Gregor Townsend explains Scotland change of captain, absence of Ben White and doubling down on Blair Kinghorn at 10

Leadership comes in different guises and for Hamish Watson it has been something of a slow burn.

Hamish Watson, second from left, will take over the Scotland captaincy for the third Test from Grant Gilchrist, pictured beside him.  (Photo by Natacha Pisarenko/AP/Shutterstock)
Hamish Watson, second from left, will take over the Scotland captaincy for the third Test from Grant Gilchrist, pictured beside him. (Photo by Natacha Pisarenko/AP/Shutterstock)

The openside flanker has been an outstanding contributor to the national side for most of the last seven years and marked his 50th Scotland cap last weekend with a man of the match performance in the the second Test win over Argentina for which he was named vice-captain.

He will go one better in this Saturday’s decider in Santiago del Estero where he will captain his country for the first time, proving that good things come to those who wait.

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With tour skipper Grant Gilchrist sitting out the final match, his Edinburgh club-mate will be given the opportunity to earn his stripes.

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Watson turns 31 later this year but only recently joined the Scotland team’s leadership group. Gregor Townsend, the national coach, puts it down to the particular challenges of playing in Watson’s position.

“Opensides can tend to be unique individuals, let’s say, and they tend to play their own game. So, you kind of leave them to do that. They’ve got decisions to make and sometimes they are a little bit crazy.

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“But other opensides can really take on the leadership role and it is something Hamish started to mention during the Six Nations during feedback discussions with us and Edinburgh, where I know he has taken on that role in team meetings and helping Grant there.

“So, when we asked him if he’d like to be in our Thistle Group – that’s our leadership group – he said he would and we’ve just seen him thrive with that responsibility.

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Glen Young is in line to make his Scotland debut from the bench. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

“It is a really positive thing that we now have someone like Hamish taking an active role in the leadership. He’s so well respected in the group, for who he is as a person, how he conducts himself off the field and how connected he is with other players, but also how he plays. He has been one of our most consistent players over the last three or four years.

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“So, to have him play alongside Rory Darge – who is in our leadership group, too – I’m sure is a big positive for Rory, and he’ll be learning from Hamish a lot from the training field, how he speaks to the players and how he plays.”

While it might seem unusual to exclude the tour captain for the decisive match of the series, Townsend said it was always his intention to rest Gilchrist. Fellow lock Sam Skinner has also dropped out, allowing Scott Cummings and Jonny Gray to form a second row partnership, with the uncapped Glen Young providing cover on the bench.

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“Grant has had a long season and it was great that he was able to lead the side at the weekend, play well and set the team up for a decider,” said Townsend.”

Ewan Ashman will start for Scotland for the first time. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)
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In the absence of Rory Hutchinson, Townsend has resisted the temptation to move Blair Kinghorn to full-back. The Edinburgh player will line up at stand-off for the fourth Test match in a row and is one of five players picked to start all three games against Argentina.

He finished the second Test at full-back after the removal of Hutchinson and his replacement, Kyle Rowe, due to ankle and knee injuries respectively, but Townsend is unwavering in his belief that Kinghorn’s future is at 10.

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“Blair’s obviously played stand-off all season, that’s the role we see him in,” said the coach. “He moved back to full-back during the game [in Salta] and he’ll be covering the back three again this week.

“I thought he played very well last week when he went back there, defensively he was excellent. And he had a very good game - a much improved game - at 10 before he moved positions.

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“With Blair, we see him improving in training and learning more about this Argentina defence and what will be required this week, so it was likely he was always going to start at 10.”

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His half-back partner will be Ali Price, who returns to the starting XV in place of Ben White despite the latter’s impressive performance in Salta. White finds himself out of the squad altogether, with George Horne picked as replacement scrum-half.

“It is certainly a tougher decision on Ben, I understand that,” acknowledged Townsend.

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“Last week he had his first opportunity to start for Scotland and he grabbed it. Under normal circumstances, when you play well you expect to be involved the following week, either starting or on the bench, but with Ali we know what a key player he has been for us over the last few seasons and with George we feel he deserves an opportunity after playing very well against Chile.”

Townsend, who has picked Zander Fagerson for his 50th cap, expects a backlash from Argentina on Saturday. The hosts have made 11 changes, including seven of the eight forwards, as they look to recapture the form that saw them win the first Test.

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Edinburgh’s Emiliano Boffelli returns to the wing after playing at full-back in Salta and there are starts for experienced hooker Agustín Creevy and Pablo Matera, who slots in at blindside flanker after playing at No 8 in the first Test.

“They will be full of passion,” said Townsend. “They will look to be more physical in the tackle and the contact area. It’s a cup final for both of us, they’re playing at home so they will have a big crowd behind them. It’s a brand new stadium we’re playing in so I’m sure it will be an excellent atmosphere.

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“We’ve just got to work out what they’re doing. If they’re coming in a certain way in defence or attack, our players just have to adapt and find out what’s working for them. They did that really well last week.”

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