IT IS still completely uncertain when Scotland will next play a Test match, and yesterday head coach Gregor Townsend accepted that the summer games against South Africa and New Zealand are unlikely to go ahead. When the national side does take the field, however, it is increasingly likely that it will have some new faces in its ranks - foremost among them being Edinburgh winger Duhan van der Merwe.

The 24-year-old South African is eligible on residence grounds, having joined Edinburgh in 2017. As one of the most dynamic backs in the PRO14, Van der Merwe has shown for some time that he would be able to cope with the demands of the international game, and yesterday Townsend explained he had been in regular contact with the player both before and during the current coronavirus lockdown. Depending on when that first match back is, the coach suggested that Van der Merwe could well be joined in the national squad by two other South Africans who will also qualify on residence: Edinburgh stand-off Jaco van der Walt and Glasgow Warriors loosehead prop Oli Kebble.

“I’ve spoken with Duhan at various points this season and in the last couple of weeks,” Townsend said in a media conference on Zoom. “We obviously see him as someone who would have been in the mix for summer tour. That is unlikely to go ahead, given that our players haven't trained for two months and won’t be back in training in the next several days or weeks, but we’ll keep watching how he plays for Edinburgh.

“He’s an excellent player. He’s shown this season a different level of play as well. His work off the ball has been excellent and his defence has been up there as well. He is quick, he's strong, he makes a lot of line breaks and tackle breaks and he is a young player who will get better the more he plays.

“It is a position where we have competition. Sean Maitland, Blair Kinghorn did very well for us this year. Darcy Graham missed out due to injury, but we’ve got Kyle Steyn and Ratu Tagive and Byron McGuigan. With Tommy Seymour retiring from international rugby, Duhan can certainly be in the mix for our next international.”

On recent form, Van der Merwe is above the likes of Tagive and McGuigan in the pecking order. Kebble and Van der Walt face stiffer competition, but Townsend is sure that both have also shown they would merit a place in his squad.

“Duhan is available now, Oli is October and Jaco is the middle of November. Those are three players we know are going to be eligible later this year and they’re playing very well for their clubs. Oli has been a regular in the team at Glasgow and Jaco will be competing hard for a place at 10, and they are three players who will add to our depth and are three players that could certainly play international rugby. “

Townsend also remains hopeful that Finn Russell, excluded from the Six Nations on disciplinary grounds, will be available when play resumes. “I would hope so,” he added. “We’ll see. We’ve had a few conversations over this period. I’m sure he’ll be very much in our thoughts and let’s hope he’s keen to play.”

Scotland’s next scheduled games after the summer tour are the Autumn Tests against Argentina, Japan and New Zealand, but it has become clear that the rugby calendar could undergo considerable change before then, with one possibility being a resumption of this year’s Six Nations. Townsend said he hoped Scotland’s remaining Championship game with Wales could be played at some point, and suggested there was a spirit of co-operation within the sport that could help produce a more rational calendar.

“It would be good to finish the Six Nations. For us to go down to Wales and play in that atmosphere, it's a brilliant occasion for us - but if this delay goes on until 2021 then maybe the focus will be on next season's Six Nations. We have played delayed games in the past, it’s not unique to be in this situation, so let's hope we can play our game.

“The tough thing [about emerging from the global shutdown] will be the financial hit that every industry and every sport are going to face and what that means for future planning. The exciting thing is you’re seeing more collaboration around potential competition, which could mean that we have a much more competitive November/October window, summer rugby, and all these things are getting discussed just now. It’s great that everybody is part of that conversation about how we come out stronger.”

Asked to nominate one change he would like to see, however, Townsend chose an element of play rather than any rejigging of the international schedule. “One thing: scrum resets quicker,” he said. “Getting the scrums reset quicker would be very good for the teams that want to play quicker and want to have more ball-in-play time - and also better for supporters. That would be the first one.”