GREGOR Townsend says that the nine homebased uncapped players, plus Dylan Richardson of the Sharks [South Africa], should all view Scotland’s opening game of this Autumn’s Test series, against Tonga at Murrayfield on 30th October, as a golden opportunity to establish their international credentials. 

The national side’s head coach named a 42-strong updated training squad for the series yesterday luchtime, but the 11 England or France based players in that group will only be available for the three subsequent matches which are being played inside World Rugby’s designated international window against Australia on Sunday 7th November, South Africa on 13th November and Japan on 20th November. 

That means the Scots will be without captain Stuart Hogg, Duhan van der Merwe, Chris Harris, Finn Russell and Rory Sutherland – who all toured with the British & Irish Lions last summer – against Tonga. Adam Hastings, Sam Skinner, Huw Jones and Matt Scott, along with uncapped duo Ewan Ashman and Josh Bayliss are also unavailable. 

The absence of Russell and Hastings means that Ross Thompson is set to get his first taste of international rugby, although Edinburgh’s Blair Kinghorn is also a contender for the stand-off slot against Tonga. 

“Ross had a great [2020-21] season and both he and Blair were going to be involved in the summer covering 10,” explained Townsend. “We wanted to give him another opportunity and I think he started this season just as well as he finished the last one, but we also see Blair as a 10. Particularly at the beginning of this campaign, he will be competing with Ross for that position and when Finn and Adam come in Blair and Ross will be in the mix for 10. 

“We know that Blair can play other positions and has played very well at Test level on the wing and at full-back, [but] he is very engaged in playing 10 and he takes a leadership role in attack, so I think he has huge potential there.  

“We are in a really good position that we can leave two experienced 10s out in Duncan Weir and Jaco van der Walt. Both are playing well but 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.” 

Thompson’s fellow Glasgow rookies Rufus McLean, Jamie Dobie and Rory Darge are also pushing hard for selection against Tonga, having impressed at club level during the tail-end of last season and the start of the current campaign. 

“It has been great to see young guys grabbing their opportunity,” added the head coach. “They’ve not only played well to keep in the Glasgow team, they’ve won man-of-the-match awards on occasions, so it is great to see that form, and we hope and expect that to be transferred into the international environment if they get that opportunity.”  

There are six second-rows, who would all almost certainly have been involved in this series to some extent, missing due to injury. They are Jonny Gray, Scott Cummings, Ben Toolis, Alex Craig, Glenn Young and Cameron Henderson. 

“We have a lot of depth in that position, but we are really testing it now,” acknowledged Townsend. “It will be great to see the likes of Marshall Sykes and Jamie Hodgson [both of Edinburgh] grab this opportunity. I love the work-rate 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 with Glasgow Warriors and can also do it at Test level.” 

Meanwhile, there is also a handful of older uncapped players in the squad, including Edinburgh prop Pierre Schoeman, who is from South Africa but now qualifies to play for Scotland through the three-year residency rule.  

“I think he has been in great form so far this season," said Townend. "I think we’ve seen a different side to him in terms of where he is physically.   

“He’s lost weight, he’s been sharper and more dynamic, he’s playing well for long periods and maybe that was something which wasn’t so good last season.  Previously, when he had to play 70 or 80 minutes there was a fatigue element that would set in, but now we see the same effort at the end of the game as he puts in at the beginning. 

“He’s having to play a different style of rugby at Edinburgh now which is more closely aligned to the way we want to play at Scotland, and he’s shown up really well doing that.”  

Meanwhile, Australian Sione Tuipulotu – who joined Glasgow during the summer and qualifies for Scotland through a grandmother from the city – will compete for the No13 jersey against Tonga.  

“I know a fair bit about Sione having watched him play in Japan and for the Melbourne Rebels over the last few years," concluded Townsend.  “We always believed he could adjust to playing northern hemisphere – he’s a very good rugby player and he’s shown that in his training sessions with Glasgow and with his consistent performances.  

“We have a lot of centres pushing for selection and for someone like Rory Hutchison, who played really well in his last game for Northampton, to miss out shows the quality of player we have there.”  

Forwards: Ewan Ashman, Josh Bayliss, Jamie Bhatti, Fraser Brown, Luke Crosbie, Rory Darge, Matt Fagerson, Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist, Nick Haining, Rob Harley, Jamie Hodgson, Oli Kebble, Murray McCallum, Stuart McInally, Dylan Richardson, Jamie Ritchie, Sam Skinner, Pierre Schoeman, Rory Sutherland, Marshall Sykes, George Turner, Hamish Watson.  

Backs: Mark Bennett, Darcy Graham, Jamie Dobie, Chris Harris, Adam Hastings, Stuart Hogg, George Horne, Damien Hoyland, Sam Johnson, Huw Jones, Blair Kinghorn, Duhan van de Merwe, Rufus McLean, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Matt Scott, Kyle Steyn, Ross Thompson, Sione Tuipulotu.