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Gregor Townsend singles out Elliot Millar-Mills in lesson to debutants

By PA
Elliot Millar-Mills runs with the ball during the Scotland Captain's Run ahead of the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match against England at BT Murrayfield Stadium on February 23, 2024 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Gregor Townsend is looking for some of his Scotland new boys to extend their international careers past the summer tour which starts against Canada on Saturday.

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Head coach Townsend has named five uncapped players in his starting XV for the match at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa and up to 10 debutants could be involved by the end of the game.

Edinburgh centre Matt Currie, wing Arron Reed and his Sale team-mate, scrum-half Gus Warr, second-rower Max Williamson and his Glasgow Warriors back-row team-mate Gregor Brown, all start the match.

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Northampton hooker Robbie Smith, Glasgow prop Nathan McBeth, Leicester prop Will Hurd, Oyannax second row Ewan Johnson and Edinburgh wing Ross McCann will hope to make their debuts off the bench, with Edinburgh’s Patrick Harrison looking to earn his first cap before the end of the tour.

After taking on the Canadians, the Scots face the United States in Washington on July 12, then meet the challenge of Chile in Santiago on July 20 before finishing off the tour against Uruguay in Montevideo seven days later, with Townsend looking to see who grabs their opportunity to become a regular member of his squad.

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He said: “When we selected the squad, one of the principles we had was, do we believe these players can play for us not just now, they get an opportunity now, but November (Autumn Tests) and in the Six Nations? That’s the goal.

“Players that we think can make a difference for us as we go into next season.

“Maybe I can give an example of Elliot Millar-Mills.

“Elliott was called up on the Sunday night, after Will Hurd got injured on the Saturday playing for Leicester the week before we came into our Six Nations camp.

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“He grabbed his opportunity coming off the bench against Wales and in other games and has taken his game to another level since the Six Nations.

“Now we have a view of him being someone who’s competing really hard with Zander (Fagerson), that can not only add depth to us at tighthead but can make a difference when he plays.

“So there was just one example from the Six Nations, there will be a lot more over the next few weeks of players grabbing their opportunity and being genuine contenders for our Test team that plays in South Africa in November.

“They understand the expectations we have of them, the belief we have in them. Time to adapt – it’s not really something at Test level you have much of, trying to build cohesion as quickly as possible.

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“What we’ve seen so far is the players have adapted really well and they’re putting their best foot forward.

“And with any player that’s winning the first cap, we want to see in the performance what got them into the squad and what got them selected in the first place which is their game, their strengths.”

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Townsend insists the new faces have already brought an excitement to his squad.

He said: “It’s exciting, refreshing.

“It challenges the experienced players to step up to show their standards of training, what is expected, but also the more established players can learn from these younger players.

“We know it’s going to be a great occasion for a number of players this weekend, winning their first caps and some of them their first starts and we are really excited to see them play.

“They’ve trained really well, today’s session was excellent in terms of the level of physicality and understanding in such a short time, of what we want to do this weekend.”

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finn 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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