Townsend gives his Scotland prognosis
REACTION: Coach Gregor Townsend believes Scotland can challenge for the Six Nations crown, despite an extensive injury list containing 19 internationals.
Townsend has named seven uncapped players in his 39-man squad for the tournament, which starts early next month.
Former skipper John Barclay, Zander Fagerson and Richie Gray are missing and Townsend admits he will be down to the bare bones in a number of key positions when they open their championship campaign at home to Italy on February 2.
But he is refusing to rule the Scots, who finished third last year, out of the title hunt.
“Every team will have injury challenges, but every team will be going into the tournament believing they can win,” said Townsend.
“That’s the only reason we take part – to win the next game and then win the trophy at the end of the tournament.
“We believe in our squad. We’ve seen how they’ve taken on the best in the world over the past few years and on some of those occasions we had a lot of injuries.”
Townsend hopes the roll-call of absentees will have reduced significantly in time for their third fixture away to France on February 23.
Glasgow hookers Fraser Brown and George Turner fall into that category, but currently, their absences leave the head coach with Edinburgh’s Stuart McInally as his sole experienced campaigner in the centre of his front row.
Three rookies – Edinburgh’s David Cherry, Leicester’s Jake Kerr and Grant Stewart of Glasgow – will offer cover and Townsend said he has faith in his uncapped new faces, despite their lack of international action.
With Ireland, Wales and England occupying three of the top four slots in the world rankings, Townsend said this year’s Six Nations could be among the toughest ever.
Townsend, who has also handed call-ups to the uncapped Gary Graham, D’Arcy Rae, Sam Johnson and Chris Dean, said: “It’s been competitive over the last few years, you’ve got teams finding it difficult to win away from home because the teams they are up against are so good.
“I don’t believe there has ever been a championship where the number two, number three and number four teams in the world are Ireland, Wales and England, so it shows the quality of opposition we’ll be facing.”
Newcastle back row forward John Hardie makes his return to a Scotland squad for the first time since the 2018 Six Nations, while stalwarts Jonny Gray and Tommy Seymour could rack up their half centuries of caps after also being named in Townsend’s selection.
Forwards: Alex Allan (Glasgow), Adam Ashe (Glasgow), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow), David Cherry (Edinburgh), Allan Dell (Edinburgh), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Gary Graham (Newcastle), Jonny Gray (Glasgow), John Hardie (Newcastle/England), Jake Kerr (Leicester), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), D’Arcy Rae (Glasgow), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Sam Skinner (Exeter/England), Grant Stewart (Glasgow), Josh Strauss (Sale/England), Tim Swinson (Glasgow), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow).
Backs: Chris Dean (Edinburgh), Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Nick Grigg (Glasgow), Sam Johnson (Glasgow), Chris Harris (Newcastle/England), Adam Hastings (Glasgow), Stuart Hogg (Glasgow), George Horne (Glasgow), Pete Horne (Glasgow), Huw Jones (Glasgow), Lee Jones (Glasgow), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Greig Laidlaw (capt, Clermont/France), Sean Maitland (Saracens/England), Ali Price (Glasgow), Finn Russell (Racing 92/France), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow).