Jamie Ritchie addresses loss of Scotland captaincy and his form after being part of elite Calcutta Cup group

Deposed skipper bears no animosity towards Townsend over the coach’s decisions

Jamie Ritchie may not be Scotland captain any more but it’s a mark of the man that he took time out to pass on advice to his Edinburgh team-mate Harry Paterson ahead of the young full-back’s international debut against France.

The back-row forward had been dropped from the squad for the French game but that didn’t prevent him seeking out Paterson before the match to offer some tips which the 21-year-old expressed gratitude for when he spoke to the media after the narrow defeat.

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These could be perceived as turbulent times for Ritchie who was stood down as skipper before the Six Nations because head coach Gregor Townsend could not guarantee his place in the team. Finn Russell and Rory Darge were named co-captains instead, only for Ritchie to be named in the side for the opening win over Wales and handed the vice-captaincy when Darge was ruled out. Ritchie was then dropped out of the squad completely for the round two defeat by France before being recalled to face England and starting in the 30-21 win at Murrayfield.

Jamie Ritchie during a Scotland rugby training session.Jamie Ritchie during a Scotland rugby training session.
Jamie Ritchie during a Scotland rugby training session.

The 27-year-old feels his form has been good but bears no animosity towards Townsend over the coach’s decisions. Asked if it had been a tough time, Ritchie said: “Yes and no. I’m a firm believer in worrying about things you can control yourself, and for me Gregor makes the decisions that he thinks are best for the team and I fully support him in that. So for me – and I’ve said this before – things around captaincy and selection don’t change who I am. Rugby is a subjective beast, and if I can be happy with how I am in myself, then hopefully things like selection will eventually take care of themselves.”

Although the Scotland Six Nations squad was announced on January 16, Townsend delayed his decision on the captaincy until the following weekend as he considered whether to retain Ritchie as skipper. “It was one of those ones where he wasn’t quite sure . . . when we first had a conversation before, just after the squad had been announced, that’s why it got left to the weekend after,” said Ritchie, who was also stood down as Edinburgh co-captain this season.

“He just said ‘Look, there’s obviously a lot of competition in the back row, we’re not sure if you’re definitely going to be involved in every game’ – and that’s something Gregor is quite keen on when you’re going to be captain, which I understand. Yeah, that was basically the conversation. And I think giving Finn and Dargy the armband is a great opportunity for Dargy to get some experience as captain, and also we know that Finn leads the team in the way he plays. Yeah, it’s awesome, and I’ll support them as best I can.”

Ritchie was appointed Scotland captain ahead of the 2022 autumn Test series, having previously been co-captain alongside Ali Price for a match against Tonga in 2021. He went on to lead the national side through the 2023 Six Nations as well as the World Cup and says he will continue to have an input where appropriate even if he is no longer wearing the metaphorical armband.

Ritchie celebrates with Gerard Butler and the Calcutta Cup.Ritchie celebrates with Gerard Butler and the Calcutta Cup.
Ritchie celebrates with Gerard Butler and the Calcutta Cup.

“Captaincy is something I really enjoy, and I relish any opportunity I get to do it,” he said. “But it's not something that defines who I am. It doesn’t change how I am around whatever squad that might be: I still like to think I bring a reasonable amount of leadership and experience. And these are things that don’t change with or without the armband.”

Ritchie suffered a fairly serious shoulder injury during Scotland’s final World Cup match against Ireland which caused him to miss the start of Edinburgh’s season. He returned for the URC match against the Bulls in mid-November and has been pleased with his form since, something he relayed to Townsend when the coach questioned it.

“When we had the conversation I asked what games he was talking about specifically,” said Ritchie. “Not going into too much detail, but I felt like when I came back from my injury, playing for Edinburgh, I played really well the first few games. I ended up with a week off, then played well again, and then the Glasgow games – because of the nature of them – we end up being quite quiet anyway.

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“So I think that’s what Gregor was looking at. But I didn’t feel like I was playing badly. I feel like I’ve played well for a number of years and that stood me in good stead in terms of selection. But it’s a credit to the other guys who play a similar position that they’ve raised their level. And that ‘all right’ for me isn’t good enough. So I will strive to be as good as I can be, and I feel like I have been doing that. I feel like I have played reasonably well when given opportunities to play this year.”

If Townsend is still unsure about what his best back-row is then Ritchie did himself no harm at the weekend by helping Scotland defeat England for the fourth year in a row. The flanker is one of a select group of four to have played in all four wins and will hope to be involved in the final two rounds of this year’s Six Nations which see Scotland travel to Italy and Ireland. Given the way the championship has gone for him so far, he will be taking nothing for granted but believes there is more to come, both from him and the team.

“It is just trying to contribute the best I can to the team’s performance, whether that be through individual moments or executing my role. It is really important to me, and always has been whenever I’ve played in any team. It was a really special one on Saturday, so we enjoyed that, but I think there’s lots more in us. We definitely weren’t at our best and there is definitely more in us.”