The belief that this Scotland team can beat anyone in World Rugby is the biggest element going forward into the new international season, believes head coach Gregor Townsend.
The head coach has finalised a 42-strong squad for the four-match Autumn Test Series. That’s larger than usual because the opener against Tonga is outside World Rugby’s international window and only home-based players are available.
Of the 36 named last week for a training camp, five drop out and 11 exile players, including star names captain Stuart Hogg and stand-off Finn Russell, come in.
‘We go into games now expecting to win’
All the eight Scottish Lions from the summer are now included. But it’s not just that experience but also the Six Nations campaign that will boost confidence, believes Townsend.
“There’s specifics in attack and defence we want to improve,” said the coach. “You want to build on the good performances we’ve seen.
“But the major thing is belief. We go into games now expecting to win. If we perform well, we’ve got the players to beat anybody.
“That belief has been growing through experiences like winning at Twickenham and Paris in the Six Nations, the Lions tours and what the players are doing at their clubs.
“Belief is what will drive this group to success over the next year two years. And the togetherness; the way we came back from a red card in Paris and being behind on the scoreboard, but stuck in, showed resilience and got the win.
“Those are key qualities at winning at any sport, but especially test match rugby.”
Townsend ‘so proud’ of eight Scottish Lions
A “Lions bounce” directly after a tour has helped Scotland before. After being in South Africa himself as an assistant Townsend said he was “so proud” of the eight Scots who toured – Hogg, Russell, Ali Price, Duhan van der Merwe, Hamish Watson, Chris Harris, Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson.
“They thrived in that environment,” he said. “I was so proud of them in how well they integrated, how well they played and trained. How they dealt with adversity in disappointment or injury, and how they bounced back for that.
“They’ll be better for the experience, they’ll have confidence from going to South Africa in that company. I’m sure that’ll be spread around the (Scotland) group.”
This new squad is absent some old stagers – Sean Maitland, WP Nel, Duncan Weir – as Townsend has “maybe a quarter of an eye” on the next World Cup, now just two years away.
“It’s in our minds,” he said. “The RWC is the biggest tournament over a four year period.
“But the games in November are massive, played at home, usually against the top five in the world. We can’t take our eyes of that nor the Six Nations, it’s the best tournament outside the World Cup.
‘We have to give the young players opportunities’
“We missed an opportunity for players this summer to see how well they got on in the test arena. So we want to give opportunities to those players, whose form also deserves it in the early season.
“Some in that summer squad are now in this squad. It’s now up to them to grab that opportunity to put the players for the Australia game under pressure.
“There are players who may not be starters now. But they can grow and become a starters as we head to the World Cup. For that to happen we’ve got to give them opportunities, first in the training environment but also in test matches.”
The Australia game on November 6 has now joined the test against South Africa a week later as a sellout, with the final match on November 20 against Japan also heading that way.
601 days without fans at Murrayfield
A full house for Australia 🙌
🇹🇴 🇯🇵 Tickets are still available for Tonga & Japan.
Secure your tickets now ⤵️
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) October 20, 2021
“I googled the days since the last Murrayfield crowd against France in March 2020 it’ll be 601 days (until the Tonga game),” said Townsend.
“That’s a long time without supporters. To know two games have been sold out and Japan is on its way is great for the players. It shows how people care about the national team and what it means to our supporters.”
Added to his exiled Lions, Townsend has included Adam Hastings and Sam Skinner. There’s a recall for experienced centre Matt Scott.
The uncapped sale hooker Ewan Ashman – thought to be targeted by England last year – is also called up. Lock Jonny Gray is the most notable omission due to an ongoing shoulder injury.
A raft of young uncapped players are retained, with an eye to the game against Tonga.
South Africa-born flanker Dylan Richardson remains in the squad. So does Glasgow open side Rory Darge and the Edinburgh locks Jamie Hodgson and Marshall Sykes. In the backs, Glasgow’s uncapped quartet Jamie Dobie, Rufus McLean, Ross Thompson and Sione Tuipulotu have all made the cut.
Ewan Ashman (Sale Sharks), Josh Bayliss (Bath), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow), Fraser Brown (Glasgow), Luke Crosbie (Edinburgh), Rory Darge (Glasgow), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Nick Haining (Edinburgh), Rob Harley (Glasgow), Jamie Hodgson (Edinburgh), Oli Kebble (Glasgow), Murray McCallum (Glasgow), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Dylan Richardson (Cell C Sharks), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Sam Skinner (Exeter), Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh Rugby), Rory Sutherland (Worcester), Marshall Sykes (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh).
Backs: Mark Bennett (Edinburgh), Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Jamie Dobie (Glasgow), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Adam Hastings (Gloucester), Stuart Hogg (Exeter), George Horne (Glasgow), Damien Hoyland (Edinburgh), Sam Johnson (Glasgow), Huw Jones (Harlequins), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Duhan van de Merwe (Worcester) Rufus McLean (Glasgow) Ali Price (Glasgow), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Matt Scott (Leicester), Kyle Steyn (Glasgow), Ross Thompson (Glasgow), Sione Tuipulotu (Glasgow).