GREGOR TOWNSEND has prioritised building depth and growing competition in his squad as the build-up to next year’s World Cup begins in earnest over rewarding a winning team, with the Scotland head coach making eight changes – only two enforced – to the side which beat Argentina in Salta last weekend ahead of tomorrow night’s summer series decider against the same opposition in Santiago. 

The two enforced alterations to the line-up are at full-back and on the right-wing, where Glasgow Warriors youngsters Ollie Smith and Rufus McLean come in for Rory Hutchinson (ankle) and Darcy Graham (concussion) respectively. 

McLean was capped twice last Autumn, while this will be Smith’s international debut. The 21-year-old has had just half a season playing regularly at pro level but has already established himself as a player with the potential to be the successor to Stuart Hogg in the national No.15 jersey, and Townsend suggested he may have been picked for this match even if Hutchinson had been fit. 

“There are obviously players getting opportunities this weekend and Ollie would probably have been in that category because we think he’s ready,” said the coach. 

“I think he’s shown this year on the playing field his proactive nature. He takes the game to the opposition with ball in hand, he’s an aggressive defender, and he’s got a good left boot as well which gives the opposition defence something to think about, when you’ve got a right-foot kicker at 10 and a left-foot kicker at 15.  

“We’ve got high expectations of Ollie because of the way he’s been training and playing this year for Glasgow. That suggests he’ll transfer that form into the Test match arena.” 

Meanwhile, Sam Johnson drops to the bench with Sione Tuipulotu replacing him at inside centre, and Townsend acknowledged that Ben White is particularly unlucky to miss out on the match-day squad altogether, with Ali Price returning as starting scrum-half and George Horne providing cover from the bench. 

“Last week he had his first opportunity to start for Scotland and he grabbed it, so under normal circumstances when you play well you expect to be involved the following week, either starting or on the bench, but with Ali we know what a key player he has been for us over the last few seasons and with George we feel he deserves an opportunity after playing very well against Chile,” said Townsend.   

“We see the threat George can bring in the last quarter of the game, or earlier if required, which will really challenge Argentina’s defence.  

“But we’re delighted with Ben who came into our environment for the first time during the Six Nations and played two or three times off the bench, learned from that experience, and then really kicked on with London Irish post-Six Nations.  

“He showed at the weekend, when given a start, what an effective player he is – and there’s more to come from him. He’s a young player who is just getting his first taste of international rugby.   

“He’s a big reason why we won last weekend, so it is tough on him, but this tour is about opportunities and seeing our depth and level of competition in every position.” 

In the pack, tour captain Grant Gilchrist, fellow second-row Sam Skinner, loose-head prop Pierre Schoeman and hooker Dave Cherry have all been left out the starting XV, with Jonny Gray, Scott Cummings, Rory Sutherland and Ewan Ashman (making his first start) all coming in – while Hamish Watson taken over on-field leadership of the team.  

“In terms of captaincy, we had strong candidates, but we just feel Hamish has grown and thrived in the leadership arena, and the responsibilities that that requires,” said Townsend. |I thought he was very, very good last week and we just want to keep that momentum going with him going from vice-captain to captain. We expect him to play even better this weekend.” 

This will be tight-head prop Zander Fagerson’s 50th Scotland appearance which is a remarkable achievement given that he is still only 26-years-old and is playing a position where players don’t tend to hit their prime until they are nearing their thirties. 

“He’s been consistent for us for the last number of years,” said Townsend. “He brings so much more than scrummaging. his work in contact is world class. His ball carrying too, he’s a real handful for defences. There is much more to come from Zander, given his age and experience.” 

Meanwhile, Edinburgh second-row Glen Young is ready to make his debut off the bench. 

“It’s a cup final for both of us, and they’re playing at home so they will have a big crowd behind them,” concluded Townsend. “It’s a brand-new stadium we’re playing in so I’m sure it will be an excellent atmosphere.  

“They will be full of passion, and they will look to be more physical in the tackle and the contact area, so we just have to be ready to face that head-on.” 


Scotland (v Argentina at The Estadio Único Madre de Ciudades, Santiago Del Estero, on Saturday @ 8.10pm): O Smith; R McLean, M Bennett, S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe; B Kinghorn, A Price; R Sutherland, E Ashman, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, J Gray, R Darge, H Watson (c), M Fagerson.

Replacements D Cherry, P Schoeman, J Sebastian, G Young, A Christie, G Thompson, R Thompson, S Johnson. 

Argentina J Mallia; B Delguy, M Orlando, M Moroni, E Boffelli; S Carreras, L Bazan Velez; T Gallo, A Creevy, J Sclavi, G Petti, T Lavanni, P Matera (c), S Grondona, F Isa. 

Replacements I Ruiz, N Tetez Chaparro, F Gomez Kodela, M Kremer, J Gonzalez, G Bertanou, T Albornoz, L Cinti.