Ben White, a scrum-half with London Irish, and Andy Christie, a back-row forward with Saracens, are among five uncapped players in Townsend’s 39-man selection. Both are former England Under-20 internationals, with White even turning out for the full side, albeit in a non-cap game against the Barbarians, in 2019. The pair qualify through Scottish grandparents and Christie represented Scotland at under-16 level.
The other new faces in the squad are London Irish wing Kyle Rowe, Glasgow Warriors flanker Rory Darge and Edinburgh scrum-half Ben Vellacott.
If last year’s surprise inclusion was Cam Redpath, this time it’s White and Christie. Redpath had been named previously in an Eddie Jones England squad only to be forced out by injury. Townsend persuaded him to switch to Scotland and Redpath enjoyed a stunning debut in last season’s Calcutta Cup win at Twickenham. He missed the rest of the campaign and the autumn Tests but is now back in the squad after a wretched time with injury.
The Scotland coach will hope Christie, 22, and White, 23, can have a similar impact.
“Andy Christie is someone that’s really made a breakthrough this season,” said Townsend. “He has been involved with Sarries for two or three years now, played in their Championship season but now he’s got a regular place. He’s playing at eight, six, and I believe he might be playing at seven this week, so he’s someone that can cover the whole back row.”
White made headlines with previous club Leicester when, at 17, he became the youngest player to play for them in the Premiership in 2016. But it was his move to London Irish at the end of the 2020-21 season that catapulted him into the Scotland reckoning.
“We’ve been watching him the last couple of seasons,” said Townsend. “He’s didn’t have as much game time at Leicester as he would have liked, but this year he’s played a lot of rugby with London Irish, and we’ve been connecting with him since around November – and he’s been really keen to be involved if that chance comes up and it did after yesterday’s selection meeting.”
White’s London Irish team-mate Kyle Rowe is also called up after some fine performances, most notably against Saracens in the Challenge Cup in November when he scored a hat-trick.
Rowe, 23, came through the ranks in Scotland, playing for Falkirk, Glasgow Hawks and Ayr but a move to Edinburgh didn’t work out and it took his switch to London Irish to kick-start his pro career.
Home-based pair Darge and Vellacott are rewarded for excellent performances this season for Glasgow and Edinburgh, respectively.
Darge, 21, has been outstanding since making the move from Edinburgh to Glasgow last spring and was only denied a cap in the autumn by injury. Vellacott, 26, is another who was on England’s radar at one point but threw in his lot with Scotland when he left Wasps to join Edinburgh in the close season.
There are a number of high profile omissions from Townsend’s squad, most notably stand-off Adam Hastings who was used sparingly in the autumn and now finds himself excluded altogether. The Scotland coach has preferred to go with Blair Kinghorn as back-up to Finn Russell, despite the former’s lack of games as an international 10.
There is no place in the squad for Glasgow half-backs Jamie Dobie, George Horne and Ross Thompson, Harlequins centre Huw Jones and front row men Fraser Brown, Oli Kebble and Dave Cherry.
But there are also recalls for Edinburgh trio Mark Bennett, Magnus Bradbury and WP Nel and Northampton centre Rory Hutchinson.