'No': Hogg and Russell non-selection not linked to March incident
Gregor Townsend has revealed that talisman Finn Russell and captain Stuart Hogg have been excused from the Scotland summer tour in order to prevent burnout ahead of next year’s World Cup. The head coach is adamant that the omission of the key duo from the 40-man squad for the trip to South America later this month has nothing to do with the fact they were among six players involved in an unauthorised night out during the Six Nations in March.
Both Russell and Hogg were part of the British and Irish Lions squad last summer. They and fellow Lion Chris Harris, who was not one of those involved in the incident after the victory in Rome, have all been given this summer off to recharge their batteries after a gruelling schedule at club and international level.
Hamish Watson, Rory Sutherland, Ali Price, Duhan van der Merwe and Zander Fagerson were also part of the Lions tour last year, but have all been included by Townsend as he feels they have had adequate rest over the past season.
“The Lions was a huge commitment and it’s affected players in different ways this year,” said Townsend. “When you achieve something of that level, and the commitment you put into making it happen, and then the length of the tour itself – seven weeks and playing all the way through to August – some of those players have played a lot of rugby this year.
“We looked at individuals, where they are at the end of this season, where they are in terms of their career, and whether the best thing for them was to be on tour or to have some time off. Some regulars over the last 12/24 months weren’t considered for those reasons.
“Once we set out that we believe the best thing for Stuart, Finn and Chris is not touring, they accepted that. They have played the most minutes of all our players this year. When you put that on the back of them having the longest seasons last year it became more clear to us that a summer off would be the best thing for them.
“That might have been different if we didn’t have what is coming up the following season. This time next year we will be in a World Cup camp playing three or four warm-up games before we go on to the World Cup, so it’s going to be a demanding period for them all next year. On the back of the last 12/18 months, we feel it’s right for them not to tour.”
Asked if the incident in March played any part in the non-selection of Hogg and Russell, Townsend said: “No, no. To be honest, a lot of what needed to be sorted out and discussed had already happened that week behind closed doors before the public found out on the Friday. We moved on fairly quickly from that. It was just a reminder – a positive reminder – that we needed to talk about why we were here and we will do that more as we go to camp next week.”
Edinburgh lock Grant Gilchrist will captain Scotland in this summer’s tour, which includes an A game against Chile later this month and three Tests against Argentina next month. However, Townsend fully expects Hogg to resume the role thereafter. “Yeah, I hope so,” he said when asked if he envisaged the Exeter full-back remaining as skipper. “I have said that to Stuart. Obviously, a lot can happen between now and November.
“We have been really lucky that Stuart has been available for us mostly throughout the last four or five years. He has played really well for us and been an excellent captain. There are things he needs to work on as a leader, just like he needs to work on things as a player, just like I need to work on a few things as a coach. He has earned the right for a rest this summer.”
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