Gregor Townsend upbeat on Stuart McInally and Duncan Taylor
Grant Gilchrist will deputise for his Edinburgh team-mate by skippering the side in Edmonton, while Chris Harris and debutant James Lang will form a new centre partnership, but there is little doubt that head coach Gregor Townsend will want both McInally and Taylor in his starting line-up, certainly against the Pumas.
“Just to give you a medical update, everybody is training fully apart from Stuart McInally and Duncan Taylor,” Townsend said after naming a relatively inexperienced team to play the Canadians. “Those are the only two that aren’t doing everything.
“[McInally] should be OK. He just pulled up a little bit the day before we left, so it was a concern. We brought Grant Stewart in and knew with travel that the first game might be out of reach for Stuart.
“But he trained really well and did everything the medics were looking for him to do up until Sunday when it felt tight again. We’re not going to take any risks with him. It means there’s not that push to play in the first game, and we’ll see about the second game. Certainly, if there is any question, he’ll not be involved in the second game, although we don’t think it will be an injury that will take him out of the tour. We think he’ll be available for one if not two of the games.
“Duncan is progressing. We took him on tour because we believe he’ll be available for at least the USA game, and Argentina game. We’re just going to see how he continues to progress with that back injury.”
The first of the three games was always going to feature a high number of Edinburgh players, given that the Glasgow contingent were allowed a week off after their Pro14 semi-final defeat, which came a fortnight after Edinburgh’s season had ended in the previous round of the play-offs. Jamie Ritchie will make his debut at openside, Blair Kinghorn will make his first start at full-back, and lock Lewis Carmichael should win his first cap off the bench in a 23 that includes 10 members of Richard Cockerill’s squad. Perhaps the most intriguing selections, however, are those of two Glasgow players: Ruaridh Jackson, who starts at stand-off, and Adam Hastings, who will replace his team-mate at some stage to make his first full international appearance. Jackson is listed in the tour party as a full-back, while Hastings is the only out-and-out 10, but Townsend explained when the group was first announced last month that he had a specific plan to run one of his other backs in the playmaker’s position.
Given Lang, although he has played at stand-off, is regarded by Townsend as an inside centre, it always appeared probable that Jackson would be given the nod to provide back-up to Hastings. The fact that many members of this group have little or no experience of Test rugby goes a long way to explaining why Jackson is starting.
“Ruaridh has played international rugby at 10, and played 10 at Harlequins and Wasps before coming to Glasgow. He’s not played 10 this year, but has played very well at 15. So we want to see – given his form at 15, and given our options at 15 with Stuart [Hogg] and Blair [Kinghorn] going so well – we want to see how he [Jackson] will go at 10 given how well he is playing. It also gives us a bit more experience in that position and we can bring Adam into the game later on.
“Adam is in his first year, really, as a full-time professional. The good thing about what he’s done is he’s got better every time we’ve seen him play. I thought he played really well during the Six Nations period. I know that Dave [Rennie] and the coaches at Glasgow have been very impressed with him off the field when he hasn’t been starting – he’s really helped the sessions. He’s trained very well with us. He will get an opportunity, obviously off the bench this week, and we’ll see what happens next week.
“He’s a young player. He doesn’t need to prove anything. He just needs to improve. There will be opportunities for him on this tour; no doubt there will be opportunities with him next season at Glasgow.
“James Lang we are considering primarily as a 12. His skill set suits the way we want to play in that position. We’ve been very impressed with him at training – he’s worked really hard.
“His ball-carrying is his biggest strength – he’s very strong and likes to have a go at defences. What impressed us most in training was his work-rate off the ball. He’s connecting well with those around him in defence, and 12s and 13s have to do a lot of running and he fits that mould very well.”
Although only a handful of those chosen to start this game would be seen as first choices in a full-strength Scotland side, Townsend has taken care to stress that the newcomers are in on merit, with Ritchie another case in point.
“If he plays like he played against Glasgow, we’ll be very relaxed in the coaching booth with how he is going to perform,” the coach said of the back-row forward.
“He finished the season really strongly, and it was a pity he missed the play-off game across in Munster. He trained well and he can play blindside too, but we see seven as a real position for him at international level.
“He’s a lineout option and he can carry ball and has always been an effective tackler.
“There’s good competition with him and Luke Hamilton – both have trained well.
“He knows there are opportunities this week and next week to play well and give him a chance of be in the mix for the Argentina game.”