
The Exiles are not allowed to train until Sunday but Townsend will let them rest until the following day.
“With all the travel involved they’ll be at the game at the weekend, we won’t be training on Sunday, so they’ll be ready to go on Monday.”
Premiership Rugby Limited’s strict rules apply only to the English top-flight players and Townsend expressed gratitude to Scarlets for allowing Sebastian to join up early.
“Scarlets have been very supportive of Javan playing for Scotland, he’s trained really well. Scarlets had an extra two weeks to their season when they focussed purely on fitness, and Javan came through that in really good shape,” said Townsend of the Carmarthen-born prop who qualifies through his father, who was born and raised in Edinburgh.
“He got time off the bench for us against Japan [in the autumn Tests], but this will be his first opportunity to start, and he’s someone we have high hopes for in terms of what he can do in the set-piece, but he’s also a very good rugby player which fits well with what we are looking for from our front five.”
Scotland A (v Chile, Estadio Santa Laura Universidad SEK, Santiago, Saturday, 9pm BST)
15. Ollie Smith - Glasgow Warriors - 0 caps
14. Damien Hoyland - Edinburgh Rugby - 4 caps
13. Matt Currie - Edinburgh Rugby - 0 caps
12. Sione Tuipulotu - Glasgow Warriors - (vice-captain) - 5 caps
11. Rufus McLean - Glasgow Warriors - 2 caps
10. Ross Thompson - Glasgow Warriors - 1 cap
9. George Horne - Glasgow Warriors - 17 caps
1. Jamie Bhatti - Glasgow Warriors - 22 caps
2. Dave Cherry - Edinburgh Rugby - 5 caps
3. Javan Sebastian - Scarlets - 1 cap
4. Jamie Hodgson - Edinburgh Rugby - 5 caps
5. Scott Cummings - Glasgow Warriors - 21 caps
6. Ben Muncaster - Edinburgh Rugby - 0 caps
7. Luke Crosbie - Edinburgh Rugby- (Captain) - 1 cap
8. Matt Fagerson - Glasgow Warriors - 21 caps
16. Johnny Matthews - Glasgow Warriors - 0 caps
17. Pierre Schoeman - Edinburgh Rugby - 9 caps
18. Murphy Walker - Glasgow Warriors - 0 caps
19. Glen Young - Edinburgh Rugby - 0 caps
20. Magnus Bradbury - Edinburgh Rugby - 18 caps
21. Ali Price - Glasgow Warriors - 51 caps
22. Blair Kinghorn - Edinburgh Rugby - 31 caps
23. Mark Bennett - Edinburgh Rugby - 24 caps
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