On Finn Russell in France –
“I saw Finn at the beginning of September, just before his second game against Clermont, and, obviously, we’ve watched all his games [on video]. He’s playing well. I thought he started the season really well, his first four or five games were excellent. That’s a credit to him because it’s a really tough environment to go into – speaking a different language and adapting to a different way of playing.
“He seems to be communicating very well on the field – I don’t know what language it’s in but he’s talking a lot to the players around him. Having Finn and Adam [Hastings] on form is great news for us. Both are playing regularly and getting lots of opportunities to show us what they can do.”
On the possibility of Gary Graham (son of former Scotland prop George) returning to the Scotland fold after throwing his lot in with England last season –
“Gary has played for Newcastle this season, he’s mainly been on the bench but he’s come into the line-up the last couple of weeks. We’ve watched his performances. He said to us in January that he was committing to England. We are obviously aware that he is still eligible for us as he’s not played for England. There would need to be a change from his original commitment.”
On competition for places in the back-row –
“The back-row is a position where normally you have three or four injuries, we’ve only got one in John Barclay and we’ve got players like Magnus [Bradbury] playing really well, Blade Thomson added to the group and Matt Fagerson really grabbed his opportunity at the weekend [playing for Glasgow Warriors against Saracens] when I thought he was outstanding. With players like Luke Hamilton, Adam Ashe, Josh Strauss, there’s a number of players in the back-row who could have made the squad, but it shows the competition we have there.”
On prospect of Scarlets releasing Blade Thomson for Wales Test –
“No. It is outside the world rugby window. Scarlets are playing Edinburgh that weekend, so it would be nice of Wayne Pivac to say to Blade you are available [for Scotland] but we know that is not going to happen.The rules are definitely in place for English and French based teams and with the PRO14 it is just bad timing that our teams, Glasgow and Edinburgh, plus the Scarlets, are playing that weekend – otherwise it would be a free weekend.”
On playing four Test matches on consecutive weekends –
“Most of the teams in the northern hemisphere do. England have done it, Ireland have done it over the past few years and are now playing Italy in Chicago, Wales always do. This is a year when we are doing it.”
On there being almost as many Edinburgh players (15) as Glasgow Warriors players (16) in the squad –
“There are more forwards from Edinburgh and more backs from Glasgow, but we are seeing Edinburgh backs coming into the squad and challenging the established players from Glasgow. It is a healthy balance. Edinburgh and Glasgow won the same amount of games last year and both have started their European campaigns with physical performances, fronting up against quality opposition, so that shows the players are on form.”
On Edinburgh’s flyweight wing Darcy Graham being invited along to train with the squad –
“Darcy has been excellent the last two weeks. He missed the start of this season with injury, and a part of last season with injury, but he’s grabbing his opportunity. If he plays again this week, and plays well, that’s two games at Champions Cup level so we are getting more of a picture of what he could do at the next level.”
On Blair Kinghorn’s big chance to stake a claim for the number 15 jersey –
“Blair is obviously favourite to play full-back for us [with Stuart Hogg being out injured]. He had a really good season last year, got his first taste of international rugby on the wing and also played at full-back in the Canada. I thought he did well on the wing – scored a couple of tries against the USA and Argentina. There are parts to his game that are outstanding: his athletic ability, his speed, his rugby awareness and his kicking game. But, as a young player, there’s a lot that he has still got to work on, and a lot of that is off the ball – positioning – and the more games he gets to play at the highest level the better he will become.”
On selecting Sam Skinner but not his partner in crime in the Exeter Chiefs’ second-row Ollie Atkins –
“Ollie has been playing well. He has had more opportunities this year because of injury and because of his form. Whenever he has played he has played well and he is in our thoughts.
On Richie Gray’s injury –
“It’s the other hip [from the one which caused him to miss Scotland’s summer tour]. He had a pre-season game and was much better but then his other hip flared up and he missed the first six games of the season. He played two weeks ago and, unfortunately, even though he played well for 60 minutes, the reaction at training the next week means that he needs to have surgery.
“It’s a blow for him, a blow for us, he’s our most experienced forward after Ross Ford and John Barclay, who is not in the squad [injured]. But we believe the surgery will be a success and he’ll be back around Six Nations time.
“Obviously, there is a big period of rugby from Six Nations on to World Cup. We’re backing him and supporting him to come back to the level we know he’s capable of.”