Townsend picks Mcinally as Scotland World Cup captain
Centres Hutchinson and Jones left out of squad Coach goes for players with defensive qualities
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.