It says a lot about Scotland’s strength in the loose 5 forwards that they could afford to leave out a European cup winner, but seeing as one of those keeping him out of Townsend’s plans is also a club teammate, Exeter’s Sam Skinner is only too aware of the competition ahead of him as he was called up for the Scotland squad to face Ireland.
“I was gutted and disappointed not to be involved from the start. I had to look inwardly a little bit and think of areas of my game I could knuckle down on.
“Naturally, there are areas of the game I can improve. There was some feedback I could use in my games and I think that has been really helpful and beneficial for me. One positive was that it gave me an opportunity to really focus on my game at Exeter and get a run of games together and improve my performances. Hopefully I have done that.”
Recent history would suggest that he has seized that opportunity at club level. With some of his teammate’s away on international duty – such as compatriot Jonny Gray, a rival for one of the lock slots at both levels – Skinner has started the last six Exeter games in the engine room, including a double try-scoring effort in his last outing against Bath.
“To be completely truthful I feel like I’ve been trying to graft as hard as I can. I just hope that the harder you work, the luckier you get. That’s the situation I’ve found myself in – I’ve got the opportunity to bag a couple of tries against Bath, which was great. I just really enjoyed the whole performance against Bath, both as a team and personally. It was a massive win for Exeter, we needed that. And it was a big confidence boost for us.”
After a man-of-the-match winning Scotland debut against Fiji, Skinner’s rotten luck with injuries has contributed to his slide from the reckoning but the form of his rivals is the biggest obstacle to his matchday return.
At blindside flanker, Jamie Ritchie’s proven so suited to Test-match rugby that he’s now considered vice-captain material, and it would take a consistent downturn in form for Townsend to notion at splitting the Ritchie-Watson partnership, or if he wants to play lock he’d have to split up the now established duo of clubmate Gray and Cummings.
“I’ve never said it’s my wish to play at lock full-time but I have been playing there a lot recently. I was massively disappointed [to be left out of the squad] but Gregor is the man with the opinion that matters and I wasn’t involved.
“Luck hasn’t always been on my side. I’ve had injuries at key times. But that’s the way it goes. If I get a few opportunities I’ll do my best to take them. I’ll take whatever I’m given. I’m not complaining.”
Skinner’s last appearance in a Scotland jersey came against the same opponents he’ll be hoping to face this weekend in a fixture which has seen some spiky comments headed in this direction from the Irish media. Eddie O’Sullivan’s infamous barb that the Scots were “delusional” came after that Autumn Nations Cup match when a patched-up Scotland side played some decent rugby up until Duncan Taylor’s harsh yellow card.
“He’s obviously got his reasons for his opinion, it’s just the way it was”, said an untrifled Skinner.
“There are lots of things that are said in the media, and people are entitled to their opinion. I tend not to get too hung up on these things. To be honest the first time I heard that quote was when you just said it to me then. That tells you how little I knew about the situation.
“We haven’t started our preview process yet but I played in the last game and they’re a quality side. The way they’re talking and playing they seem to be in a strong and confident place so there’s a hell of a battle coming up this weekend and I can’t wait to get stuck in.”
Revised Scotland Squad (v Ireland Sun 14th March)
Forwards: Ewan Ashman, Simon Berghan, Jamie Bhatti,
David Cherry, Alex Craig, Scott Cummings, Matt Fagerson,
Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Nick Haining, Rob Harley,
Oli Kebble, WP Nel, Cornell du Preez, Jamie Ritchie, Sam Skinner,
Rory Sutherland, George Turner, Hamish Watson
Backs: Jamie Dobie, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Stuart Hogg (c), Sam Johnson, Huw Jones, James Lang, Sean Maitland,
Rufus McLean, Duhan van der Merwe, Ali Price, Finn Russell,
Scott Steele, Duncan Taylor, Jaco van der Walt