Scotland tour: Gregor Townsend on the strengths of the six uncapped players he’s picked for South America

In a squad announcement short on surprises, Gregor Townsend still found space to accommodate six uncapped players in his tour party for Argentina and Chile.

Edinburgh back-rower Ben Muncaster will be on the plane to South America. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Edinburgh back-rower Ben Muncaster will be on the plane to South America. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

The Scotland coach usually likes to pull a rabbit out the hat on these occasions but his selection for South America was as notable for those left out as for the 40 who were picked.

Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell were the headline absentees, rested after a gruelling couple of seasons, while WP Nel, Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally have also been given the summer off with the aim of their coming back refreshed for next season and potentially the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

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The tour has come too soon for Jamie Ritchie, who tore his hamstring in the Six Nations win over England in February, and Cam Redpath, who is recovering from neck surgery after an injury sustained against Wales. There is also no place for Richie Gray, the Glasgow veteran.

The omissions have paved the way for half a dozen others to get their first taste of international rugby, with the A international against Chile in Santiago on June 25 a useful vehicle to blood the new talent ahead of three Test matches in Argentina.

London Irish’s prolific winger Kyle Rowe has been in excellent form and will be given his opportunity in South America after being part of the Six Nations squad but not winning a cap.

Ben Muncaster, Edinburgh’s pugnacious back-row forward, has been called up for the first time and is joined by clubmates Glen Young, the pacy second row, and Matt Currie, the centre. Glasgow Warriors supply two uncapped players in full-back Ollie Smith, who had a strong second half of the season, and Murphy Walker, the versatile prop who can play either side of the scrum.

“Murphy Walker’s really impressed us this year with how well he’s played when he’s had his opportunities,” said Townsend. “He’s not had a huge amount but two games in particular; loosehead against Samson Lee away to Scarlets and he was rock solid. In the first 1872 Cup he started as loosehead and switched over to tighthead against Boan Venter, one of the best looseheads in the URC. He did very well.”

Kyle Rowe has impressed for London Irish. (Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

Townsend views Dundee-born Walker primarily as a tighthead and is looking forward to seeing him work with scrum coach Pieter de Villiers and the senior Scotland props.

The absence of Hogg leaves a big hole to fill and Smith will vie with Huw Jones, Rory Hutchinson and Damien Hoyland for the 15 jersey.

“Ollie really impressed me at Under-20 level, his left boot and ability to break tackles,” said Townsend. “I thought he was the best player coming out of that group. He didn’t get the breakthrough like Rufus McLean, Jamie Dobie at the same time. But he’s come through this year and we want to spend more time with him.”

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Edinburgh's Matt Currie has received his first Scotland call-up. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

The rise and rise of Muncaster has been one of the stories of the season at Edinburgh and the Scotland coach was particularly impressed by the way he performed in South Africa when the capital side defeated the Sharks in Durban.

“Ben Muncaster is a huge success story. He won young player of the season at Edinburgh and he’s been really deserving. To go into Edinburgh as a 20-year-old and get a spot in that back row, shows he must have been training really well.

“Those games out in South Africa, against Sharks and Lions, he played really well. Speed is his biggest asset, carrying ball as a No 8 or on the kick-chase. He’s physically matured, his body shape now looks like he’s able to play club and Test rugby. We’re excited about seeing him in our environment. He trained for three weeks during the Six Nations and he fitted in well as a character.”

Matt Currie has some big beasts ahead of him in the pecking order at Edinburgh and the centre has been farmed out to Super6 for game-time but Townsend has high hopes for him.

Glasgow Warriors full-back Ollie Smith will be packing his bags for South America. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

“He’s an intelligent rugby player who can run good lines and defend in that 13 channel which is really important for us,” said the coach. “He played well for Watsonians on the wing in Super6 a couple of weeks ago.

“He hasn’t broken into the Edinburgh team but that’s because Mark Bennett, Chris Dean and James Lang have played really well. But he’s always been in 23s.”

Young, the third uncapped Edinburgh player, has a few more miles on the clock and has had to be patient to get his chance at this level but the 27-year-old has shown in bursts what he can do during an injury-interrupted season following his move from Harlequins.

“Some of the rugby he’s played this year has been outstanding,” said Townsend. “He’s a different sort of second row, he can play in the wide channels, he made a few line breaks, but he also had a hard edge about him around the contact area.

“We want to see how he thrives at Test level, Test level training environment. We want to see if his skills can come out, because those skills could really help us.”

Rowe’s try-scoring exploits on the wing for London Irish this season haven’t gone unnoticed by Townsend.

Edinburgh's Glen Young offers a different threat at lock. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

“There was a stat prior to the Six Nations of the three players who had broken the most tackles, one was Kyle, one was Duhan van der Merwe and one was Alfie Barbeary [of Wasps],” said the coach.

“He’s got a real intelligence about his game and he’s another candidate for 15, he’s got a good kicking game, good in the air and I’ve seen him live in a few games, he’s a communicator on the field.

“All these players are going to get an opportunity in the Chile game or the Argentina Tests.”

Scotland squad

Forwards: Ewan Ashman (Sale), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow), Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh), Dave Cherry (Edinburgh), Andy Christie (Saracens), Luke Crosbie (Edinburgh), Scott Cummings (Glasgow), Rory Darge (Glasgow), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Exeter), Jamie Hodgson (Edinburgh), Ben Muncaster, Pierre Schoeman (both Edinburgh), Javan Sebastian (Scarlets), Sam Skinner (Exeter), Rory Sutherland (Worcester), George Turner (Glasgow), Murphy Walker (Glasgow), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Glen Young (Edinburgh).

Backs: Mark Bennett, Matt Currie, Darcy Graham (all Edinburgh), Adam Hastings (Gloucester), George Horne (Glasgow), Damien Hoyland (Edinburgh), Rory Hutchinson (Northampton), Sam Johnson (Glasgow), Huw Jones (Harlequins), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Rufus McLean, Ali Price (both Glasgow), Kyle Rowe (London Irish), Ollie Smith, Ross Thompson, Sione Tuipulotu (all Glasgow), Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester), Ben White (London Irish).

Itinerary

25 June: Chile v Scotland A, 9pm BST, Santiago

2 July: Argentina v Scotland, 8:10pm BST, Jujuy

9 July: Argentina v Scotland, 8:10pm BST, Salta

16 July: Argentina v Scotland, 8:10pm BST, Santiago Del Estero

Gregor Townsend views Dundee-born Murphy Walker primarily as a tighthead prop. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
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