Scotland squad: Gregor Townsend likely to stick with tried and trusted for his fifth tilt at Six Nations

It’s Gregor Townsend’s fifth tilt at the Six Nations as head coach and when he announces his squad on Wednesday afternoon there will be a sense that it is the best chance in years Scotland have had of winning the darn thing.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend with his playmaker-in-chief, Finn Russell.  (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend with his playmaker-in-chief, Finn Russell. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The current group of players has talent in abundance and, equally importantly, they know how to close out important games.

The final minutes of last season’s victory in Paris was a masterclass of grace under pressure. Down to 14 men and with the clock in the red zone, the Scots carefully went through the phases, probing for an opening. There was no panic. Not even the loss of Finn Russell to a red card could derail them.

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Adam Hastings was calmness itself as he delivered the perfect floated pass for Duhan van der Merwe to barge his way over for the winning try.

Glasgow's Rory Darge is likely to win his first Scotland cap. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Hastings almost serves as a case study for where Scotland are currently. Supremely gifted and now playing for Gloucester, the stand-off barely got a sniff in the autumn.

A couple of substitute appearances against Australia and South Africa were his lot. Hastings’ plight (if you can call it that) highlights the depth of Townsend’s squad.

Russell is out in front as his playmaker-in-chief but it remains uncertain who the second choice No 10 is. Hastings has the experience but the coach dabbled with both Blair Kinghorn and Ross Thompson in the autumn.

At 25, Kinghorn is relatively youthful and seems to be grasping the opportunity to return to his schoolboy position, but the Six Nations is a big step up from the United Rugby Championship. Nevertheless, Kinghorn’s versatility make him an ideal man to have on the bench.

While Townsend likes to throw in the odd selection surprise in his squads, it’s hard to see his match-day XVs varying much from November.

Cam Redpath’s comeback for Bath last weekend from a serious knee injury was a welcome development but the Calcutta Cup opener at Murrayfield on February 5 may come a little too soon.

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One newcomer likely to force his way into the matchday 23 is Rory Darge who has been outstanding since moving to Glasgow and is now season as a credible challenger to Watson.

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Darge’s Glasgow team-mate Sione Tuipulotu has impressed all season, as has his Edinburgh counterpart Mark Bennett. Both are worthy of inclusion, although Harris remains in the box seat at outside centre.

Rory Hutchinson, of Northampton, is another who has been in good form but there is plenty competition at 12 and 13.

It’s the same at scrum-half, where Ben Vellacott is vying with Jamie Dobie and George Horne to be Price’s understudy, and hooker, where Dave Cherry might find himself on the outside looking in despite three tries in five matches last season.

As ever, finding the right blend is key. Recent wins over Australia, France, England and Wales have shown that Townsend’s side have the talent to beat the top nations. The trick is putting it all together in one championship.

On three occasions under Townsend, Scotland have won three and lost two in the Six Nations. Turning one of those defeats into a victory might just be enough to secure the title this time.

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