THE incessant rain caused Gregor Townsend to take refuge beneath a blue umbrella yesterday as he confirmed his selection for next month’s Rugby World Cup in Japan at the historic surroundings of Linlithgow Palace. While there was no dampening the enthusiasm of the 31 who made it, nor the 1500 soaked schoolchildren who cheered stoically as the names were read out one-by-one, you had to spare a thought for those who had found themselves pushed to the margins in recent months then airbrushed out of that squad picture altogether.

The names left behind ghosted this occasion as much as the apparition of Mary of Guise, the mother of Mary Queen of Scots, who is said to haunt these atmospheric ruins to this day.

Huw Jones, once assumed to be a midfield mainstay for the next decade or so as recently as 12 months ago – surplus to requirements. So too Rory Hutchinson, an emerging young player shortlisted for the best young player in the English club game last season.

Both found themselves edged out in the congested midfield running by the return to fitness of Saracen’s Duncan Taylor and Sam Johnson of Glasgow Warriors, and the form displayed by presumed back-ups Chris Harris and Pete Horne in the second warm-up match against France – even if the latter saw a pass intercepted for a try. “It was really tough but it’s tougher when you have more players to choose from in the centre and back row,” said Townsend. “In terms of selection we look at performance and what they’ve done when they’ve had the chance to play for Scotland in recent games.

“We look at how they’ve trained as well as the make-up of the group and in terms of the best picture we can have when we go to Japan and start against Ireland. When we finished finalising the squad we were really happy with it.

“Rory came very close,” admitted the head coach, “both him and Huw were debated for a long while on the flight back from Georgia and at the airport and during subsequent conversations with the coaches. Rory did very well in Tbilisi, he was comfortable on the ball but just missed out as he’s not had enough international experience, especially against some top teams.

“Huw hasn’t had enough games playing well or playing at all over the last few months,” added Townsend. “He’s looked in unbelievable shape in training but we haven’t seen enough in the game and a half he’s had with us to get himself into that final squad. We know he’s on his way back to his best form but it just wasn’t enough.”

By contrast, the head coach feels he has a known commodity in Horne – even if the Glasgow Warriors centre himself admitted that the limelight often goes elsewhere. “In the France game he did very well but he had a pass intercepted,” said Townsend. “You can look that and say it was an error and that happens or you can say it was really good defence. He’s always of our top two or three hardest workers in training and he does that in games and we are happy with his condition.”

Elsewhere, with Byron McGuigan of Sale Sharks edged out of a spot as expected amongst the backs, the fall guys amongst a group of 17 forwards were front rows Grant Stewart and Jamie Bhatti and back row forwards Josh Strauss, Matt Fagerson and Magnus Bradbury. While the latter pays the price for a recent rib injury, he could play in Friday’s send-off match against Georgia, a match where players from outwith the 31 will take part.

There is a spot on the plane for Jonny Gray and Fraser Brown, even though neither have played any part in the warm-ups to date, and Brown won’t even play this Friday. Tommy Seymour and Blade Thomson have passed all their concussion protocols and make the trip. So does George Horne as a third scrum half behind experienced duo Greig Ladlaw and Ali Price, with Scott Cummings of Glasgow Warriors providing cover in both the second and back row.

“I decided on the squad earlier than expected, it was Sunday lunchtime,” revealed Townsend. “We had settled on the squad and the phone calls began in the afternoon.

“Initially we had spoken to the players about leaving the final decision until Monday and that was due to injuries, scans and things from the weekend. Thankfully we managed to get through Saturday’s game okay so we made the decision earlier.”

Not that the process in the last 12 to 18 months has been easy. “I’ve picked quite a number of squads and more than one a day sometimes,” admitted Townsend. “You are looking at it hope than everyone comes through injury free. Only one player that made our 44 man squad is not available and that’s Sam Skinner. Everyone else is back to full fitness.”

Townsend is bullish about his squad, not least the leadership he has in the group from captain Stuart McInally, vice captains John Barclay and Greig Laidlaw, and others besides - not least Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, WP Nel Grant Gilchrist.

“We really like our squad, it’s a combination of experience and youth. We have looked at players who will work hard, who’ll take the game to the opposition and who won’t be fazed by any challenge they’ll face out there. We believe this squad has a much stronger defensive feel to it.”

Only an errant Craig Joubert penalty award away from a last four spot in 2015, Scotland feel they can take on the world in Japan. Even if they won just one match in the Six Nations. “Success would be playing to our best,” says Townsend. “We need to do that against Ireland and keep that going throughout the tournament. We know and we’ve seen it as when play to our best we are a match for any team in the world. We have a stronger squad now than we’ve ever had. We’ve never been in a better position over the last few years to play at our best.”

Scotland squad

Forwards (17) John Barclay (Edinburgh), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), Allan Dell (London Irish), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Stuart McInally (capt) (Edinburgh), WP Nel (Edinburgh), Gordon Reid (Ayrshire Bulls), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Blade Thomson (Scarlets), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors).

Backs (14) : Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs), George Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Peter Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne), Sean Maitland (Saracens), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), Duncan Taylor (Saracens).