As usual with Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, there were tangents, alternative routes, but few (if any) dead ends when he announced his 42-strong Autumn Series squad on Wednesday.
The coach is in a position of strength, not only clearly with the best record of anyone in the job since rugby went professional. The 2021 Six Nations saw wins in London and Paris in the same season for the first time since the Jurassic era, and most feel this is a team and squad on the way up.
Plus he had a summer with the Lions in South Africa, hopefully seeing his own (hopefully very different) way to beat the Springboks when they’re due at Murrayfield in three weeks.
Anyway, here are the five best points (I think, anyway) from Gregor’s first media session of the season…
Stuart Hogg is ‘on top’ of heavy workload
The captain’s form certainly edged off from the heights of the Six Nations on the Lions Tour, after an arduously tough campaign both mentally and physically. Townsend is well aware of the rigours being asked of his captain and the other Lions tourists.
“Having spoken to Stuart I know he’s on top of that,” said Townsend. “He’s put a lot of things in place to prioritise his well-being.”
Hogg asked for and received two extra weeks of recovery time from Exeter, added the head coach.
“It was of a massive benefit to him and his family. Stuart is making sure that when these challenges come on, he’s got mechanisms in place to make sure it doesn’t affect him.
“A Lions Tour can take a huge amount out of players both physically and mentally. Some are just coming back to play but Finn’s been back for last six, seven weeks. We have to look out for those signs. If there is a mental and physical fatigue we need to support our players throughout a tough season.
“We are aware that players are going to have challenges and we’re asking them to go again so soon after such a big season.”
‘We see Blair as a ten’
With a view to the World Cup in two years, Townsend wants to see Blair Kinghorn and Ross Thompson as his back-up 10s to Finn Russell and Adam Hastings.
“Ross had a great season and both he and Blair were covering 10 for the summer. I think Ross has started this season just as well as he finished the last one.
“We see Blair as a 10. At the beginning of this campaign (ie Tonga) he will be competing with Ross for that position.
“We know that Blair has played very well at test level on the wing and at full-back. I’ve been delighted by his progress at Edinburgh. He is very engaged in playing 10 and he takes a leadership role in attack. I think he has huge potential there.
“We have brought in two players who we think can thrive in this environment and have much more to bring in their games in the future.”
All who commit to Scotland are welcome
Townsend didn’t directly refer to his erstwhile team-mate Craig Chalmers’ complaints about too many residency-qualified players in the light of Dylan Richardson and Pierre Schoeman’s inclusions. But his thoughts are well known there.
“We’ve known about Dylan since he was 18,” he said. “His dad had got in contact, we’ve been aware he’s Scottish qualified since then.
“We saw how well he played for the Sharks. He played twice in a week against the Lions in the summer and we were really impressed by him.
“There were conversations around ‘would you commit to Scotland?’ He’s got the heritage link and over the last few weeks he’s made that commitment. Whether it’s Cam Redpath before the Six Nations, or Dylan now, we’re delighted they’ve chosen Scotland.”
Schoeman had been in their sights for as long.
“I think we’ve seen a different side to him in terms of where he is physically,” said Townsend. “He’s lost weight, he’s been sharper and more dynamic, he’s playing well for long periods.
“He’s also having to play a different style of rugby (for Edinburgh) which is more closely aligned to the way we want to play (as Scotland), and he’s shown up really well in that.”
‘We are testing our second row depth’
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) October 20, 2021
Jonny Gray is still recovering from an operation to the shoulder injury which he’d been dealing with for some time. Scott Cummings is also out after breaking a hand. Both could be back by the latter part of the Autumn Series.
Alex Craig, who played so well in Paris, is out for the whole campaign with a torn hamstring. Ben Toolis and Glenn Young are also out. Former Stathallan School, now Leicester youngster Cameron Henderson might have been in but for an injury on Saturday.
“We have a lot of depth in the second row but we are really testing it now,” said Townsend. “It will be great to see the likes of Marshall Sykes and Jamie Hodgson grab this opportunity.
“I love the workrate and edge they bring, but it is good to have someone with the experience of Rob Harley there. He does a very good job at club level and can also do it at test level.”
Kids would have been involved whatever
— Glasgow Warriors (@GlasgowWarriors) October 16, 2021
Playing the Tonga game without 11 exile starters – and Gray – means there is an opportunity for young uncapped players. But some would have had it anyway, agreed Townsend.
“100 percent,” he said. “It has been great to see young guys grabbing their opportunity. Jamie Dobie has been involved in four or five games in a row.
“Ross Thompson, Rory Darge, Murray McCallum – they’ve not only played well to keep in the Glasgow team, they’ve won man-of-the-matches.
“We hope and expect that to be transferred into the international environment if they get that opportunity.”