Gregor Townsend’s mind fluctuated briefly but he stuck to his plan to give a whole swathe of experienced players the summer off and only two players over 30 years of age will tour with Scotland to Canada, the USA and Argentina in June.
Townsend has stood down the last two Scotland captains, John Barclay and Greig Laidlaw, two more captaincy candidates in Ryan Wilson and Jonny Gray, as well as Finn Russell and Tommy Seymour. Stuart McInally, who was third choice hooker on the tour just a year ago, will captain the squad.
Hamish Watson’s absence after shoulder surgery was already known, while WP Nel (knee and rehabilitation) and Huw Jones (wrist surgery) are also left at home for medical reasons.
There are recalls for Duncan Taylor – 100% again after a season struggling with head injuries – Allan Dell and the resurgent Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, and there could be first caps for three players still 22 or under who came up with Strathallan School and Howe of Fife – George Horne, Jamie Ritchie and Matt Fagerson.
Lewis Carmichael, Adam Hastings and Harlequins’ James Lang are the other uncapped players in a squad of 33 for the tests against Canada in Edmonton (June 9), the USA in Houston (June 16) and Argentina in Restencia (weekend of June 23-24).
Townsend said that most of those omitted had argued to be included and some had even convinced him to change his mind.
“But I changed it back,” he said. “Sometimes you have to look at the long term benefits for players.
“They just see three tests in three great countries, two of them in the northern hemisphere which you don’t get often on summer tours and the whole concept of touring and enjoyment of that.
“But we’ve seen the benefits of players having that extra time in pre-season. You might not see it totally until the next 6 Nations or even the World Cup, but we do believe it’s the best thing for some players.
“Some of them could see it coming, they’ve had long seasons and they have a chance to recharge and get in the best condition for next season.”
The one who appears to have convinced the coach is Stuart Hogg, who will have a senior role as the most capped plater in the squad.
“Stuart’s Lions Tour was cut short, and he’d only played a couple of games before January because of two separate injuries,” pointed out Townsend.
“We believe for development of the team and the back three Stuart has to work alongside (his presence) will be very beneficial. Stuart will get opportunities as a leader as one of our most experienced players, and he was really keen to tour as well.”
Townsend has a completely open mind about two key elements where omissions leave Scotland short-handed – at stand-off and placekicking.
“The decision on Finn was partly on the challenges he has moving to France but more in what we want to see from other guys,” he said.
“Adam Hastings has played there more regularly than anyone else but you’ve got Pete Horne, Ruaridh Jackson, James Lang, even Blair Kinghorn and Stuart Hogg can cover there.
“There are a number of kickers, Sam (Hidalgo-Clyne) has done well for Edinburgh, Adam, James Lang, both George and Peter Horne can kick as well.”
The younger Horne’s selection to tour was something the coaching group were considering after he’d played just two or three games of his breakout season for Glasgow.
“He’s starting for Glasgow now which is a huge achievement to get ahead of Scotland regulars in Ali and Henry,” said the coach. “He’s been in outstanding form since Christmas.
“I want to highlight Jamie Ritchie whose run into form was very timely. He’s been very consistent for Edinburgh the last couple of seasons but the way he played against Glasgow was superb.
“He put his hand up in a position that with Hamish Watson and John Hardie missing with injury, he’s got a real opportunity now.”
McInally’s ascent to the captaincy was a credit to “an intelligent man, and an intelligent player” said Townsend.
“The last 12 months he’s made a huge breakthrough,” continued the coach. “He had a really good preseason, focused on taking his opportunity at Edinburgh, and the coaching staff there have been a massive help.
“But so much of it is down to Stuart. He leads by example when not captain, the way he gets his detail right, his energy and also his defence, he’s been an outstanding tackler for Edinburgh and Scotland this year.
“He’s thrived with the Edinburgh captaincy. It’s a bonus for us not taking the captains from the last couple of years we’re getting to see someone else that we believe can perform that role well.”
Forwards: Simon Berghan (Edinburgh Rugby), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors), Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh Rugby), Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Lewis Carmichael (Edinburgh Rugby), Allan Dell (Edinburgh Rugby), David Denton (Worcester Warriors), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) , Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby), Richie Gray (Toulouse, Luke Hamilton (Leicester Tigers), Murray McCallum (Edinburgh Rugby) Stuart McInally (captain, Edinburgh Rugby), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh Rugby), Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh Rugby).
Backs: Nick Grigg (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Harris (Newcastle Falcons), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh Rugby), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors), George Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Pete Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Lee Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby), James Lang (Harlequins), Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors), Duncan Taylor (Saracens).