Gregor Townsend’s Scotland will prepare for their 2021 Guinness Six Nations opener away to defending champions England with one significant difference compared to their round one hosts – they are assembling a squad of 35 players and three additional training youngsters compared to Eddie Jones being restricted to having just 28 players at his disposal.   

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England last week reached an agreement with the RFU to only retain a 28-player squad for the Six Nations to help reduce movement in and out of the team environment. This is in contrast to the 36-strong squads chosen for the conclusion of the delayed 2020 Six Nations and the start of the Autumn Nations Cup.

Jones has also habitually invited young players in to train with the squad, even having Cameron Redpath, the new Scotland squad call-up for 2021’s championship, involved last spring.

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Scotland, though, will maintain a different Six Nations approach to England and with very good reason – 15 of the players chosen in Wednesday’s squad of 35 are based outside Scotland and will have to return to their English or French clubs in the midweek of a training week and similarly in a match-week if they don’t make the cut for Townsend’s matchday squad.   

Hence the invitation for youngsters Rufus MacLean, Jamie Dobie and Rory Darge to train with the squad that starts work at Oriam next Monday. “We see this as an opportunity for a couple of reasons,” explained Townsend at his squad announcement media briefing.

“Firstly, we’re not able to keep everybody in camp as we did in the autumn, so the players that play outside of Scotland could go back after a Tuesday or a Wednesday the week of a camp or a matchweek. That will reduce our squad a fair bit given that we have got 15 non-Scots in our squad.

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“So that means having Jamie, Rufus and Rory in our squad, it gives them more of an opportunity to have more training time but also we have an eye open for the future with them. We are very excited about what they can achieve in their careers.

“Likewise Ewan Ashman (one of four uncapped players in the senior squad), who was in the 20s squad last year and trained with us for a week in autumn. We see the experience they will get will only benefit them when they back and they play with their pro teams.”   

With the Six Nations round one match against England going ahead behind closed doors, Townsend added that this lack of atmosphere can help Scotland in their quest to wrest back the Calcutta Cup. “We’re excited about the challenge that faces us,” he said. “We are playing the champions first game up away from home so that is one for us to be highly motivated.

“We’re having to play our best game to win down there but we see it as a big opportunity. There is an opportunity now with no crowds at Twickenham that away games become slightly less challenging than they normally are and we have real faith in the players in the squad and what we believe they are capable of.

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“Improving and winning our next game,” added Townsend when asked what his prediction was for Scotland’s 2021 campaign. “That is the focus. We’ll not look any further beyond that.”

Whereas Townsend sounded excited with the potential of the squad he announced on Wednesday, his upbeat mood was in contrast to goings-on with England where head coach Jones went into self-isolation along with Simon Amor after Matt Proudfoot, another assistant, tested positive for Covid-19. 

Jones also had to bring in Ed Robinson, the Jersey assistant coach (and a son of ex-England boss Andy), as skills coach for the championship after it was decided Australia-based Jason Ryles shouldn’t fly to Europe.     

 

  

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