Gregor Townsend has assured Scotland supporters that there will be no repeat of the Steven Shingler fiasco after naming a former Wales Under-20 international in his 36-man squad for next month’s autumn Test series.
Luke Hamilton, the Leicester back-row forward, was one of a number of surprise inclusions among ten uncapped players in the pool for Tests against Samoa (11 November), New Zealand (18 November) and Australia (25 November).
Pembroke-born 25-year-old Hamilton, whose father was born in Stirling, turned out for Wales Under-20s in the 2012 Junior World Cup, playing in a historic 9-6 win over the Baby Blacks of New Zealand while he was with Cardiff Blues.
In the same year, Scotland coach Andy Robinson and the SRU were left with egg on their faces when they called up Scarlets utility back Shingler, whose mother was born in Dumfries, only for the then IRB, now World Rugby, to rule that he was only eligible to play for Wales after also representing their Under-20 side which, as was the case with Hamilton, was the Welsh union’s designated “second” team in terms of international eligibility.
The World Rugby Regulation 8 states that a player is not allowed to switch nationalities if he has represented a “National Representative Team, the next senior 15-a-side National Representative Team and the senior National Representative Sevens Team”.
The difference with the Shingler case was that his game was against France, who were the only other major nation to have the Under-20 team as their second designated “capture team” at the time. Hamilton never played against France.
Yesterday’s news prompted headlines in Wales such as “Welsh rugby dealt a blow as rising star is shock inclusion in Scotland squad” but Townsend was sanguine about the situation yesterday.
“It is checked. It is all done and dusted,” he said. “He did not play in a game that would have got him captured by Wales.”
The Scotland coach revealed the player, who can play across the back row but has been shining at openside for the Tigers this season, had been on his radar for some time and he had been interested in perhaps bringing him to Glasgow Warriors.
“We have known for a couple of years he is Scotland qualified,” continued Townsend. “First of all, from a Glasgow perspective, we were interested in signing him when he was playing for Agen, but he ended up at Leicester. We played against them with Glasgow last year. He is playing really well. He is more, in our mind, a six or eight but he has played the last two games at seven in Champions Cup and was one of the best players on the field.
“For him to commit to Scotland is great for us. We look forward to working with him. He came through the Welsh system. He is Welsh and Scottish qualified. It is great that we can involve him this season.”
The WRU’s policy on national selection now states that Welsh players playing outside the country must have 60 caps before being considered for selection. That means Lions scrum-half Rhys Webb will be out in the cold when he joins Toulon next season.
Townsend said: “He has always said through his agent that he was very interested. It is his form that has got him into the squad this year. He is committed to Scotland.”
Of the other nine uncapped players, five will be experiencing their first taste of being involved with the Scotland squad when they go into camp at the Oriam centre next week. Newcastle centre Chris Harris, Edinburgh prop Darryl Marfo, Sale winger Byron McGuigan and Edinburgh scrum-half Nathan Fowles will all be pulling on the training kit for the first time. Glasgow hooker George Turner is also included, although he was an uncapped tourist in the summer
Glasgow lock Scott Cummings, his prop clubmate Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow), Edinburgh centre Phil Burleigh and his flanker team-mate Jamie Ritchie are also named after all being invited to the extended get-together Townsend hosted at St Andrews in the late summer. On 27-year-old Harris, Townsend said: “Chris was very close to making the summer tour squad. He is a player we have known for a while. He has become a regular and played every game for Newcastle this season.”
Townsend added with a smile: “His family are all from Carlisle so he’s almost a Borderer.” There was good news with the inclusion of centre Alex Dunbar, pictured, who is expected to recover from his knee injury in time. Glasgow captain Ryan Wilson is also in after a bruising match against Leinster at the weekend when he suffered a head knock and other niggles. John Barclay continues to make good progress in his return to play schedule from concussion and Townsend expects him to continue as captain in the absence of Greig Laidlaw, who has a broken ankle. Fit-again full-back Stuart Hogg and wing Tommy Seymour also return to the dark blue after a summer in the red of the Lions.
However, Saracens centre Duncan Taylor is out and Glasgow back-rower Adam Ashe will also miss the series. Lock Richie Gray will not recover from his August back operation in time and loosehead Allan Dell is ruled out after injuring his groin ahead of Edinburgh’s recent match in Moscow.
Edinburgh wing Dougie Fife, back in the 15-a-side fold after a spell with the Sevens squad, also returns. No place for Tim Visser, though, and Townsend said: “We need certain things from our wingers, like high workrate. Just now Tim is not showing that enough. But things may change. He knows what he has to work on.”