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Gregor Townsend explains George Horne and Cam Redpath calls

By Bryn Palmer
Scotland's Cameron Redpath is tackled during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Scotland and England at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland on February 24, 2024. (Photo by Andy Buchanan / AFP) (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Scotland scrum-half George Horne has been urged to grasp the chance to shed his reputation as an impact ‘super-sub’ after being handed a rare Test start in Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Italy.

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With head coach coach Gregor Townsend opting to rest first-choice Ben White after a heavy workload with new club Toulon and Scotland since the World Cup, the Glasgow half-back will win his 29th cap in Rome.

But it will be only Horne’s fourth start at international level – his first in the Six Nations – and his first since the 2019 World Cup.

After making his debut in a 2018 summer tour defeat against the USA in Houston, he scored two tries on his second start a week later in a thumping win in Argentina.

His only other start to date came in a RWC pool romp against Russia five years ago in Japan. Horne scored a hat-trick of tries in that 61-0 win in Shizuoka, but if he thought that might push him further into contention with the retirement of Greig Laidlaw after the tournament, it has not worked out as he might have hoped.

A succession of untimely injuries have not helped, but Horne has had to play second fiddle to first Ali Price, and latterly White, for the Scotland number nine shirt, despite winning 18 more caps off the bench in recent years.

Price was also ahead of him at club level, making it harder to press his Test claims.  But since Franco Smith took over at Glasgow in the summer of 2022, the roles have been reversed.

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Horne, 28, has generally been the South African’s first-choice No.9, with Price – a Test Lion in 2021 – having to make do with only occasional starts. The older man eventually secured a surprise post-World Cup move to Scottish rivals Edinburgh in November in order to remain in Scotland contention.

Horne started Glasgow’s last five games coming into the Six Nations, including three in the Champions Cup. Before facing Toulon in January, he said: “Hopefully I’ve shown Gregor that I can start and the feedback I’ve been getting back from him and the coaches has been positive.”

While Horne has lost none of the pace, dynamism and eye for a gap that has put him fourth on Glasgow’s all-time try-scorers list with 42, the development in other aspects of his game have earned him his opportunity in Rome.

“His kicking has really improved the last couple of years,” Townsend said. “A lot of the time he is asked to play a role with us which is to bring on energy. It is probably not that often we are looking to kick and slow the game down. It is something George can do but his biggest strength is to add pace, so he has been ideal for us to come off the bench.

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“He came on against England when we perhaps didn’t play as much rugby as we could have in that period, and George was able to do that. He has played in a number of games for Glasgow where he has had to control things.

“So technically his biggest improvement have been his kicking, accuracy and game management. But we want George to bring his key strengths which are getting to the breakdown quickly, getting the ball away and being super competitive in attack and defence. We feel that is the best way we can pressure Italy – producing quick ball within our structure and our way of playing. We’re looking forward to seeing George take that opportunity.”

George Horne
George Horne of Scotland passes the ball out of the ruck during the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between Scotland and England at BT Murrayfield Stadium on February 24, 2024 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Despite acknowledging that Horne’s assets make him an ideal asset to bring off the bench, Townsend insisted his reputation as something of a ‘super-sub’ has not counted against him.

“No, it’s a massive strength,” he said. “Games at Test level are not won in the first 20 minutes, they are usually won in the last 20 minutes. If you are on the field in the last 20, you can have more influence on the outcome.

“George would have been disappointed not to come on [in the current campaign] against France – but when the Wales game was really tight, we had real confidence George could come on and make things happen which he did, the same against England. Now he gets an opportunity to do it from the start.”

Like Horne, Cameron Redpath is another player who has been patiently waiting for his chance.

The Bath centre has won 12 caps since a sensational debut in a famous victory over England at Twickenham in 2021, but like Horne has been restricted to just three Test starts so far.  His others came against Fiji in the autumn of 2022 and in a rout of Romania at last year’s World Cup.

With the influential Sione Tuipulotu suffering a knee injury in the Calcutta Cup win a fortnight ago, Redpath gets the chance to rekindle his burgeoning club partnership with Finn Russell at Bath on the international stage, after three outings off the bench so far in this Six Nations.

“I think Cam can be a gainline carrier too,” Townsend said as he discussed his selection of Redpath over Stafford McDowall to partner Huw Jones. “Cam has the ability to beat people with really good footwork. He is very instinctive so if someone rushes him, he can step them. But he knows that role at 12 is sometimes just making sure you get to the gainline and he can do that effectively too.

“We have full faith in Cam. There’s also a cohesion element with who’s inside him. Stafford there would have been a cohesion element with who’s outside him [Glasgow team-mate Jones] so those are factors we talk about when we have to make an unexpected change – who is going to be the one who fits into the way of playing and the relationships that are already there?

“Cam and Finn have a good playing relationship and off-field this year. It’s great to see Cam in full fitness with energy, confidence and form. It’s a good combination.”

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J
Jon 1 hours ago
How Maro Itoje terrorised the All Blacks lineout

Yeah England were much smarter, they put their much vaster experience to use in both the scrum (bending/not taking hit) and lineout (Itoje early sacks) law vagaries. Really though, I know what is there, I’m more worried about Englands locks. We only got to see Itoje and Martin, right? Depth allround in the England camp was probably the difference in the series and the drop off when Itoje reached his minutes limit for the season (it was like the plug was pulled from the charger) was up there with keeping Sexton on the park in that quarter final. What happened there? You have a lot of watching hours experience with locks come blindsides Nick, especially with a typical Australian player make up, have you see a six the size of Barrett absolutely dominate the position and his opposition? I can easily see Scott, and even Martin for that matter, moving to the blindside and playing like Tadgh Beirne with the amount of top locks we have coming through to partner Patrick. Still with the English mindset, because despite running the best All Black team I’ve seen in a long time close, they do need to find improvement, and although I thought they had a lot of good performances from their 7’s (over the years), I really like the prospect of Cunningham-South in his 8 spot and Earl on the open. Can you see Martin as mobile enough to take over Lawes? I absolutely loved his aggression when Jordie ran upto him to try and grab the ball. That alone is enough reason for me to try him there.

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