A quest for instant unity lay behind the thinking of Gregor Townsend naming an all- Glasgow Warriors backline for tomorrow’s opening autumn Test against Samoa at BT Murrayfield.
Thought to be the first time, certainly in the professional era, that every single position behind the scrum has been filled by players from the same club in a Scotland starting XV, the coach had no hesitation in giving the nod to players he knows so well from his time at Scotstoun.
A similar philosophy, to a slightly lesser extent, sees five from eight in the pack coming from Edinburgh.
One caveat to the Glaswegian backline is that centre Huw Jones is yet to play for the Warriors, having just arrived to begin his contract from Stormers and Western Province. Even there, however, there is familiarity as the 23-year-old teams up again with Alex Dunbar, with whom he has played the bulk of his international rugby.
Dunbar has only played ten minutes in the past month and a half due to a knee injury but Townsend is clearly keen to field what is now clearly the No 1 centre pairing.
“The good thing about international coaching is you get to study international teams and it was one we kept coming back to as a coaching group, keeping club players together,” said Townsend.
“Cohesion was the word that kept coming back to us as a coaching staff. I remember times when I was still playing. I think it was Warren Gatland’s first selection when he was Ireland coach he picked 13 Munster players.
“Warren Gatland again with Wales had 14 Ospreys out of the XV who took on England a couple of years ago. Joe Schmidt’s first Ireland team had 11 or 12 Leinster players.
“So there are advantages, especially if it’s your first game, because these players don’t need much coaching.
“Tommy Seymour, Lee Jones and Stuart Hogg know what each other are going to do on a counter-attack. You don’t have to spend too much time on telling them: ‘You go there, you go there, this is what we’re looking for.’
“Also they bring their own systems. There are things they’ve brought to us. I’m trying not to give away all our secrets but let’s say there’s a tap penalty move they’ve worked at Glasgow.
“Great idea. You guys all know what you’re doing there. Let’s do that. It’s better than us bringing a move that is brand new to 15 players.”
That thinking extends to bench options too and Townsend added: “It is good to have the Edinburgh front-row starting and the Glasgow one on the bench.
“In most cases now the front row doesn’t play 80 minutes because of the effort they have to put in and the opposition bring on a fresh front row so we can predict at some point the bench will get a run out, hopefully the front row together as they have played a lot and trained a lot together this season.
“We found it beneficial on [the summer] tour. The Edinburgh front row started versus Italy then the Glasgow one versus Australia and it just allows you to do more things than focus on brand new things. Cohesion, we believe, is very important.”
Townsend admitted that it was a thrilling prospect to be head coach of the country he played for 82 times in an illustrious career at Murrayfield for the first time, although stressed he won’t be thinking much about himself come tomorrow.
“I’m really looking forward to it. As a head coach it is all about the players and helping them perform and be confident in what they are going to do,” he said.
“To help them in a stadium that is 65,000-plus is even better, for the players and for us to enjoy the atmosphere.”
Townsend faced Samoa three times in his Test career and knows from personal experience that his players will know they have been in a contest come tomorrow evening.
“I do remember one. [Centre] Brian Lima, whose nickname was The Chiropractor, got me – and I did get my back aligned that day.
“We had a three-on-one, it was the 1999 World Cup play-off game, and normally with a three-on-one the defender is just going to sit off and you can pick him off, because he’s got decisions to make. He didn’t do that. He came in and, well, it meant I had to pass the ball – I certainly got hit hard.
“That is something the Samoans do really well. They tackle very hard, they run very hard. They’ve got a power and speed about their game. If you give them quick ball, if you aren’t accurate, they will cause you damage.”
The last time Scotland faced the islanders was in the World Cup pool stage two years ago and they edged a tense 36-33 win to book a place in the quarter-finals. Skipper Greig Laidlaw dragged his side over the line on that afternoon in Newcastle and the Clermont scrum-half, who is out of the series with a broken ankle, has been in and around the Scotland camp this week.
“He’s been really good out speaking to individuals, just being there,” said Townsend of Laidlaw’s influence. “Players have had a lot of meetings themselves as well as us having coach-led meetings and to have someone who’s obviously a key leader for this team, for this squad and has been their captain for the last couple of seasons is great.
“The players have referred to that [World Cup game] and obviously Greig was there and that’s where we’ve certainly been aware that at things like re-starts, which they were excellent at that day, and running from their own 22, which took the team by surprise, we’ve got to be alert for anything.”