Gregor Townsend has named a 40-man squad for Scotland’s upcoming Autumn Test series, with three uncapped players included - Sam Johnson of Glasgow Warriors, Exeter Chiefs back-row Sam Skinner and Blade Thomson of Scarlets. Patrick McPartlin takes a look at the trio
Sam Johnson, centre, Glasgow Warriors
Australian-born centre Sam Johnson has been in impressive form for Glasgow since joining in April 2015.
The former Queensland Reds back played both union and league prior to joining the Super Rugby outfit in 2013, and has played 33 times for the Scotstoun side, contributing 15 points.
Johnson qualifies for Scotland on residency grounds, but is yet to be capped.
The 25-year-old has been drafted to Glasgow Hawks for the current campaign, having spent time with Stirling County and Ayr during his first two seasons in Scotland.
Both Gregor Townsend, who signed him for Warriors, and current Glasgow head coach Dave Rennie have praised Johnson’s ball carrying skills.
Rennie said towards the end of the 2017/18 campaign: “I think Sam Johnson has probably been our best midfielder throughout the 2017/18 campaign and you have to find a place for him going into the business part of the season. Sam is really good with ball in hand, he’s got great feet and he’s a punishing defender and a good communicator. He’s had a great season.”
The self-described “proud Australian” said in 2017 that he hadn’t joined Warriors purely to qualify for Scotland, adding: “I will be Scotland qualified, but I didn’t come here to be Scotland qualified. If it happens, it happens.”
Townsend said: “Sam is a player I know well having signed him for Glasgow three-and-a-half-years ago. Each season he’s got better and better and won the players’ player of the season award last year, so that shows you how well he’s performed.”
Sam Skinner, lock / back-row, Exeter Chiefs
Former England Under-20 cap Sam Skinner can operate as a second row or back row forward, and was played at No.8, fly-half and centre during his formative years.
Skinner had all but abandoned hope of a professional rugby career when he left school and hadn’t been picked up by an academy. A late growth spell persuaded him to give the game one last try, delaying a gap year to go travelling.
He joined Taunton in National League Two, where his performances
The 6ft 5in forward scored five points in a 31-17 win over Wasps on his maiden Premiership start in September last year, but had made his debut for Chiefs in 2014, in an LV= Cup match against Gloucester.
The 23-year-old was involved with the Scottish Exiles programme as a teenager, and qualifies for Scotland through his Ayr-born father Peter.
He has a 95 per cent success rate in terms of tackles won, having come out on top 110 times in 116 attempts. He has a 100 per cent record in three of his last four games for Chiefs.
Speaking after the announcement, Townsend said: “Sam Skinner - who I’m sure everyone knew about and you’ve not been frantically googling him - is a big bonus for us as he’s an excellent player with a big future ahead of him.
“I spoke to him prior to the summer tour. We’d known about his Scottish qualification for a number of years as he was involved in the Exiles programme as a youngster. We’d have liked to have taken him on tour but Sam didn’t think it was the right time.
“He’s an excellent player. Line-out leader for one of the best packs in Europe, his decision-making is excellent and really good running lines so we’re delighted he’s committed to Scotland.”
Blade Thomson, Number 8, Scarlets
Blade Thomson pitched up at Scarlets earlier this year after reportedly rebuffing an approach from Glasgow, with five years of Super Rugby under his belt with Hurricanes.
Born in Auckland, the 27-year-old has featured for New Zealand Under-20s, with whom he won the 2010 IRB Junior World Championship in Argentina, as well as the Maori All Blacks
Also able to operate at lock or loose forward, the 6ft 6in Thomson qualifies for Scotland thanks to his paternal grandfather Robert, who hails from Wishaw.
Thomson underwent should reconstruction surgery in 2017, causing him to miss the entire 2017 Super Rugby campaign, but has impressed for Wayne Pivac’s side in the PRO14.
He told BBC Wales’ Scrum V programme last month: “I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about [representing Scotland].
“But, to be honest, Scarlets is my job first and foremost. If it happens, it happens. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, I suppose.”
Writing in the Scotland on Sunday last weekend, rugby writer Iain Morrison said: “He is equally happy sporting the four, six or eight jersey but it is in the latter role that Scotland need him most.
“Thomson is rangy, athletic and boasts the softest hands, just the sort of intelligent, distributing No.8 that Townsend wants/needs. He was said to be challenging Kieran Read for the All Blacks’ starting jersey a few years back before major surgery on his shoulder set him back after suffering multiple dislocations. At 27 his best years are ahead of him, providing the shoulder holds out.”
Townsend admitted he’d been tracking Thomson since his days as Glasgow head coach, adding: “We’ve known about him and his Scottish qualification for a few years.
“I was even interested in signing him for Glasgow before he missed a couple of years through injury, so it’s great to see him fit and playing number eight for the Hurricanes and playing very well for the Scarlets.”