Western Morning News

Townsend explains the omission of two Chiefs

- JOHN EVELY jonathan.evely@reachplc.com

EXETER Chiefs’ duo Sam Skinner and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne have missed out on selection for the 2021 Guinness Six Nations due to Covid protocols Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has revealed.

Townsend explained that any 50/50 calls with players based outside of Scotland’s two Pro14 clubs went against exiles this time round as each national side looks to create Covid secure bubbles to ensure the tournament is given the best possible chance of being completed.

England will keep a squad of 28 players, including Chiefs quartet Henry Slade, Jonny Hill, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Harry Williams for the entirety of the tournament, including this weekend’s training camp as they look to keep the virus out of their camp with head coach Eddie Jones currently isolating until tomorrow.

As a result of Scotland’s precaution­s, 10-cap lock Skinner and 14-cap scrum-half Hidalgo-Clyne, who have both generally been used as replacemen­ts by Townsend of late, will stay with their club throughout the 2021 tournament. Guaranteed starters Stuart Hogg, who has been named as captain once again, and second row Jonny Gray have been selected by Townsend.

Townsend explained: “We’ve had to take into account that the Six Nations is different from Autumn Nations.

“We are not able to keep our players in a group throughout the tournament. Our players based in England will have to leave camp on Wednesday to go back to play for their clubs next week, and if they are not in our 23 for the opening game of the tournament [against England on February 6] then they will have to go on that Tuesday or Wednesday back to their club.

“That’s normal practice - it’s called

Regulation Nine of World Rugby’s directives - and it just makes it more challengin­g during this period when we’re dealing with Covid.

“So there has been factors in our selection regarding the fact that we can’t hold onto players throughout the tournament. It’s case by case but it wouldn’t have been a factor before. There are players who were in our squad for the autumn, where we’ve decided because of the situation, we have to factor that in [for the Six Nations].

“We need enough training numbers for our work during the week, but we also want to reduce the risk of players coming in and out every week.”

Despite the challenges of running an internatio­nal tournament across borders during the Covid-19 pandemic, Townsend is confident his side are in the best possible shape to stay healthy.

He said: “We have a really good setup at Oriam [where the training camp is based at Scotland’s national performanc­e centre for sport, based at Heriot-Watt University’s Riccarton campus in Edinburgh] and we can make sure we look after our players and keep the virus out of our environmen­t as much as possible.

“Hopefully, the tournament will proceed and be completed in the normal time.”

“Two or three weeks ago, when the European Cup games got cancelled, that was a tough time for everybody, not knowing whether the tournament would go ahead. Following that, and with the French government’s insistence on various protocols, every competing nation and the organisers believe that the tournament will go ahead as planned.”

The silver lining for Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter is he will have two key men for six additional rounds of Premiershi­p rugby with the league running at the same time as the tournament during the 2020/21 season.

Chiefs will also be without Tomas Francis, who is with Wales.

 ?? Phil Mingo/PPAUK ?? Exeter’s Sam Skinner was left out of Scotland’s Six Nations squad
Phil Mingo/PPAUK Exeter’s Sam Skinner was left out of Scotland’s Six Nations squad

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