Townsend happy to cast net far and wide in a good cause
IT was, promised Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, entirely a coincidence that five days after unveiling a worldwide hunt for Scottish qualified talent, he had unveiled an autumn Tests training squad divided equally between those developed in Scotland and those who learned their rugby elsewhere.
All the same, it is the shape of the future and already the RFU in England have made angry noises about how they invest in their club academies, which then go on to produce players for rival nations. Scotland were, in fact, late to the game since Wales and Ireland already have structures in place to spot qualified players from the English system.
Yet, it all adds to making the line as to what makes a player Scottish far more blurred than Townsend saw it when he was a player himself. Of the 18 in the training squad who learned their rugby outside Scotland, three qualify on residency and the rest have blood ties.
The likes of Luke Hamilton, the Welsh back row playing at Leicester, and Nathan Fowles, who has moved to Edinburgh, are among the group that has played Under 20s rugby for other countries but have been allowed to switch allegiance after moving into the senior game.
For all that the rules back Scotland, the timing could have been better. Tell the RFU you are going to scour their system for Scottish qualified talent on Thursday, then pluck two players – Chris Harris, the centre-wing from Newcastle Falcons and Hamilton – out of English clubs for a Scotland squad the following Tuesday.
“It’s a coincidence, yes, because we’ve known about these players for a while,” Townsend said. “Chris Harris was very close to making the [June] tour. There are Scottish- qualified players playing throughout the world, whether its parentage, like Luke Hamilton, or grandparents like Chris Harris, there are a number playing in Scotland, there are a number playing outside.
“We have to make sure that we are aware of who they are through the Scottish qualified programme – the enhancement of that addresses that,
getting people out there, meeting players, meeting agents. Making them aware of opportunities that exist within Scotland.
“The Scottish qualified programme is more involved with age-group rugby, making sure young players with Scottish heritage are aware that there is another route, with Scotland. There are a few players throughout the world, in New Zealand and South Africa and Australia, that we are currently aware off who are Scottish qualified and there will be lots more that we don’t know.”
Townsend was at some pains to point out that only four of the 36-man squad he has named play outside Scotland, arguing that demonstrates their dedication to the nation.
“The player has to be committed to play for that country and he has to be good enough,” Townsend said. “Some players will have a stronger link; some players will experience that when they come into the squad and feel the pride of what it means to play for Scotland.”
One position where he is delighted to have the resource of foreign-born players is at prop. Every capped loosehead is unavailable after injury, meaning Jamie Bhatti, Scottish through and through, and Darryl Marfo, the Englishman who moved to Edinburgh in the summer but whose mother is from Ayr, are fighting out for the starting spot. On the other side of the scrum, WP Nel emerged from South Africa and Simon Berghan from New Zealand with only Zander Fagerson a product of the Scottish system.
The player has to be committed to play for that country and he has to be good enough