Gregor Townsend believes the fact he can select Test debutant Jaco van der Walt as Scotland’s fifth flyhalf of the end-of-year campaign is a sign of the team’s growing depth.
VAN DER WALT ELIGIBLE ON RESIDENCY GROUNDS
South Africa-born Van der Walt has just become eligible on residency grounds and will win his first cap in a third-place Autumn Nations Cup playoff against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.
The 26-year Edinburgh No 10 will be the fifth flyhalf deployed by Scotland in their end-of-year campaign, following Finn Russell, Adam Hastings, Stuart Hogg and Duncan Weir.
Townsend, himself a former Scotland flyhalf, was pleased by the increased depth across all positions in his squad.
“It seems like we’ve got more depth, I think 36 players have played in this campaign and it will be three more this weekend,” he told reporters after naming his side on Thursday.
“We’ll have our fifth stand-off in five games this weekend, if you count Stuart Hogg’s 10 or 12 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.
“We certainly have depth in one or two positions and that’s very exciting to have as a coach, second row for example, the depth there is really impressive.”
SCOTLAND LOOKING FOR FIRST WIN IN IRELAND SINCE 2010
Scotland, who did not play last week after their match against Fiji was cancelled due to coronavirus in the Pacific Islanders’ camp, will be looking for their first win in Ireland since 2010.
Fullback Hogg is set to win his 80th cap, with the Scotland captain also providing flyhalf cover for Van der Walt.
And while Townsend acknowledged the step up from club to Test rugby, he added Van der Walt’s game would be well-suited to the international stage.
“This year and last year, he’s taken his game to another level,” said Townsend.
“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’ll just be looking at ways to best influence a defence. And that will be just a little bit quicker at international level.
“But we’ve 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.”
NOT THE ONLY SA-BORN PLAYER
Van der Walt was not be the only SA-born player selected by Townsend.
Wing Duhan van der Merwe will start in the No 11 jersey, while props Ollie Kebble and WP Nel have been named on the bench.
15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Hugo Keenan, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Peter O’Mahony, 6 CJ Stander, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Cian Healy
Substitutes: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 John Ryan, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Chris Farrell
15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Rory Sutherland
Substitutes: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 WP Nel, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Huw Jones, 23 Sean Maitland