Townsend picks Mci­nally as Scot­land World Cup cap­tain

Cen­tres Hutchin­son and Jones left out of squad Coach goes for play­ers with de­fen­sive qual­i­ties

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport / Rugby Union - By Richard Bath

Af­ter missing out on the 2015 World Cup through in­jury, hooker Stu­art Mci­nally will cap­tain Scot­land in Ja­pan. How­ever, there were sev­eral sur­prises at Lin­lith­gow Palace when, in front of 1,500 sup­port­ers, coach Gre­gor Townsend named his 31-man World Cup squad.

Cen­tres Huw Jones and Rory Hutchin­son are the high­est-pro­file play­ers missing, along with back­row­ers Matt Fager­son, Mag­nus Brad­bury and Josh Strauss, wing By­ron Mcguigan, hooker Grant Ste­wart and prop Jamie Bhatti.

With six good cen­tres and just four places avail­able, the mid­field com­po­si­tion was al­ways likely to cause con­tro­versy. Al­though their omis­sion had been the sub­ject of con­sid­er­able spec­u­la­tion, the ab­sence of Jones and Hutchin­son was still the stand­out de­ci­sion.

Jones has bagged 10 tries in 21 starts since mak­ing his de­but against Ja­pan in 2016, and he has a habit of scor­ing against the top teams, hav­ing claimed four tries in two games against Eng­land, three in two matches against Aus­tralia, plus tries against New Zealand, Samoa and France. How­ever, his form over the past 18 months has been patchy and, as well as strug­gling to get game time for Glas­gow, he has failed to score in his past nine Tests.

Al­though Hutchin­son, who only emerged at his club since the turn of the year, is in form, his lack of ex­pe­ri­ence at Test level has counted against him. Despite scor­ing two tries in Ge­or­gia in his first start for Scot­land, the out­side cen­tre missed out to the ex­pe­ri­enced and de­fen­sively sound quar­tet of Duncan Tay­lor, Chris Harris, Sam John­son and Peter Horne.

With vir­tu­ally all of the po­si­tions out­side of back row and cen­tres set­tled weeks ago, the Scot­land coach con­ceded that choos­ing the four cen­tres had been his trick­i­est task. “It was re­ally tough,” he said. “Two cen­tres missed out. We looked at per­for­mance and what they’ve done when they’ve had the chance to play for Scot­land in re­cent games.

“Rory came very close. Both him and Huw were de­bated for a long while on the flight back from Ge­or­gia, at the air­port and dur­ing sub­se­quent con­ver­sa­tions with the coaches. Rory did very well in Ge­or­gia, but just missed out as he’s not had enough in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially against the top teams. He came off the bench in both France games and started against Ge­or­gia, but we have play­ers in the group who have per­formed re­ally well for Scot­land in the big­ger games. Huw hasn’t had enough games play­ing well, or play­ing at all, the last few months.”

While Townsend rang the eight play­ers who missed out, as­sis­tant coaches Matt Tay­lor and Mike Blair rang those who had made it.

How­ever, despite mak­ing his name as a swash­buck­ling pro­po­nent of ex­pan­sive at­tack­ing rugby, Townsend said that ex­pe­ri­ence and de­fen­sive so­lid­ity were key to his de­ci­sions, which ex­plains why some old-stagers who have stood him in good stead in the past – no­tably Horne and Ryan Wil­son – got the nod. So, too, did sec­ond row Jonny Gray and hooker Fraser Brown, despite not fea­tur­ing in the warm-up games through in­jury,

‘We have looked at play­ers who won’t be fazed by any chal­lenge they’ll face out there’

which was also a key rea­son for young back-rower Mag­nus Brad­bury missing out.

Where Townsend has been faced with play­ers whose form for Scot­land has been in­con­sis­tent (Strauss) or who are less ex­pe­ri­enced than ri­vals (Fager­son), he opted for con­sis­tency and ex­pe­ri­ence.

How­ever, where ap­pro­pri­ate, Townsend was still will­ing to pick play­ers with very lit­tle track record at Test level, se­lect­ing No8 Blade Thom­son af­ter just 40 min­utes at that level, and sec­ond row Scott Cum­mings, who has won just three caps, two of them off the bench. He also picked Tay­lor despite the Sara­cens cen­tre play­ing just one game since com­ing back from in­jury.

If the squad look a lit­tle light on the sort of at­tack­ing threats on which Townsend has made his name, they are nev­er­the­less for­mi­da­bly ex­pe­ri­enced and packed with lead­ers. “We re­ally like our squad. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of ex­pe­ri­ence and youth,” said Townsend. “There are a lot of lead­ers there who have cap­tained Scot­land in suc­cess­ful games. We have ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers who lead in cer­tain ar­eas of our game – WP Nel, Jonny Gray, Finn Rus­sell – and vice-cap­tains in John Bar­clay and Greig Laid­law.

“We have looked at play­ers who will work hard, who’ll take the game to the op­po­si­tion and who won’t be fazed by any chal­lenge they’ll face out there.

“We also looked for play­ers with strong de­fen­sive at­tributes. We feel this squad has a much stronger de­fen­sive feel to it.

“The play­ers have to have an all­round game, but win­ning teams are based on strong de­fences. We pride our­selves on strong de­fence, and dur­ing the Six Na­tions we didn’t reach those stan­dards.”

Townsend said the squad for Fri­day’s game against Ge­or­gia at Mur­ray­field–to­be­named­to­mor­row–will be a mix of play­ers from the 31-strong World Cup squad and those who have missed out.

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