Scotland boss Gregor Townsend has hailed his squad’s growing depth after selecting the fifth fly-half of the autumn series in debutant Jaco van der Walt. The 26-year-old Edinburgh playmaker has completed his residency qualification and will make his Test debut against Ireland on Saturday.
The South Africa-born star follows Finn Russell, Adam Hastings, Stuart Hogg and Duncan Weir into Scotland’s No10 role in this Autumn Nations Cup campaign and the completion of the delayed 2020 Six Nations.
Scotland will take on Ireland at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium in the third-fourth play-off, with head coach Townsend admitting he never expected to have the luxury of five options at fly-half.
“It seems like we have got more depth, I think 36 players have played in this campaign and it will be three more this weekend,” said Townsend. “So that’s a number in itself to say they have all played international rugby and we have played pretty well in this period.
“We’ll have our fifth stand-off in five games this weekend if you count Stuart Hogg’s ten or twelve minutes at Llanelli at the beginning of this campaign. So I don’t think I would ever have thought that we could have had five stand-offs playing international rugby. So there’s growing depth.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 3, 2020
“We certainly have depth in one or two positions and that is very exciting to have as a coach, Second row, for example, the depth there is really impressive. And we are very aware that there are second rows playing very well outside of our group. So it’s growing but ultimately you want the top 15, 23 and probably 30 to be at a very high level. You want those two players challenging for each position to be up there with the best in the world, and we’re moving towards that. But certainly we can be better in that regard.”
Blair Kinghorn misses out due to a broken finger, while George Horne has not quite shaken off a foot issue. Hamish Watson was fit for selection but Townsend opted to shake up his back-row resources. Full-back Hogg will provide fly-half cover for van der Walt, with the Exeter star set to win his 80th cap. Van der Walt is the latest residency qualifier to make his way into Scotland’s ranks, with Townsend happy to capitalise on greater selection numbers.
While Edinburgh’s combative playmaker could face a big challenge in acclimatising to Test rugby in Dublin, Townsend believes van der Walt boasts the physicality and skill set to thrive with Scotland. “Just getting used to international rugby will be a great experience for him, and getting used to playing with new teammates inside and outside him,” said Townsend. “And just doing what he has been doing really well for Edinburgh.
“This year and last year, he has taken his game to another level. Defensively he must be one of the best tackling stand-offs in world rugby. His passing and his kicking are at a high level. And he will just be looking at ways to best influence a defence and that will be just a little bit quicker at international level. But we have got real belief and faith in his ability and those around him to bring the best out of our backline and our team attack this weekend.”
SCOTLAND (vs Ireland): S Hogg (Exeter, captain); D Graham (Edinburgh), C Harris (Gloucester), D Taylor (Saracens), D van der Merwe; J van der Walt (both Edinburgh), A Price (Glasgow); R Sutherland (Edinburgh), F Brown, Z Fagerson, S Cummings (all Glasgow), J Gray (Exeter), B Thompson (Scarlets), J Ritchie (Edinburgh), M Fagerson (Glasgow). Reps: S McInally (Edinburgh), O Kebble (Glasgow), WP Nel (Edinburgh), S Skinner (Exeter), B Cowan (London Irish), S Hidalgo-Clyne (Exeter), H Jones (Glasgow), S Maitland (Saracens).
Episode 9 – Game Changers
We discuss the tense Wales vs England match from the weekend. Jamie reveals just how ruthless Shaun Edwards is! We speak to Mike Umaga on his son Jacob Umaga, and @OceansApartFilm !
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 2, 2020
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