By Stuart Bathgate
A reduced Scotland squad of 28 left Texas for Argentina yesterday, with five players being released to go home or on holiday. Saracens back Duncan Taylor, unattached back-row forward Luke Hamilton and Glasgow Warriors’ Ruaridh Jackson, Matt Fagerson and Grant Stewart are the quintet who have been omitted.
Taylor has not recovered from his back problem, and Hamilton injured a shoulder in Saturday night’s 30-29 defeat by the USA. Stewart only joined the squad as cover for tour captain Stuart McInally, so his release implies that the Edinburgh hooker should be able to take part against Argentina, while George Turner and Fraser Brown also remain available for the No 2 jersey.
The continued availability of Stuart Hogg and Blair Kinghorn means Jackson can be released, while the number of back rows in the squad has allowed Fagerson, a debutant on Saturday, to go home early. Warriors scrum-half Ali Price, whose tour was ended by injury last week but who stayed with the squad in Houston, was also on his way home last night. “It was always our intention to travel to Argentina with a reduced squad,” Gregor Townsend said yesterday. “The 28-man group travelling to Resistencia will now have the opportunity to bounce back from last night’s defeat with an improved performance.
“It is a huge downer,” the head coach admitted about Saturday’s loss. “If it was the last game on tour we would be even more disappointed, but we have one more game and we have a tougher opponent who have lost two games and will be fired up. We will have to be much better next week, but we can right a lot of wrongs with a winning performance next week.”
There were two debutants in scrum-half George Horne and No 8 Matt Fagerson, and five others making their first start. At times that inexperience was all too obviously reflected in some poor decision-making, but Townsend insisted that his selection had not been too bold, and that whatever the outcome of the match it had been worthwhile to give those players and others the chance to play themselves into contention for places at next year’s Rugby World Cup.
“We wanted to learn about players on this tour,” he continued. “We certainly wanted to give players opportunities to play. Maybe we could have had more off the bench and had more experienced players, but sometimes you don’t get the guys off the bench that early or get injuries elsewhere. We will know more about the players and how they handle adversity away from home against a team that were fired up especially in the second half. It is not all good news, but at least we came out of here knowing that we need to be much better when we play for Scotland.
“As a team, we did not play to our potential – we know that. I take it on my shoulders that it was a selection with a lot of young players, a lot of guys winning their first caps, and it does not have that much cohesion in terms of them having played before.
“There are risks; not everyone is going to play their best in their first start. We did not achieve what we wanted to achieve.”
Hogg with something to prove
Hogg, for one, will welcome the “opportunity to bounce back” of which Townsend spoke, having led the team to defeat in his first outing as captain. “Everyone is the exact same – bitterly disappointed because of the defeat,” he said. “We worked incredibly hard during the week to get ourselves into good places but unfortunately come up short.
“A lot of mistakes by us allowed the Americans to get into the game. For us it is really frustrating because the things we talked about at half-time, we did the complete opposite of in the second half.
“It is one thing making a mistake, it is another making two with the snowball effect that comes after that. The majority of their points came from our errors. It is all about momentum shifts and taking opportunities and, credit to America, they did exactly that.”
Taylor’s departure from the squad gives Nick Grigg an enhanced chance of another cap, but the Glasgow centre insisted there was still fierce competition for places despite the reduced numbers. “It’s dog eat dog,” he said. “There are a lot of good centres and it is frustrating for me because I couldn’t really get going [against the USA].
“We need to get the win next week. We wanted three out of three and we need to bounce back.”