Gregor Townsend is still to decide whether Jamie Ritchie will continue as  captain Scotland for the Six Nations as the Edinburgh back-row bids to prove his form and fitness.

Ritchie was captain at the Rugby World Cup and during last year’s Six Nations, but has only recently returned from a shoulder injury suffered in the quarter-final defeat to Ireland. 

The 27-year-old is expected to get another chance to prove his fitness when Edinburgh face Scarlets on Friday.  

Townsend said he is mulling over the captaincy, primarily due to the competition in the back-row, despite the omission of Lions flanker Hamish Watson from the 39-man training squad.  

He said: “Because there’s so much competition in that back row we’ve got to make sure we pick players who are playing well, are in form and will help us win.” 

A strong performance in Llanelli would put Ritchie in a strong position to continue with the captaincy, Townsend said. 

“The first role of our leaders is to play well. That’s the best way to lead because that means you get in the team.  

“Jamie has missed the last two or three weeks and is up against some players who are playing really well in recent weeks.  

“He knows he has to deliver a performance this week which I’m sure he will.” 

If Townsend does opt for a change, the squad is littered with captaincy contenders.  

Finn Russell would be one option – the talismanic fly-half lead the side against France in a World Cup warm-up match last summer, while Rory Darge was skipper against Italy in another warm-up fixture. 

Lock Grant Gilchrist has the most leadership experience, having first been appointed Scotland skipper under Townsend’s predecessor Vern Cotter almost a decade ago. He’s also Edinburgh captain but faces a fight for his place in the side. 

Townsend added: “Rory Darge captained the team, and Finn Russell did as well in the summer, and Grant Gilchrist has captained the team before. Sione Tuipulotu has been a vice-captain and has been leading Glasgow really well in recent weeks.  

“Those are players in our leadership group and I’d have thought if there was a different captain in this Six Nations it would come out of that group.” 

Among the four new faces in the training squad is ex-England prop Alec Hepburn, who qualifies for Scotland through his father.  

Hepburn, 30, grew up in Australia and won six caps in 2018 under Eddie Jones, and has been on Townsend’s radar for the past couple of years.  

The Scotland coach said he first spoke to the Exeter man about 18 months ago, but he chose not to commit to Scotland at that stage.  

Townsend said: “He was out for a long period at the beginning of the season with glandular fever. During that time he thought about Scotland and thought his chance had gone. 


“It was a real motivator for him coming back. Playing at Sandy Park at the weekend was a motivator because he hadn’t played there for a number of months. 

“He was really taken aback when we talked over the weekend and the last couple of days that there was a chance that he could be in the squad. 

“I’m delighted he’s now with us. He’s at a good age for a loosehead prop and can go straight in and play Test level.” 

The Scotland coach said Hepburn’s recent form has won him a place over another Lions tourist, Rory Sutherland.  

“The last three games he’s been excellent - the game I was at against Northampton, and I thought he had a brilliant battle against Zander at the weekend. 

“I think he’s the type of player that really suits the way we play. He’s aggressive, high skill, and has real pace. And it’s a challenge to someone like Rory Sutherland. 

“Rory has the next two or three games for Oyonnax to show us his best rugby. We are big believers in Rory, he’s been involved with us for a while now, we just want him to get back to his best too.” 

Sutherland and fellow Test match Lions Hamish Watson and Chris Harris have all been left out of the squad.  

Harris has been a key man for Scotland in recent times, but was leapfrogged by Huw Jones and misses out entirely this time with Rory Hutchinson back involved.  

“Chris actually played well the last two or three weeks and he’s obviously disappointed not to make it. but Huw’s had a great year for us.  

“Rory Hutchinson has really come through in the last month. He missed about six weeks with injury, so he’s had to compete hard to get into the Northampton team. Since he’s been back in that team he’s performed really well.” 

Watson’s omission was down to the blend of the players selected in the back-row, with Ritchie and Luke Crosbie also able to cover the openside flank. 

But Townsend insists the door is not closed on Watson or Harris, both 32.   

“We’ll select on how players are playing and who they’re competing with as well.  

“Hamish played well when he came back into the Edinburgh team but it’s more the level of performances we’ve seen from the likes of Andy Christie and Luke Crosbie.  

“We need to make sure we have a blend of players who can play Number 8 and lineout forwards in our squad too.  

“Hamish is good enough to play Test rugby tomorrow so maybe this disappointment will have a positive effect as well and he’ll go for it in the one game before the break for Edinburgh and put pressure on that selection.” 

While they are not in this squad, Townsend said Sale Sharks scrum-half Gus Warr and wing Tom Roebuck are players he has been looking at, as are Cardiff pair Jacob Beetham and Rhys Litterick 

"I’ve chatted to Gus and Tom over a number of weeks.  

“They are players of interest for us who are playing regularly for clubs.  

“They’re not in our squad right now for different reasons. The ones we have in the squad are the ones we believe in.” 

On the Welsh-based duo, he added: “They are not in the Wales squad so I imagine they are players who’ll continue to have conversations with Wales, but we’re watching them and giving them feedback from a Scottish perspective.” 

However he is resigned to losing Northampton fly-half Fin Smith, who he expects to be included in Steve Borthwick’s England squad – alongside Scottish-qualified centre Fraser Dingwall - later today.  

Both were part of Borthwick’s World Cup training squad but did not make the final selection.  

“When someone’s already committed to another team it’s usually just a matter of time before they’re then capped.”