Scotland Head Coach Gregor Townsend has named three uncapped players in his 40-man squad for the autumn series, which include the conclusion of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations and newly launched Autumn Nations Cup.
Scotland begin their autumn against Georgia in a warm-up match at BT Murrayfield on October 23 before taking on Wales at Parc y Scarlets in their final match of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.
They will then enter into their Autumn Nations Cup campaign – details of which are below.
— Autumn Nations Cup (@autumnnations) September 26, 2020
Glasgow Warriors prop Oli Kebble and Edinburgh wing Duhan van der Merwe are included for the first time after qualifying on residency , while Harlequins’ scrum-half Scott Steele is the third uncapped player.
Elsewhere, veteran back-row Blair Cowan returns four-and-a-half years after his last cap, while Glasgow Warriors’ Richie Gray, Rob Harley and Nick Grigg also return.
There are recalls, too, for Scarlets’ Blade Thomson – despite picking up an injury in their PRO14 loss to Glasgow Warriors on Sunday – Harlequins centre James Lang, and Edinburgh wing Damien Hoyland.
See the squad in full below.
SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENT 🏴
Gregor Townsend names 40-man Scotland squad for Autumn Internationals featuring three uncapped players. #AsOne
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) October 12, 2020
Lang, who has been in impressive form since the resumption of the Gallagher Premiership, returns to the national team fold for the first time since winning his first two caps on the summer tour in 2018.
Racing 92 stand-off Finn Russell also returns after his much-publicised bust-up with Townsend earlier in the year.
The mercurial playmaker is in line to win his 50th cap the next time he represents his country.
Allan Dell is a notable omission, while Magnus Bradbury, Rory Hutchinson and Byron McGuigan are among those to miss out through injury.
Here is what Townsend had to say on a number of issues – including his relationship with Russell – when he spoke to the media via Zoom this afternoon.
An update on the situation with Finn Russell
“Finn has been available since the end end of the Six Nations. We had conversations towards the end of the Six Nations that have carried on all the way through the summer up until as recently as a few days ago.
“Unfortunately we weren’t able to go on tour in the summer, I’m sure Finn would have been available for that tour. It’s been great to see him play so well for his club since the restart and we wish him all the best against Exeter.
“The lockdown and time away from rugby and normal life allowed people to connect throughout the world and certainly we have connected a lot over that period.
“We want the best for him, we want the best for the Scotland team, and we see them both coming together over this period.”
Uncapped trio all in good form
Townsend also praised uncapped trio Kebble, van der Merwe and Steele, with the latter likely included in the squad as he’ll have more time to prepare with scrum-halves Ali Price and George Horne than Sam Hidalgo-Clyne would have, given he’ll be with Exeter for the Champions Cup final.
Townsend added: “Oli Kebble has started the season very well for Glasgow.
“Duhan van der Merwe has added to the great form he has shown over the last couple of seasons for Edinburgh.
Duhan. Van. Der. Merwe. Here's here all night folks. pic.twitter.com/WcWkA1POIJ
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) September 5, 2020
“He is obviously a very powerful player, a very fast player, but also a player who has worked on parts of his game that needed improving from a couple of years ago, especially around his positioning in backfield, his defensive work.
And of his new scrum-half – who can be seen in try-scoring action for Harlequins here, Townsend added: “Scott Steele has really kicked on this summer, from not having a contract when lockdown started to getting an opportunity with Harlequins.
“He has got himself into great condition and has played really well and has started on a number of occasions for Harlequins.”
Power of Van der Merwe brings ‘new dimension’
The physical aspect of the game is something Duhan van der Merwe excels at – as can be seen in the video above – and for a Scotland side that does possess some brilliant runners – like Hogg and Darcy Graham – and a master conductor of Russell’s calibre, he could be another piece in the jigsaw.
“He has been outstanding there so far this season,” Townsend said of the Edinburgh man.
“We were all delighted he got through the game this weekend having not played for a couple of weeks. He looked sharp and strong, and he adds to a competitive area.
“During the Six Nations, Sean Maitland and Blair Kinghorn performed really well for us on the wings and Darcy Graham and Duhan have been performing really well for their clubs, so there is competition there.
“We also have Damien Hoyland so it will be interesting to see how they train and who grabs their opportunity when we select our team for Georgia.”
Blair Cowan returns
“Blair has been outstanding since the restart but he really caught our eye just before and during the Six Nations with some excellent performances.
“Since the restart he has played even better. He is in the physical shape of his life, you can see that with how he is playing. He can carry ball, link and offload and he has added a physical edge to his tackling over the last season or two.”
Townsend also highlighted Cowan’s ability at the breakdown – especially with the new refereeing interpretations around that area – as another reason for his inclusion.
Where is Huw Jones’ international future?
Townsend believes the Glasgow Warriors man can offer an option to Scotland in both the 13 role that he has performed previously for Scotland, or at fullback, where he’s been deployed for Glasgow Warriors thus far this campaign.
“He’s playing at full back and with every game he’s playing he seems to be adapting to that change and growing in confidence: a confident Huw Jones is a really good player to have in our squad,” he said on a Zoom call this afternoon.
“If he did have to play centre I’m sure in his current form he’d do a really good job there, but his development at full back is a really interesting one for us, it’s a position we’ve maybe not had much depth as we’d like, especially compared to other positions.”
A bigger squad because of COVID-19 protocols?
Scotland will train without Russell, Hogg, Jonny Gray and Sam Skinner while they are with their clubs ahead of the Heineken Champions Cup final between Racing 92 and Exeter Chiefs.
That has prompted him to select a larger party, as has the need to be able to adapt for any COVID-related issues.
“Primarily the big squad is to cover the players from Exeter and Racing for the first two weeks in training, to make sure we have adequate numbers,” he explained.
“We do obviously have an eye on what may happen if players had to isolate or be removed from the group, one reason we have a third front row in the squad, but we are also aware that players from Glasgow and Edinburgh are going to be playing through this period so they’re not far away if we need to bring players into the group.”
Thoughts on Hogg as captain
While Stuart Hogg captained an under-strength Scotland in a defeat to USA in the summer of 2018, taking over the role earlier this year was his first full-time stint as skipper.
“He’s really enjoying his rugby and he relished the responsibility and challenges that came with captaining his country,” said Townsend.
He added: “He brought others into leadership roles and allowed them to talk during the Six Nations, whether that was team meetings here or on the field.
“He’s gone into the captaincy in the right and reflected on those four games we played, and I’m sure he can’t wait to come back and captain the team, but he’s got a couple of big games first and it’s great he’s involved in that and playing so well.
“I thought he was in fantastic form and physical shape at the weekend and we just hope he gets through those games and can play a lot of rugby for us too.”