Townsend faced the media for the first time as national team boss yesterday after naming his 34-man squad for next month’s summer tour and made it clear that continuity would be the watchword rather than any sense of a new broom. The 44-year-old former Scotland and Lions stand-off, who finished his five years as Glasgow Warriors coach on Saturday, finds himself in the unusual, and potentially tricky, position of inheriting a team on the up.
Normally in such circumstances a new coach comes in to replace someone who has failed. That is evidently not the case here after Cotter’s largely successful and pride-restoring three years in the role but the debates about the wisdom of jettisoning the Kiwi and the timing of Townsend’s ascent had a line put through them as the new boss took his seat in a BT Murrayfield suite just after 2pm yesterday to discuss his first squad selection with the assembled media.
“It will be building on a lot of the good work that is there, the style of rugby the team has played is very similar to what I believe in and how we’ve played at Glasgow,” Townsend made it clear. “But it’s also learning what has worked at international level. That’s on the field but also off it, the environment and how the leaders get to contribute as much as possible.
“That will be a collaborative process, me speaking to the players and the leaders, the staff that have been there and the new staff coming in.”
Cotter led Scotland to a World Cup quarter-final and three home wins in the Six Nations just past and Townsend said: “There is a good feeling around the squad, the players have clearly gained a lot of confidence from how they’ve played.
“There is a good feeling in Scottish rugby. You see that with the amount of people going to the games and the atmosphere they are creating. You want to build on that optimism and make sure we work really hard as a coaching and playing group to get our rewards.”
The headlines from Townsend’s first selection for the Test against Italy in Singapore on 10 June, Australia in Sydney on 17 June and Fiji in Suva on 24 June, were the inclusion of three uncapped players in the form of Glasgow tighthead prop D’arcy Rae, his Kiwi-born centre clubmate Nick Grigg and Edinburgh hooker George Turner. The latter was the most surprising of the trio, having only made his first Edinburgh start a couple of weeks ago against Dragons and playing most of this season with London Scottish.
There are returns from injury for the South Africa-born pair of WP Nel and Josh Strauss. Edinburgh tighthead Nel has missed most of the season with a neck problem, while Sale-bound back-rower Strauss hurt his kidney during the Six Nations.
Glasgow wing Lee Jones, Edinburgh scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Harlequins utility back Ruaridh Jackson earn recalls, while there are notable omissions for the Edinburgh pair of lock Grant Gilchrist and stand-off Duncan Weir.
The call up of national skipper Greig Laidlaw to the Lions at the weekend has opened the door for Hidalgo-Clyne and for John Barclay to continue in the captaincy role he assumed when the Gloucester scrum-half was injured during the second Six Nations match in Paris.
“You could tell from the outside that John was doing well,” said Townsend of his tour leader. “The way he spoke to referees, his confidence, the way he spoke to you guys [media] and the enjoyment he had from being captain.
“Then when I got the feedback from the coaches it was all positive.
“I’m delighted [for Greig]. I think he would have been in a good position to be selected for that tour if he had played a full Six Nations.
“I’m pleased for him that he’s back and available and I think he’ll be great on that Lions tour and I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays Test match rugby.”