Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v Tonga – team announcement

Gregor Townsend
Scotland Head Coach, Gregor Townsend - - pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

Gregor Townsend has named his first Scotland side since the dark blues took on France back in March. With this game taking place outside World Rugby’s test window and no players involved from the Gallagher Premiership or Top 14 it’s an entirely home-based selection – 13 from Glasgow and 10 from Edinburgh.

The headline is the number of new caps – there are 8 players in line for their Scotland debuts. This will be the most in any game during the Townsend era, topping the 4 first caps awarded in matches against Samoa in 2017 (Jamie Bhatti, Chris Harris, Darryl Marfo and George Turner) and Canada in 2018 (Lewis Carmichael, Adam Hastings, James Lang and Jamie Ritchie).

Overall there are 14 changes to the 23 that triumphed in Paris. In the backs, Darcy Graham, Sam Johnson and Ali Price started at the Stade de France. They are joined by the contrasting styles of new caps Sione Tuipulotu and Rufus McLean. While they may be the same height, Tuipulotu is listed as nearly 20kgs heavier than the fleet-footed McLean! At 21 years and 7 months, McLean will be the first player born in 2000 or later to play for Scotland Men.

Winger, Kyle Steyn,will make his first start having debuted off the bench in the pre-pandemic game against France at Murrayfield in the 2020 Six Nations. The starting backline is rounded out by Blair Kinghorn who will play in the 10 shirt for the first time for the national side. Kinghorn hasn’t played for Scotland since last year’s Autumn Nations Cup fixture against France.

George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson all return from the starting pack that knocked over France. Matt Fagerson is back having missed the game in Paris through injury – prior to that, he had started 6 in a row at number 8 for Scotland. Among the current squad, Robert Harley is the only forward who made his Test debut back when Andy Robinson was head coach. The Ginger Ninja will make his first start for Scotland since November 2016 – it will also be his first start at lock.

A duo of new caps from Edinburgh complete the starting pack. Pierre Schoeman has qualified to play for Scotland 2 years earlier than expected thanks to the delay in the implementation of the 5-year residency period. Jamie Hodgson has progressed from a Partnership Contract with Watsonians to a full-time deal with Edinburgh and now international honours.

On the bench, Stuart McInally returns having missed the Six Nations. Glasgow prop, Oli Kebble moves one seat over on the bench having covered loosehead prop in Paris but seemingly acting as tighthead replacement on Saturday. Jamie Bhatti is set to win his 19th cap (with 17 of them coming from the bench). The Edinburgh trio of Marshall Sykes, Luke Crosbie and Nick Haining will provide plenty of aggression. Haining started against France in March while Sykes and Crosbie will both win their first caps. Crosbie has had to be patient waiting for his opportunity having first been called up to a national squad during the 2019 Six Nations.

Glasgow’s uncapped half back pairing of Jamie Dobie and Ross Thompson will give a glimpse of the future when they join the fray. Dobie (date of birth 7/6/01) will be the first player born in the 21st century to play for Scotland’s Men’s team.

The Team:

15. Darcy Graham
14. Kyle Steyn
13. Sione Tuipulotu*
12. Sam Johnson
11. Rufus McLean*
10. Blair Kinghorn
9. Ali Price (cc)

1. Pierre Schoeman*
2. George Turner
3. Zander Fagerson
4. Jamie Hodgson*
5. Robert Harley
6. Jamie Ritchie (cc)
7. Hamish Watson
8. Matt Fagerson

16. Stuart McInally
17. Jamie Bhatti
18. Oli Kebble
19. Marshall Sykes*
20. Luke Crosbie*
21. Nick Haining
22. Jamie Dobie*
23. Ross Thompson*

* Denotes uncapped player


  • 16 of the matchday 23 came through the Scottish Rugby Academy system and the same number previously played at u20s level for Scotland.
  • 6 of the squad have played 7s for Scotland.
  • The pack weight is only 892kgs – although that is 2kgs more than the starting forwards against France in the Six Nations.
  • This is the youngest 23 named by Gregor Townsend for any game bar the 3 played on the 2018 Summer Tour of North and South America.
  • If the bench is cleared against Tonga then the Townsend era will have, so far, seen 42 new caps and 92 players used in total.

23 Responses

  1. Rufus McLean might dispute Dobie’s claim to being the first player born in the 21st century to play given he’s starting!

      1. There are times it pays to read the comments before commenting yourself. I’ve learned something today.

      2. Haha fair play, makes sense now I think about it!

        I contend though that you should have just said both will be players born in the 2000s so as not to confuse the likes of me though that’s easily done admittedly. ;)

  2. My guess is Toonie wanted 6 forwards on the bench, in most part to protect the backrow of Watson, Ritchie and Fagerson, who he will want to start against Australia and so not risk a full 80 against Tonga.
    If you’re only going for 2 backs then the selection of Kinghorn over Thompson sort of makes sense – Kinghorn training all week at 10 as he can slip into the 15 position naturally.
    It says something when none of the three locks in the 23 have played there before for Scotland. With another 6 uncapped players and 2 players out of position (Graham and Kinghorn) this has the look of a cobbled together side which could slip up on the banana-skin that is Tonga. Hope the leaders have their heads in the right place for this one.

    1. Really surprised no Gilchrist given his experience and previous leadership role – does anyone know if he is injured?
      Worried about Kinghorn at 15 as it also means Graham at 15; yes, players can move around but I would have thought best to have Thompson at 10 from the off. I get Mish having some game time but a little surprised our first choice back row are all on at the start. Apart from Rambo, a very inexperienced bench to bring on should we have to chase the game, let’s hope we’re well clear before the bench is emptied.

    2. Presumably Tonga are missing their English and French based test players so will be fairly weakened. The side that lost by a ton to NZ had players at club level in NZ. Our side might be somewhat experimental but we should be confident to win. Admittedly I’d be more confident with Thompson at 10 and Kinghorn at 15 but there you go.

  3. ‘If the bench is cleared against Tonga then the Townsend era will have, so far, seen 42 new caps and 92 players used in total.’ Is that high low or where in comparison to other 6N sides or his predecessors?

  4. I would like to rant more but I cannot , quite the reverse. The restrictions on choice have given Toony the chance to demonstrate that he can take square pegs and mould them in round holes. So I am going to get behind Toony.

    A talented winger at Full Back, I hope Darcy plays really well, I like that move. With so many other lively wings around, it could be an inspiring choice. Well done Toony.

    1. Yeah I’m onboard with this, it’s a decent and balanced team given the restrictions. Front row both starting and bench looks powerful to me.
      Back row likewise.
      I’d prefer Thompson to Kinghorn at 10 but otherwise he’s just putting the best available players on the pitch.
      Price will give direction and Experience. The midfield is just transplanted from Glasgow and the back three are the form players. I have no qualms about D’Arcy at fullback in this game just like to see him on the pitch.

  5. The usual Toonie tombola continues. We are 2 years out from a World Cup. Let’s blood players in their club positions. I find the choice of Kinghorn at 15 bizarre. And Harley in the second row from the start! Gilchrist should be chaperoning the new start. As for Fagerson at 8- he’s not even a club 8.

    1. Oh no, I cannot agree with you at all, Toonie Knows best , he is the master at seeing what no one else can see, look at Chris Harris !

    2. I think leaving Gilchrist out for this game is due to Toony knowing that he will need to rely on him for the next 3 games, asking him to play 4 tests in 4 weeks would be a stretch

      1. Gilchrist has been given time off due to family commitments with the arrival this week of his new child.

  6. I like to think Toonie dreams of ‘total rugby’ with Hogg, Russell, Kinghorn and Hastings in the same backline (Weir, VDW and Thompson too) all taking turns at first receiver and Scott Steele flitting from scrum half to blindside and back again depending on where he’s most needed.

    1. He is total something , that is for sure! Mind you , he really has no plans for Russell IMO, does he ?

  7. Interesting to read Toony’s explanations for some of his selections, especially at lock and FH/FB. He’s obviously embraced the idea of having a game to go totally experimental. Just hope Darge’s injury isn’t too serious.

  8. Would like to see this team at some point throughout the series (purely from an attacking point of view)

    Hastings – Graham – Jones – Scott – Van Der Merwe – Russell – Horne – Fagerson – Watson – Bradbury – Skinner – Gilchrist – Fagerson – McInally – Schoeman

    Hogg – Harris – Price – Ritchie – Haining – Kebble – Turner – Sutherland

    1. I like it , it would be better if you could find a place for Huw Jones. Why do you have so many Lions on the bench. Are they past their sell by date now !

  9. I was saddened to hear of the death of Sandy Carmichael this week. We throw words like ‘legend’ around so freely today, which really irks me: this man was a true legend, set aside, well above the standard of his time . He was respected world wide, in a time when media was limited , the game was amateur and the front row was an art form all of its own. Like many of his generation, these skills will die with them. His memory will be part of the Tonga build up this weekend.

    1. You may have missed what really set him apart is his fairness and clean play. He was as hard as the rest of them, a tackle like a vice, in a time when the boiler house was a dark place renown for foul play. He rightly has a place in the Hall of Fame.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion