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

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