Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend said centre Rory Hutchinson “came very close” to selection for his 31-man Rugby World Cup squad, which was announced at Linlithgow Palace yesterday, but that, ultimately, his lack of international experience counted against him.
The Northampton 23-year-old’s omission was the main surprise after he had been a stand-out performer in the warm-up Test series so far, scoring three tries in his first three caps, including a double in the 44-10 win in Georgia on Saturday.
Instead, Townsend has opted for the experience of Pete Horne, who can also play stand-off, while another Glasgow centre, 2018 Calcutta Cup hero Huw Jones is also left out of the squad that will travel to Japan on Monday following Friday evening’s final warm-up match against the Georgians at BT Murrayfield.
Townsend has gone for a 17-14 forwards/backs split with Glasgow flanker Ryan Wilson getting the nod after Edinburgh back-rower Magnus Bradbury failed to recover in time from a rib injury.
Hooker Stuart McInally will captain the side in Japan, surrounded by an experienced leadership group which contains former skippers John Barclay, Greig Laidlaw and star stand-off Finn Russell.
“Rory came very close, both him and Huw were debated for a long while on the flight back from Georgia and at the airport and during subsequent conversations with the coaches,” said Townsend at the press conference which followed him introducing the 31 to a public crowd, who braved dreich conditions at the iconic West Lothian landmark.
“Rory did very well on Saturday night, he was comfortable on the ball but just missed out as he’s not had enough international experience, especially against some top teams,” added the coach.
“He came off the bench in both France games and started against Georgia but we know we have players in the group who have performed really well for Scotland in the bigger games. Both Rory and Huw are similar in terms of not having enough games at international level to force their way into the squad.”
It is another setback for Jones, who enjoyed a stellar start to his Test career before struggling with fitness and form since his move to Glasgow in late 2017 from Western Province.
“Huw hasn’t had enough games playing well, or playing at all over the last few months,” said Townsend.
“He’s looked in unbelievable shape in training but we haven’t seen enough in the game and a half he’s had with us to get himself into that final squad.
“But we know he’s on his way back to his best form but it just wasn’t enough.”
When asked how many 31-man squads had formed in his mind over the past year, Townsend replied: “I’ve picked quite a number and more than one a day in the past few weeks.
“You are looking at it hoping that everyone comes through injury-free. Only one player that made our 44-man squad is not available and that’s Sam Skinner.
“It’s a blow for him and for us. Everyone else is back to full fitness, Fraser Brown is now fully fit as is Duncan Taylor who’s missed a few games. Sam Johnson’s come back, Jonny
Gray is now fully fit so you pencil the names in and thank goodness they’ve managed to get through to this stage.
“You want to see them play, especially when selection is so tight in a few positions.”
Townsend is hopeful that Glasgow lock Gray will feature against Georgia after missing the past three games. “Maybe it’s going to be a good thing that he’s missed those few games as he’s back fit and was in excellent shape before he pulled
his hamstring,” he said, “He’ll be ready to go this weekend and then for the tournament.”
It was a proud day for McInally, the 29-year-old Edinburgh hooker, who hoisted the Calcutta Cup in March when an epic 38-38 draw at Twickenham kept the famous old
trophy in Scottish hands.
“I was injured for the last World Cup, so this makes it sweeter,” he said, referring to the neck injury which ruled him out of England 2015 at the last minute.
“It was a very proud moment when I was asked to be captain.”
After a holding camp in Nagasaki, Scotland face Ireland in their Pool A opener in Yokohama on 22 September.