This year’s Six Nations looks set to pick up where the extended 2020 championship left off. Once again sides will have to contend with empty stadiums, congested club fixture lists, and last minute Covid alterations. These factors could prove decisive in determining who takes hold of the trophy in late March, opening a path to victory for the team which can adapt the best.
Having released his tournament squad on Wednesday, Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend will be hoping his side can take the next step forward. In recent seasons Scotland have shown glimpses of brilliance but have struggled to knit together a string of good results. Barring a third-place finish in 2018, Scotland’s inconsistency has established the side as bottom half regulars in the Six Nations.
Townsend’s announcement brought both good and bad news on the injury front. Scotland will have to contend with a depleted front row. Glasgow captain Fraser Brown will miss the tournament through injury, while Edinburgh’s Stuart McInally is unlikely to feature following a neck injury sustained in the gym. These absences mean that Townsend will be without both of his regular options at hooker. This has forced him to turn to inexperienced talent. George Turner’s recent strong performances for Glasgow will put him in contention for the starting number two jersey with Edinburgh’s David Cherry and Sale Shark’s Ewan Ashman also in the 35-man squad.
The pair are two of four uncapped players selected for this year’s tournament. Gloucester’s Alex Craig comes into the back row, while Bath centre Cameron Redpath is called up having opted to represent Scotland despite having represented England at Under 20s level. This inclusion means that he will follow in his father’s footsteps with Bryan Redpath winning 60 caps for Scotland.
Townsend is confident that the youth reinforcements will step up to the challenge of the international stage. Speaking on the introduction of possible debutants, he said: “the depth we have across the squad enables us to bring in some new players who have excelled in recent weeks and others who we believe can perform at test level.”
Racing 92 fly-half Finn Russell makes his return following a shoulder injury that ruled him out of the Autumn Nations Cup. Also restored to the squad having not featured in the November tests are Sale Shark’s winger Byron McGuigan, Newcastle Falcons back row Gary Graham, London Irish prop Alan Dell and Glasgow Warriors hooker Grant Stewart. Having impressed in his debut against Ireland in November, Edinburgh’s Jaco Van de Walt joins Russell in the half-back department.
Glasgow’s Ali Price and Harlequins Scott Steele are the only options at scrumhalf, leaving room for another four options at centre with Gloucester’s Chris Harris, Saracens’ Duncan Taylor, Glasgow’s Huw Jones and Harlequins’ James Lang all joining Redpath in the squad. In the back three Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn, and Duhan Van de Merwe are all called up from Edinburgh and join Saracens’ Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg of Exeter Chiefs who serves as captain.
Scotland begin their 2021 Six Nations campaign on 6 February with a Calcutta Cup contest against England at Twickenham.
Forwards: Ewan Ashman (Sale Sharks), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), David Cherry (Edinburgh), Alex Craig (Gloucester), Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), Allan Dell (London Irish), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Gary Graham (Newcastle Falcons), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs), Richie Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Oli Kebble (Glasgow Warriors), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Grant Stewart (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh), Blade Thomson (Scarlets), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh).
Backs: Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), James Lang (Harlequins), Sean Maitland (Saracens), Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors), Cameron Redpath (Bath), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Scott Steele (Harlequins), Duncan Taylor (Saracens), Jaco van der Walt (Edinburgh), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh).
Image: Richard Sutcliffe via geograph.org.uk